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(pronounced Ko-Hane)
Dan is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Plague of Darkness, Solomon’s Grave, and the critically-acclaimed Margaret's Ark. Writing as G. Daniel Gunn, he released Destroyer of Worlds and the novella (written with L.L.Soares) Nightmare in Greasepaint (Samhain Publishing),. His short stories have appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud Magazine, Apex Digest and many more. He and his family live in New England.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Great Divorce

It's been a strange time, being church-less after attending services at an evangelical church pretty much every Sunday for past ten years and Catholic mass for forty-five years before that. Sundays meant church for as long as I can remember. They will again, I have no doubt, because I feel it's important to get together as a community to worship and celebrate on a regular basis. At the moment my wife and I have different opinions about what this should look like, but we'll figure it out.

In the meantime, I've been watching the emotional progression of my friends Marty and Al, former pastor and assistant pastor of the church from which we've all stepped (or been pushed) away. There has been a gamut of emotion, including anger and resentment. In many ways I know what they are feeling, though from a different perspective. I've been through a divorce, seen a life I once assumed would be a constant in ways not the least of which being who my partner in this journey of life would be, suddenly fragment and come apart. Said life eventually fell together in wonderful ways and I'm certain for my friends the story will end the same. But first, they need to go through the ups and downs of their respective divorces.

Don't get me wrong - these two and their wives are so happily married that birds fly around them with garlands of flowers in their beaks. It's sick. Even so, a divorce is happening. We keep the illusion that marriage is forever, and it will always be an illusion if both parties don't work hard at it every day. We also see "church" as another relationship that will be constant in our life. If it's working, not a cult-of-personality but a strong, cohesive group of believers striving and living together for the purpose of honoring God and each other, how could it not last forever? After all, that description paints our old church home perfectly.

Well, God knows (literally) that our enemy hates that sort of thing and will do anything to dismantle it. We talked about this last time. In the end our little church-world came apart and its former leaders were left with the same emotions and crises of relational faith any divorcee will experience when the world they thought they knew is torn away. They understand why it happened, but it hurts because there has been betrayal. What they once saw as "right" with religion is suddenly being questioned. In some ways this is a good thing - when we stop questioning and keeping our focus on what we care about, we allow it to rust away. There are other aspects of "church" which might only appear negative in the moment, in light of the pain, but will come to be seen as "good" again in the future. One hopes.

On the other side of the coin, I am in the unique position of suddenly understanding - even if just a little - what my now-adult children went through. In their younger lives, family was one thing they probably assumed would never change - always be there for them - hold up against any storm. Then their mother and I sat them down in January of 2010 and explained how everything was a lie and it was all coming to an end.

My spiritual parents, as it were, announced they were getting a divorce a few months ago and now it is done. I am recently as yesterday grieving the death of the very church I'd dreamed of being a part of, one I had gladly gotten up at 5:15 am every Sunday morning for setup, stayed until the afternoon to take down. One where my younger kids always were excited about attending.  But the cracks growing in the organization had gone too long unattended, and things ended. Pride, mostly, let it die. Hopefully humility will help restore it to what it once was, though this may not happen quickly. Some things  simply need to be brought into the light.

Many of us are now left with a broken church family struggling to decide how to move forward with this thing called "church". Family is, truly, what we'd found these past five years. One with shared purpose and a love for each other that transcended any differences. Now we cling together online mostly, sometimes having lunch, traveling to other churches as smaller exploratory groups to work out what life will look like post-divorce. Even others have stayed at the old place and this also is perfectly acceptable, even expected.

Who are you going to live with, Mom or Dad? A horrifying question no child should have to answer, but which most need to at some point. For me, I'm a "kid" in his mid-fifties having to answer this. Marty and his wife Carie, Al and Erica, Linda and I and everyone else will find what answer works for us. For the moment, we have to pray and lean into God and each other, and not let our light dim too much.

If nothing else, people are looking at us very closely to see how we respond. Waiting for us to prove that "church" is not the building, or the day, but who we are.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Walking Down New Roads with Smoldering Remains Behind Me

15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
    falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
    their violence comes down on their own heads.
- Psalm 7: 15-16

There was a recent schism (if I'm using that word right) in my church: a multi-site organization with locations, for the most part, around the northeast. A decision was made to fire our local pastor, even though our specific location was one of the healthiest in the organization and the pastor an amazing shepherd to his people. A lot of questionable behavior from the central leadership followed as they tried to prevent the mass exodus which eventually happened anyway. Our local church bled well over half of its membership to become a shadow of what it once was, formerly a growing, spirit filled congregation open to everyone and worshiping with bursting joy in community. The new local pastor is a nice guy with a big heart, and the people staying on are committed to working with him to rebuild, and I pray that his church will grow under him, I really do. I'll watch from the sidelines, however, as I myself have stepped away.

That itself was a hard thing to do. I'm not good at endings, but like someone who sees how his food is actually prepared in a favorite restaurant, and after many months of prayerful consideration, I felt obliged to. It still took a while, because I was in charge of what was called the "production" team and truly loved the people there who come in early to setup, run the lights and video and sound, and did not want to leave them. In the end, central management, the new pastor and I came to an agreement and just prior to me leaving for Spain for vacation (see earlier entry) we parted ways amicably. I told each team member (those still there), and people were sad but understood.

Why the verses up top? Well, after writing a 1200-word rant then deleting most of it, I trimmed it down and posted the main point on my devotional page, but in short, every organization working for the kingdom, be it a church or charity or what have you, survives only when it keeps its perspective upward, stays humble and grateful for the chance to serve, and its leaders never forget they are not the hinges upon which the door of their efforts swing. Sorry, not the best metaphor but I liked how it looked in my head.

The unofficial tagline for my novel Plague of Darkness is that secrets never stay buried forever. In the above verses, if you dig a large hole, you end up stuck in it like Mike Mulligan and his trusty steam shovel Maryanne, or at the very least you fall back into it at some point. The latter is usually what we humans end up doing. There's accountability for every action we perform, good or bad and whether we think we've hidden it or not.

A significant moment for me was during a date with my wife, Linda. We told each other pretty much all of our deepest, darkest secrets, stuff we hadn't told anyone before. Coming out of that, it was like the world was suddenly open like never before. So much metaphorical weight lifted from our chests. There's a song from the band Tenth Avenue North which goes

You told me secrets nobody had known
But I never loved you more, even though
Now I know what you did.

To climb out of the holes our own actions have dug, to break bad habits and patterns in our lives, we need others to be brought into the game. After years of trying to quit smoking, I succeeded only when I told other people what I was doing, and asked them to keep me honest. I think about what they might say if I start again. Being reminded that what we do has an impact on other people is a strong deterrent to bad behavior.

Sometimes because of this, we try to hide our secrets. That opens the door for our spiritual enemy (call him/it what you will) to work against us. Most major church movements start out honestly, humbly doing the work of the Spirit here on earth and perhaps growing in size and influence, not that this is an important attribute of a church, but that's a topic for another day. At some point, if we're not careful (and often we are not because we're a prideful bunch) the enemy will do what he always does: get us to destroy it all by ourselves. Pastors have affairs that shatter illusions of the people they serve (to clarify: that is NOT what happened here, nothing like that). Church leadership becomes so obsessed with money that every sermon brings the subject up in some way, rather than putting more trust in God's provision. Preachers see themselves as deserving accolades and reverence, instead of serving humbly every day and being grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach. Obsessing over details, trying to control everything, rather than trust. So often, in scripture, Jesus warns us to stay humble, that the proud will fall. Or, in the words of Han Solo, "Don't get cocky."

Pride, and control. A lot of these potential holes can be avoided by putting guardrails in place, not least of which is being open and transparent with other leaders and the congregation itself.

There's a lot more to talk about and I will over the next few weeks. When "going to church" has become so central to one's life, what happens when that man-made structure and organization is yanked away from you? My relationship with Jesus is still strong –as strong as it has been, at least, there's always room for improvement. Like my friend Marty, the aforementioned local pastor who after twenty years is on the same road (more so since "church" is what he has done twenty-four hours a day for most of his life), I'm walking down whatever road(s) the Lord lays before me and discovering what "doing church" can mean outside of the box we are constantly trying to shove God into.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Took 25 Years to Finally Look Inside

About 25 years ago, the Catholic church I attended (St George n Worcester) hosted a Maryknoll priest and we began giving money to their mission outreach each month. Saw no reason to ever stop, they do good work, but every quarter they send their little magazine. In 25 years I never read a single article, just tossed it. Been going through this season of drifting (and yes, rest) without a church home (a story for another time, soon) and picked up the latest newsletter, decided to read it. Some pretty amazing stuff. This is a short article I just read which seems quite timely for me (and maybe some of you) to read. Check out the article here: "Even when we feel far from God, God never leaves us."