Chapter 25 – Of All the Lawyers

Lawyer-45From my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

Just when you think you have heard it all, along comes this chapter. Dale and I started writing the forerunner to this book in 2003. In fact, at the suggestion of David McCall, a church member who was to be our ghost writer, the three of us took a book writing retreat to Destin, Florida September 16-19, 2003. The first morning, Dale and I were mortified when David joined us in the condo dining area, for our first writing session, wearing short shorts. It is an understatement to say that it was quite a revealing moment! Dale and I made eye contact and we intuitively knew what the other was thinking. Perhaps I have lived a sheltered life, but I had never seen anything quite like that before or thankfully since!

For full disclosure, when David saw that Dale and I were taken aback by his kitsch display, he explained that they were his “old high school gym shorts” and that he just wanted to see if they still fit. Obviously they did not. Thankfully, he changed into something more appropriate before we went outside. There were no more wardrobe malfunctions. Unfortunately, there was also no bonding on the retreat and our collaboration never gained much traction.

As I was putting together the outline for this book, when I came to the Destin trip, the very first thing I recalled was the shorts incident. I had to chuckle a bit. Looking back, that trip was not a very successful beginning of my book writing journey, but it was the starting point. My understanding is that David is now the associate pastor at HPC.

Now, fast forward to the spring of 2010, at the urging of several key people, I decided to write “Unscrewed” on my own without any more ghost writers. I was confident that I had a compelling story that would minister to others. I also suspected that it would be a cathartic experience for me and one in which I would deal with, “my bad” as far as the split of Highland Park Church was concerned and finally bring closure to that whole episode of my life. During a meeting with a literary advisor, there was some discussion about releasing “Unscrewed” as a novel. Although we have not totally discounted that possibility, I replied, “Why?  Since David’s short shorts episode and up until today, the truth has been far stranger than fiction”.

In September of 2005 before I left for treatment, Dale and I made certain commitments to each other, as to how we would proceed when I returned. I made mine in good faith with full intent on fulfilling my end of our covenant.  Even though I was an emotional basket case, I took our covenant very seriously. Unfortunately, Dale, apparently under the “spell” of his dad, did not.  Even before my plane touched down in Tucson, a church member noticed that Dale had rearranged the church website to put my name below his. Later that very week, Gene moved into my office.  Under the cover of darkness, he and Dale transported my personal property from my office, which they did not pilferage for themselves, to a storage facility on Charlotte Avenue.

One thing that they did not keep was, “The Bill Tree”, a large tree-like plant that I had kept in my office. It had been given to me by my dear friends Jim and Becky Fyke in memory of my oldest brother, Bill, when he had passed away. When we moved from our former church offices on Music Row to Knob Hill, I had transported it in my car to make sure it did not get damaged. I had been somewhat meticulous with the tree because it was my connection to my brother; I had faithfully maintained it for two years.

That Saturday morning when Michael and I opened the door of the storage compartment, the first thing we saw was that plant.  It was wilted, dry and dead from lack of water and sunlight for five weeks. I felt my eyes filling with tears. The “Bill Tree” is a graphic reminder to me of the depths to which people will stoop to further their jealously fueled agendas.

One of Dale’s favored mantras is, “Possession is nine tenths of the law”. When we had moved the church from Hillsboro High School to our new building on Knob Hill, he took several lights that we had installed in the school lighting system as part of an upgrade that we had done to the stage lights. I felt that we had given them to the school. When I challenged Dale on taking them back, he looked at me, smiled and let loose with his “possession” spill. Perhaps, he justified his confiscation of my personal property with that same cavalier, self-justifying rationalization. See the appendix for the complete list of things that apparently fell under his rationalizing hex.

One that I feel compelled to mention in the text is my “Bobble Head Jesus”, which had been a Christmas gift several years earlier. Admittedly, it was slightly unorthodox, but at the same time, I felt that it spoke volumes about our Lord and Savior’s willingness to connect with everyday people. I can only speculate that, perhaps Dale’s young son, Carson, wanted Uncle John’s “Bobble Head Jesus” as a plaything. It was just a cheap trinket, but it meant a lot to me.  It was apparently appropriated along with whatever else they wanted. When I sent a letter to Gary Cayce, who was my appointed “contact person” between me and the Robinson Church, listing for him the items I was missing, his response was that none of my stuff was at Highland Park. Cayce’s response was not a surprise, as he seemed to always follow closely behind Gary Robinson.

The week after I had left for Tucson, Bob Willis, both an incredible friend and key church volunteer, who had come to know the Lord at one of our Easter services, was at the church doing volunteer work. When he noticed that Gene Cole was now occupying my office, he immediately    inquired to Dale as to “What happened to John’s office?” According to Bob, Dale looked away and replied, “Oh we moved everything to John’s house, so he can work there until he feels like he is able to return”. Bob later told me that “when Dale could not look me in the eyes I knew he was lying”.   Bob let my family know what was going down.

On October 14 a few days before I returned from Sierra Tucson, I received a message from Michael to call Dale Robinson right away. During our conversation, Dale said that if I attempted to come back to the church that he would have me arrested for “assaulting Kelly” in the September 6, 2005 incident (3). I could not believe what that man was saying!  He went so far as to state “John I can have you arrested anytime in the next 338 days (4).  He mentioned how that would affect not only me, but my family and specifically my elderly mother. As if he needed to, Dale also reminded me of how disturbed my mom would be if she learned of my childhood abuse.  He then demanded that I call him back and let the call go to voice mail and state that I had resigned.  I am not stretching the truth one bit, when I say I literally felt a dark evilness oozing out of the telephone receiver as he talked to me. I was very cognizant that Dale had said, “I can have you arrested…” He did not say “Kelly”, or he did not say “We” can have you arrested. It was “I”.  At that point in time, I felt in a hopeless state of utter despair. When I related his threat to the Sierra Tucson staff person, who happened to be sitting next to me during the phone call, he was able to give me insight and understanding. It was obviously a display of Dale’s wish for power to control me and the church.   After that conversation, even while I was still at Sierra Tucson, I decided to walk away from Highland Park Church, the Robinson family and their cronies. I knew that anyone with an ounce of God inspired Christian  discernment would see the Robinsons for what they really were. God knew the truth, my family and I knew the truth. We had succeeded in our mission to build a different kind of church. The success of Highland Park Church was a fact. Even in my diminished emotional state, I understood that I had been the linchpin in that accomplishment; albeit with much help from Dale Robinson and others. For most of Dale and my years at Highland Park, we had been a really incredible two-man tag team. It was extremely painful to let those wonderful memories go. But I had no other choice.

A lot of things were taken from me by the Robinsons, but not the fact that I had succeeded in God’s will for my life. I had taken under my wing, Dale who is the most gifted person I have ever known, but who was literally a “Boy Friday” at mom and dad’s family insurance business, with little higher education and no real future and mentored him into co-pastor of a major Nashville church. Unlike his dad, I had encouraged him to get his education and actually paid for his MBA from Trevecca Nazarene University.  When Gene Cole came to us, he was an unemployed musician working as a uniformed security guard. He had no health insurance. Now, he was a well paid music director. I made sure the church provided full family health insurance for both Dale and Gene, while I paid for my own through Cathy’s employer. Because of their ages, I felt that they needed more income than me, so I structured the salaries so that both were paid more than me. Those were my choices. At the time, they made perfect sense to me. I thought it was the right thing to do. Cathy and I had put twelve years of our lives and over $400,000 (8) into helping to build the church.  However, in the final analysis, I came to the conclusion that some things in life are just not worth the emotional toll of all out warfare to hold on to. My only regret over how I handled my exit, was that I walked away without telling my side of the story. That was my bad. I hope this book rectifies that error.

During that same timeframe, Gary Robinson brazenly told Lou Alvarez that, “We have always wanted a church like this (Highland Park)”. My thinking was if Gary and his son wanted it so badly that they would attempt to destroy a man who had loved them like brothers, then we would let them have it. It is surely on its way.  The ironic truth is, I had cried “Uncle” long before Gary had demanded that I do so in one of his foolhardy 2006 Moon Mails.

During my time in Arizona, God led me to Psalm 37. Previously when I had read it, I did not make a personal connection with David’s plight, but this time I found find great solace in his comforting words of hope and dependence on God, as he was being pursued by his former friend Saul. I was and still am certain it is God’s message to me. I did not know how, but mentally I knew God would take care of me just as he had David thousands of years earlier.  Truthfully, it took a long time for my emotional side to catch up with the mental knowledge of God’s provision.   Like Abraham and Moses before us, we chose to walk not knowing where we were going.  So did 300 others, including virtually all the major givers. A family that had pledged $250,000 to our building fund walked out of a brand new state of the art facility and chose to worship with us in a middle school auditorium. To thinking folks, their unselfish actions spoke volumes. They are still with us today. Those repudiations apparently set the stage for many of the Robinson’s iniquitous actions detailed throughout this book and God’s responses to them.

As stated earlier, Dale violated our agreement in several ways, even before I returned home. But after my return, as more and more wheels continued to spin off the “Robinson Church”, he made many more outrageous choices which effectively rendered our agreement null and void. Gary later audaciously wrote to me, indicating that Dale was under his control at that point in time; but whoever was in charge, son or daddy, some very bad and mean spirited choices were made on their parts.  Each time God blocked their path and actually aborted their actions. The remainder of this chapter highlights what I believe to be another direct intervention of God, as Psalm 37 surely promised me that he would.

There are literally thousands of attorneys in Nashville. This chapter is about one of the best and how God used him, in a miraculous way, to once again demonstrate the truth of His Word to me on a personal basis. In the end He also afforded me a good laugh, when I needed one most.

On a hot July day in  2006, as I finished up my afternoon run, I stopped by the mailbox and noticed a letter from a  law firm that had successfully represented me, when Dale and Gene were spreading  a couple of particularly reprehensible lies about me in the fall of 2005 (2). However, this letter was not in regard to that issue, which had been quickly resolved in my favor though two courier delivered letters to Dale and Gene threatening a lawsuit if they continued to tell those two lies, without offering proof of their spurious allegations. Obviously, they could not because, by definition, a lie cannot be proved.  But this letter was not from Barbara Moss but from another attorney in the same firm. He was one of the most well know and highly respected attorneys in Nashville. Walking from my mailbox to my house, I recall wondering how in the world, Dale and Kelly could have possibly ever hooked up with such a lawyer. A week later I would have my answer.

In the letter, the Robinsons demanded a large sum of money from me. To me, it was nothing more than an attempted shakedown.  If I paid them the money, then the letter stated they would not sue me for “any matters” that came out of the church split. To this day, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. They also demanded that I “release them from any damages regarding the church split”. The letter ended with this chilling conclusion.  “If you do not wish to make this agreement, please let me know so that they will proceed to have a court lawsuit filed.  It would be extremely expensive and extremely embarrassing to you in reputation, standing and personal expense if we cannot get this done right away. They are prepared to go full route if we cannot get this fair agreement from you right away.”


Harris Gilbert

My first thought was that apparently Dale and Kelly were living in a parallel universe. Actually, for the twenty or so years that I had known Dale, he had lived in what I had referred to a “Robinson Reality”. To him whatever, he believed to be true was true, the facts notwithstanding.

Yet, the reality was that if anybody was going to do any suing, then it should be me. Suing may be a style of the Robinsons, but it is not my style. That was the “Real Reality”, not just my opinion. I had lost count of the malicious and capricious lies they had spread in their failed attempts to destroy me, my ministry and members of my family after their coup turned sour. But I had decided long ago not to sue people whom I actually still love just to prove I could. Since my breakdown on September 6, 2005, I had acquiesced to each of Dale’s prior ghastly threats against me.  However, after reading his bullying letter, I decided to push back. With that outrageous letter, his control of me had finally come to an absolute end point.   There was positively no way I was going to pay them a single penny or be pushed by him ever again even if it ended up costing me every dime I had! That afternoon I finally had enough! I became a fighter and regained my manhood, which seemed to have instantly evaporated during my breakdown of September 6.  I became more resolute with each passing day. That day I made up my mind to write this book.  Praise God!

However, even though I knew they could not win a judgment, I was frightened, but not really surprised. After all, since September 6, 2005, I had behaved like a whipped puppy. Why would Dale not expect to be able to successfully hit me up for some big bucks?  I had a surprise in store; their outrageous letter was going to be dealt with on my terms and no one else’s. Dale occasionally uses the expression, “The shoo-shoo hit the fan”. I have mostly heard it in another translation. Whatever version, as far as I was concerned this time it really had! Over the previous ten months, Dale and Kelly had already systemically laid bare what was left of their character, so I knew how to respond to their odious attempt to put the whipped cream and cherry on their sundae of betrayal via my bank account. I recalled, Gary’s earlier written boast to me that his family does what he tells them to do.

Then something very odd happened, out of the blue, I broke into uncontrolled laughter. Suddenly it clicked!  I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. It finally dawned on me that of all the lawyers they could have chosen to sue me, it would be impossible for this particular one to do so. He was automatically disqualified. Barbara Moss with the same firm was already representing me in the Robinson matter! She is the one who early on had sent the aforementioned letter to Dale Robinson and Gene Cole demanding proof for their lies or else. What are the odds of that?

I quickly emailed Mr. Gilbert regarding his conflict of interest. He responded with an apology informing me that due to his mistake his firm would be unable to represent me or the Robinsons “in this matter”. I replied telling him that was not a problem, but since he did not do his due diligence and had become involved in this issue by meeting with the Robinsons, that I also wanted to meet with him. I also told him that perhaps we could make this into a win-win for everybody. Surprisingly, after running it by Dale, he agreed to meet with me on the following Friday afternoon. It was a most remarkable and memorial ninety minutes.

I found Mr. Gilbert to be an extremely impressive and warm man. I had heard of him nearly all of my life. To be sitting in his office, discussing the Robinson’s threat to sue me, once again demonstrated the supremacy and majesty of my “Big G God”. The story that Mr. Gilbert related to me regarding his relationship with Dale Robinson’s newly appointed associate pastor, David Farmer, was both bizarre and extremely sad. At the same time it was actually very hilarious. You may think that sounds impossible. Well, just keep reading!

While I was in treatment, the staff at Sierra Tucson had received a document written by Dale and Gene listing “my issues”. My understanding is that it had been forwarded to them by Pete Harris. The staff out there is the cream of the crop as far as therapists are concerned; so they quickly saw the document for the obvious hatchet job that it was. Therefore, I was advised to keep meticulous records of anything having to do with the church split – especially from Dale. By nature, I am a fairly detailed person, so record keeping comes easily for me.

During our meeting, I shared with Mr. Gilbert a photocopied binder titled, “The Mess” containing a very detailed account of what actually had gone down since September 6, 2005. The original was and is in a safety deposit box. The binder was organized and referenced with dates, names and contact information. There was a lengthy list of people who were willing to be put under oath.  It contained copies of Gary Robinson’s frightening “Moon Mail” (7) along with a snail mail letter from Gary with an obvious fake return address. There was a copy of an unsigned threat that arrived through the mail in what I believe to be a modified “Robinson Agency” envelope. There were 35 pieces of correspondence pertinent to the threatened suit, comments, and financial records from HPC, transcripts of recorded phone calls to me from Dale Robinson on September 12, 2005 and a threatening call from Gene Cole to me on October 19, 2005.  It contained a list of 38 untruthful and slanderous comments made to HPC people about me by Gary and Thelma Robinson, Dale and Kelly Robinson, Gene Cole and David Farmer, along with the names of people involved and the dates of the comments. It contained information about Dale and Kelly that a suit against me would most likely make public. It also detailed an incident that had taken place on a subsequent trip to Destin, Florida. A copy of the “I am Sitting Here Crying” email from Dale Robinson was included along with my handwritten notes on a hard copy. I included a copy of letters from one of Mr. Gilbert’s own associates regarding the Dale Robinson’s “libelous, outrageous and reprehensible behavior”.

Included in the binder was a detailed account of the covenant made between me and Dale Robinson in September of 2005. There was an itemized list of my property that the Robinson’s refused to return to me. There was an accounting of certain monies that I was still owed by HPC. There was a complete account of the incident of September 6, 2005 along with a copy of a coerced and near dictated confession that Dale Robinson demanded that I make, in order to be able to return to HPC, during the first of two phone calls from him to my home on September 12, 2005. The binder contained statements from four people who had viewed an exculpatory security camera video of the September 6, incident between me and Kelly Robinson.

There was a discharge summary of my diagnosis from Sierra Tucson, along with an affidavit from Dr. Hans Larson, the administrator, stating that no one from Sierra Tucson had had any discussion with Dale Robinson regarding John Gouldener. Finally, the binder included copies of certain pictures provided to me from The Emerald Coast Volleyball Tournament, held in September of 2005. For some time, Mr. Gilbert carefully went through the binder. He made comments and occasionally asked questions. When he was finished, he looked at me and simply said, “John, I do not think the Robinson’s will be filing a lawsuit”. I replied that, “Record keeping is one of my strong points.”

Now, that we had that issue behind us, I then asked, “Mr. Gilbert how did you get involved with those people? This is not your kind of stuff.”  He told me that he has a “friend” at HPC. When I asked, who might that be, he replied that it was the newly appointed associate pastor, David Farmer.That stunned me! That relationship seemed as unlikely to me as the Queen of England shacking up with an unemployed, homeless man.  It did not compute at all. I have known David for over twenty years.  I first met him at the gym. What an experience that had been! At that time, he had a propensity to constantly run his filthy mouth as he strutted around the sauna in his Speedo.

At the time, before I knew David’s name, I had told Dale of “a guy” at the gym and his low-down behavior, but he could not figure out who I was talking about. A while later, I attended Dale’s church and there was David in the choir! I was appalled. I looked over at Dale and said, “That is the guy with the trash mouth and the Speedo from the gym. After the service, Dale filled me in on what he knew about David Farmer and it was not a pretty picture. David is about as rough around the edges as anyone I have ever encountered and seems to me, to be without any boundaries or class whatsoever. He once told me that he dropped out of Middle Tennessee State University after a semester or two, but at one time had a successful auto parts business in North Nashville, a red Corvette and a beachfront home in Destin. Suddenly all of that came to an abrupt end. I do not know all the ends and outs of exactly what came down during that time. I do know that since his tumble, he has bounced from job to job. Prior to being appointed associate pastor at Highland Park Church, he had been a counterman at an electrical supply house, a mattress salesman and worked a brief stint as TSA security guard. During one of his periods of unemployment, Cathy and I had provided Christmas gifts for his beautiful little granddaughter.

I am told that Dale Robinson announced in a church service that God “told him in a dream” to hire David as his assistant. From my perspective, God could have searched the world over and not have picked a more unqualified man for the job.  However, I expect some folks felt that way when He picked me out of the lumber business in 1990!

I was curious how a distinguished and prominent attorney from Belle Meade became friends with David Farmer, a good ole boy type from the Nations (9) of West Nashville. Mr. Gilbert related that he had once handled some legal work for David. When he landed his church gig, one of his duties was to recruit his extended family and friends, primarily from the Nations and a Church of the Nazarene in the area that had recently closed down.  Both David and the Robinson families are life-long Nazarenes, with roots that go down deep. Since 2005 that particular denomination has been a fertile recruiting ground for them.  When Dale was to be out of town, he had to schedule David to speak at the Sunday service. David immediately began calling people to come hear him speak. In his excitement and self-promotion, he called Mr. Gilbert inviting him to come for the debut of Reverend Farmer the preacher. Not seeing David as a preacher at all, Mr. Gilbert was intrigued enough that he decided to attend the service to see what the mattress salesman turned preacher had to offer. I asked, Mr. Gilbert, “And how was he?”

(In this chapter I am paraphrasing Mr. Gilbert’s words. My recollection is not word for word, but I believe it is a reasonably accurate paraphrase of what he told me.) After, a slight chuckle, he replied, “Actually, John he was pretty good. As you know, he has a pretty unique way of telling a story. But it was a bit strange because he did not have a single verse of Scripture in his message. I thought that was really odd”.

Mr. Gilbert described that after the service, as he chatted with David in the foyer, David asked him what he thought about his message. Mr. Gilbert replied, that, “It was really good, but David I did notice that you did not use the Bible at all! I have never been to a service where the minister did not use the Bible in his message.” Reverend Farmer replied, “Actually, Harris, I am weak in that area. I am not too familiar with the Bible”. Realizing that the David was in a bit over his head, and going the extra mile to help him excel in his new career, Mr. Gilbert said, “I tell you what David, the next time you are going to be delivering the message, if you will call me and tell me your topic, then I can at least pick some Scriptures for you insert into your message.

An unabashedly unembarrassed Rev. David Farmer jumped all over the offer. Then Mr. Gilbert said, “There is one problem David —I am Jewish.” Noticing David’s lack of expression, Mr. Gilbert went on to explain to David the fact that being Jewish meant that his help would be limited to picking Old Testament Scriptures only!

Coming up next  Chapter 26 – “The Mistress”

For the complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

Leave a Reply