Part 2 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again

Wood_Screw_Flat_Phillips

UNSCREWED: BECOMING WHOLE AGAIN   (Part Two)

© 2013 John Gouldener

All rights reserved including the right to reproduce this book in any form whatsoever.

Some names have been changed to prevent access via search engines.

BETA EDITION

CONTENTS

Part One

1…No Fishing

2…State Street

3…Common Trash

4…Yes Father

5…The Desert Rose

6…Highway 96

7…Neither Dreamed or Imagined

8…In the Beginning

9…Road Signs

10…Mr. Fix It

11…Ill Winds

12…Facing the Truth

13…Peeling the Onion

14…Sitting Here Crying

15…Too Late – Too Little

Part Two

16…Katrina

17…Worst / Best Day 09.06.05

18…After the Music Stopped

19…Now What?

20…In the Jailhouse Now

21…Halls of Justice

22…Moon Mail

23…Sin Genome

24…Bingo

25…Of All the Lawyers

26…The Mistress

29…Hope Rising

30…Blown Calls

31…A Dog Named Limp

Epilogue

KATRINA

For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.He will judge everyone according to what they have done.Romans 2:5-7 (NLT)

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in our country’s history, amassing over 81 billion in property damage. More than 1800 people died in the actual storm and the subsequent floods. Being a weather junkie, I had tracked Katrina on The Weather Channel from the time she had formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005 until landfall near New Orleans as a Category 3 storm on the morning of Monday, August 29. There was cataclysmic destruction along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge. Most of the fatalities occurred in New Orleans which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed.

On Wednesday August 31, 2005, Dale Robinson walked into my office during a CNN Breaking News segment showing the devastation in New Orleans.  Cathy and I had already made a contribution to one of the Katrina funds; yet, I felt that, as a church, we should reach out financially to aid the victims. At that horrible point in time, I believed that nearly everyone in our country wanted to help, but were unsure what to do.  Dale suggested that we take up a special Katrina collection on the following Sunday. At that time, I had no idea that in four days in a sense I would become one of Katrina’s final victims.

Sunday September 4, 2005 at about 9:55 AM, just before I walked out on the platform to start the service Ken and Craig Adkisson stopped me to introduce, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, a couple who had fled New Orleans because the hurricane had devastated their home. I believe that Mr. Jones was a New Orleans police officer.  I looked for something to write their names on, so I could properly introduce them to our congregation.  I did not have a piece of paper.  Since we were standing in the church lobby next to our bookstore, I reached over and got a paperback book off one of the shelves.

I recall noticing bookstore volunteer and Kelly’s best friend, Pat Perry, staring at me as I reached for the book. I opened it to the last page, which was blank on both sides, where I wrote down the couples’ name. Then with book in hand, I rushed to the stage as the service was starting and I was schedule to do the opening. A few minutes later, I had the refugee couple stand to be recognized. The gracious couple received an incredibly warm reception from our church family and I believe that we collected $5,800 for the Katrina relief effort.

I left church that day thanking God for sending us the couple from New Orleans, because through them, I sensed that we had all made a personal connection with the plight of the folks on the Gulf. Later I would spend quite a bit of my time rethinking the implications of their visit. I can tell you that after much reflection, prayer and therapy I still feel that way. To be able to say that is a gift directly from the heart of God Himself. God is always faithful! But He never promised His faithfulness would be easy or cheap.

My shame-based addiction and dependence on Highland Park Church had grown exponentially each year since our first service in an almost empty Looby Auditorium. Someplace during the ensuing twelve years, I had gotten to a point in my life that I could no longer recognize the line that separated me from HPC. We became one big glob of cells!  Like every other addiction, a tolerance developed which meant that I needed a bigger hit of Highland Park to keep me high. Therefore, I found it an incredible rush to immerse myself nearly to my eyeballs in “God’s Work”.

In the spring of 2002 when we purchased our office building on Music Row, my church addiction cranked up appreciably; but when we moved into our building on Knob Hill it rocketed into the stratosphere.  Looking back with a well mind, I clearly see things that I never saw at the time. One of them is how unhealthy I had become, both in my addiction to the church and my codependency on Dale and to a lesser extent on his family.  That was my bad. Monday September 5, I rolled out of bed at 5 even though it was Labor Day 2005.   Due to the holiday, the gym was closed until later in the day so I drove directly to the HPC campus. On the drive over, I recall thinking that it would soon be fall because the days were getting noticeably shorter on both ends. After starting the coffee, I made my way to the auditorium where I regularly commenced my work day by having a chat with God. I loved that space immensely. And I used it for much more than Sunday services.

On several occasions, when it was too hot to run outside, I would open both sets of auditorium doors and use the entire building as an indoor track. The design of the building had two parallel corridors, front and back, forming a “U” that lead from the office and classroom wing to the main lobby and the two auditorium entrance ways. It made a pretty neat indoor, climate controlled track. I ran laps many afternoons when nobody else was around. Each morning during my prayer time, I would walk the aisles as I talked to God.  We designed the auditorium with large windows on the western wall that gave us an open feel and appearance, allowing the magnificence of God’s nature to be a constant part of each service. Our plan was that in a few years, they would also form the connection point where we would build a larger auditorium with permanent seating. One Sunday while making a point in a message, I happened to glance out those windows to see a doe and her two fawns grazing along the edge of the forest. As a reflex, I almost said, “Wow would you look at that”; fortunately I caught myself just in the nick of time. Yet, to be alone in that huge and silent room and to be able to observe God’s creation was quite an incredible daily prayer experience for me.

So here I was on Labor Day morning, not still lying in bed next to Cathy, but I was at work, with absolutely no pressing work to do or any good reason to be there. As usual, I watered my “babies”, the annuals that we had in huge clay pots at the main entrance; then I inexplicably washed windows!  I mean how sick was I? It mattered not whether I was speaking on Sunday or buffing the floors on Friday, as long as I was doing church duties I was “OK”. On that hot and humid September morning, when I finished up, the windows were spotless, but I was soaking wet from perspiration. As I was bringing the squeegee and the other equipment inside I got a call from Cathy. “Where are you?” she asked. I recall feeling a tinge of shame/guilt when I told her. I suppose in an attempt to mitigate my foolishness, I suggested that she come by and we would go to breakfast. After we returned from our pancake and bacon breakfast at Wendell Smith’s Restaurant, Cathy sat down in my office. I looked over at her and said, “I have the greatest job in the world”. Again, with a clear mind today, I realize that what I should have said was, “Cathy I have the greatest job in the world and I thank you for making this whole deal possible”. She had done just that twelve years earlier, when she gave up being a stay at home mom to go back to work, so that the six of us could plant HPC. That was an incredible act of self-sacrifice.  Without her there would be no church on Knob Hill, because I would have been unable to work for free for nearly eight years.

Cathy’s part was the critical key that unlocked the door that allowed Dale and me to use our gifts in a very public way to develop HPC. Until I started working on this book, I had never thought to give her the credit that she rightfully deserved.  The day we dedicated the building I thanked everybody from Dale to Arthur Boyd, the Hillsboro High School janitor, but failed to mention Cathy. The Bible teaches that all of us will face a time of accounting for our actions on earth. I am certain that when I come face to face with God, my ledger is going to be chocked full with my multiple failures regarding Cathy and my relationship as it related to Highland Park Church.  Not only did I fail to ever publicly acknowledge her critical roll, but I constantly built up Dale as nearly the next coming of Jesus. Ten years down the road and a much wiser man, albeit a recovering codependent one, I am sure I did things the way I did because, due to my sense of shame and unworthiness, I did not believe I could pull HPC off without Dale Robinson. Most likely, I could not have — certainly not to the degree of success we enjoyed as a team.  But I know with certitude that I could not have done it without Cathy. Yet for twelve years, I gave my friend, Dale, priority over my loving and faithful wife. I knew she would never walk away; I feared that Dale might. If it stopped here it would be bad enough, but it does not. Emotionally, I left Cathy for years as I carried on my salacious affair with HPC. I have absolutely no excuse for my unacceptable conduct.

Finally, there is my sin of total and complete failure in leadership, as I stood by like a bump on a log, and allowed the Robinsons and a few of their opportunistic lackeys to take from Cathy what she had unselfishly put her heart and soul into for twelve years. The cumulative total of my actions put her in that vulnerable position.  My guilt is no less than theirs. In my opinion, their maltreatment of her, while simultaneously proclaiming the love of Jesus with their public lips, were hypocrisies of the ultimate magnitudes!

The Bible pulls no punches in teaching that Jesus hated, with a burning passion, hypocrisy of religious leaders. He predicted with crystal clear clarity the fate of such abject people. They will not get away with it.  I am particularly mystified how easily led people like Thelma and Kelly Robinson and Trish Rather turned their backs on their faithful friend, Cathy. It is beyond my comprehension how those three sleep at night. As Cathy left my office that Labor Day morning, I had no idea that 168 hours later, for all intents and purposes, I would no longer have the greatest job in the world and that Dale would have changed our church website to proclaim to anyone who cared to look that, for the first time in his life, he was finally number one at something. I suppose that in his mind, he had finally pleased his dad and gained a place equal to his older and younger brothers. But at what price?

17…09.06.05 The Worse / Best Day

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Psalm 46:1-2 (NLT)

I punched my passcode into the office wing main door at just after 6 AM on Tuesday September 6, 2005. While opening the door I noticed a smudge on the glass from my wash job the previous day. After starting the coffee, I got a wad of paper towels and polished it away. I then took the paperback book and carefully removed the blank page where I had written the couple from New Orleans name the prior Sunday. I recall thinking, “Good as new”.  I then dropped it off at the bookstore and made my way through the main lobby into the auditorium. To be in that great space alone talking to God was the spiritual highlight of my daily routine.  Dale and I had argued about the issue of the cross on the building, paint colors, wall hangings, the sign and flowers on the platform among other issues; but we had agreed on the layout of the auditorium and it was perfect. We had designed it with lots of glass allowing the beauty of the setting inside.  So that morning I was not surprised, in the midst of my conversation with the Father, to see a doe and her fawns grazing at the edge of the woods.  The tranquility of that peaceful moment was a gift from the Lord.  Just a few weeks before on July 3, 2005 we had held our first service in this very spot. The contrast from the hype of that day until the present, now just God, the deer and I, could not have been greater. Opening day the auditorium had been packed; the excitement of an impossible dream realized was off the charts. For over twelve years the dream had slowly but surely morphed into reality. What an honor it was to have been chosen by God to be a part of that amazing team and this incredibly different kind of church. Yet with that said, the interlude between that opening day of celebration and fulfillment and the present had been painful for me on several fronts. In the church world constructing a building, particularly the first one, can easily cause some wheels to begin to fall off the wagon. Often the pastor does not survive. Ours was no exception and that should have been no surprise because, as incredible as our team was, we were still an eclectic group of flawed human beings. Each of us brought our God given gifts and talents to the table. We also brought our weaknesses.

During my prayer time I begged God to give me the strength to make some critical changes in my life. I remember specifically asking for His power and leading to do certain things that I had, up to that point, been unable or perhaps unwilling to do. As I prayed I recall being in a near panic. To be honest I am not sure I thought God would help. I knew what I needed to do but I do not think that I thought I could do it.  That was the last solitude conversation with God that I would have on Knob Hill.

Shortly after 11:00 AM, as I was finishing up the final draft of the coming Sunday’s message, “Believing that Dreams Come True”, I received an email addressed to all staff from Kelly that read: “We are not running the bookstore like we did at Hillsboro High School.  Now everything is inventoried and if you get something out you must make sure that it is taken off the inventory.” Instantly I knew that my taking of the paperback book the previous Sunday to write down the Katrina couple’s name was what prompted the email.  So I responded, “If this is about the book I took Sunday, I have already put the book back into the bookstore.

I then continue to read over the upcoming message and then I hit “print” and walked thorough my open doorway into the reception area to the printer which was spitting out the copies. Kelly was at her desk eating yogurt and granola, which as I recall may have been a prepackaged unit with separate compartments.  She looked up and said, “It did not matter that the book had been put back; you should have never taken it in the first place.  People saw you take that book and just walk off”. Again I explained about the couple and not having anything to write their name on, etc. By this time I was back standing in my office doorway. Out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed Gene exit his office and walk down the Kid’s Klub hallway toward the auditorium. He did not look our way.  She continued saying that “It did not make any difference that the service was about to start, that I could have gotten a bulletin, gone to your office for a paper or got a tablet out of the bookstore closet.”  Kelly’s mouth was still going full tilt trying to make an issue where there was no issue. She went so far as to suggest that some people saw me take the book and may have thought I was stealing it.  I laughed at her and said, “Kelly there is no way on earth anybody thought I was stealing a book. Let’s drop this and don’t your ever chastise me about a paperback book again. You are way across the line.” I then walked over to where she was sitting, stood next to her, put my arm around her neck and said, “Kelly I love you to death, but sometimes I could break your neck”.  From my perspective it was an innocent kind of happenstance way to end the back and forth of the tiff. I do not recall her saying any more. My guess is this encounter may have lasted three or four minutes.  I did not sense that either of us were angry.  In hindsight I acknowledge that it was indeed a violation of Kelly’s boundaries and I should not have touched her regardless of the intent. Obviously, I am very sorry.

When I got back into my office I noticed that I had apparently left the final page of the message in the copier. So I went back to the copier; Kelly was at her desk finishing up her yogurt. As I passed through the threshold of my doorway I said, “But I admire your spunk”. I meant that sincerely and still do.  I retrieved the missing page and went about my business. It saddens me to say that as far as I can recall that is the last conversation that Kelly and I have had. I pray that someday that might change. A few minutes later I noticed Kelly walk to her car and drive off.

Perhaps thirty minutes later, Dale and Gary came charging into my office, screaming and yelling that I had violently attacked Kelly in a fit of rage. Neither of them asked me what had happened or John what is going on?  Dale was amped up like he was when we got into the argument over the number of ushers a few years earlier. Just like then, he threatened to punch me out.  He was saying that when Kelly arrived at their family insurance office that she was “terrified, hysterical and could hardly speak”. The whole time Gary was saying, “John you know what you have to do”.  I was clueless about what I had to do. It was like an out of body experience.  Dale was screaming that he should have me arrested. I said guys, “I do not know what is going on but I didn’t attack Kelly, I would not even call it an argument. It was more of a ‘tiff’”.   Dale continued screaming about calling the police and putting me in jail. Looking back I wish that he had because most likely that would have short circuited the entire situation by injecting cooler heads. Since she obviously was not injured, it would have at worse ended up being a “he said / she said”. All this time Gary was saying, “You know what you’ve got to do” like one of the old 45 RPMs with a stuck needle. I suggested that I would gladly take a polygraph; that offer still stands today. Gary, not Dale, responded, “No we do not need a polygraph. We know what you did. Now you need to resign.”  I never responded to Gary.

Here I was standing next to my best friend of over twenty years. The man who had actually led me to a relationship with Jesus Christ and his dad were telling me how awful I am and I need to resign, only a few weeks after our twelve year quest together had been realized. Frankly it was almost more than I could absorb. Realizing that the situation was totally out of control, I suggested that we go down the hall to a classroom to lessen the chance of a visitor walking in on this quickly unfolding spectacle. When we got there Dale continued to hammer me and Gary kept calling for my resignation.  At one point my mouth got so dry that my tongue was actually sticking to the roof of my mouth. So dry in fact that I had to call time out to go to the kitchen for a bottle of water. Thankfully that had never happened before or since. Trust me, a sticking tongue is quite an awkward experience.

Just after I returned with the water, Gene came from his office to join the fray.  The very first thing that I can recall him saying was, “John this is all about what you told me about you being abused by that priest.” At my wits end I had told him that in confidence about a week earlier. No sooner had the words left his lips, I had an emotional breakdown. I began weeping and wailing with the tears flowing like white hot rivers off my cheeks.  Forty-five years of carrying the shame of being abused were exposed in an instant without notice for two of my best friends to see by Gene’s betrayal of a very personal confidence. I had confided in him only because he had a psych degree and I was at the point where I did not feel that I could keep the secret any longer.  I am quite sure my emotional collapse sucked the air out of the room. Immediately the three of them began telling me how much they loved and cared about me and that they were going to help me. Gary prayed for me. It did not register with me at the time, but neither Dale nor Gary expressed any surprise when Gene dropped his bombshell revealing my deeply buried 45 year old secret. As I write this ten years down the road, I find that somewhat odd. Neither of them asked Gene what he was talking about. My only conclusion is that he had already told them.  Be that as it may, their mood did instantly do a 180 from hostility to “We are here for you”. I am unable to adequately describe the feelings that I was experiencing from Gene’s proclamation. I expect that for a time at least the original issue of the incident with Kelly had been overshadowed by my complete breakdown. I realize that most people who are reading this will not be able to appreciate the dark fear of discovery that an abuse survivor lives. It is a constant fear of “what will they think about me and will they abandon me?”

Gene quickly suggested that I should call his shrink, Dr. Pete Harris, for an appointment to start working on the sexual abuse issue. For the time being, there was no more talk about what “I had to do” or calling the police. I was able to contact Pete a bit later after I got some semblance of self-control. Unfortunately I could not see him until September 8.  I later invited Dale and Gene to accompany me for my appointment with Pete.  One reason I suggested that was to have somebody other than those involved know what had happened with Kelly.  Later when I got my bill there was a charge of $125.00 for Pete meeting privately with Dale and Gene on Wednesday prior to my appointment on Thursday.  All of us already knew each other since Pete had been our neighbor for the years the church office was on located on Music Row. In that September 8 meeting with Dr. Harris, Dale and I were able to come to an agreement as to what had actually happened as far as the physical contact with Kelly was concerned: I had put my arm around Kelly’s neck, there was no physical injury, there was no cussing and that I had said, “Kelly sometimes I could break your neck”.  Dale refused to sign off on my complete sentence, “Kelly I love you to death but sometimes I could break your neck”.  I took what I could get. Dale preferred to call it a chokehold.  We further agreed not to discuss the incident with the church members.

Pete was able to quickly discern that the critical issue for me at that particular time was to immediately begin the process of working through my childhood trauma. He strongly advised that that I go to Sierra Tucson (sierratucson.com) for a thirty day in patient stay in its highly respected trauma treatment program.  As we approached that subject Dale and Gene both said that they “loved me and would be there for me” when I returned. Dale said something to the effect that going away for a month will be good because, hopefully in thirty days Kelly would be past the incident. He went so far as to say, “If she is still pissed off when you get back just work from your house for a while. It will pass”. As he and Gene were leaving. Dale patted my foot and said, “It will all be OK”.

The following day, September 9, 2005 Dale apparently wasted no time in telling Lou Alvarez, the man whom God had sent us a few years back to head up the acquisition of our property and the construction of our building,  that I had attacked Kelly in a rage and violently put her in a chokehold.   Lou was our key lay leader of HPC and by far our biggest donor to the building fund.  He promptly came to my house and was shocked at what he saw when I answered the door. I looked so bad that he insisted that he take me to lunch.  We went to the City Limits Café in the neighborhood. I may have eaten a bite or two but at that time I had no interest in food. By the time I weighed in at Sierra Tucson a week later I had lost nearly nine pounds. Since I was pretty much a walking basket case now that my well-kept secret was out, I allowed Dale to do the upcoming Sunday message which I had already printed the day of the incident. During that service I made an announcement written by Dale and Lou that I was taking a thirty day sabbatical. After the service I met with Dale in his office. This time he did not pat my foot and say. “It will all be OK”. Instead he looked at me and said, “John you are the worse of the worse”. About two weeks earlier I had baby sit his two young children at the church while he and Kelly shopped. That had been common for years.   As whacked out as I was, it seemed obvious to me that someone, most likely Gary, was exerting a strong influence on Dale to maximize his profit from emotional collapse.  Driving home it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to pick up a tape recorder.

On Monday September 12, the day before I left for Sierra Tucson, Dale called me at home. Unfortunately I took the call in my kitchen so I was not able to activate the recorder.  After a bit of chit-chat he said, “We have decided for you to resign”. I assumed that “we” included his dad for sure and possibly Kelly and Gene.  I literally begged him not to do that to me. I was crying. His response was, “We can have you arrested”. That mantra would be repeated time and time again as he effectively used it on me to get his way for the next five weeks.

I reminded him that only a few months earlier I had refused to accept his resignation when I learned that he had secretly given himself a raise to more than cover his pledge to the building fund. That day he was the one crying. I was merciful; Dale had no intention of returning the favor. He then proposed that I send him an email saying that I had attacked Kelly both physically and verbally, that I was going to Sierra Tucson to work on what he referred to as “Your anger issue”. And that I was willing to work out of my house when I got back from Sierra Tucson.  In my diminished emotional state over my “outing” by Gene Cole, I emailed my “confession” which was word for what he had instructed me to write.

A few minutes after I hit send he called back and said the email was “good” and that it showed my “good faith” as I was taking responsibility for my actions. He then said that he had “talked to an attorney and that since I was going to be away for 30 days that I should resign as senior pastor while I was away”.  He then said that the attorney had said that normally this should be done by registered mail, but since we are such “close friends” (I am not making this up. Truth is much better than fiction) it would be OK to do it by email”. He then dictated to me my resignation. “I resign as senior pastor of Highland Park Church and continue as an employee at will.”  He said that we are doing this for two reasons: “If any emergency comes up while you are away that as ‘co-pastor’ I could act in your place.  Secondly and more importantly, it would be a ‘sign of good faith’ to Kelly that you are taking responsibility and  willing to cooperate to do whatever was necessary to work on ‘your issues’. Then when you return you could revert back to senior pastor when Kelly has gotten over everything.  Of course that smelled like three day old road kill to me but I sent it anyway. By that time I would do anything to keep from being abandoned. All of my life that had been my chief fear. If people found out they would run from me. I was whacked out but I realized my worse fear was in the process of coming true. I was able to record that call.

Because Highland Park Church has a digital security system that operates 24 hours a day, there is a video of part of the incident with Kristin. The system does not record sound.  Unfortunately the camera does not show the contact with Kelly. The camera shoots down the administrative hallway from the front door down past the back hallway. The lens is not a wide angle, so it does not show beyond the front portion of Kelly’s desk.  I have not seen the video, but it has been described to me by five people: Lou Alvarez, Dianna Mitchell, David Mitchell, Kathy Kirkham, and Judy Gouldener. They told me that the video shows me standing in my open office doorway having a discussion with Kelly, apparently not in a “violent rage” as has been reported by the Robinson family, but seemingly engaged in a normal discussion. It clearly shows that I never slammed my office door, as Kelly has told several people.   They say it shows me talking to Kelly; while Gene in the background comes out of his office and then calmly walked down the back hall without so much as a glance toward Kelly and me. This incident, be it a tiff or a rage or something in between does not get Gene’s attention at all.

The video then shows me walk toward Kelly and out of the picture for a few seconds. I assume this is where I put my arm around Kelly.  It shows me go into my office and then return, walk toward Kelly to disappear for a second when I went back to the printer which was behind Kelly’s desk and out of the camera range. It then shows me come backing into the camera range with the final page from the printer.  It shows me walking down the hallway toward the restroom area and a bit later Kelly calmly walking out of the building.

I had informed my sister, Kathy Kirkham of the existence of the video of the incident. On Sunday October 9 Kathy insisted that Dale show it to her.  He called a meeting after church to discuss her request further.  The five people named above attended the meeting along with Dale, Dale’s dad, Gary and Gene Cole.  In the meeting Kathy argued for the right to see the video. Dale kept saying, “No it is too disturbing”.  Kathy can be very persistent.  Finally Gene Cole screamed with red face and bulging neck veins, “Show them the f…ing video and then have him (that would be me) arrested when he returns to Nashville”. The video was then shown and the time stamp showed the whole incident lasted about three minutes not the 15-20 minutes that has been reported in various Robinson generated versions of the incident.

I have rehashed the events of September 6, 2005 in my mind countless times. How could Kelly and I have such wildly different versions of the event? I have considered every imaginable scenario from:  “Did I actually do what Kelly claims and my brain has shut it out” all the way to “It must be some kind of conspiracy to take over the church”.  I have no doubt that, as a result of what happened between us that day, it did in fact evolve into a takeover. However, I do not think that is how it started. My thinking, ten years removed, is that when Dale and Gary confronted me on September 6 that Dale was in fact reacting to a genuinely terrified and hysterical wife but I do not think I was the true cause of her hysteria.

While I was at Sierra-Tucson my therapist first suggested that possibly the key to how the whole incident got so far off the rails was that by putting my arm around Kelly’s neck triggered a flashback to a previous violent encounter. She said that it could be something called PTSD.  Then she described how many of our soldiers in Iraq, in their minds relive a past horror of combat as if were happening in the present. Of course over the last ten years I have learned much more about the term, first from my time at ST and because the term as been in the forefront in the ongoing struggle to get our combat vets the mental health care that is long over do. When I returned home, in my aftercare program, I asked my therapist if a flashback was a possibility. She said that it was. I then asked her, “Then isn’t likely that at some point that Kelly will realize her mistake?” “It is possible”, she replied. But then she extinguished my faint flicker of hope when she said, “However, John it is not likely, even if she does come to that conclusion, which she would ever recant. As far down the road as this has gone and as public as it has become, I would be very shocked that she will ever turn around to say she was wrong”.

Some of the most well respected  mental health people in the country, both at Sierra – Tucson  and locally,  were unable to identify any rage characteristics or mental illness whatsoever in my personality. In fact my final diagnosis from ST was “Anxiety Disorder NOS” — meaning that I tended to be tense, worried a lot and feared something bad might happen, rather the “rage disorder” that Dale Robinson falsely claimed that one of the ST doctors had told him in a phantom phone conversation. Sierra-Tucson, citing HIPPAA Privacy Rules, denies any such contact with Dale.  Actually my discharge diagnosis was “Anxiety Disorder NOS code 300.00”. From scores on my “Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory – III” (See appendix) I scored high in dependence (on others) — “a Pattern of submissive behavior, with a strong need for support, may have difficulty expressing disagreement with others fearing loss of support or acceptance and some self-defeating traits and some obsessive – compulsive features”.  Google can give you a more detailed explanation.   Up until 2005 that seemed to describe me perfectly. Thankfully, I do not think that is an accurate description of me today.  The only times the word “rage” is used in my records from Sierra-Tucson, of which I have a complete copy, is in the context of me describing what the Robertsons  had said about my behavior on September 6, 2005.  ST was unable to find any rage markers.

Having said all of that, here is what I believe could best explain Kelly’s reaction to me putting my arm around her neck. Let me be very clear this may be wrong, but it is the only way I can make all the pieces fit together without one of us being an outright liar.  Perhaps Kelly had a flash back to an earlier time when someone actually did violently choke her.  I have several reasons to believe that could be the case.  First and foremost, now with a clear mind, I know with certainty that I did not violently attack Kelly or even raise my voice. Although in a pure legal sense I did violate Kelly’s personal space and boundaries when I touched her.

Several years earlier while I was working from my home office, Kelly called to ask if she could come by to talk. Since Cathy and I had a near family-type bond with her, I immediately sensed that something was terribly wrong.  I gave her my standard reply, “You know you never have to call to ask if it’s OK to come here”. Kelly replied that she was on her way. I knew the marriage was apparently going through some rough waters.  For months she had confided in me, on several different occasions that she was considering leaving Dale. On one occasion that I specifically recall she threatened to take the kids and move to North Carolina.  I considered it just Kelly’s “tough girl” musings. But it was no secret as she had apparently openly told people at a “Scrapbooking Party”. Two of those were her best friend Pat Perry who, I am told, actually encouraged her to leave and Heather Lowery who was horrified to hear the threat. Heather’s husband, Levi, had recently come to work for HPC as our youth pastor. He came into my office the morning after the party and was visibly upset over what Heather had reported. I told him that it was just Kelly’s “Nobody messes with me” talk.

I assumed that perhaps she was coming by to replay the tape one more time and I would give the same advice, “please do not, instead go see Gordon Peerman” a counselor whom I knew. When she arrived at my house she was crying.  In the many years we had known her this was only the second time I can recall seeing her cry. The first was when she was living with us at our home in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, as our guest while attending college. She came home late one night and Cathy and I heard her wailing loudly in her room. We were concerned, so we finally went downstairs to see if we could help her. She was like our daughter. Kelly was hysterical and gasping as she tried to tell us what was wrong.   She explained that on the way home on I-40 West, she had hit something; she feared that she may have hit somebody on the dark highway. She wanted me to call Dale, who at the time was her boyfriend. I did and Dale and Gary immediately came out.  It proved to be nothing. There was no damaged to her car.

Immediately, I knew this would be a different kind of visit.  It became one that would, in fact haunt me to this very day. As soon as she came through the front door, with the explosive force of a shaken bottle of Coke, she cried out, “You have to promise that you will not tell Dale I told you this. If you do he will kill me”.  She was an emotional wreck. She could hardly get her words out and was again gasping as she talked.  I was scared. Instinctively, I blurted “I promise”, without an inkling as to what I was committing to.  By this point she was sitting on the edge of an ottoman. I was standing near the fireplace. With deep sobs, Kelly wailed “Dale tried………to………kill me”.  “What are you talking about?” I shouted.   “We got into an argument in the bedroom……..he was on top of me…..choking me. I was about to past out when Brooke (their small daughter) came into the room crying and he let me up”. Since I knew her husband quite well, I had very serious doubts as to the veracity of her account. I had been subjected to his rage on a few occasions. Even so, I was positive and still am that he had not tried to kill her. Again Kelly made me promise that under no circumstances would I let him know she had told me.   By this point, seeing her condition, I was in a near panic myself.  I was afraid the marriage of two people I loved dearly might actually be unraveling before my very eyes. That was bad enough, but there were also some major personal implications for me and the church. I made her promise that she would call my friend Gordon Peerman that day to make an appointment to see him.  After she left I was emotionally exhausted. I was also frightened. I tried to sort out what I had just heard. I was confused. I called Gordon and left him a voice mail detailing what Kelly had told me. I followed up with an email.  Later Kelly told me that she had met with Gordon and that she and Dale had an appointment together the following week. I am certain that Dale did not try to kill Kelly any more than I did. But I can also say with equal certainty that Kelly was extremely upset when she came to see me that day. I know factually that at least Dale met with Gordon Peerman several times.  In the late fall of 2005 Dale and Kelly met with the district attorney seeking a warrant for my arrest. It is my understanding that the DA was a friend of theirs; she discouraged them and instead suggested that we all meet for mediation. On November 16, 2005 during a mediation meeting with Dale, Kristin, Rev. Bill Henry and myself, I was forced to bring that event up. Dale angrily denied it ever happened and called me a liar.

As I was attempting to sort out things regarding the September 6, 2005 incident, I recalled a time shortly after Dale and Kelly married when Dale was at our house for dinner. I think Kelly may have been in Canada but I am not sure. In any event she was not there. During the meal Dale told Cathy and me that he was “really worried” about Kelly, because he had woken up some nights and Kelly was not in bed. He then found her “cowering and crying in the hallway” just outside the bedroom. He said she would not tell him what it was all about. Dale is by far the most private person I have ever known. For him to share that with us was completely out of his character and a clear signal to me that it was a major concern for him. Later Dale Mitchell, a friend of ours whom Kelly used to work for, told us a story about how one day he had called her at home to tell her that he was on his way to her house to drop off some work. It was the middle of the day. When she answered the door she was armed with a large knife. There is another, I think more telling reason, why I have come to this conclusion, but I will have to save that for another chapter.

18…After the Music Stopped

My kindness is all you need.  My power is strongest when you are weak. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

The days immediately following September 6 were an especially stressful time in Cathy and my relationship. I had never told her the truth about what had happen to me as a child. Of course when it came out like it did it was like her getting broadsided by a ton of dung. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, all she had to worry about was a husband who was addicted to “the best job in the world”.  Now, he was an emotional basket case who was nearly non-functional, crying most of the time and maybe even suicidal.   The person who came home from the office did not bare a faint resemblance to the man who had walked out the kitchen door that same morning with a gym bag over his shoulder.   She was shocked, angry, hurt, confused but maybe mostly disappointed because for thirty years of our marriage I had not trusted her enough to be honest with her. Those days were not warm and fuzzy for either of us. The truth is they were horrible days and I suspected that our marriage could actually come to an end as a result.

On Saturday September 10, we went to Prime Trust Bank near our home to get the money to pay for my treatment. We knew most of the officers as we had been banking with them since our construction loan thirty years earlier. I shudder at what they must have been thinking, when we came in surely acting strange and me looking like a cast member from the “Walking Dead”, to transfer into checking a large amount of money out of a CD that I had just renewed a few weeks.   When it was all said and done, we transferred $35,000.

Since the day in the spring of 1987 that we begin tithing, at least ten percent of our income to whatever church we were attending, God has provided for us financially. As I type I realize, somewhat ironically, that the reason that we chose to tithe was because of the example that we saw in the Robinson family. Regardless of what happened, I know that the good that I got out of those relationships far exceeded the bad. I have no doubt on that.  A few years earlier we had come into a modest inheritance. Most of that money we had put into retirement accounts, so funding my treatment was not an issue. We were fortunate in that there was never any panic about the money. That was a true blessing I did not fully appreciate for some time after September 6, 2005.

As Cathy was driving me to the airport on Tuesday September 13 for my flight to Tucson, I was barely functional. I had had nearly no sleep for over a week and had lost several pounds and looked like death warmed over. I was also crying. In fact I had cried off and on now for a week. Maybe I cried more than I did not cry. I was scared of going to Sierra-Tucson. I was scared of what was going to happen when I returned. I was scared of what was going to happen to our marriage and I was scared of what people might think of me when the word filtered out that I had been abused. I was afraid that my life-long fear of being abandoned was happening and I could not do anything to reverse it.

During my flight to Tucson I felt like a frightened child. I thought back to a spring afternoon in early May when I had stood alone on a hilltop looking down on our sixty-six acre campus and our brand new state of the art building, which was the grand culmination of our highly unlikely twelve year dream.  Through God’s guidance we had traveled light years since our first “practice service” with about ten people in the round room at Brentwood Academy in the summer of 1993. I thought about the journey and God’s amazingly talented team of everyday people that he had put together which had turned our dream into fact.  A dream for what we had called “a different kind of church” that had its genesis in the hearts of six people had come to fruition and quite frankly it was way beyond my wildest expectation.  Sixty-six acres in the center of town only a mile from the expressway, an incredible building seating 800 people and carrying a debt of only slightly over 1.5 million put Highland Park Church way ahead of the curve.  Obviously, I knew in my head that along with the others I had played a pivotal role in all of that. As a result of my coming to Christ in 1987, I had been the original vision caster.    I had worked the first seven plus years without pay. Cathy had given up being a stay at home mom so we could continue to eat along the way. I knew that without us there would be no church. Yes, I understood that. I had all the head knowledge, but as I stood there on that hilltop with a gentle, spring breeze blowing  I did not feel one morsel of personal pride or sense of personal accomplishment at all in what my eyes were beholding down below — none.

Fearing what lay ahead while listening to the hum of the Southwest 737 as it streaked west it occurred to me that maybe that day was a premonition of what was to come. Perhaps my time at HPC was over. Maybe God used that day as preparation. Maybe I would literally no longer be a part of that great campus. A few days later as I tried to explain my feelings in group while  at Sierra Tucson; I described it as kind of like I was watching an exciting movie, but I was not in it. I was not the star, co-star, supporting actor, or even an extra. That kind of feeling had been a basic facet of the diamond of my life as far back as I can remember. Other than carrying a tune and golf, I have been blessed with a fair amount of success.  But even with all the praise and accolades that I have received over my life, until my time at Sierra Tucson, I could not feel any of it in the fiber of my being. What I have come to learn and realize is that I am just one of millions who, for one reason or the other, have detached themselves from their achievements because of their toxic shame.

As I made my way to the baggage claim I felt like a little boy. I was afraid of the unknown. I was clueless what rehab would be like. I wanted to be back with Cathy. More than anything I wanted to be in control. My instructions said that my driver, who would take me out to Sierra-Tucson, would be holding a sign that would say “Fred”. What if he is not there? Oh, he will be there, they must pick up “nutcases” like me all the time. At what they charge they will not screw up meeting me. Stop worrying! There he is! Fred looked like a white haired angel. As we made eye contact he flashed a warm smile as he extended his right hand while saying, “Welcome to Tucson, John. You have nothing to worry about. Everything will be OK.” For some reason I believed him. On the drive over Fred was very encouraging. I could tell that he was the real deal. I recall thinking, I hope he is the one who will take me back to the airport in 30 days. I was sold on Fred, but not so much as to my immediate future.

We drove through downtown Tucson out into the high desert and the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains. Even in my condition those mountains rising out of the desert floor were an incredible sight to see. Unfortunately, my sightseeing tour was short lived. As soon as we pulled into Sierra- Tucson my fear came rushing back full force. As I checked in I had to surrender my phone, wallet, medications, laptop and control. All I got in return was a plastic water bottle. I felt shortchanged. Upon completing the registration process, each new patientt is assigned a room in the detox wing. Fortunately I was only there the first night as my physical exam showed that I was free of any drugs or alcohol. I did not sleep any the first night so I had ample opportunity to reflect on the horrible fact that I was in the detox hospital room. The next day I was assigned a room with a roommate. He seldom got out of bed and snored a lot.  Burt from New York City and John from Music City made quite the contrasts. The only thing we had in common was that we were both there and did not wish to be. Burt disappeared after ten days. I heard that he was asked to leave.

The second night, after dinner, we all gathered outside in a circle in a huge recovery meeting. Between 2000 and 2005 I had attended around 1200 Twelve Step meetings. But none were as impacting and life changing as this one was going to be as I sit under the stars in the Arizona desert with fifty or so people I did not know. Finally my turn came. “I’m John, I’m from Nashville Tennessee. I am here to deal with trauma from being sexually abused by a priest at my high school when I was fourteen. I kept it a secret until last week”. The thing that amazed me was that the very secret that I had kept for 45 years somehow rolled off my tongue with ease and precision. Not one person got up and left. Nobody abandoned me. They loved me and I loved them back. From that moment I was cool with Sierra – Tucson. I made some very good friends and left my fear of what will people think if they know in the Sonoran Desert that night. It was gone and would never come back. I make a habit of recommending Sierra-Tucson to folks because a miracle happened to me there on the second night and there were many more to come.

Every Sunday afternoon, while at Sierra Tucson I called Cathy.  Those calls were a strain on both of us. They were not what you would expect from a husband and wife who had to be apart for an extended time. The truth was we were in our own isolated worlds of confusion, hurt, uncertainty, profound disappointment and fear separated by almost the entire continent and what seemed like millions of questions without answers.  Consider the fact that Cathy had been married to me for 30 years, when she was abruptly blindsided by Gene Cole’s malevolent revelation of my childhood abuse.  That was promptly followed by my emotional / mental breakdown. Then within a matter of a few days, I had left town for treatment, more or less looking and acting like a complete basket case, leaving Cathy holding the bag back home.  So during that critical time in our relationship, we both were in the initial steps of our own personal healing journeys, but with miles and miles ahead before we would attain any sense of normalcy again. When I called her the afternoon of October 2, 2005, the instant Cathy said “hello”, I intuitively knew that something was very wrong in Nashville. The very next thing out of her mouth was “John there is something I have to tell you. I have talked to the people at Sierra Tucson; they think this is the right thing to do.  John, Gene has moved into your office. Dale is not going to let you come back.”

That particular moment in time is etched into my brain like the day  President Kennedy was murdered. I can remember every minute detail of our conversation.  My pain was immediate, profuse and excruciating, as I know it was for Cathy also. There was a feeling of a death-like grip taking hold of me.  I retorted, “Why did you tell me this now? I am 2200 miles away and there is nothing I can do from here. Cathy, why didn’t you wait until I got home to tell me this?  Her reply made perfect sense, but at the time it did not register at all. “Because you will need some help in dealing with this new trauma. I have talked to the people out there. They will be there for you. They will help you get through this”.

Right then I noticed that my lips were dry and parched, as was my throat.  Sensing that phenomenon, my mind flashed back to my cotton mouth of September 6, when I had to excuse myself in the midst of my emotional breakdown to get some water. Fortunately, this time around, I was already holding a bottle of chilled water; I sipped it as I listened to my wife, in essence,  tell me that the church which we had spent the last twelve years sacrificing to build,  had been taken from us by my best friend, Dale Robinson, under the presumed tutelage of his jealous father.  If you ever played sports and had the wind knocked out of you that is about how I felt. In my ears I could hear the thundering beat of my pumping heart; it seemed as though it might explode with each mighty thrust. The “fight or flight instinct” kicked in.  In a matter of seconds, my mind replayed my twenty year relationship with Dale. They were mostly good memories, but in hindsight and in my recovery, I now see all the multiple red flags over those years.

So as I listened to Cathy on the phone, I felt like crying, but I did not.  I knew the truth of what she was in the process of explaining to me; yet, something deep inside me thought, “No, somebody is going to shake me and tell me that this is only a nightmare”. I guess my emotions unconsciously held out hope that somehow things would magically become like they had been before. From two time zones away, Cathy, was trying, as best as she could, to support me, even though she was as devastated as me. In my absence, Dale had pulled a bloodless coup, unilaterally fired Cathy as children’s director and told her not to come onto the church property. Dale’s true character had manifested itself unfettered. I felt completely lost, alone and without hope. For some reason, I recalled the words of my friend Eric Armstrong. During his time in prison, during a desperate act of self-defense, he had stabbed another prisoner to death. Eric once told me that when he had been in solitary that he felt so dark and alone that they had to “airmail me light”. As we talked I felt like I was in absolute darkness. I longed for even a shred of a ray of light because I was very frightened.  I became aware of a pervasive evilness that I reckoned had its origin in Dale’s very soul. Several times in our marriage, Cathy has said that I was the most naive person she had ever known.    I had trusted my best friend, who had promised to help me deal with my abuse. He had promised me that “I will take care of everything while you are away taking care of yourself and getting well. If Kelly is still pissed off when you get home, you can work at your house until she gets over it.” (2) At his insistence, I had agreed with a counselor, whom I barely knew and who was a friend of Gene’s, to go to Sierra Tucson for thirty days in patient treatment of trauma for my childhood abuse.  Because I thought Dale was my friend, I had blindly trusted him.  At the time, under my diminished mental condition, I had failed to factor in Gary, his jealous dad, who in my thirty day  absence saw his opportunity to get something he later unabashedly admitted  to Lou Alvarez, in a clandestine  meeting at Palmer Park,  that he had always wanted —-  “a church like this”. In that same conversation he told Lou, “I have finally got my son back”. (3)

The previous August, on a Wednesday night, Gary had stopped to chat with me in the hallway of our new building. While he was marveling at that wonderful structure, as was his usual habit, he repeatedly and rapidly picked at his left chest with his right hand. That is a reoccurring tic that always seemed to manifest itself most, whenever he was serving up a double portion of his ego-based bull shit. He said to me, “John it is remarkable what you and Dale have accomplished since the Franklin days. (4) And you know John, I have never been jealous of you”.  Ding, Ding, Ding!  I mentioned Gary’s remark to Cathy as soon as I got home.  She immediately said, “Be careful because what he is really saying is that he is jealous of you”.  Cathy is almost always right about people. She had long before seen through Gary Robinson.   That evening I knew she was right on target with her assessment of Gary, as I had already heard the bell ring loudly earlier in the evening.

When we got off the phone, I did not know what to do, so I just sat there in silence trying to absorb what I had been told.  Since I was a little boy, when my mom had depended on me for her emotional support, I had always known what to do in any and all situations.  I had been wrong many times, but I always had a plan. This time I had no plan. It was surreal; I did not want to do anything.  Specifically, I recall not wanting to fight.  Many times during adulthood, events as simple as a word inflection or a look would trigger what I called “my little boy feelings”.   This was one of those times that the little boy trapped deep within me was feeling particularly vulnerable and really very small. In typical little boy thinking, I considered running away. At no time during this mess did I ever want to fight for what was being taken from us. I never considered doing that. After being the primary force behind Highland Park Church from day one, I simply decided to give to Dale and Gary what they craved enough to possibly risk forfeiture of their very souls and just walk away from them. To be perfectly candid, I am not sure why. Since that terrible day with Father Hollis, I had stood my ground, but not this time. I think part of that stemmed from the fact that I loved Dale and Kristin with a near unconditional kind of love, a love that, even today, the embers still continue to glow a bit.  Secondly, and perhaps even more causatively, was that I was extremely codependent on Dale. I think we had both realized years earlier that our relationship was no longer a healthy one. But neither of us had a clue what to do about it, so we chose to do nothing. Doing nothing seldom makes things better.

About that time, I looked up and saw Maureen Jones standing in the lobby watching me.  I walked over to her and related my conversation with Cathy. She hugged me and suggested that we hook up with Katie Moss and the three of us go for a hike in the desert. God in His divine protection assigned Maureen and Katie as my tandem guardian angels for the remainder of that horrible Sunday afternoon.  Our time together was exactly what I needed.  I felt Maureen’s and Katie’s love for me, as the three of us journeyed along the forbidden trails of the Sonoran Desert. I knew Maureen and Katie were there because they loved me. And oddly, I was able to soak up their love like a sponge without any feelings of unworthiness. Writing this nearly ten years later, I now realize that by accepting their love that awful day, it was a sure sign that my rehab was producing fruit. Even in the midst of my profound pain, I sensed that my life was in paradox mode.  I felt my recovery was taking hold.  Yet, that afternoon, under the crystal clear Arizona sun, suspended in an incredibly deep blue sky,  like some kind of fire hot Christmas ornament, as the three of us walked upon God’s fantastically beautiful desert canvas, I did not have a clue what to do next.  As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps fifteen yards ahead, a rattlesnake slithered across out path. It was the first one that I had seen; although, I had been warned that the desert was full of them. It was months later, during a time of reflection that I realized the hidden meaning of the snake.

When we got back from our walk, I soon realized that every staff person was aware of what had gone down in Nashville. Each made a point to reach out to me. Cathy was right, as usual; it was best that I learned of Dale’s betrayal while I was at Sierra Tucson.  The staff helped me to understand my feelings as well as Dale’s actions. More importantly, they let me begin to process them, verbally, emotionally and spiritually.  When asked for one word to describe my feelings, I immediately responded, “confused”.  That confusion would follow me like a dark and menacing shadow until Monday April 10, 2006.

One day, in a session Mary Harper, my therapist, made a reference to the “known and the unknown” in my situation. I actually laughed and accused her of being a student of Donald Rumsfeld. That was the first laugh I could recall in almost a month. I cannot remember the exact context of her comment, but the bottom line was something like, what I already knew about Dale’s actions, as bad as that knowledge was to me, at least I knew about it. What I did not know was what else his newly liberated ego was conjuring up on his fast track climb to be top dog for the first time in his life and escape his self-perceived, perpetual second-string life.  I never saw him that way, but I knew that was the way he saw himself when the lights were turned off.

What a son does or does not get from a father always has a profound effect. It seems clear to me that Dale’s betrayal was ignited by the unquenchable need to feel affirmed by his dad. To have that need realized, Dale willingly paid a huge price. God’s design of each human being contains a phenomenal healing ability. That Sunday, Dale’s hatchet job was just underway and with each day it became clearer to me that his sinister intent was like a snowball rolling downhill. As it grew in size and speed he decided that he would destroy me however he had to. Fortunately, God protected me from the full force of his butchery.

On October 14 a few days before I left for home, in a phone conversation Dale told me that if I attempted to come back to HPC that he would have me arrested and he was thoughtful enough to remind me what that would do to my mom and that if that happened she would learn of the abuse. He said the media would have a “field day”. He then instructed me to call his cell and leave a message that I had resigned. I did that as soon as we hung up. What was so amazing was that I did not have any trouble whatsoever in doing that.

Before we hung up Dale told me that I should sue the Catholic Church for “big bucks” and even offered to put me in touch with an attorney. He also suggested that I write a book about my abuse, saying “You might end up on Oprah”. This is that book; that was the first time I considered writing this one. Good ideas can come from strange places. Then he went into damage control mode when, he told me that my friend, Lou Alvarez wanted “to throw me under the bus, but that I (Dale) would not let him”. Of course I knew he was lying.  He also said there were “many rumors” about me at church. I responded, “I bet there are; why not just tell them the truth about what is going on?” He replied that if he did that people might feel for me over Kelly. When I inquired as to the nature of the rumors, he replied that for one, Sam Garrett was “stirring up trouble”. He said that Sam was telling people that I was a racist. I pretended like I could not know Sam Garret, but the truth was I knew Sam well.  I also knew that Dale was on one of his trademarked lying binges.  In fact, as he was talking, I imagined him having to look away from the phone, as he lied to me. Dale had spent a great part of his life looking away when he was talking.  He is not an eye contact kind of guy. During my stay at Sierra Tucson, I learned a great deal about liars.

By coincidence, when I returned home, Sam Garrett was one of the first people to contact me. I met with Sam and his lovely wife Linda. They told me that when they had gone to Dale to see what had happened to me, that Dale had told them, “John is a very sick person; he is a racist and that has finally caught up with him”. Linda interjected that it was obvious he was lying because she had known me since my building supply days when I had regularly called on her company. She said, “Dale could not look us in the eyes at all”. Sam told me that he “jumped all over Dale about the racist comment” and told him he was going to tell me about it as soon as I got home. Obviously, when Dale claimed on the phone, that Sam was the source, he was merely trying to cover his tracks.  I thought to myself. A lot has changed over the past month, but Dale has not.

 

19…NOW WHAT?

Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts. Do not let the proud trample me or the wicked push me around. Look! Those who do evil have fallen! They are thrown down, never to rise again. Psalms 36:10-12 (NLT)

The wheels of the Southwest 737 hit the runway at exactly 6:59 PM, a full six minutes ahead of schedule. As we taxied toward the gate, the captain said, “Welcome to Nashville. It is 74 degrees, partly cloudy skies and the wind is out of the southwest at 5-10 MPH”. I was home! Now what? That was a remarkably paradoxical moment in time for me. Over my lifetime, I had landed in Nashville perhaps a hundred or so other times. Each of those was accompanied with the classic feeling that it is nice to be home.  However, with this landing things were different. Part of me was indeed happier than ever before to be home; but there was another part that was very frightened. In a sense I kind of longed to be back at the safety of Sierra-Tucson.  As the plane made its way across the tarmac, there was a battle raging inside my soul for which part of me was going to be in control of my life from that point.  Would it be faith or fear?

Making my way through the gate and into the terminal, I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. The truth was I was clueless. Three months earlier, I had stood on the stage of our new building facing a roaring crowd of nearly 800 people, as we dedicated what turned out to be the grand climax for Cathy and me of a twelve year journey helping our incredible team to build Highland Park Church. I understood that chapter of our lives was now forever in our rear view mirrors. Life seemed very black and hopeless.  I was wallowing in a pigsty of largely self-imposed pity, doubt, hurt and shame. After nearly five weeks of intense therapy to peel back the layers of my life, and then just a few days before my return to discover the Judas-type betrayal, my emotions were raw and fragile as eggshells. Walking through the corridor with a carry on over my shoulder, I feared I was going to start crying. Approaching the unsecured area of BNA, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of Cathy and Michael.  My God what a beautiful sight they were! I recall thinking, “This must be how it feels to be released from prison”.  In a sense I had been — a prison of my own bad choices spread over many years of trying to cope with being me. Even though I was a free man, I would choose to live in fear for a few more months.

No sooner had the car doors closed in the short term parking area, than the tears cascaded forth from the deepest recesses of my soul. I remember thinking, “What must Cathy and Michael be thinking?” Yet, I was powerless to stop them. I cried nearly all the way home. I had lost our church, a few people whom I had mistakenly thought were my friends, let down 800 or so other people who had trusted me to lead them and damaged my relationship with Cathy. I felt like a hybrid concoction of a sucker, a fool, a loser and a cry baby thrown into a blender and pureed at a super high speed.

As best as they could, Cathy and Michael tried to support me. Michael stayed at the house until late that night fielding questions from me about how the betrayal had actually gone down. He related how Dale had told him a few weeks earlier, “Michael, I am between my best friend and my wife. If I choose my best friend, my wife will leave me”.   As much as I would like to believe that he was caught between a rock and a hard place, I knew that was not the case. His actions would later prove that his words were just so much “Robinson BS” and most likely an attempt to shift the blame for his betrayal to his wife.

The next day Lou Alvarez came to the house with even more bizarre and ominous details of what had taken place. He told me how he and my sister, Kathy, had successfully pressured Dale to show him, Dale and Diana Mitchell, my sister and sister in law the security camera video of the alleged incident. As I already knew, it did not support the Robinsons’ specious claim that I had been in a rage or that there was any kind of violent argument between Kelly and me. It showed Kelly and me calmly talking and Gene walking away from us without even glancing in our direction. Unfortunately for me, the camera angle did not show me put my arm around Kelly nor did it contain any sound. When church members later demanded to see the video at a church meeting, Dale refused and said it was “too graphic”. The truth was it graphically proved he was a liar.  When church folks started asking Dale tough questions, I was astounded to learn that he had ramped up into overdrive what I believe to be his narcissism – driven compulsive lying nature; albeit; I am no psychologist. For starters, he told some of the church people that I was a gay.  I was stupefied!  In Lou’s presence, I called Dale on his cell. When he answered I said, “Dale do you think I am a homosexual? He replied that he did not. When I asked, “Then why did you say that?” he blamed it on my sister, Kathy, for upsetting him in the meeting when the security camera video was shown. He said, “I just said it to get her off my back”. I suppose that is a perfectly logical answer from a son of a father who taught him that he is to be both “sanctified” and “perfect”.

During our brief conversation, I told him that my phone had been ringing constantly and that the church that the two of us had helped build for the last twelve years was on the verge a total collapse. He asked two questions. “Who has called?” and “What can we do?”  I purposely ignored the first replying, “We tell the true story and let the chips fall as they will.”  Dale replied “We have to figure out how and what we are going to say, but I do not want to come to your house or you come here. Where can we meet?”  Lou and Ann were leaving town for a short holiday at first light, so Lou suggested that we meet at his pool house the following day. Dale and I agreed to meet at 11 AM. Frankly, I thought that just maybe we could still avoid a full split of Highland Park Church.

The following day Dale called me on my cell, as I drove on Woodlawn Drive, abruptly saying he was not going to meet with me. It seemed clear to me that Poppa Gary had used his family veto power to sabotage our meeting in order to maintain his new found control of Highland Park Church. Several months later, Gary would shamelessly brag to me that he is in control of his family. In our phone conservation, Dale said to me, “I do not want you to ever call me again, but it is OK for Michael to contact me”.  I thought that was a bit strange, but we were in strange times.

My phone continued ranging literally off the hook. Over the next couple of weeks, I got well over 250 phone calls and visits of support. At that time, I had two land lines at home. On several occasions both of those were in use or ringing while I talked on my cell or vice versa.  Many of the calls and visits brought new revelations of additional lies (1). It soon became apparent that Dale was so compulsively lying to save his tail that he was unable to remember his last lie; because often he contradicted himself with the next.  That prompted my dear friend Jim Fyke, who at the time was Commissioner of Environment and Conservation for the State of Tennessee, to remark, “In time Dale would be exposed for what he is because he would be unable to remember what lie he had told to whom. We soon found that Jim, in addition to being an amazing public servant was also quite a prophet.

Sadly, I learned that Dale and his minions had told gay people that I was homophobic, straight people that I was gay and black people that I was a racist. Whatever lie would do the most damage to me with a particular individual was told. For instance on October 9, 2005 he told Lou Alvarez, Kathy Kirkham, Dale and Diana Mitchell that he caught me downloading porn on the church office computer and that “John and Cathy’s marriage is on the rocks”. He went so far as to say that I was sleeping at the church because of my “troubled marriage”.  He told Irene Lowe that I had physically abused both my son and wife. Wilma Cooper told me a heartbreaking story that brought more tears to my eyes. While I had been away she had gone to Dale’s office to give him several cards of encouragement that she had written to me. Wilma had asked Dale to get them to me; he promised her that he would. They never came. Wilma later called to tell me that Gary had called her and asked her to “misremember” another conversation she had had with Dale. Several other people told me that they had inquired to Dale where they could send cards while I was at Sierra Tucson. Dale told them I could not receive any mail whatsoever. People called to tell me that Dale had told them that I had lost my mind and that the doctors at Sierra Tucson had told him that I would never recover. Of course it would have been against the law for anyone at Sierra Tucson to talk to Dale about me. Clearly, any thinking person who had known me and without an agenda could see through the Robinsons’ deceit.

I am not capable of expressing the sick feelings I had when I learned of the wicked litany of spurious words coming from the mouth of a man whom I had loved like a brother, a man whom I had always put his welfare before my own, a man who Cathy and I had helped put through college and finally a man whom I had mentored from a clerk’s job with a highly perilous future at mom and pop’s family business to the co-pastor of one of the most successful churches in Nashville. At every opportunity, during our time together at HPC, I had gone out of my way to promote Dale to our congregation. That is an indisputable fact.

However, the fact for me was at that moment in time, I was unable to process any of what I was hearing. To be betrayed and then lied about by someone you love has to be close to the top of the pain scale. I had not been prepared for what I was hearing from so many people. I became so depressed that I wanted to die. While still in Arizona, it had been easy to figure out that the Robinsons’ thirst for power and control, along with Dale’s need to please his dad and finally be number one at something — anything was behind the split. That was obvious, but never did I imagine the depths into their personal cesspool they would sink to try to not only take the church, but destroy me personally. Knowing the dysfunctional Robinson family dynamics, I could wrap my mind around them taking the church piece of the pie, but the concerted attempt to destroy me by lying as long as it would take, I could not deal with that. Now years down the road and with much more perspective, I am sure that was not their original plan, but when church people did not buy their highly fabricated allegations about the incident involving Kelly and me, which I was technically guilty(2), but certainly not morally or intentionally guilty. As those people demanded to hear from me, because of their character, the Robinsons were forced deeper into their family vault of lies, distortions, jealousy and highly fermented hate. I believe that their actions had sprung from the pit of hell itself, but I might be giving the Devil too much credit.

Be that as it may, once again, real life had proven to me the unfathomable power of evilness in formally decent people, whom I believe both surrendered their souls not only to the Devil, but also to the insatiable drive of their hyper inflated egos.  Their despicable lies were incalculably more painful than the loss of the church. Had it just been the brick, mortar and the note to the bank, I would have been wounded deeply, but not nearly destroyed.  Their focused attempt to annihilate me, my wife and my son (5)  sent me into a chasm of total and complete despair and into a depression so deep and intense that I considered taking my life. I actually thought out how I might do that. I owned a handgun, a 32, but I was afraid that might just wound me without killing me.  One night I lay awake thinking about buying a shotgun. I kept coming back to the effect that taking my life would have on my family and that the Robinson’s would surely spin my suicide as a victory for them. By taking my life I would get them off the hook. When I figured that out I scratched that option.

I am confident I would never have done that, but I did have those thoughts. Those thoughts scared me greatly!  Thank God Parker Sherrill ignored Dale’s injunction prohibiting the sending of cards to me. Parker sent me a wonderful card of encouragement. I had called him on September 27 so he knew the truth. In the note Parker asked me call him when I got home. So the morning after thinking about buying the shotgun, not knowing what else to do, I reached out to Parker; we scheduled a meeting at his house for 8AM the next morning.

Driving to Parker’s, my mind was thousands of miles away. As I was passing the Harpeth Hall School on Estes Road, I noticed a policeman on the roadside up ahead holding a radar gun pointed in my direction. I immediately glanced at my speed and thankfully I was doing 32. No problem I thought. It is funny now, but it never occurred to me that I was speeding through a 15 MPH school zone! The ticket brought me back to reality.

Parker was able to discern that I was in trouble both mentally and emotionally.  He had invited Steve Renner, a man whom I did not know at the time to join us. They jointly came to the conclusion that I was in need of immediate help and did not need to be left alone. That was a Friday morning; Parker suggested that, along with our wives, the three of us go to his lake house on Tim’s Ford Lake for the weekend. Both Steve and Parker agreed that I needed an attorney to address some of the most odious of the Robinson lies.  Steve made some phone calls and quickly put me in touch with Barbara Moss of Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, LLP. Barbara is an amazingly compassionate woman, who immediately swung into action to warn both Dale and Gene of the consequences of any further lies.  Her letters got their attention as the most egregious of their cache of deceits came to a screeching halt at about the time Barbara’s courier hand delivered the two letters the following week. I have no doubt that God himself directed me to Barbara.

We all agreed to meet at the lake house later that afternoon.  When I got home, I had eight or ten voice mails. As bad as I felt, God allowed me to begin to soak in the outpouring of love from so many people. Actually, many of them I really did not know except to say “hello” at church. A few I only knew from attendance cards and had never actually met. One of the early calls came from Matthew Marth our top singer at HPC. During the call he said, “John I do not know what to do”. I replied, “Matthew, you need to stay at HPC”.  As Cathy drove us to the lake house, my cell phone rang. Dale Robinson was calling. I answered by saying, “Dale I thought you did not want to ever talk to me again”.  He accused me of inciting church people against him. I retorted, “Dale, your own lies may be inciting folks, but I do not know what you are talking about. One of the reasons I have left town is I want this crap to cool down a bit”. I told him I was going to spend the weekend with Parker and Susan and would be away from my home phone on purpose.  He then asked specifically if I had heard from Peggy Sells. When I replied that I had not, like a child he claimed that she was on “Kelly and my side”. I did not believe that for even a millisecond.  Then the same Dale Robinson, who two days earlier made a great big production in telling me to never call him again said, “If you need to call me, only call my cell”. Bingo! Since at that point in time, Dale was only in his church office on Wednesdays and at the Robinson Insurance office at his parent’s house the other days of the week, it was clear Dale did not want his daddy to see any calls from me on the insurance office phone. It was also apparent to me that poppa Gary had most likely put him up to telling me to never call him.  In all probability, I expect he was in the room with Dale during our previous phone call.  It was amazing the power Dale had apparently surrendered to his dad. But I knew how much Dale longed to win his father’s approval. That is a need every man has to deal with and one he had acknowledged to me openly on previous occasions.  It is a need that I myself had struggled greatly.

Several years earlier Dale had come to my house quite upset because Gary had told him that he was going to let Gregory come into the insurance business. He claimed his dad had promised him years earlier that would never happen. Dale was in tears; he talked about taking his life. I was worried about his welfare. During the conversation he told me that Gary had always favored Gregory and that this dad had never told him that he loved him. I explained that was the case for many people, but that I quite certain that Gary was proud of him in a big way. I encouraged him to sit down with his dad and be honest about his feelings. He came up with a plan where I would meet with his dad to tell him how upset he was. That night I met with Gary. The following day the three of us met for lunch at Shoney’s Restaurant in Bellevue and during the meal Dale finally heard the words he had longed to hear for 36 years. “Dale I love you”. The folks around us must have been taken aback to see three guys crying. It was a good cry and a special day. Gregory never came into the insurance business.

When Cathy and I arrived at the lake house, Parker and Susan were there and Steve and his wife Donna arrived shortly. During dinner I learned that Donna was a therapist. She spent the entire weekend being there for me and Cathy. It was an incredible experience!  A perfect stranger, who undoubtedly had other things to do, gave up her weekend to help a man she did not know. Before Friday night was over, I felt like I had known Steve and Donna for years. Parker and Susan are the most giving folks I have ever known. In retrospect it was just like them to take me under their wings at a time of my greatest need. One of the joys of our lives  is that out of our relationship with Parker and Susan, since that evening Cathy and I have become much more generous people one on one with folks who are in need.

Saturday morning I got a phone call from Peggy Sells. I told her that I was at Parker’s. She said, “I will be there tonight”. That was truly music to my ears, but I tried to talk her out of driving all that way, but she insisted. She was exactly what I needed. When she got there she said “We are going to kick Dale Robinson’s lying ass”.  When she said that it was like lighting a candle in the dark, for the first time in very long time, I was able to faintly see a future and even though did not know where the journey before us would lead,  Peggy’s kick ass statement gave me my first flicker of hope in a very long time.

 

20…IN THE JAILHOUSE NOW

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalms 23:4-5 (NLT).

Friday afternoon December 16, 2005 I had just stepped off the elevator at Baptist Hospital on my way to ICU to check on Alexia, the daughter of one of our members who was in a coma and near death when my cell rang.  It was David Raybin, my attorney, who was representing me in what he called “The Great Church Mess”. “John I hate to spoil your day but your friends are on their way to the DA’s office to get you a Christmas present. They are determined to swear out a warrant for your arrest. They have no grounds, but we have to follow the procedure.  I suggest that you go by Capitol City Bonding and have Mary accompany you to the Criminal Justice Center to turn yourself in.  I’ll call her and give her a heads up. That way you won’t risk embarrassment of being picked up at home. You will be out in a couple of hours, you’ll have it behind you and it will be quite an experience. You might get some good stuff for a sermon”. Actually, I felt relief. For over three months Dale had been threatening to have me arrested on a trumped up charge unless I bowed to him. Every time I saw a police car in my neighborhood I had visions of them leading me out the front door of my house in cuffs and everybody in our cul-de-sac looking on. Dale had what he described as a “Countdown Calendar”.  On several occasions since the events of September 6, he had threaten me with arrest by saying things like, “I still have 340 days that I can have you arrested. All I have to do is call the cops”.  At first the threats scared me to death because he is the most tenacious and unrelenting person I have ever known. His tenacity had served him well and was one of the reasons for our success at Highland Park Church.  In fact it was one of his character qualities that I had admired greatly.  But when he used it for bad it was something very frightening.

I had recently learned that somebody had sent a series of threatening emails to another pastor in the neighborhood (1). The emails were sent under the assumed name of “Darren Liff” essentially threatening the pastor with disruption of his Sunday service. At his wits end the pastor had shown them to his friend, Martin Amoroa, who had done some graphic design for us at HPC and had also traveled to Chicago with Dale and me for a conference a few years earlier. Martin somehow traced the threatening emails back to the Robinson Insurance Agency static IP Address (2). Because of Martin’s business and personal relationship with Dale, the pastor did not involve the police. However, he did send Dale an email saying “If you have something to say I’ll be glad to meet with you face to face”. The pastor got no reply nor any more threatening emails.   It is mystifying how you can think you know someone so well, but then you see a brand new side.  That paradox is basic to our human condition. The first time Dale threatened to have me arrested he involved my 89 year old mother into his threat by pointing out how my arrest would affect her. I just looked at him and shook my head.  I had also learned through a mutual friend that he had attempted several weeks earlier to have me arrested, but the DA, who had a child on Dale’s softball team, would not issue the warrant and referred the matter to mediation.  She saw it for what it was when she termed it a “church split” which was exactly what it was all about.

When Dale and his dad took control of the church while I was away at Sierra Tucson, Dale had told Lou Alvarez that only “ten people or so would leave the church”. When their plan started to go south and the truth came out over 300 people left.  Perhaps that fired up their “Let’s have John arrested” juices.  After my attorney’s call I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. At least my old friend Dale would no longer be able to threaten me with a ride in the backseat of a police cruiser. I chalked that up as a “W” in my column.  I also naively thought the end of this nightmare was finally within sight. It was Friday night; the jails would be full so I figured they would not waste much time with me.  I continued to ICU and prayed with Alexia’s family, picked up Cathy and we headed to the “seedy side of town” to seek the services of Capitol City Bonding. Somehow God had taken all the fear and embarrassment of what was happening away. I felt like David from the Old Testament, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalms 23:4-5 (NLT).

Mary was expecting us. She told me I was not her typical customer. I thanked her for the compliment. Mary explained what would happen at the jail. She expected that the whole process would take between two and three hours and that I would actually be in a cell for less than an hour. The rest of the time would be waiting, fingerprinting and having my mug shot taken. Speaking of the mug shot,  Dale’s dad Gary was kind enough to email it to me many months  later in one of his  ”Moon Mails” with the following note.  “Attached is a classic picture from days gone by. It should evoke some special memories.  We’ve had a sterling time with it.”(2) It is in the appendix. Be forewarned it is scary. I signed all the bail bond forms, Mary gave Cathy her business card and the three of us walked the four blocks to the CJC on a raw December night. While we were walking over, I asked Mary if she ever had any famous clients. She told me that she was Adam “Pacman” Jones’ personal bondswoman. I never in a million years expected to have anything in common with Pac!   Mary did tell me that he is really a “good guy”.  When we got to the jail we learned that there was no warrant. The clerk speculated that the warrant would not come down until Monday because the warrant office closed early on Friday.  I was extremely disappointed. I would not be arrested that night.  I would have to wait another three days. I did not like that idea, but we made the best of it by going to dinner at Outback.

Monday December 19, as I was leaving a meeting at the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office, Mary called. The warrant had arrived. She had told the clerk that I would be in later in the afternoon to surrender. I picked up Cathy and we went to lunch at McDonald’s on Hillsboro Road. While we were eating Parker Sherrill called; when I told him I was I was on my way to jail, and had stopped at McDonald’s, Parker started roaring with laughter about me choosing a “Big Mac as my last meal”.  He got me tickled to the point that my Diet Coke came out through my nose. For some reason when logic told me I should be terrified, we were all laughing under the Golden Arches!  Perhaps God was laughing too. His Word says, “The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs…” Psalms 37:12-13 (NLT) God is not necessarily logical, but He is always working in our lives if we will just pause in the moment to feel Him and let Him love and guide us. He has shown Himself to be the “Big G God” time after time in my life and this was another example of His unending protection.   We parked at Mary’s office and again the three of us walked back over to the CJC arriving shortly after 2 PM.  This time all the paperwork was in order. Mary explained to Cathy and I that I would be released between 5 and 6, and that she would come back over with her for my release.

I gave Cathy my watch, wallet, and college ring. Cathy and Mary then left the building.  I recall feeling very lonely, but still without fear. I thought “This cannot be real” and then a sense of profound sadness enveloped me. The very best friend I had ever had, whom I still loved greatly, was having me arrested without cause, as the court would conclude in four months.  So very sad! I walked into the booking room; a sergeant came over and told me to have a seat and relax. He also said they did not get many preachers. He then recalled that several years ago he did book a preacher for murder. One of the most interesting afternoons of my life was just beginning. I did not have to wait long. The door opened and two officers escorted a handcuffed gentleman who was claiming it was all a “big mistake”.  Nobody I met in jail that day was “guilty” including me!  They sat him down and walked away to confer with the sergeant. The guy looked at me and wanted to know why I was there. I told him it was a long story, but the bottom line it was part of a church split. He knew “about those” and proceeded to tell me about his “old lady’s” church splitting. Then he started yelling that it was all a big mistake and he was innocent. I asked him what was going on; why was he there?  I found out during the church mess that real life is much stranger than fiction. You just cannot make this stuff up. My new friend’s name was Mr. Peanut and he did have a striking resemblance to the Planter’s man. That very morning Mr. Peanut had been released from the Tennessee State Prison after serving time for robbery. He had been out of prison less than six hours and here he sat in handcuffs in the booking room. Soon I realized that the focus of my sadness had suddenly shifted from me to Mr. Peanut. I wondered what in the world was going on with him that would prevent him from staying out of trouble for even a day? Could he not stay out of jail for one single day? Peanut was stopped for a traffic violation. Since he did not have a valid license the police ran a check on him and found an outstanding warrant for “failure to appear” that was several years old.  I asked him what that meant and he explained that when he was in jail that he had missed a court appearance on another traffic charge, so a warrant was issued for him failing to appear. He said, “Hell, preacher I could not go to court if I was already in jail could I?”  It seemed to me that he had a valid point. He was very vocal about his innocence and several times the officers told him to calm down. Suddenly, he screamed, “This ain’t f…ing right. Why am I in cuffs and this guy (me) is just sitting here as pretty as he pleases?”  One of the officers replied, “Do you want me to cuff him?” The officer’s question sent a chill down my spine. Mr. Peanut replied, “No”.  With that Peanut and I had bonded; a bit like blood brothers. Before long the jailer came and took Mr. Peanut away. We wished each other luck. Our paths would cross again.

About 3:15 Sergeant Williams asked me to come over to his desk so he could do the paperwork on me. As he entered the information into the computer, we talked about the arrest warrant and our churches. I learned that he was very active in his. Right there in the booking room we talked about the possibility of the two churches joining together in some type of outreach. Unfortunately that has not worked out. It was obvious to me that God had put him in my path that day; my booking was nothing like I see on “Cops”!  After we finished he walked with me back to the actual jail area where I was fingerprinted and had my picture taken. Thank God I was not required to hold up a number! I found the entire process both humbling and extremely interesting. When we were finished with that I was told to sit in the hallway and enjoy the “show”.  I soon realized that I had a front row seat for real life “Cops”.  I heard loud talking, then suddenly the door banged open and a Metro Policeman pushed in a guy who was three sheets to the wind. He was cussing and screaming to beat the band. I must have sat there nearly an hour watching a steady parade of prisoners being brought in handcuffs. It was quite the show. Surprising to me it seemed that everybody knew everybody!

Sergeant Williams came over to inform me that he would have to put me in a cell shortly; he told me what to expect.  As we talked I made the comment that I was grateful for the way I had been treated. He said, “Pastor it is because this is your first visit. The others you see here have been here so many times we know them. It is like a revolving door, but that is the system we have”. I asked him how many of his regular customers had grown up with a mom and dad in the home. “Very few — this is the only life they know.”  Just before five he came back and asked me if I was ready to really see the rest of the jail.  “Yes I am”.  As we walked toward a remotely operated door he explained that I would be in a cell with five other men. The door to the pod opened; as Sergeant Williams stood at the door I slowly walked down the cellblock to an open cell door on the left. It was like being in the twilight zone. No sooner had I cleared the doorway than I heard the sound of steel banging shut behind me. For a split second I was frightened —- until I recognized a familiar face. There was Mr. Peanut! I do not think I have ever been as glad to see somebody in my life. “Welcome to Metro’s finest” he said. Again I saw God’s mighty hand at work.   Standing in that cell with four pair of eyes staring at me, was frankly beyond the twilight zone. It was off the charts!  There were actually five other guys in the cell; however, one was passed out under a bunk.  I sat down on a bunk next to Peanut. A man across from us was bitching because he had been arrested; he said “without probable cause”. He had been pulled over on Ellington Parkway. A search of his automobile turned up a loaded pistol and a bag of crack. He had recently been released from prison after serving time for attempted murder. He was now out on parole. He openly admitted to me that he was guilty, but insisted that his constitutional rights had been violated because he was stopped without probable cause. According to him the whole thing was “A crock of sh.. because I was a victim of those mother f…ing cops profiling me”. Of course I agreed with him! About that time I heard a racket from under the bunk where the guy was passed out. He crawled out on all fours and vomited all over the place. It was quite the sight and sound! I flashed back to my party days at The University of Tennessee. I silently asked, “God are you still here”? I was pretty sure he was.

Peanut started screaming for the guard to come. Soon the door opened; a trustee with a mop bucket and a garbage mouth entered to clean up the mess. Before he had finished up, the supper cart rolled up with the night’s entrée — two plain baloney sandwiches on white bread and one of those drink boxes of Kool Aide – no chips and no cookie.  I passed on the grub. At that point in time, I do not think I could have eaten one of those if my life depended on it. The door opened again and now there were seven. Like the rest of us he was innocent too. Somebody “set him up”. He did not know the crack was in his car. As I sat there nearly in a trance, I noticed that there was a phone on the wall. A telephone right there in the cell! I asked Peanut what the phone was for. He replied, “So you can call out of this mother f…ing hell-hole, but you gotta call collect.” I picked the phone up and called Cathy to make sure she had not forgotten about me. It was surreal. I was making a collect call to my wife from jail!  Her voice never sounded so good.  She told me that Mary had called and told her to be back to CJC around 5:50.  She was going to park at the bonding company and Mary was going to walk with her to meet me upon my release.  As soon as I got off the phone, Mr. Peanut whispered, “Preacher can you please call your wife back and ask her to call my daddy to come down here and bail me out.” Of course I did not mind; Mr. Peanut and I were jail bird buds. Things had gotten somewhat quiet in the cell and I thought that the new guy looked familiar. I knew him from someplace. He seemed like he was eyeing me too. I hoped that was the reason for his attention.  So I asked him, “Where do I know you from”?  He replied that he was thinking the same thing about me. He asked me if I had done time in the pen or did I ever frequent a bunch of places I never heard of.   Finally I asked him if he had ever attended Highland Park Church. He had not. Then he said, “Dude you are the cool preacher; you used to come to the Mission on Thursday nights. What are you doing here? This ain’t right!” I agreed!  It is a small world. I had in fact spoken at the Mission many times. Fifty minutes after the door had slammed behind me it opened again; my named was called. I was once again a free man. On the way home I asked Cathy if she had called Mr. Peanut’s dad.  She had.  His reply to her was, “Tell that SOB to never call me again”.  How sad!   That afternoon was one I never want to repeat, but it is one I would not take anything for the experience.

 

21…THE HALLS OF JUSTICE

Remember when you were a kid? You just could not wait for the big days to come. Like Christmas, I would literally count the days off from Thanksgiving. The anticipation was so pungent that I could nearly taste it.  Yet, the anticipation never quite lived up to its billing. So it seems to be with big days. April 10, 2006 was one of those days for me. It was my day in court. I had prayed about it.  I looked forward to it. I trusted God in it.  Truth won! Vindication is a healing balm.  But my victory was so bittersweet that it did not taste like victory should. I stood on the opposite side of the courtroom looking at Kelly, who apparently against the advice of her friend a district attorney, had filed assault and battery charges against me.  Kelly is a Canadian citizen who had actually lived in our home as our guest for over two years while she was going to college and dating the man who stood next to her.  As she stood there I sadly recalled happier times when she used to refer to me as her “American Dad”.  That was the relationship we had. For years Kelly had referred to my son Michael, who was standing by my side, as her “little brother”. Cathy and I had treated her just like we did Michael. How we had loved her!  From what we could piece together from talking to others, she may have been pressured by Gary, her father in law, to file the charges.   I do know that a few days later, he boasted in an email to me that he is the head of the family and whatever he says “goes”.(1)

It seemed telling to me that when Judge John Brown  asked Kelly if she had anything to say against me, she simply replied “No”. Other than myself, the only other eyewitness to the events of September 6, 2005 chose not to testify against the man she had thrown in jail a few months earlier. And that one little word “No” is the final clue that causes me to know in my heart this whole sordid nightmare most likely is a result of Kelly suffering from past PTSD or some similar condition. If you sort of follow the trail, first Kelly told people that I had attacked her. That morphed into I had her down on the floor and one of the construction workers came in the office and pulled me off. Then it became, “It was so horrible I feared that he was going to break my neck”. It apparently peaked when she told people that she was in fear of her life.  So over several months, prior to her time in court on April 6, 2006 she had a lot to say. When she finally got me where she apparently had wanted me why did she not say one single negative word, not one against me?  I believe that at some point she realized that I had only reignited some very horrible memory from her childhood that she is still to this day keeping a secret. Trust me I have some expertize in that area.  No, she will never to come clean, but she could not bring herself to testify falsely against me under oath before God in that court room. I do believe my theory is at least close to the real truth.

All of the folks standing there on the other side were people we love, who positively impacted our lives, folks I had laughed, cried and shared my deepest secrets. And for reasons none of us will probably ever fully understand, somehow together we all screwed that up.  And there we stood in what the judge called this “church mess”, the worst possible example of Christianity to the other 100 or so people in the courtroom. It did not take the judge long to figure out what was going on. He said the only thing worse than a nasty divorce was a “nasty church split”. He dismissed the charges and ordered that my record be expunged.   Relationships are very precious things and they are delicate. Hopefully someday there will be a healing. None of us are getting any younger or are any of us bad people. All of us carry baggage in life. You have to be willing to let go of it in order to get well. My life is a testimony to that fact.

I learned some very painful life lessons in the seven months leading up to my day in court. First and foremost, relationships often come apart so slowly that you do not even notice. Secondly, when you do notice something is a little out of whack, address the situation immediately. Not addressing it always leads to trouble. Thirdly, do not assume that people will treat you like you would treat them. Fourth, live in the present, not the past.  Yesterday was yesterday and it is gone forever. There is not a thing you can do about it. Move on with your life and live only for today. Fifth, you cannot control what somebody says or thinks about you, so do not even try. Sooner or later, the truth will always rise to the top.  Sixth, realize that you do not need to respond to every criticism. Finally, in every situation in life ask, “What can I learn from this and what changes do I need to make in the way I do life?” When I first wrote those words back in 2006 I naively thought that chapter of my life was closed. How wrong I was. Soon “Moon Mail”, both signed and unsigned would begin arriving both in my inbox and my mailbox. It would prove to be quite a ride. It would also be sad, frightening and very revealing.

 

22…MOON MAIL

The wicked draw their swords and string their bows to kill the poor and the oppressed, to slaughter those who do right. Psalms 37:14 (NLT)

(Warning some of Gary’s communiques may make no sense to you. Complete emails are posted in the print book appendix).

Four days later on Good Friday 2006, the day honoring Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, a multi-year odyssey of electronic bullying, harassment and message board posts, along with unsigned letters, fake identities, phone call hang ups and something that I do not know what to call it except an attempted “shakedown” was just beginning.  Some of the actors identified themselves. One, the police made an ID after subpoenaing his internet records. The rest I can only make assumptions and speculations based on prior experiences. The harassment began on Good Friday when Gary Robinson sent me what has become known as the “Faux Olive Branch” email. He did sign it, but I also traced it to his insurance office computer, since the IP address on the email matched the IP address on some of the threatening emails that were sent earlier to the other pastor under the pen name of “Darren Liff”.

After the judge had exposed the light of truth once and for all in the public record, Gary Robinson was suddenly offering me what he referred to as an “olive branch” and seemingly taking  responsibility for  what I had thought all long – that he had been the driving force behind the whole sordid episode of the church hijacking.  As stunning as it is, Gary actually wrote this in his email of April 14 and later in a snail mail of April 17:

“You and I are the leaders of our families. What we say goes and we are very good at what we do. We should commend each other. You have hurt my son and I have hurt your son. If you feel you were vindicated in the courtroom on Monday then so was I. I nearly put your son in jail

(I do not understand what he is talking about here.  I was the one on trial not my son.) But I am sure our sons would ask us to lay our swords down…we, you and I have the power to lay this issue aside…

I will say this…if any of this email gets out, in its entirety or in any portion, the olive branch will be withdrawn…

I will accept one and only one response. It’s not very religious but we both understand what it means…’Uncle’.  I will not accept any more than just one word…’Uncle’…’”

Yikes! To me, those were revealing statements. I could not believe he was actually writing those kinds of things in an email. His email seemed to us to be an attempt to convince his own impotent ego of his imagined power. It was all about everybody except the supposed victim.  If Kelly was the person who was so emotionally traumatized, why was not she the focus of Gary’s thoughts? How did “our sons” become the victims?  To me the answer is quite obvious.  By Gary’s own admission, he had been after me with a “sword”. As he was trying to destroy me, all I had in my hand was a shield; I was merely trying to survive. I never held a sword either figuratively or literally. The charges were dismissed so anyway you cut it the Robinson’s looked bad.  What was left of their credibility had taken a hit on the scales of justice. To use an old southern euphemism, they had crapped in their nest.

In September of 2005, when Lou Alvarez had beseeched Dale to reverse course before he split the church, Dale has responded, “Lou we have determined that no more than ten people will leave”.  The actual number who walked was around three hundred! When, due to their own evil actions, the bottom fell out, they then tried to actually put me in prison in a feeble attempt to “win”.  And now I had Gary emailing me talking about “swords” and boasting that in his family what he says goes. I find that very scary; so do mental health professionals. But unfortunately that was just the beginning of what has come to be known as “Moon Mail” from Gary.

And it got even more bizarre and frightening. Since I did not respond to his “Faux Olive Branch”, a few days later I went to my mailbox and there was an envelope with this obvious fake return address: “192.168.1.12 Nashville TN”. For what reason he went to that trouble escapes me, because when I opened it here is what I found:

April 17, 2006

“There has been no response from my email of 04/14/2006. Whether a response is received or not, this is a generous second invitation to lay down the sword.

The document is attached…”

Then there were more ramblings. Gary had totally flipped out on me. Since I did not respond to his email, now he was trying to intimidate me by snail mail. Again I ignored him.  I soon realized that he does not like to be ignored.

On April 26, 2006 I received the following email from Gary Robinson. “Since there has been no response from my email of 04/14/2006 and from my letter on 04/17/2006, you’re not responding is accepted as a no to the olive branch.  They say time passes quickly.  In truth, time stays and we pass quickly.  No matter…there is a right time for everything.

‘Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (MSG)

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

A right time for birth and another for death,

A right time to plant and another to reap,

A right time to kill and another to heal,

A right time to destroy and another to construct,

A right time to cry and another to laugh,

A right time to lament and another to cheer,

A right time to make love and another to abstain,

A right time to embrace and another to part,

A right time to search and another to count your losses,

A right time to hold on and another to let go,

A right time to rip out and another to mend,

A right time to shut up and another to speak up,

A right time to love and another to hate,

A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

Seeing the issue of September last now still remains open, what are the options from today forward?  Ecclesiastes chapter 3 has pointed them out very clearly. As was indicated in the offer presented by email and direct mail… yours is still the next move. To every action there is a reaction. If an action is decided upon a reaction takes place. There is no action if there is no action. However a German Proverb says it well, ‘He who has burned his mouth blows into his soup.’

In the final analysis Ecclesiastes 3:15 sums it up correctly. ‘Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.’ It is time for something. What time is it? As God watches it must be a matter of who decides to blow first.

Again I chose not to respond. The truth is I could not have responded had I wished to. I was at a loss as to what Gary was saying!

So on Saturday May 27, Gary sent more Moon Email.

“America is a great place. Here it is Memorial Day weekend and we have the right to free speech and the same right of laughter. Life is too short to be serious and so often laughter follows someone’s free speech. Personally, I prefer a good laugh each day, and laughter for me brings great joy. Laughing is such great fun and the Creator also enjoys it as the Psalmist wrote, ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs’.  G.K. Chesterton said it as well as could be said, ‘Madmen are always serious; they go mad from lack of humor’. It’s especially funny, though, how some folks try to impress others that they are like Mother Teresa when people are doubled over joyously laughing as to how much they are like Archie Bunker. Since the end of April the laugh track has become louder and louder.  The non-computer addressed postcards to folks at HPC announcing your next move-laughter. Then the first line in the disclaimer at the bottom of your email on May 3 said, ‘The document accompanying this transmission may contain confidential health information that is legally protected.’ Health information? What laughter that one brought (I am clueless what he is talking about). And the statement at the bottom of your most recent emails © 2006 John Gouldener All Rights Reserved. That’s really funny. Your signature as large as you dared make it on your newsletter- that’s priceless laughter. Your disclaimer saying, ‘we had a computer failure and our purged list was lost’-another really big dose of laughter for everyone on that one too. Then your email to David Friedli on Saturday morning before Mother’s Day-something funny like that was expected out of you again, and you came through with flying colors and the laughter continued.  And then finally the unspeakable laughter came along…your newspaper ad with the same link on it. After all that money was spent by you on newspaper advertising showing the crossroad.com website, laughter reached new levels because, I hope you find this as funny as I do, your website keeps on showing the meeting address as the hysterical Cohn Adult Learning Center’s auditorium.  If you change the website in any way, I will always be able to joyously say I was the one that cared enough to inform you-now isn’t that a big laugh?

The Bible says ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. I have kept your ashes alive in my heart hoping to be helpful enough to bring you back to real life, and even going so far as offering you an olive branch on Good Friday. You refused…I guess there just isn’t enough compassion for some folks…so I just laugh. Burying your ashes alive in my heart did not work…you would not let it work…so I’ll just keep on laughing because of all the joy you bring. You can keep on doing what the rest of us have the power not do… sending more entertaining emails to HPC people and continue merrily walking by us in malls and parking lots and driving by us on streets and continue sending letters with no return address…but laughing always works. So thanks for all the funnies, but especially thanks for the website funny-because it continues to give plenty of folks an old heartfelt joyous laugh”.

Gary Robinson

(Again I am at a loss to explain other than our website did have an incorrect address for a time.)

By this point in time I myself was certainly not laughing.  I had been exposed to “Robinson Rage” several times in the past. I had become concerned for my safety and I met with the police as well as a psychologist. Both gave me advice and I heeded it. Seven days later, Gary sent me another cryptic message via his insurance agency email account.

“Yesterday I received something in the mail with a Nashville postmark on it that I did not understand. It took me back to when I was a teenager and I went with my dad early Saturday mornings to the leather tannery where he worked. We got up at 4:30, ate at a little restaurant, and got to his workplace about 5:00.

My job was to sweep the entire fifth floor. The smell of new leather still brings me back to that place. After I had finishing the sweeping I liked to go to the Oak Hill Avenue side of the building and spit out the window at people walking down the sidewalk five stories below. If I was lucky enough to hit them I would duck back inside so they did not know where it came from. Once I was even bold enough to drop water balloons out of the window-luckily they missed.

I always wondered why I did such a thing. It seemed neat when I was 15. But, then again, I really was still an immature child then. The Bible tells us about such things in I Corinthians…”When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Now back to yesterday. I received for the first time, as members of our family have received in the past, an envelope without a return address. Prior to the ugly incident of last September we never received childish mail like this. When our family saw this pattern develop we had a meeting. It was obvious that people who would not take credit for what they were sending were not writing anything credible.  The outcome of the meeting was that any mail we received from little people so immature as to leave off return addresses…we would just put them in an unopened file. This was done yesterday.

Now whether the mail I received yesterday came from you or one of your supporters or someone else does not really matter to me. The fact is stuff like this has been going on since September last and we do not care to open such spineless envelopes sent in this manner.

We should be thankful, however, for authentic people like writers Simon Wiesenthal, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, Michael Ryan and John Powell in his book “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am” for laying bare their souls but also for attaching their names to their works. We can believe what they said for they were not spitting out of windows and then hiding.

And finally, two other things…1) you are welcome for the recent heads-up I gave you on your old website. I see the location address is now correct thanks to me, and   2)…your new website has a different look. We thought the color scheme we used on the HPC website was classy and we are touched to see someone copying it. I, though, would have chosen a more creative approach…you know-a self-inspired original color combination. I remember way back when some other church used our “Jeans at Church” idea and we all had a big laugh about it (I still have that other churches mailer). Stuff like this lightens my day.”

Gary

Sent:    Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:23PM

“Your latest email to some of our HPC folks is offensive to me. It is a bland attempt to misinform by leaving the true details of an incident hidden so can build up your self-esteem. Paper is known for its memory and the paper trail on you is enormous.  I will put together my response and email it to you. I will then send it first to the Gilgs. You have honestly crossed the line with me on this one. To boldly say expunged and then spin it…are you stupid or are you just acting stupid? Welcome to my world”.

Gary

On that one I did laugh. He called me “stupid” and then said “Welcome to My world”.

6-14-06 Email from Gary Robinson

POOP PARABLE-THE REST OF THE STORY

“In life you can find God in the simplest of things. In a flower growing up toward you with its petals open to the sun filling the air with the aroma of God. God is there. God can be seen in tomato plants and watermelon patches, in a sunflower and a cornfield. He’s in the magnificence of vertical upward growth and smell.

But poop…that is another matter. Poop does not fall up…poop falls down and when it does it plops.  People that are in love with themselves who walk around with their nose in the air are going to step in poop. You can be looking up trying to convince people that you are searching for God when all the while you have poop on your shoes. Poop is down here. God is up there. And when you step in it you might as well admit it because everyone around you can smell it on you. And then you might as well not blame anyone else for having stepped in it because everyone including God knows it was your own fault.

And because poops falls down, if it hits us it assuredly comes from above. There’s a bird up there-he pooped and it hit you. We all understand that. And there is a God up there, and when He has had enough He says that He will allow the same thing to happen.

When asked, “What is human Nature?” Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Peck stated it this way, “Human nature is to go to the bathroom in your pants.” And that is what we immature people do.

For instance…Cain and Abel were the first two children of Adam and Eve. Cain was the oldest and Abel the younger. Genesis chapter 4 (MSG Bible) tells a very sad story of the older man who could not control his human nature and it mastered him

Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk. God spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Cain did not master his serious problem and a loathsome act then takes place)  God said, “What have you done… you’ll be driven from this ground…it will no longer give you its best… Cain left the presence of God and lived in No-Man’s-Land, east of Eden.

And there is a real good reason why God does things like that…it is because it’s one of the many promises in the Bible.

And here is a Biblical promise found in the Message Bible in Galatians 5:19-21 plainly stating God’s affirmation…” It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.” So when you use your freedom to indulge in any of the stinking accumulation of things as Paul mentions above in Galatians, God knows you smell like poop and God says you will not inherit heaven. Plop.

It simply all comes down to this… by not mastering your sin Phil says you continually pull the handle on the porcelain receptacle until in the end you cause the poop to plop on yourself. How sad…and to others how terribly shtick.

Gary

I believe that Gary’s Moon Mail speaks for itself. All I can say is that it scared the hell out of me and still does.

 

23…SIN GENOME

All people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one…” Romans 3:9-10 (NLT)

I recently read a scientific report prepared by The National Human Genome Research Institute that had some startling numbers. Each person reading this book has approximately 100 trillion cells. Within each of the individual cells are 46 bundles of DNA, 23 from each parent. Each bundle of DNA is composed of four chemicals paired two by two into a twisted ladder called a double helix.  To cut to the chase here, the report says that genetically the earth’s 6.5 billion people are 99.5 % identical. The variations in the remaining half of a percent are what make us all different and unique genetically speaking. That is scientific fact. But there are other things that contribute to our uniqueness.

While on the subject of our makeup, since ‘Unscrewed” is a story about me, at this point it is appropriate for me to talk a bit about sin. According to St. Paul 100% of us carry that “Gene”. “…all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one…” Romans 3:9-10 (NLT) In 69 years on the planet I have only met one person who actually claimed exemption. Yet, seemingly every church denomination has its own “pet sins”. Like I grew up being taught that there were tons and tons of them!  So many in fact that over the centuries  the brain trust in the upper hierarchy of the church had divided them into two distinct categories  – “Mortal Sins”, which would send one to hell with an express-pass unless you could make it to confession before your heart beat its last. Then there are “Venial Sins”, which would not sentence one to hell under any circumstances, but rather send you to warm your heels in purgatory for a bit. The ones that I can recall the priests talking mostly about were the mortal ones like missing mass on Sunday, which I guess led the list as being a ticket to hell in those days. Birth control was another. As a teen, I had a difficult time seeing the difference between using a condom or a pill and the church’s “Rhythm Method” which was not only OK but even taught. I still do not get that. Then there were the two that caused me the most anguish, worry and outright fear: impure thoughts and masturbation. One of the absolutely horrible days of my life was when I was fifteen; my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Bill were visiting us for Christmas and all of the family was going to go to Midnight Mass and of course we would all be expected to take communion. Well, I have always been one to think ahead, so December 23 I made sure I got to confession so I could take communion at Christmas Midnight Mass. Well, would you not know it? I did not make it twenty-four hours. I fell off the wagon and there I was scared to death. Would I take Communion in the state of mortal sin and commit what they called a sacrilege or would I just disappoint God and everybody else by not partaking.    I can look back on that event now and laugh, but that was a traumatic day in my life and one I obviously have not forgotten. I find that so very sad. Perhaps, nobody reading this book ever had an issue with impure thoughts or masturbation, but I did a lot. Therefore, I carried an enormous load of Catholic imposed guilt for many years. So that is a capsule of my early sin “genome” and where I am coming from. In any event, in addition to the half of a percent of our genetic makeup that makes us all genetically different there are other contributing factors to our differentness. One of them is our church background.  Those of us who believe in God or a god of whatever understanding all carry around backpacks crammed full of previous religious related experiences, teachings and misunderstandings that contribute to our unique non genetic “genome” makeup.

One night in the mid-nineties, we were having one of our early church small group meeting, when Joey Marston asked a question about sin. Her innocuous question set up one of the mileposts of my life, particularly my church life.  I have forgotten her exact question, but certainly not the answer. Gary, who at that time was a wonderful friend, an early leader and chief benefactor at our church, replied with an answer that completely blindsided me and I expect everyone else in the room. I am paraphrasing here as I cannot recall the exact quote because I was in a state of utter shock and disbelief. But Gary clearly said that he had not committed a sin since he was a young lad of 13. He then went on to describe in detail how as a youngster he had stolen a deck of Old Maid Cards from a drug store, repented and then took the cards back and confessed to the store owner and that was the end of his sins.  I recall sitting there on the hearth in front of his fireplace, with Gary just to my right on the couch or a chair, thinking that is the most outrageous thing I have ever heard in my life. He was one of my best friends; I had spent enormous amounts of time with him, I loved and admired him, he was an absolutely incredible singer and  talented almost beyond what I considered to be human limits; however, I knew experientially and for sure that he was not sinless any more than I was.  I immediately felt a stirring that I believe to be from the Holy Spirit, to challenge his proclamation right then and there. Whether he said that out of pride or misunderstanding of what he had been taught I do not know. Unfortunately, what I do know is I chose not to speak up because I was not willing to pay the price. There is always one to be paid for taking a stand. Likewise, there is always also a much larger one for not.  My failure that night was my bad and eventually helped to allow the split of Highland Park Church.  By definition a leader is to lead; that night I failed miserably. That failure is one that haunted me nearly without ceasing and hung around my neck until my time at Sierra-Tucson. When I put it in the light it lost its grip on me.

24…BINGO!

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive others” Matthew 6:6

It was a late Friday afternoon and we were on our way to Jason’s Deli in Cool Springs when my cell phone rang.  “Mr. Gouldener this is special agent Rodriguez with the FBI…”  Several days earlier I had met with him about a Denial of Service attack on our church computer in which thousands of fraudulent emails were sent that had knocked us offline multiple times. It was an amateurish attempt, but it was aggravating. Agent Rodriguez had previously confirmed to me that the attack was both a Federal and a State crime. His call was to give me a status report on the FBI investigation and to make a recommendation as to the next step.  During our initial discussions I had given him the names of my only two suspects. I told him that one or both were most likely responsible for the attacks as well as a previous DOS attack in which the church email account was broached and the password changed so we could no longer access the account.  The names were those of father and son tandem Gary and Gregory Robinson. He asked me how I knew. “Because I have known them for 20 years; like you cops say I know their MO”. His call was to inform me that he had been in contact with local police and that pursuing the case on a local level would probably be the most expeditious way to proceed, but if I preferred to keep it on the Federal level that was my choice. When the call ended I looked at Cathy and said, “This thing could very well take on a life of its own; it is going to lead us to a point where we are going to have to decide to give them a taste of their own medicine or to walk away. Right now, I am afraid I am in more of a get even mood”. The feeling I had after that phone call was exactly the same as I once had on a deer hunt when I looked through my scope and there stood a huge buck. I had him in my sights!  My heart was pounding and the adrenalin was racing through my bloodstream.

When I first went to law enforcement I feared that they would blow me off. I found that not to be the case, but along with that knowledge came a degree of trepidation. Frankly, adrenalin rush or not I was into something that ran against my natural grain. The following Monday I met with Detective Tom Spray who seemed to be a computer crime specialist. He knew exactly how to proceed. I gave him the same two names and told him I would bet him lunch that someone with the name “Robinson” would be found responsible for the email attacks. When I left the police department the plan was for Detective Spray to appeal to the court to issue a subpoena requiring Comcast to reveal the identity of the sender.  He was confident that the court would quickly give us relief.  As I drove back to my office my emotion was a mixture of relief, anxiety and dread. Frankly, I knew that we were at most only a few days from the arrest of the criminal. Since I already knew it would be one or the other, both former good friends, I recalled happy times together and actually hoped that my suspicions were wrong; however, I knew in my heart they were not. In twenty years you sense things about people.

A few days later Spray called me. When I answered he simply said “Bingo, preacher; you would make a good detective. The attacks came from Gregory Robinson’s computer in Fairview, Tennessee. We are going to have him come in for questioning”.  A couple of hours later Spray called back; he was laughing, “Well, our friend Gregory cannot come into until tomorrow because he has to escort Sonny James to the Awards Show tonight, but he agreed to come in tomorrow”. Under questioning Gregory finally admitted his criminal activity. He begged for mercy claiming that if this hit the news he would lose a lot of his web design business. Detective Spray also told me that he had also talked to Gregory’s wife and she was furious with her husband. With the confession in hand it would be a slam dunk at trial.

The next day Lou Alvarez, our church board chairman, and I met with Spray. He told us the next step was for us to decide. We left the meeting undecided as to what to do next.  Cathy and I prayed about it and we came to the conclusion that what we needed to do was forgive, move on and not put Gregory through the embarrassment and expense of arrest and a trial.  A few months earlier this same family had me arrested on a false charge which was tossed out of court after only twelve minutes of testimony. I remembered the sound of that steel door slamming behind me. Unlike me, Gregory was actually guilty; yet, I could not do that to him. Shortly after my arrest Gary actually sent me my mug shot in one of his taunting emails that we all referred to “Moon Mail”. I have it in my office to remind me of what jealousy can do even to people who claim to know the Lord, but do not follow His gospel. So for many reasons a side of me wanted to get even, but if we did then what good would it serve? Sure it would punish Gregory, who certainly deserved punishment, but it would also hurt his innocent wife and his two sweet children and I was pretty sure that was not what God wanted us to do. I thought about the day I had stood in ICU at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and prayed for Bennett, Gregory’s infant son, as I watched his surgically repaired heart beat in his open little chest. That was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. There was no way I was going to put his daddy in jail.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:6 “Forgive us our debts as we forgive others” (NLT) The word “forgive” is a verb; it is more than saying something it is doing something. The Bible clearly teaches God honors those who actually forgive. I decided to take my satisfaction in being the better man and doing what I think Jesus would have done. I informed Spray that I personally did not want to move forward with the case. However, the ultimate decision would have to come from our church board, but John was out. The board was not in quite as a forgiving mood.  But after much heated discussion and hurt feelings they agreed to turn the other cheek.

25…Of All the Lawyers

The Lord rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble. The Lord helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him. Psalms 37:39-40 (NLT)

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 time frame, 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.”

Sincerely

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!

26…THE MISTRESS

One of the many spurious lies spread by Dale Robinson during the fall of 2005 was that he suspected that I was having an affair. To support his specious charge he claimed to have “discovered me sleeping at the church one night and that he suspected that I was not alone” (1). On another occasion he told a church member that Lou Alvarez came to the church in the middle of the night and found me asleep in the sound booth(2). I have never had an affair, nor as an adult have I ever slept or spent the night in any church including Highland Park. I can only speculate why Dale would say such things or who was pulling his strings at that particular time, but I will pass on that opportunity. He told Wilma Cooper and Irene Lowe that I was on top of Kelly beating her and Gene Cole had to pull me off (3). I could go on for quite some time.

This is not a story about others, but one about me and my failures of which there were many. But I must say that to hear such falsehoods hurt me to the quick because they came from one called “friend” — albeit one with quite an agenda! However, the honest to God truth was I indeed had a mistress for some time. I am sure Dale did not know about her because I did not until early one morning in October of 2005. I was walking in the desert at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains talking to God, begging Him not to take her away from me. I bargained with Him and I promised Him as I emotionally pleaded my case. I admitted to Him that I did not think I could live without her. I reminded Him that my whole being was tied up in her as tightly as the DNA is to my genome. “God we are one!” I screamed. In a process which I am woefully inadequate to explain, that morning with the sun just beginning to reflect off those magnificent mountains, amid the awakening sounds of a desert’s new day, God began the final phases in the process of making me whole. Walking on that trail with tears streaming down my cheeks I knew in my heart that God’s plan did not include a return to the safety of her loving arms. Our twelve year relationship and my devotion to her were at an end. Oh God! How that pained me! My entire identity and self-worth were tethered to her like sand in an hour glass. How could I live without her? She was Highland Park Church! At that moment in time I knew I would never see her again.

Many months and bucket loads of tears beyond that talk with God He allowed me to see the truth. What was the truth? Well the truth was my entire life from the time that my dad and I went on our ill-fated fishing trip until that sacred moment in the Sonoran Desert could be summed up in the word “Codependency”. Nearly all my life I had been codependent on this or that or this person or the other. The shame that I had carried since I was a little boy, the shame that was squared when I was abused and the shame I carried from every failure, physical flaw and sin I had ever committed had conditioned me to look outside of myself for my worth. When I was a little boy it was to be perfect so my mom would be proud and she would not talk about jumping into the river. When I got into high school my worth was in being popular, getting good grades and pretty girlfriends, and not getting expelled like my older brothers. It was in being a people pleaser, having the answer for everybody’s problem. In college I added to my repertoire being the life of the party, drinking as much beer as anybody in the room, being “Cool Gould” and being everybody’s friend while all the time staying on the Dean’s List. When Cathy and I married I affixed being the perfect husband and later the perfect dad. When we started the church I added the somewhat vague and overused description “different kind of church”. In other words HPC was not screwed up like the others. Perfection! Perfection! In everything it had to be perfect. To the point that after we built our building, and very few people know this, I was there 12 hours a day doing all the stuff a pastor does, but that was not enough. No way! I had to find more to help me escape from me. I started buffing the floors. It was insane, but at the time made perfect sense. One day I decided that the floors did not suit me. I bought a commercial buffer and I assumed the job as not only pastor but also senior custodian. The more shine those tiles had the better I felt. Soon that was not enough. Now I turned to the porcelain. While I was there you could see your refection in the urinals! There was not a cleaner pot or a more sparkling mirror this side of the Ritz Carlton. It was a slow tedious, almost imperceptible process; somewhere along my journey Highland Park Church became more important to me than my wife, my family and my God. Sadly, my situation is not an anomaly. High achieving men and women around the globe are becoming so immersed into their good and noble deeds that the very good that they do becomes bad for them. All the while the more I did to prove my worth the footsteps of the past were closing in faster than I could run.

29…HOPE RISING

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faintIsaiah 40

Through my own life’s journey I have discovered that if I have even a tiny ember of hope then I can pretty much live with anything. Without it I am toast. It is hope that gives me and everyone else the strength to go on after a loss or disappointment or the realization that the dream will never come true. At our first church, six friends planted it with no money, no building and very little knowledge. All we had was a God inspired vision for “a different kind of church” that He had entrusted to our half dozen hearts. Why he picked us I am not sure, but I am forever thankful that he did.  God allowed us to be a part of a litany of His miraculous ways which began with a horse trailer. He grew us up until we had 66 acres in the center of Nashville a little more than a mile for the expressway. A bank president told me it was perhaps the best real estate buy in our city’s history. I do not know about that. We just “stumbled” upon it.  God gave us an incredible building and nearly 1000 people and many new Christians. I have a list of folks who are in heaven because of that church and I am sure that list has been added to greatly since I left. The summer of 05 looked really good; to the naked eye it appeared to be the grand culmination of our 12 year dream. Appearance is often deceiving. Life appeared to be a ten……for a little while. But in life 10s tend to not last. Something unexpected happened. Highland Park Church that “The Six” founded as split-proof shattered like a crystal goblet hitting a concrete floor at warp speed. For me, in less than an hour one hot Tuesday September afternoon, suddenly my whole life was teetering on the abyss of hopelessness. And as the hour evolved into days and weeks and months,  I would be lying if I said I was not about ready to give up. Those who were around me at that time would know I was lying if I said that I was not.

This book is about truth, hope and an incredibly amazing “Big G” God. The truth is, at the very depth of my chasm of despair, death became more appealing than life.  That was as close to hopelessness as I care to venture. After a time of despondency and the grief process which included my trip to Sierra Tucson where I spent 30 days in the Trauma and Abuse Recovery Program, because of the love shown by so many friends, even though things were not as I ever wanted or expected, a flicker of hope began to burn in the midst of the ashes of our hearts. It was that tiny spark of smoldering hope that kept us going, sustained us, warmed our souls and in its time ignited into the blazing, white hot furnace of hope that we carry and spread today via our ministry. Understand something here; I expect that many of you find yourselves in similar situations even as you read my story. Things were rolling along until BOOM! — the bottom fell out and you land a crumpled mess barely able to sustain even one rational thought.

Since I started my blog I’ll heard from hundreds of people who feel hopeless — many of them feeling like Ellen who sent me an email at 2:35 am. “John, I do not know you, but it seems like I do…”  I gladly share with them my message of hope. Even in a world where things are not perfect, even when things are sometimes screwed up beyond our understanding God is still in control.  He still holds all the cards and His deck never includes Jokers. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40 (NLT)

Highland Park Church is near an area of Nashville called the “Nations”. Approximately in the middle of the property, on the peak of what is known as “Knob Hill”, there stands a 1368 foot television transmitting tower that was constructed in the fifties.  The original tower collapsed as the antenna was being hosted. Four workers near the top rode the steel down to their deaths. It was big news at the time. After that I had become fascinated with the tower since it can be seen for many miles.  When we started planning our building Dale, our co-pastor, for reasons I have never completely understood, did not want a cross on the building.  It was not that he was against what the cross represents; that certainly was not it at all.  It was a notion he had in his mind about the cross “turning off the unchurched”.  Against his wishes we did finally end up with a cross shape recessed in the brick front of the structure. So it does have a cross, but it is very unobtrusive.  In any event, I had considered that TV tower our “cross”. Often when driving on the west side of Nashville  I could see our 1368 foot “cross” and each time the sight of it reminded me of what an incredibly awesome God He is. I’ll never forget the first day I saw the tower after the split and I had returned from Sierra Tucson. Cathy was driving and we came around a bend on Interstate 40, I got a glimpse of it rising into the deep blue sky and I literally balled my eyes out. Folks understand I did not sob! I wailed! Something that I had loved to look at for fifty years now only brought tears.  I cannot describe the pain. That day for the first and only time in my life I lost hope. I wanted to die! No amount of well-meaning Bible quoting from friends or family did a blame thing to alleviate my pain or reignite my hope. My heart was dead but God was good! I give Him praise for never leaving me during that time.

30…BLOWN CALLS

It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”  Genesis 3:12-13 (NLT)

While having breakfast with my friend Bill Harris, a high school and college official, Bill related an incident in a high school football game in which the side judge on his crew made an obvious bad call that appeared to cost the game.  As soon as the game ended, Bill made a beeline to the losing coach to apologize for the blown call. What happened next sounded familiar. Instead of being met with a furious coach, he found a man who was both gracious and responsible. The coach listened to Bill’s apology; then he looked directly into his eyes and said, “Bill, as bad as that call was, and it was horrible, it did not cost us the game. We lost because we did not play well enough to win. We had numerous opportunities, but we did not take advantage of them. We only have ourselves to blame. But thank you anyway”.

Over the last several years, particularly as I worked on the manuscript for this book, I came to that very same conclusion regarding my life.  At some point along my journey to healing, I realized that the actions of the Robinsons in 2005, as painful as they were, they did not do me in or cost me my church.  On the contrary, just like that football team, I did not play very well.  That is the bottom line to the events revolving around the split of Highland Park Church. Just like that nameless high school football team’s inability to take advantage of opportunities hurt their loyal fans, my repeated failures to lead hurt scores of people who had looked to me to be their leader and to protect their interests as far as the church was concerned.

As much as I would prefer to blame this person or that person that would not be the responsible thing to do any more than had the coach blaming Bill’s side judge. It would be opportunistic and dishonest. According to the coach, his team had ample opportunities to win the ball game. So did I.  Coming to that conclusion, while humbling and hurting in a different kind of way, has been enormously freeing for me. Hopefully, it has made me a better person and a more effective leader. I pray that is the case.  In life we daily come nose to nose with choices that will either free us or bind us. Our default settings tend to be tilted more toward instinctively choosing the ones that bind us rather than those that guide us along the path to liberty.  I expect that we make those wrong choices in a futile effort to prevent our pride from taking one more self-inflected hit. I mean who of us wants to look in the mirror and say “My bad”? Nobody! As a general rule, we will do almost anything rather than face that inescapable fact of life. Since we all intuitively know that nobody is always right and with a track record of mistakes following us around like a whipped puppy, then why do we insist on living like it?

Many years ago for some inexplicable reason Mike Tyson bit a chunk out of an opponent’s ear.  Years later, Tyson said that “At the time it seemed like the thing to do”. That is a typical response.  After my emotional breakdown and during my subsequent treatment at Sierra Tucson in the fall of 2005, I was numb, hurt, bewildered and at one point most likely suicidal. All I could see and feel during those lonely and painful fall days in the Arizona desert, was that single “game costing call” made against me by Dale Robinson and family.  From my skewed worldview at that time, I blamed the Robinsons’ power grab for what I perceived as the loss of the church, my reputation and my future. What I did not realize at the time was that my nearly life-long codependency issues were the true culprits – not a single act of betrayal for gain.  With 20/20 hindsight I see ever so clearly that my game plan for life was fatally flawed since childhood. For a multitude of reasons, most of my life was spent living in the dark chasms of shame, guilt and a feeling of being less than.  I have a vague recollection of my mom telling me that she had always thought that she (therefore “I”) somehow did not measure up to other people. I felt that way most of my life. Thankfully, I no longer do, but that metamorphosis took a great deal of work over a great deal of time with help from a great deal of loving people.

In the spring of 2011 both Bruce Pearl, head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee and Jim Tressel, head football coach at Ohio State University were fired. Not so much because they broke the rules, which they certainly did, but because they chose to lie about it. Congressman Anthony Weiner sent inappropriate text messages to several young women. When caught he denied his guilt, but later came clean and resigned.  Atlanta mega-church “star”, Bishop Eddie Long, who initially denied his guilt, made an out of court settlement with several young men who had accused him of sexually abusing them. The common thread running through the shattered careers of each of those men is that they initially lied rather than facing the truth. According to the Bible, pride always comes before the fall.

Fortunately not everybody chooses that route. In the 2010 Masters’ Golf Tournament Rory McIlroy went into the final round with a four shot lead. That Sunday afternoon, with millions watching worldwide, he had what has been call the most gigantic meltdown in the history of professional golf. He completely fell apart on the back nine shooting an 80 for the day and blowing his opportunity to win the coveted green jacket. In contrast to some other recent meltdowns, Rory’s disintegration did not include any club throwing or swearing. After the tournament, instead of being unavailable for comment or curt with the media, he faced the press answering their questions humbly, fully and without spin. That day Rory Mcllroy made a critical choice as to how he would respond to adversity. It has served him well. Nine weeks later, as the crowds chanted “Ro—ry, Ro—ry”, McIlroy won the U.S. Open by a record 16 strokes while breaking multiple other records. A few days later, a tribute ad in the “USA Today”, sponsored by Oakley Incorporated, carried a full page picture of Rory with the caption, “Own your defeats and you will be defined by your victories”. That is a caption that I have come to find true personally. It is a universal truth. It has been my observation that people who do not come to that personal conclusion are victors only in their own imaginations.

Because of our fallen natures, the human species when faced with potential hits to its pride, will often make some very poor choices. A few folks like to bite ears; others of us simply lie — to ourselves or others and sometimes to both. Sensing pain, our rationalizing machines go haywire, which usually equates to “It isn’t my fault” which plays out in, “I did not know my quarterback was accepting free tattoos”. “I did not illegally recruit that player”. “I did not send that picture”. “I did not cause this personal disaster in my life”. “I am not to blame!” Passing the buck has been around as long as mankind. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 3, Eve blamed the snake. Adam blamed Eve and we have all been blaming somebody or something ever since. I expect God sees through that nonsense and just shakes His head in near perpetual disappointment.

Several months ago, early one morning as I was turning into McDonald’s, a guy, who was talking on his cell, came barreling out of the parking lot into my lane of traffic nearly causing a collision. What did he do then? He gave me the finger while yelling obscenities at me! How we do like to blame others for our failures! The truth is blaming has never worked. It did not work for Adam, Eve, me, you or anybody else and it never will. What does work is personal responsibility.  I deal with folks all the time, and in fact have been one of them, who seem to think that because this or that happened or did not happen some place in their lives, then they are forever obliged to live life tethered to that event. Take my word for it; that is lousy logic.

One of the greatest flaws and certainly one of the most costly of my life has been that of being a people pleaser. I am not talking about being a nice guy. God designed us to be nice. We should all be nice guys and gals. Hopefully, both you and I are. But none of us should be people pleasers. By “people pleasing” I am talking about a toxic addition to approval that routinely results in compromising your life, your values, or your very being. I mentioned this “threesome” elsewhere in this book; yet, it is critically important in order to fully understand my journey to wholeness.  During our earlier days at Highland Park Church, I subconsciously chose three people as the litmus tests of the worth of my Sunday messages — my wife Cathy, Dale Robinson and his mom Thelma.  I know why I chose Cathy and Dale, but I am not quite sure how Thelma got in the mix. Each Sunday, ten, twenty, a hundred other people could praise the message, but unless one of those three said, “that a boy” I felt like I had struck out. That is a precarious way to travel through life because you surrender your serenity to someone else.  It is also quite a selfish way to live. They had lives of their own to live; they did not know they were the “anointed ones” and that I was waiting for them to run to me with their personal fist bumps.  The more I grew in my confidence in my teaching ability and as I got deeper into recovery, the less important their affirmation became. Now, that I am well, I fully realize that I put myself in an untenable position and created a great deal of self-imposed misery. However, that is what happens to people who are unable to internally validate themselves. We reach outside ourselves. Whenever we add another layer to anything in life, whether it is baking a cake or looking for our self-worth, the potential for problems rises exponentially.  But as Iron Mike said, it made perfect sense at the time.

Until my time at Sierra Tucson, in my quest for approval, true to my discharge diagnosis, I would routinely say “Yes” to nearly any and all requests both personal and professional and then spend countless hours kicking myself in the butt asking, “What was I thinking?  Why did I make that commitment? Why am I letting that person control me? But that is the life path that people pleasers seem to willfully choose to trudge. They constantly tote around the white flag of surrender, because as approval addicts, they have been unable to develop any sense of self-worth from within. I never considered myself a doormat, but looking back I do see that I allowed some folks to walk right over me on their way to whatever they were looking to find. We are all looking for something! More often than not, because of our personal life experiences, our searches are flawed. That realization has helped me, perhaps more than any other, to move a bit closer to becoming the kind of forgiving individual that God calls us to be. That is why I wrote these words in the introduction many months ago. “This is a narrative about shame and guilt, success and failure, love and betrayal, friendship and envy, pride and humility, but mostly about a group of imperfect people doing what imperfect people always do.”

Life is like a card game. We are all dealt a hand. We can play that hand or throw down some cards. I have now thrown some down. One of the huge differences in my life today is that I can enjoy doing absolutely nothing. One of my favorite things is to spend time at our farm listening to the birds chirp and the water babbling in the creek. I can spend hours by the creek just soaking in God’s goodness, majesty and His unfailing love. Perhaps, I am just getting old, but I think my internal peace is a result of recognizing and working through my self-defeating behaviors to the point of accepting myself just as I am.  When you think you are not enough, you never are and when you know that you are, you realize that you are plenty.  The definition of plenty is “a sufficient supply”. That is the point along the time-line of life’s continuum where you become OK with who you are you. You also realize that the blown call was just that – a bad call, but not a defining call. That is a critical point in your journey to wholeness.

We have lost that wonderful building on Knob Hill that so many folks sacrificed greatly to build, surrounded by sixty-six acres of pristine middle Tennessee forests. I will never talk to God in solitude silence from that great auditorium as I watch the doe and her fawns grazing.  But I have the memories of the ride from the night six friends ate a Poppa John’s Pizza and started a church to this moment of time. A moment where I am enough just as I am, where there are no secrets and as odd as it may sound I find myself at the apex of my ministry and life. God is so good! Cathy and I are intact. We are whole and we are strong and we a fulfilled.

31…A DOG NAMED LIMP

But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:25 (NLT)

There is a particular gift which is very pricey and unfortunately never on sale. But before we go there I will take a brief detour to say a few words about its antithesis. That would be the word “bondage”. It is a bondage that can screw up every one of us by sabotaging the kind of life that God designed you to have and that He surely wants you to have. For many years I struggled with this bondage, and I know that many of you have too. I am talking about the bondage that comes from choosing not to forgive.  Can you relate? Be honest here, because this is a critical issue for your quality of life. Here’s what I want you to understand. To use one of my momma’s sayings, a person who chooses not to forgive is “cutting their nose off to spite their face”.  Momma had a way of getting her point across.  The point is the person who refuses to offer forgiveness is actually the real loser in the equation. Perhaps that might be the reason God put this in the Bible:  Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT) That last sentence is kind of a butt kicker do not you think?

In the fall of 2005 when I was at Sierra Tucson for my high priced makeover in the Sonoran desert, the rattlesnakes were on the move as the weather was changing from summer to fall. That time of the year seeing a rattlesnake in the desert was a pretty common sight. Holding on to a hurt is like grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail, sooner or later you are going to get the juice. And when you do your hurt will ratchet up to the danger level. So what I want you to understand is that your pain actually has the potential to destroy you. I am wondering are your still aching from a slight or perhaps a rejection or a hurt? At night when you climb into bed do you lie there fantasying about getting even?   Maybe you have been making a pastime out of scheming about how you would get back at them or embarrass them. Perhaps you were abused as child or maybe betrayed by a friend or it could be a zillion other things.  If so, you may be on the brink of being set free from a bondage that you did not even know was keeping you a victim. You may be about to understand for the first time why you act the way you do in certain circumstances.  Whatever your situation, whatever has happened in your past, no matter if the past was 30 years ago or 30 minutes ago, remember that you are the real loser if you do not deal with your unforgiveness.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:25 (NLT) God wants you to be freed from bondage. He has been setting slaves free since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Like I said this is a “pricey” gift.  What I am talking about is very, very difficult to do, but the result is well worth the effort.

For 45 years, up until ten years ago I hated a man for what he did to me.  That guy had been dead nearly 20 years; yet, I continued to allow him to control my life.  I went to Sierra Tucson to deal with that guy. So a few days before I came home, I sat in a room with that man. Not really, he’s dead, but with an empty chair in front of me and I went through a process that took me back 45 years to when I was 14.  As though that guy were sitting across from me, I began to talk to him about what happened that Saturday afternoon in the locker room at Father Ryan High School, 2300 Elliston Place, Nashville, Tennessee. I told him how it had impacted the quality of my life. I reminded “Father” how he had set me up and then how he had abused me.  I told him of the hurt, the anger, the guilt, the shame, hatred and the fear of intimacy that I carried for all those years. As I stared at that empty chair I could almost see his boney body with those hollow eyes and his thin, blondish, flattop hair. I hated him! I screamed and cried and screamed some more until I could not scream or cry any more. It was all out, the bitterness was gone. The hate was gone. The fear, the shame, the guilt, and anger it was not there anymore.  I felt it drain from me – completely drained out. During that hour or so all of those feelings gave way to a degree of understanding and the hate to words of forgiveness. God always works things out for our good. What that man did to me so long ago has been a factor in everyday of my life since. I simply decided that I had hated too long, so I forgave him.

For the first time in 45 years I saw him as a really sick man, not a demon, but a sick man.  I still do not like him, but I have forgiven him and I no longer hate.  I am free! Perhaps you might wonder how could I do that? Two reasons actually and honestly I do not know which is first. I know which should be first. I realized that hating him was killing me. When I thought about how God has forgiven me for everything I have ever done wrong or will ever do I began to “get it”. I had no right not to forgive him any longer. That day I broke forever his chains of bondage, I walked out of that room a free man and I got ready to come home. And I stopped hurting for the first time in 45 years.

When I got home, another fire of hate was kindled in me and it nearly burst into a raging inferno. But this time it was not about that guy who had abused me. It was someone else and in a sense this new betrayal was worse.    It was all I could do to keep from striking back which would have again been surrendering to hate. And then Cathy and I went on our retreat to my favorite spot on earth, the Abby of Gethsemani located in Trappist, Kentucky (http://monks.org/).  During those days God spoke to me through a dog, a dog named Limp. You know God does do that kind of stuff. I believe that He does. The people in the neighborhood know that the monastery is an easy mark, so for 150 years people have been dropping unwanted dogs at the front gate. One day about 25 years ago the monks woke up to the “Dog of the day”.  This dog was in really bad shape; she had three good legs and one bad one. Obviously, she had been starved because the monks could easily count her ribs. She had stripes on her boney shoulders where the fur was missing; most likely she had been whipped. There was a scab around her neck where she had strained against a chain or rope until she was raw. They named her Limp. She was one pitiful, frightened, bitter, unforgiving dog. So frightened that she would not let anybody, not even the gentlest monk get anywhere near her. She trusted no one because she was in bondage to her past. As the days went by and as Limp began her recovery, almost every monk would take her a little something from his plate.  For the longest she refused to eat out of their hands. The food had to be put on the ground then she would snatch it and run off. Finally she began to trust again and she got where she would eat out of the monks’ hands and then even roll over and stick her paws up in the air and say “please rub my belly”. She became a brand new dog! She came out of bondage. Limp had recovered! She started following old Father Matthew on his early morning walks through the woods. One day, just past Half Moon Lake, Limp picked up the scent of a deer. She started sniffing around, found the deer and gave chase until the frightened deer got caught up in a barbed wire fence. Instantly, without warning Limp made a leap for the neck killing the deer.

The sad truth is that the story of Limp is a parable of life itself. More often than not when God has nursed us back after a horrible injury instead of passing on his mercy and grace to someone who hurt us, we try to get even by taking them out. If I choose to remain bitter and continue a “get even attitude” then, I am not a bit better than that ungrateful dog named Limp and neither are you. This is not going to be easy, but we’ve got to choose to forgive and to love our enemies as hard as it is to do. If we do not then we’re sure to live out our days in a self-imposed one man/woman cell of bondage that might rival my 45 years. I have tasted freedom; I do not want to go back there ever again. I refuse to!  I pray that you do not either. Jesus was pretty straightforward. He simply put it all this way. Love God and Love you neighbor. 1…Talk by Father Matthew Kelty, Abby of Gethsemani  November  22, 2005

Epilogue

In the last several years I have come to realize that most of us dream too small; in doing so we box ourselves in to a life far below God’s grand design. Here is an example from my own life: Ten years ago, when I was at Sierra Tucson (http://www.sierratucson.com) finally dealing with the trauma from childhood sexual abuse, along with the backstabbing hijacking of our church by a gang of jealous, opportunistic and ungrateful associates, all I was thinking about was getting back to that church and somehow “make up” with those very same toxic people that God was obviously taking out of my life. In my codependent and twisted thinking of that period, sadly Highland Park Church was the sum total of my life. I had allowed it to morph into both my identity and my essence.  For twelve years, beginning with our first service in 1993, in a nearly empty park community center,  until the first jamb-packed dedication  service in our pot at the end of the rainbow, the building itself  had been the whipped cream and cherry on my dream. It had been the carrot out in front of me all along. Perhaps, every waking hour, I had looked to the day we would have our own place. It seasoned every aspect of my life. And through an incredible team that God knitted together, that dream came true in vivid, crystal clear, high definition reality on a hill called Knob on July 2, 2005. Frankly, that incredible campus of HPC was eons beyond my wildest dreams; yet as Cathy and I drove home from the dedication service, I had within a feeling of “now what?”  Through the pain of my healing from the abuse and the “Saul-like” betrayal of people whom I had loved as my own, God has shown me that I had been dreaming way too small all those years.

When I first started my ministry career, as associate pastor of Grace Church, I had witnessed first-hand the lasting destruction inflicted on that church and the name of Jesus, through the self-centered feuding between the pastor and the music director.  Except for the time they shared the platform, it was sadly obvious that they hated each other. You could have sliced up the hypocrisy and made a meal of it.  People chose sides and feelings ran high. At one point in time, we were taping the phone calls and changing locks. One Sunday night, as I was delivering the message, I recall wondering what I would do if a gentleman, we considered a loose cannon, started shooting. The unholy atmosphere, all in the name of Jesus, had taken on a life of its own — a very miserable life indeed! Church splits bring out the base elements in people. The two leaders along with their cohorts effectively destroyed the church and today it is still a mere shadow of its former self.  They are good men, but both men naively thought they could win out if they would simply hold out. Nobody won! I suspect God is grieved even today over the destruction and the collateral damage of that most ungodly episode, all ostensibly done in His name.

One night, as I made the long drive home from what I sadly refer to as “DisGrace Church”, I came to the conclusion, that if I were ever in a similar situation at a church, where I was one of the principals, then I would walk away quickly. I have firmly believed since my marketplace days, that in any organization, that once the foundation cracks, somebody has got to go for things to get better.  So, in 2005 I did not hesitate to exit the nightmare that had formally been my greatest dream. Do not misunderstand; it hurt like hell, but the decision of flight instead of fight was a no-brainer for me. I never considered another course of action. I never regretted that decision, because the truth was the dream had been an increasingly devilish nightmare for over a year. People whom I had once looked to for spiritual direction, turned out to be as flawed as their self-concocted, pride driven and false personal doctrines of perfection.  My great failing and my contribution to the nightmare, was my total and complete lack of backbone to confront and root out people who were so completely out of step with the teachings of Jesus Christ. That was my bad and I fully expect to have to stand before God at a future date to answer Him for that sin.

Shortly, after we planted the new church (Crossroad Community), a dear friend, Parker Sherrill, suggested that I email a mid-week electronic message –simple, practical and applicable that could be read in less than four minutes and would relate to real life. It was an incredible idea and took advantage of the mushrooming digital age. From Parker’s suggestion, “Something to Think About” was born (http://nashvillecrossroad.com/default.asp?FP=3720 ) God spoke through Parker. That one suggestion opened the door to a broader ministry than I ever imagined. Today, there are thousands worldwide reading STTA which has morphed my blog. With our podcast and the Beta version of this book our efforts are now truly global. We regularly hear from people worldwide, who are being touched by the Crossroad Ministry. The digital age is reshaping the concept of ministry through instant and worldwide contact to a world without walls. Do you get what I am trying to say? Do not settle for a too small dream. God created us to think big. He expects us to dream big dreams. The very first step in a God – ordained big dream should always be to hand God a blank check, right out of the chute. You’ve got to be willing to say, “God I do not really understand your grace, your love, or your plan for my life, but I do believe. And because I do, as best as I know how, I want to dedicate my life to you to use me as you see fit. In all that I do I will first look to you for guidance.” It seems to me that is the key! You’ve got to be willing to give God that blank check. It has to be God’s will and not our own. In other words, you have got to be willing to say, “OK God, whatever you want me to do, you open the doors and I’ll walk through. I am in, for the long haul!”  Anything less than that will prevent you from soaring to the heights that God has planned since before you were born.

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