The first rule of public speaking is to know your audience.  Same goes with writing. Whenever I write stories, I try to make them attractive to everyone, which adds a layer of complexity (and sometimes explanation), and can bog down the narrative.  It’s a tight-wire walk between engagement and clarity, which is why crafting this story was so technically difficult.  And yet when I sat down, the words just...flowed.
       I started writing stories about my life way back when I was a teenager.  Even then, I felt my youth slipping away, and wanted to etch into history who we were, and what we had.  Then, just as now, I wanted to pay tribute to the people in my life by regaling our funny, ridiculous, and often embarrassing misadventures.  I believe you honor people not by covering up or telling sweet lies, but by proclaiming the truth, even if the truth is uncomfortable, difficult, or flat out ugly.
       The story below, truly, is meant for the Christian, or anyone familiar with the western church.  Since many people who fall outside those parameters will read it, I did my best to at least make it accessible.  If it falls short - if I fail - I can only offer my deepest apology.  But it’s an important story: of power and control, of fear and failure, and one that I believe will end in redemption.
       It’s the story of us all, really, of the darkness festering in the corners of our own broken hearts, and what even the best of us are capable of.  It’s a reminder of our ultimate bankruptcy as wretched human beings, but also of the hope we have, and the undying riches of faith.
        (Warning, impending cliche ahead) I serve a powerful God who works in mysterious ways; I can't write without his guiding hands.  Believe me, I’ve tried, and it never works.  His desire is to heal and restore, but sometimes long-term restoration comes at a cost of short-term pain.
       Actually, it pretty much always does.
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner
Additional warning: for those who are new here, this isn’t what we normally do, which is why I’ve stripped out everything in our normal issue and left just the story.  I’ve debated publishing this, to be sure, but at the end of the day, I know this is the right thing to do - what I’ve been called to do.  It’s a story, after all.  And stories - especially the true ones - are dying to be told.

A note on all issues prior to 2023
In 2023, we switched email sending services. Converting entire issues into our new sender and their formatting is a fair bit of work, and with our limited resources, we've decided to expedite the process by focusing on converting only the story and intro. Perhaps some day we'll get around to the rest of it, but for now, enjoy the story.

(Raw / powerful / shattering)
Rob sits across the booth, thumbing through a menu.  He is tall and slender, his smile kind and amicable.  He plucks his silverware off the table, unwraps the paper sleeve, sets the napkin in his lap and carefully arranges his utensils like a pianist testing the keys before a concert.  In the recent months that I’ve gotten to know the man, I’ve developed both an appreciation and respect for him; there is a depth of humility perennially in his orbit - the kind everyone wants but nobody has.  When he speaks, his voice thrums with the soothing balm of wisdom, a man who has tasted and experienced much that life has to offer.
Today, however, his voice rings with weariness.  We speak of work; the irritations and hardships made all the more difficult by Covid-19, of people and personalities and navigating the complexities that are human beings.  Eventually, we move from the appetizer to the main course.
“There is only one way to bring about such repentance,” I say.  It’s not revelation or angels or even our own capacity for extraordinary plot twist, but through God’s greatest agent of change. “Through suffering.”

Rob sighs like a hiker at the foot of Everest, or a tired old man at the end of his days.  “That’s the very word I was thinking.”  The wrinkles around his eyes - the gray in his hair – suddenly seem more profound, like buried treasure freshly unearthed, brilliant in the light despite the rust and tarnish.
I press onward.  “When someone is so entrenched in their sin, there’s a kind of humility required to turn from it.  The Bible gives us numerous examples of this – King David comes first to mind – but, ironically, without the element of suffering, the Bible seems to be the only place it ever happens.  I believe in the power of God, but I also believe in the depravity of man.” I take a drink of my water and wash the rest of the words down.  “I’m not discounting a miraculous 180 turn from sin, only that without consequence, I’ve never witnessed it.”
Rob nods – in agreement, in prayer, in some sort of compulsive petition like tribal cries to the gods, I cannot say. “Neither have I,” he admits.  Half his food is left on his plate, and I’m not sure whether this is just his way, or that he’s lost his appetite.
The derecho came and went like a sudden, salient exhale from God himself.  The sun was shining on just another weekday, until it wasn’t.  Strong winds began roaring from the west.  Everyone took shelter.  Swift as a cyclone, destructive as a gale, the winds ripped through and rolled past so that in the aftermath, the wreckage was bathed in sunlight like some sad, dystopian painting.  A land hurricane, in Iowa.  Who ever heard of such a thing?
Though my property had largely been spared, the mountain bike trail just down the road - the one I helped build - was not.  Brush was scattered everywhere; proud trees were felled as if at the hands of a berserking Paul Bunyan.  I stood at the head of the trail, chainsaw dangling in my hands and feeling utterly outnumbered.
Pastor Justin appears in the distance, covered in sawdust and smiling.  He’s short, capable and confident, with hands accustomed to hard, skilled labor. A spark remains eternally lit in his eyes, one that hints of intellect and prowess.  It’s a defiance to all enemies and a dare to any challengers; a lighthouse to friends and a lodestar to foes.
“How bad is it?” I ask.
“Bad,” he says.  His kids - rambunctious little ones bubbling with life - come skittering past, climbing over trees as if this were their backyard jungle-gym.  “Anyone else coming?”
I shrug.  Volunteer-ism is a dice roll, and you take what you can get.
We head down the trail.  Slowly, others filter in so that the air comes alive with the buzzing of chainsaws.  A few scattered clouds move in and dump just enough rain to slick the trails and soak our clothes before leaving.  We work through it all, despite it all, crossing paths and tools and laughing as we nearly fell trees on one another.
Justin returns to my side and dumps my chainsaw on the ground. The blade has jumped off the bar. “Help,” he says.
I kneel, loosen the housing and tensioner, clean out the gunk, realign the blade and tighten.  I give it a test and hand it back.
“Good as new,” I say.
“Thanks dad,” he says with a laugh, despite having a few years on me.  We’re both borderline generation, he narrowly a Gen-X and I grasping at the rungs. Sometimes, I think about the differences between generations, their propensities, successes and failures, and wonder why.  What forces can be so strong to funnel millions of sentient, willful, independent people down the same paths, to glory or destruction?
I don’t have an answer to this - not now or ever - only a lonely dirt trail to walk down, fallen trees to clear, wreckage to be undone.
I’m sitting outside Starbucks, sipping on an overpriced mocha latte when Alex pulls up.  Though he owns a 16-passenger van to ferry their abundant offspring, today he drives the Honda.   He steps carefully, gracefully over the sidewalk, his movements like a puma traversing the tundra.  He’s lean and clean, a testament to diet and exercise - and I suppose he has to be, even if it weren’t his nature.  He runs a chiropractic office that specializes in functional health and wellness, after all, along with recently partnering to open a gym – or maybe he’s just renting the space?  Regardless, both of these businesses are in saturated markets.  For the millionth time, I count my lucky stars for becoming an electrician.
“How’s the coffee?” he asks, taking a seat on the metal patio chair.
“It’s coffee,” I say.  “Consider it tribute for the view.”  I wave my arm to Kimberly Road, where traffic rushes past.
Though we’d been attending the same church for years, it was only recently that we began corresponding.  The death of George Floyd had re-ignited the sirens of racism, and pastors around the country were scrambling to make sense of it.  Justin, whose pastoral history on the subject – at least at times - came off as personal and divisive, wasted no time in picking up his old torch.  The rest of the church leaders (we call them elders) were at odds on the subject.
Like any organization, churches come in a wide array of leadership structures.  Some are member led (think democracy), some are pastor led (think business), while ours, being led by a ‘plurality of elders’, falls somewhere in between. From what I gather, they’re supposed to find agreement on an issue before moving forward, but the lack of agreement didn’t deter Justin from pressing on.  As one of the elders, Alex was at the forefront of this, struggling to rectify Justin’s aggressive delivery with what he felt was at the very least prudence, or perhaps a healthier, more biblical approach.
“We elders are like a family,” Justin informed them in one meeting, when they couldn’t come to any sort of agreement.  “And as the Lead Pastor, I’m like the dad.  If there’s disunity on an issue, ultimately, what I say goes.”
Alex is naturally judicious.  On the one hand, it is a strength that allows him to consume information with neutrality - to sift through rhyme and reason without bias. On the other, it’s a tribal, defensive mechanism, for if you never take a stance, then you’re never made vulnerable, and if you’re never vulnerable, you can never be hurt.
“How are you doing?” I ask after nearly an hour of conversation.
He shrugs.  “I’m fine.”
I glance across the parking lot, to the location of his soon-to-be building.  I know all too well the grueling reality of starting a business, and the heavy burden of leading a family.  Funny thing is, he’s got twice as many kids as I have (and offices!). I think about my wife, and thank God that Alex isn’t Mormon.
“But how do you feel?” I press.
“It’s a lot.  It’s hard.”
I smirk.  “You didn’t answer the question.”
Alex analyzes his thoughts, considers his words.  “Frustrated, I guess.”
Like any church, people come and people go, but over the years, what we’ve witnessed was more than just the migratory behavior of the never-satisfied.  It’s a slow, unnecessary bleed, a quiet hemorrhaging of good and decent people.  Like me, Justin is a man of conviction.  Whether in person or on stage, he unapologetically delivers what he feels is right and true, and if you’re not on the same page, well, that’s your problem. People get frustrated, and without any grace - let alone any salve - eventually, people leave.
I dive into Alex’s frustration and mention the bit about business and family, and adding the tectonic weight of leading a church.
He ponders for a moment before answering.  “I think responsibility - for me - is like working out. When I’m doing an exercise and get stuck on the same weight, over and over, and I can’t seem to break past that point, one day we just add a plate onto each side, and somehow I find a way to overcome it.”
As a writer, I’ve learned that there are some lessons you simply cannot tell people, that they must be lived, or even endured.  And as a writer, this reality breaks my heart. Behind me, the traffic on Kimberly rumbles past, oblivious to our trials and tribulations, a testament that no matter what we do, the world moves on.
I don’t tell Alex this, but that’s the silliest thing he’s ever told me.
New carpet has been laid - the thin, multicolored kind you see in high traffic areas, like schools or daycares - while the walls have been repainted a soothing light blue.  Additional lights were requested after the track ceiling was put in, and so we obliged.
I’ve been working construction since I was teenager.  In regards to job sites, I haven’t seen everything under the sun, but pretty much. It’s common for tradesmen to get annoyed when the owner walks through – it is the same misunderstood frustration of an artist with an audience hovering over a half-finished painting.  Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with an affable personality, strong shoulders, and in the right context, thick skin.
Pastor Justin stands, visibly shaking, over a small pile of ceiling tile dust just outside his soon-to-be office.  “This is new carpet!” he screams.
“This is construction,” I explain.  His behavior confounds me, despite having ‘gotten accustomed to it’ throughout the duration of this project; before pastoring, the man worked in the trades.
Justin clenches his fists, huffs like a bull looking about for a sash of crimson, and stalks off.  My first encounter with his temper came early on in the project, when we had placed an outlet on the wall in a position he didn’t like.  His reaction was the same - a white-hot flash of anger like demon possession, yelling, venting, fuming - only it wasn’t his reaction that was so damning. Two of his employees nearly tripped over each other, stuttering and flapping their wings in apoplectic apology. In all my years – working hundreds of job sites with hundreds of journeymen, foremen, general foreman, you name it – I’d never seen such a perfect example of the Battered Servant.
“I’ll just move the outlet,” I said.  To Justin’s credit, later that night when I called him, relaying that moment from my eyes, he owned up to what he described as ‘tyrannical behavior.’
Now, a few months later, I’m standing over a small pile of ceiling tile dust, feeling the heat of his anger dissipate with his footfalls.
“I was planning on cleaning it up,” says my apprentice, standing at my side.
“I know,” I say.  “Now go get the vacuum.”
It’s this event (and many more that I don’t have space to chronicle) that rolls through my mind as my wife and I traverse the icy parking lot, tread carefully over the sidewalk, open the door to the office and climb the stairs.
The church elders - seated around a large, wooden table - are waiting for us.
I started my own business when I was 27.  I never intended to - the risk and workload and headache were of little appeal to me - but after being laid off for the better part of two years in a bad economy, well, what did I have to lose?
Looking back all these years later, I can see God’s hand at work.  I’ve been pushed and stretched and forced to take on back-breaking responsibility. I’ve worked in all kinds of places and met all kinds of people, coordinating jobs with homeowners, companies large and small, nonprofits and government agencies.  Regardless of the size or scope, whenever I communicate, it’s always with the person in charge.  So, you can imagine my confusion when I get a text message from a pastoral resident of our church.
Hey Danny! Justin asked me to reach out to see if you and Megan would be able to meet with the elders Sunday after 2nd service.
The following correspondence was a confusing (and at the onset seemingly manipulative) back and forth that could have been easily bypassed with direct communication.  I’ll spare you the details and give the benefit of the doubt that it was mere miscommunication, but this isn’t the first or last time I’ve witnessed Justin use his employees as liaisons.  Aside from high-profile politicians and CEO’s, in no other organization do leaders do this.  I wondered then as I wonder now, what gold is mined by insulating yourself from dealing directly with your congregation?
Justin sits stiffly in a padded office chair at the head of the table, gripping the forearms, his jaw set.  Larry, his father, is hunched across from him. Larry is the polar opposite of Justin - a calm, kind, unassuming southern man who would rather find common ground than wade through conflict.  Alex and Rob are perched in between, awkward apparitions in contrast to their shorter counterparts.
Rob takes the lead.  “We wanted to talk to you about what happened in your weekly gathering the other night.”
We’re part of this weird thing called ‘missional communities’, which is just a hipster way of saying ‘small groups’. For those who don’t speak Christianese, think Bible study, except we eat food and spend as much time talking about our lives as we do the Bible.  We laugh and cry, belch and argue - the idea is that we’re like a family.  And families come preloaded with all kinds of baggage: good, bad, and ugly.
“Specifically,” continues Rob, “That you called Pastor Justin a fool.”
Not for the first time, Justin had gone overboard in one of his Sunday sermons with a not-so-loving outburst, this time regarding Covid-19.  A lot of people were upset by this; some hurt, others enraged. Seeing the gamut of emotions (even talking one member out of leaving the church), we decided to discuss the matter as a group.  A lot was said by a lot of people.
I glance to Justin, breathing heavy and digging his fingernails into the armrest. Heat emanates off him like pavement off the hot summer sun.
I quote Proverbs 29:11. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it back,” I say. “There’s another half dozen references in Proverbs that--”
Rob cuts me off.  “We’re not interested in that. Only that you slandered Justin in a group that you lead without first bringing the matter to Justin himself.”
I’m taken aback.  For them not to engage the accusation - and what later will become evident that they cede it - is quite the twist.  There’s a lengthy back and forth.  Rob doesn’t know - and I can’t fault him - of our history.  He wasn’t part of this church at the time, wasn’t in leadership in our previous situation where I took this same foolish behavior to Justin directly, and later, as a group.
“Danny,” Justin sneers.  “You’re like the pied piper, playing your little flute and stirring up trouble wherever you go.”
“The trouble is already there,” I say.  “And it’s of your own accord.  Why limit your redress to just me?  You’re welcome to join our missional community one night and engage everyone’s grievances.”
Justin lifts his chin ever so slightly, as if this were the height of wisdom, or masculinity.  “I don’t enter into situations where it’s a bunch of people against me.”
My wife gapes.  “What is this?” she cries.  “What are we doing right now!?”
There is no response.
Eventually, Alex intervenes, speaking of how, as he’s gotten to know me, he doesn’t think Justin has an accurate view of me, and vice versa.  I’m reminded of what he’d said to me earlier, when I mentioned a similar proposal; allowing others in our group into this meeting.  His response, “I don’t think Justin would react well to that.”  And I thought but didn’t say, what does that speak of your opinion of him?
Alex does his best to be fair and equitable, but it’s not his words that I notice so much as his voice and how it falters, of his hands and how they tremble. At the end of an hour or so, despite the solid ground on which we stand, I offer Justin a genuine apology.  He leans back in his chair as if in judicial contemplation, dips his chin and speaks like a magistrate ruling over the serfs.

“I accept that.”
Later, on the drive home, my wife, weeping, will ask me what Justin reminded me of, sitting proudly in his little chair.
“A tyrant king,” I will answer.
Megan will shake her head and wipe the tears from her eyes.  “A petulant child."
Back in the 60’s, shortly after the Nuremberg Trials, a group of scientists set out to understand the Nazi soldiers, of how average, ordinary people could be inclined to such malevolence.

The Stanley Milgram Experiment brought in dozens of participants who entered in pairs and drew roles: one the giver of shock therapy, the other the receiver.  Only it was a ruse.  The receiver was a pre-selected actor in on the gag, while the unwitting test subject was moved into a lab where an official ‘researcher’ instructed him to press the button and administer the shock when the actor got the answers wrong. The premise was that by delivering shock therapy, the pain would help them learn faster.  In reality, it was to test the limits of the test subject, to see how far along they could be pressed while under the command of authority. The intensity of the shock increased to the shouts and screams of the actor, unseen but still heard on the other side of the wall.  The participants would look to the researcher, asking, “Are you sure this is safe?”  And the researcher would insert his rule, assure them everything was fine, and insist that they administer the next shock, even when the man on the other end went silent in assumed cardiac arrest.

The scientists hypothesized that there was something culturally amiss with Nazi Germany, and that only a very small minority in our morally superior American society would ‘go all the way’ with the shock therapy.  To their great horror, what they discovered was the exact opposite, that few people had the fortitude to stand up to authority, even when they knew that what they were doing was not only wrong, but deadly.

The implications of this ring throughout all spheres of our lives; these are the means of every tyrant in history, every dictator, duke, and petty lord.  It is the blood that courses through the veins of bullies, the strings pulling every puppet: It is the noxious extreme of mass murder, and the inane manipulations of children at play.

It is, sadly, human nature.
Like emissaries tasked with treaty, Rob and Alex pay us a visit.  They enter like death itself; tall, somber specters missing only black capes and rusty scythes, taking awkward seats on steel folding chairs in my living room.
Rob - not one who takes naturally to conflict - fumbles for words.  “As you are aware, we are, um, here because, well, Danny said some things in this group the other week.  He made some accusations against Pastor Justin, and, well, we need to talk through this.”
“I thought you were coming to hear our side of the story?” someone pipes up.
Rob nods. “Yes, of course, and we’ll get to that.”  He wrings his hands nervously, like an amateur stage performer unsure of the crowd, of his lines, and what to do with his appendages. “Now, what Danny did was wrong. Speaking against a pastor like that is sin.  Mathew 18 tells us that if we have a grievance against someone, to bring it to them first.”
“But he has,” says another.  “We have.”
“Right, right, yes,” says Rob.  “But first things first, we must address Danny’s sin…”
I can see the bomb going off in my mind before it actually explodes.  Vinnie sits in between Rob and I.  He’s a former wrestler who still lifts, a recovering emo-punk still picking the guitar, an old BMX’er who on occasion will catch air on mountain bike trails.  Like me, Vinnie loves guns and freedom, and to be perfectly frank, doesn’t take kindly to bullshit.  He loses his cool in a flash of understandable anger.
“You come in here saying ‘Danny did this, Danny did that’, and we’re trying to tell you that Danny’s not the problem!  But you can’t hear it because you’re not listening to us!”
There’s a scene in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf, who had fallen to his death in the mines of Moria, is resurrected and returned to the fellowship, and this loss, now undone, takes your breath away. “I come to you now, at the turn of the tide,” he says to Aragorn.  This was a Gandalf moment – a physical, mental, and spiritual reversal.  The genie was out of the bottle, and there was no stuffing him back inside.
The sound of voices in echo rings like gunfire.  Rob hangs his head, a humble man appropriately shamed.
We speak, and they listen: of the pride, arrogance, and ego, of the domineering and scoffing, the aberrant, shameful behavior in person and online, and of the folly that we’ve witnessed Justin returning to time and again like a dog to his vomit, and most alarming, of the complete inability to repent, or even to admit wrongdoing.  When we’re done, Rob and Alex exchange a look.
“Perhaps we should arrange another meeting,” says Rob.
We gather again around the wooden table in the church office. This time, Justin and Larry are absent. This time, other families accompany us.
We speak for an hour or two, relaying the things we’ve witnessed and experienced - the oft cruel words Justin has spoken, the hurtful things he has done, and his inability to apologize or reconcile. Alex listens.  Rob takes notes.  The atmosphere is completely different.  It is not of hostility or anger, but of people who have witnessed emotional and spiritual trauma from our pastor, and the concerns we have both for him and this church.
When we get to the part about open communication, Rob smirks. “When I mentioned to my wife that Justin is always an email away, she glared at me and said, ‘Oh yeah, I can just email him.  Yeah right.’  I didn’t realize how many people were intimidated by him, enough that it prevented them from ever speaking to him.” Rob sighs and opens up.  “There’s been a lot of issues over the years revolving around Justin that have not been addressed, and I think we’re just now coming into the back end of it and trying to play catch up.”
I offer them my interpretation. “Justin sees people as either friend or foe, and treats them accordingly.  This explains the stark discrepancies in how people view him.”
Rob furrows his brow.  “Well, I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment of him, but yes, people do view Justin differently.”
There’s a long pause.  “How are you two doing with all of this?” someone asks them.  Two elders had recently stepped down after burnout. Larry is Justin’s dad, which sort of disqualifies him from objectively handling the matter, while the only remaining elder is Justin himself.
“We feel a bit like the cleanup crew,” admits Alex.  “Justin makes a mess, and we come in after to patch things up.”
“So, what happens next?” I ask.
Rob sighs.  “It’s going to be difficult to convince Justin of his sin.”
PJ opens up.  “You know what really stands out to me in that sentence?” he asks.  “The word you chose.  ‘Convince’.”
Rob shrugs.  “Well, I could’ve used any word---”
“But you didn’t.  It was the first word that came to your mind.”
Rob pauses, sighs.  “But I didn’t,” he agrees, and ponders this.  “Justin’s annual review is coming up, and I’m tasked with leading it.  I’ll be interviewing everyone on staff - but I’ll be especially interested to hear what the residents* have to say.  Once I finish that, we will work all of these things into his review.”
“When can we expect to hear back from you?” asks Seth.
“Once we finish the review,” assures Rob.
*Temporary staff.
Rob sits across the booth, thumbing through a menu.  He plucks his silverware off the table, unwraps the paper sleeve, sets the napkin in his lap and carefully arranges his utensils like a pianist testing the keys before a concert.
“How are you?” I ask.
“A little tired,” he admits.  “On Wednesdays, the elders meet first thing in the morning - which isn’t really different from the normal time I get up, but it can be exhausting.”
I cock my head.  “How so?”

Rob smiles.  “You know, I’ve wondered and confessed the same thing to my wife.  And of course, she sets me straight.  ‘You just spent an hour with Justin - anyone would be exhausted after that.’ Anyway,” he continues.  “I wanted to apologize directly to you.  I know we promised to tie all these issues into Justin’s review, and to follow up with you once that was done, and well, things kept happening and the review kept getting pushed back.  Some of those things were truly out of my control, but others weren’t.”
Rob is the head master of a private school.  I can imagine that being difficult on any given day, I can’t imagine the headache of navigating the complexities and the vast chasm of opinions regarding Covid-19.
“I think I was just using all of this as an excuse to push Justin’s review down the road.  And I shouldn’t have - not just because it kept all of you waiting, but also because I’ve really been wrestling with where God has placed me.”  Rob apologizes and opens up about his struggles, failures, and doubts.  It’s a moment of genuine humility, of beautiful authenticity, like the rays of sunlight poking through a storm.  Eventually, we return to Justin’s review, which still hasn’t taken place.
I don’t beat around the bush, but ask boldly, as has become my way over the years.  “Do you fear Justin?”
Rob purses his lips, thinks, nods.  “He’s smart, well-read, very knowledgeable, and a great arguer.  Yes, I’m intimidated by him, and that’s not a good place to be as a fellow elder of the church.”
“No, it isn’t,” I agree, “The dysfunctional sin patterns in his life have been going on for a long time.  It’s very deep down and ingrained into his character.  For anyone in this place, there is only one way to bring about such repentance,” I say.  “Through suffering.”

Rob sighs like a hiker at the foot of Everest, or a tired old man at the end of his days.  “That’s the very word I was thinking.”
I press onward.  “When someone is so entrenched in their sin, there’s a kind of humility required to turn from it.  I’m not discounting a miraculous 180 turn from sin, only that without consequence, I’ve never witnessed it.”
Rob nods – in agreement, in prayer, in some sort of compulsive petition like tribal cries to the gods, I cannot say.  “Neither have I,” he admits.   
“And what do you suppose that sort of suffering looks like?” I ask, but do not tell.
Rob shakes his head, and I can almost see the child in him hiding his face, pressing his hands firmly over his eyes so that the blinding light cannot shine through. “I don’t know,” he says.  “I don’t know.”
I think of all the high-profile pastors whose lives came crashing down once their pride got the best of them.  They’re held accountable, the people were assured.  There are checks and balances in place.  And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t weld those lies together again.
Throughout the many years as a part of this church, one question has haunted its people, and it issues at various times, in various forms, through various lips. “Are the elders really in control of this church, or is it merely The Justin Show?”  And every time their words hang in the air like the stink of sulfur on the 4th of July.
“Mark Driscoll, James McDonald, Darren Patrick,” I say. “God removed all of them from their ministry - quite permanently in the case of Patrick.  Is this the end you want for Justin?”
“Of course not,” answers Rob.  Half his food is left on his plate, and I’m not sure whether this is just his way, or that he’s lost his appetite.
My son died about five years ago. We’ve lost unborn children in every trimester, so I know well the profound agony of each miscarriage.  In the case of the third trimester, there is a birth, and there is a burial.  Have you ever wiped the blood slowly leaking from the nose of your lifeless baby while holding him in your arms?  Have you ever carried your child to his final resting place?

Job of the Bible suffered like this, and worse. At the end of the book, he’s sitting on the ashes of his house, scraping the boils from his skin, bitter and morning over all that had been taken, when the Lord appears.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God asks.  “Who marked off its dimensions?  Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom, does the eagle soar at your command? Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?  Can you loose the cords of Orion, or bring forth the constellations in their season?”

And then the Lord said to Job.  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?”

There is no easy answer and no shortcut through suffering, only to walk through it slowly, and honestly.  Aside from healing, my constant prayer was for God to remove the fear in my life.  I’m not now - and never have been - prone to fear, but fear is a tricky thing, a toxic sludge, a primordial goo that covers every aspect of our lives.  We do not see it - not because it is not there, but because it is everywhere.

Is the absence of fear faith?  Is removing fear the key to unlocking real agency, and to living life authentically?  In his book 12 Rules for Life, psychologist Jordan Peterson rained down fire and brimstone on ruminations wandering too far from that reservation:
“She avoids conflict, and smiles, and does what she is asked to do.  She finds a niche and hides in it.  She does not question authority or put her own ideas forward, and does not complain when mistreated.  She strives for invisibility, like a fish in the center of a swarming school. But a secret unrest gnaws at her heart. She is still suffering, because life is suffering.  She is lonesome and isolated and unfulfilled.  But her obedience and self-obliteration eliminate all meaning from her life.  She has become nothing but a slave, a tool for others to exploit.
“If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, it means that so much of what you could become will never be forced by the necessity to come forward.  If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character.  If you have a weak character, then adversity will mow you down when it appears.  It is a willful blindness, the worst sort of lie. It’s subtle.  It avails itself of easy rationalization.  It’s refusal to acknowledge the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room, the elephant under the carpet, the skeleton in the closet.
“Only the most cynical, hopeless philosophy insists that reality could be improved through falsification.  It denounces truth as insufficient and the honest man as deluded.  It is a philosophy that both brings about and then justifies the endemic corruption of the world.  If you ever wondered how perfectly ordinary, decent people could find themselves doing the terrible thigs the gulag camp guards* did, you now have your answer.  By the time no seriously needed to be said, there was no one left capable of saying it.
“Forest fires burn out deadwood and return trapped elements to the soil. Sometimes, however, fires are suppressed, artificially.  That does not stop the deadwood from accumulating.  Sooner or later, a fire will start.  When it does, it will burn so hot that everything will be destroyed—even the soil in which the forest grows.”
*Of the Soviet Union.
Do you remember the rapper Eminem? In one of his albums, he had this song where, in between each segment of lyrics, he read the words of an imaginary child writing him letters accompanied by the sad, lonely realization that they are falling on deaf ears.  “Dear Shady, I know you’re probably busy and didn’t get my last letter, but…”

It was like that with the elders.

Eventually, six months after our original meeting and much back and forth arguing - numerous texts and phone calls from me and others - they return to the meeting they had promised.  It was like pulling teeth.

Rob joined us for smoked salmon in my dining room while Alex came in afterwards.  He took a seat, his normally impenetrable stoicism eroded by frustration.  Rob begins, explaining that the things they’ve seen in Justin are merely character flaws, and not precise sin, so there’s nothing they can do about it.  We look around at each other, caught off guard by such grand absurdity - such finely dressed mental gymnastics.  We don’t buy it, and, shaking off our initial bewilderment, tell them as much. Eventually, the conversation drifts to Alex.

“I don’t even want to be here!” he says.

“Too bad!” I fire back.  “You said you would meet with us for an update - we’re calling on you to honor your word.”

“I don’t remember saying any such thing.”

“I don’t either,” agrees Rob.

The rest of us are aghast.

“I specifically asked you when we could expect follow-up,” Seth rebuffs.  “And you said you were going to tie all these things into Justin’s annual review, and then get back to us.”  Everyone in the room confirms the truth of this statement.

Alex raises his hands.  “Well, I don’t recall that, but I guess I don’t have Danny’s memory.”

You don’t have ANY memory!  I want to scream at him, but hold my tongue.  You’ve stretched yourself so thin that instead of doing a few things well, you’re just doing a bunch of things poorly.

“I just feel sorry for you guys,” says PJ.  We all nod our agreement, and that seems to penetrate their defenses.

“We don’t know exactly how to handle this,” admits Rob, in a moment of candor.  “We’ve been trying to walk Justin through areas of repentance, but, it’s just not, I mean, he’s not quite….”  He looks to Alex, as if for permission.  

“We’re not satisfied by Justin’s repentance,” Alex says flatly.

“But it’s just, I mean, if it comes down to it, do we have enough evidence to do something about it?”  Rob pauses.  “Should we tell them, Alex?”

Alex shakes his head.  “Look, we’re taking this seriously and doing what we can - we’ve reached out to others from outside our church for help, and we need your trust and prayers.”

Rob nods, sighs.  “It's difficult.  Justin sees people as either friend or foe, and that guides his responses to them,” he says, unaware that he’s quoting me from half a year ago, which at the time he disagreed with.  “We have all experienced Justin, but for so many others in this church, if they themselves have never been run over by Justin, then they can't fully comprehend the reality of it.”
My dad unexpectedly passed away at the age of 63, about a year after my son.  For most of his adult life, he did not take good care of himself: he drank, he smoked, ate terribly and didn’t exercise.  It’s no surprise that this lifestyle culminated in a triple bypass in his 50’s.  What is surprising is how he changed, afterwards.
The surgery went as well as you could hope for, but he was never the same, like the angel of death swung and narrowly missed, stealing the top 10% of him in the attempt.  By some miracle, with the loss of energy, so went the addictions.  He began to watch his weight and what he ate, and even started walking.  And for the first time in his life, he finally took his faith seriously.
He sold insurance, and in the early days he’d go door to door, which is a certain kind of hell I wish upon no one.  He had such anxiety, but after the surgery, even that began to recede.  A sheet of paper, crumpled and weathered from years of scuffs and sunlight, was taped to the dash in his Ford Ranger.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
I remember my sister, my mom and I speaking with their pastor, Nathan (a wonderful man and dear friend) over the phone a few days after. “He should have died on that table,” I choked through tears.  “But he didn’t, and we got eight more years with him.”  Through suffering, my dad changed.  Through suffering, he experienced the blessings of God: a renewed marriage and the joy of grand-fatherhood.
And the best years of his life.
Missional communities were once considered the bedrock of our church.  Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the leadership boast of how we had more people in these weekly gatherings than we did on a Sunday morning, and there was always great emphasis in joining one, “Because that’s where life and real growth happens.”  So, you can imagine the surprise when the elders break the news in a church membership meeting that they are suspending missional communities for six months. They stumble through their explanation, lacking concise answers and clarity, and this appears both hastily made and reactionary.
“Rob was looking into a job change down south,” explains Justin.  “We were waiting on an answer to that, which God just shut the door to.”  A while back, Rob had lost his job, and Justin had quickly hired him on.  I’m not sure what the end goal was supposed to be, but I do remember thinking, so next year, when you go to give Justin his annual review, will you do it before or after he gives you your review?  Ironically, I’m not convinced that had Rob actually taken the job down south, that he wouldn’t have been swallowed by a whale* halfway to Texas.
The half a year hiatus is a response to the alarming burn rate of missional communities - of their increasing number of dysfunction and imploding finales.  Beginning next month, the ‘pause’ will be used to retrain and retool so as to prevent this calamity in the future.
The following Thursday evening, our missional community (which had changed since last year) spends a lengthy amount of time discussing our thoughts.  I speak directly and tell them that it was all meaningless, that when you go to solve a problem, there are two things you must do.  First, admit you have a problem.  Check.  Second, correctly identify the problem, and this is where the elders erred.
Half of the room was there with me in our previous conversation with the elders, the other half is predominantly naïve, and look about in confusion or stupor.  Megan is back at home, not feeling well.  We suspect, and later will confirm, that she’s once again miscarrying.
I calmly and succinctly explain that this church has been hemorrhaging good people for years, and any organization that cycles through members but can’t retain leaders is destined for destruction.  And the people who keep leaving this church all have one thing in common.
We speak at length.  The reactions are as expected.
“We should trust the elders of the church,” says one.
“Has Justin engaged in these things? Maybe.  But look at all the good that he’s done, too.”
One man slaps his knees in disgust.  “Well, this conversation just pisses me off!”
Their reception is revealing - not just of their inexperience in handling conflict, but of the real hierarchy of their value system; that they have placed loyalty to a man over loyalty to the truth.  Rob’s words - now canonized prophecy - whisper into my ears: but for so many others in this church, if they themselves have never been run over by Justin, then they can't fully comprehend the reality of it.
“These aren’t sins,” Alex regurgitates, like a good comrade unflinching in the eyes of double-speak. “They are just character flaws.”
Is pride not sin?” barks Kathy, almost comically.  She is the elder stateswoman of the group - a wisp of a woman who still rides a Harley.
Alex turns back to me.  “We’ve heard your allegations against Justin, and we’ve dismissed them long ago.”
“You’ve done no such thing!” I fire back.  As if on cue, the families in the room who were present to all our prior conversations immediately reject Alex’s statement.
“That’s not true!”
“You’ve never given us an answer!”
“We’ve been patiently waiting for over a year now!”
“Fine,” restates Alex.  “What exactly do you want us to do?”
“I want you to do your job!” I state boldly.  “Hold him accountable - just as I’m holding you accountable right now - and exercise church discipline.”
“That's not going to happen,” says Alex.  “Think of this as a courtroom.  You have brought charges against Justin, the elders have listened, and now we dismiss all charges against him.”
“There's a mountain of evidence and a mountain of bodies in Justin's wake,” I say, quite calmly.  “What more do you need?”
In the weeks to come, we will be inundated from the pulpit of how, “the elders are men anointed by God, and he has placed us in this position,” followed by a host of over-reaching, cherry-picked scriptures and calls for blind submission.  I’ve often wondered if the Pharisees issued the same rebuttal to questioning congregants.
Alex does not respond.
In the silence, I struggle to comprehend his reality: the logical acrobats, the convenient memory loss and contradictions, the stubborn and willful betrayal of truth.  Suddenly, a scene from Seinfeld comes to mind, where George is coaching Jerry on how to beat a lie detector so that Jerry doesn't have to confess to his police officer girlfriend that he secretly watches the chick flick Melrose Place.
“And remember, Jerry,” advises George, right before walking away, “It's not a lie…if you believe it."
*In the Old Testament, Jonah was sent by God to preach repentance to the city Ninevah.  Refusing, Jonah instead took a ship in the opposite direction, where he was promptly swallowed by a whale and spat up upon dry ground.
Shortly after my dad passed away, I had a vision.
Understand that I’m not charismatic by nature.  My mom grew up Lutheran and my dad Methodist, and to meet halfway, they landed in a Baptist church.  That church split when I was about five, and we spent my remaining childhood and adolescence in a newly formed non-denominational church.  I’m not prone to bursts of emotion, waving or clapping during worship, nor do I suffer from an abundance of ‘the spirit coming upon me’.  I understand that God is a God of the supernatural - of angels and miracles and even weirdos who speak in tongues - I’m just not accustomed to it.
But I had a vision, after my dad died, if you can call it that.
I was lying on my bed, not asleep but not fully awake…
And while lying there, I also see that I’m in a room with tiled floors and lighting dampened by an ethereal fog, a haze about this place, like being caught in the wake of two colliding worlds.  It’s unreality; the delirious chasm between comatose and consciousness.  I stand on one end of the room.
God stands on the other.
I know the drill; I’m supposed to fall at his feet, cover my eyes and shield myself from his holiness.

“Damn you,” I say.  I know I’m not supposed to say that either, but I also know he’ll forgive me.  I laugh darkly at this paradox.
His response is neither hurried or slow, and it reminds me of the line Gandalf said about wizards arriving precisely when they mean to.  “What would you have of me?” he asks.
“How about five more years?  I had it good for a long time.  It was never easy – don’t misunderstand.  It was hard - it was always hard - but it was good. And what has all that been replaced with?  Death and pain and death and pain and death and pain - like I’m shackled to some nightmare carousel where the carnie flipped the switch to high and snapped off the emergency brake.  At this rate I’ll be reduced to a battered wife cowering in the corner flinching at every hint of calamity, is that what you want?”
“I have given you many gifts,” he responds.
Gifts?” I say, incredulous.  “Shall I tell another story?  Don’t patronize me.”  And I hold my hands out as if these gifts were something tangible and cast them at his feet.
And I can’t see him, mind you, because of the fog or haze or whatever it is that separates us, yet I know what he’s doing, like some sort of sixth sense.  He bends down and delicately scoops them into his hands.  “Stories?  I have given you the ability to raise the dead!”  And he stretches out his palms and blows.  The gifts turn to dust, to ashes, to glittering fibers that envelop the room and are invariably sucked back into my lungs.  His voice shifts from the soft instruction of a teacher to the harsh finality of a judge’s gavel.  “I am calling all of my children home, and I will use every tool at my disposal.”  And he looks at me squarely.  “Would you do any differently for your own?”
There’s a long, insufferable silence.  “What do you want with me?” I breathe.
“Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answers?  Go!” he commands.  “And raise the dead!”
God has given me many gifts.  One of them is to write stories - to take the things I’ve experienced and work them into something digestible so that you, dear reader, can see and feel as I have.  And at times, this even means to quite figuratively raise the dead.  Let me show you…
I’m standing in my aunt’s kitchen, holding the door open as the chilly Christmas air bites against my skin, laughing at my dad as he walks up the stone-washed concrete steps and inside the house.
“You know your car has remote start, right?” I ask.  I know this because I sold it to him after we bought the van.
He throws up his hands and laughs.  “I keep forgetting!”
Earlier in the evening – after dishes were cleared and presents were unwrapped – I was sitting in the dining room, looking at Google Maps. I don’t recall how we got on the conversation, only that my dad offered an address, and through the magics of street view he was able to see his aunt’s house - the one with the railroad that literally buzzed right through the backyard and would rattle all the pictures and kitchen utensils – and then his childhood home.  He hadn’t been there in years, maybe decades.  Not much had changed; there sat a tiny house on a corner lot with a covered front porch, a detached garage, and a giant walnut tree.  Just down the road was a neighborhood park with a slab of cement where we’d play basketball when visiting grandma.  The hoop had a chain-link net that made this wonderful chink sound when you hit nothing but, well, chain.
I don’t know what ran through my dad’s mind as we sorted through pieces of the past – sadness and longing, nostalgia and relief, melancholy regret?  He didn’t say, just looked on in quiet stoicism.
Afterwards, we load up; crockpots and presents, boxes and bows, children buckled in tight.  We pull out of the drive, and my dad smiles and waves to us under the moonlight, the sort of silly hand wave that everyone offers to their grandchildren, or their own children when they were young.  His smile is emblazoned in my mind like the afterburn of fireworks, or lightening, or every great bonfire you ever had, not because it is any different than all the others, but simply because it is the last.
The next day I get a frantic phone call and race up to Maquoketa.  I remember stepping into the hospital room, and him lying in the bed, a blanket pulled halfway up his chest, a defibrillator resting useless on a gray Rubbermaid cart, his closest friends and family forming a semi-circle around him. And I know.  I run to him and bury my face against his chest like I’d done times uncounted as a child, crawling up on his lap – his ratty gray shirt sprinkled with grease stains and potato chip crumbs - as the light from the TV splashed against the walls; reruns of Mork and Mindy, Saturday Night Live, the best of the past captured, kept alive and on repeat so that you never had to let go.
Do you know what it’s like to want to rip back the sash of time as if you were some sort of Chronos incarnate, relive, edit undo?  Do you understand the searing pain and unbearable fallout of sin?  My dad, throughout his entire adult life, was not held accountable for his actions, and inevitably, it caught up with him.
It caught up with all of us.
Do I need to spell out the purpose of this story?  Instead, I’ll pivot.
Chronos isn’t the only remnant left from Greek mythology. There’s this idea of a mythical bird that rises up out of the ashes of its own existence – The Phoenix; life after death.
Did you know that this is the Gospel defined?
Stephen King once said that writing stories is like digging up dinosaur bones. The story is already there; it’s our job as writers to extract them, to carefully arrange the pieces and clean them off for the world to see.  I’ve been doing this for just shy of 20 years, putting not just my words, but my life to paper.  I’ve penned sci fi and memoir and everything in between, of which people from all across the world have read.  In a way, I’ve grown accustomed to bleeding on others, and I’m OK with that.
How do I write my stories?  They come to me like waking dreams, pounding on the doors of my mind and refusing to leave until written.  Every word matters; what we do with them, how we use them.  When we lose our tempers and unleash our emotions for the world to see, these are not aberrations, but sad reflections of who - of what - we truly are.  And in our storms, it is a soft narcissism that is revealed, that everyone sees but no one will speak of.  There is a culture of fear within the walls of this church, one that cannot be challenged or even named.
I think about the people who show up on Sunday and go home; they have no clue, no idea. They see only what’s presented to them; they see what they want to see.  How will they react when the weather turns, when the tide shifts, when a ticking time bomb is placed delicately upon the dais?
“The great goal of change is the shining glory of God.” Rob said that once, in a sermon. Does he truly believe his own words?
Do you?
I could be the monster, the one screaming at my employees, intimidating my peers and ruining my friendships, scorching earth and letting the bodies pile in my wake. I could be the one throwing tantrums on the grand stage of my own existence, and who would be there to stop me? To douse my flames or slap me across the face?  Would there be anyone with such courage?  Would there be even one solitary soul to offer such a kindness?
“Justin’s an idiot,” a staff member once confided to me.  “And he knows it!”
“On one hand, he’s this guy who does all these amazing things,” another remarked.  “And on the other, he’s a complete dick.”
Some keep records, promising to take action when things reach a certain level, even if the conviction dissolves with time and the promises are rendered empty. Others bury their bitterness, constantly reminding themselves to submit, submit, submit, like a perverse, internal Rain Man.
Many are in stasis, eternally hemming and hawing over the weight of what they see.  They understand the severity and yet lack the boldness to take that first step in faith. And their timidity is born of doubt, and that septic, primitive muck coating every inch of our hearts: fear. It whispers like a tiny cartoon devil on the shoulder, “Oh, you can’t do that!  What if you’re wrong?  What will happen to this church, what will happen to you?  Do you really want to be responsible?  Just wait a little longer, let someone else handle it.  Don’t you have faith?”
And we lie, like frogs in a frying pan, convincing ourselves that our sin is virtue, and our complacency is patience.  But just as faith without works is dead, so is conviction without action.  After all, when words need spoken, silence becomes a lie.
There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings where Sam and Frodo are taken captive, and Faramir is contemplating what to do with them, and the ring.
“We’re taking the ring to Mordor!” cries Sam.  “He’s got to destroy it!”
Faramir considers his words, but is unmoved.
Sam looks to Frodo, who is slowly succumbing to the power and corruption of the one ring.  “Will you not help him?” Sam pleads. “It’s such a burden.”
I’m standing at a crossroad, a turning point, a dirt trail leading into the woods.  A great storm has ripped through and left nothing but devastation, and I’m there with a chainsaw dangling in my hand, wondering if others will have the courage to step beside me.  I think about the differences between generations, their propensities, successes and failures, and wonder why.  What forces can be so strong to funnel millions of sentient, willful, independent people down the same paths, to glory or destruction?
I don’t have an answer to this – not now or ever – only a lonely dirt trail to walk down, fallen trees to clear, and wreckage to be undone.
There’s this show on The History Channel called The Curse of Oak Island.  It’s about a chunk of land just off the coast of Nova Scotia where people have been digging for buried treasure since the late 1700’s. The show chronicles the history of the treasure hunt, the lore and the evidence, and picks up the trail with the latest group to try their luck.  Brothers Rick and Marty Lagina have come to the island with a camera crew and the latest in drilling technology in hopes of at last bringing up the gold.
But as the show progresses, you begin to see that it’s so much more than a just a mere treasure hunt.  Though Marty is concerned with finding the booty, Rick’s focus is on the story.  He’s convinced that something very significant happened on this island hundreds of years ago – something that could change the annals of history – and you can’t help but feel a shift in your desire as the show progresses, and to empathize with Rick to uncover the real story.
Many have come and gone from Oak Island.  As the brothers keep digging, the details of these old stories come to light.  The island is a harsh place, full of pain and death and tragedy – broken dreams and empty promises and lives forever scarred – and you begin to suspect that the real treasure is not the gold that may or may not lie buried somewhere underground, but the healing work of restoration and redemption that Rick seems to find himself performing, like some sort of incidental shaman.  Untold characters who have come to the island with dreamy eyes and left a broken mess have buried their pain as if it were a treasure itself, and it’s been the hard - but honoring – work of bringing those stories into the light that has allowed these individuals to find true healing.
I believe stories are powerful forms of communication – like taproots into our souls.  It’s why I created Story Unlikely, and why people from all over the world find us, and stick around.
And it’s why I wrote this story.
Long has our church suffered under broken and dysfunctional leadership; emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse.  God gives his children every chance to repent, to turn from their sin and back to him, but at some point, when they prove to be a stiff-necked people, he brings in outside forces.  Alex recently preached a sermon on Nehemiah, who was sent by God to rebuild the old, crumbled ruins of Jerusalem.  He mentioned in one instance when the agent of repentance was a pack of lions.
Dear reader, the lions are coming.
Dear church, the lions are here.
I believe God is calling Justin to repentance, to remove himself as pastor and elder of this church so he can begin doing a healing work in his heart, a work that can only come about through suffering.  I also believe it is God’s desire to see Justin return to ministry.  However, God is not interested in Justin leading anything in his current state.  Leadership descends from character, of which he currently lacks.
If Justin is unwilling to obey, then the elders need to find their courage, to once again fear God more than they fear man, and remove Justin from his office.  Until this happens, the people of this church need to walk away: stop going to Sunday gathering, stop tithing, stop being party to such corruption.  In their absence, what will remain?  It won’t be strong men who stand tall in the face of adversity, but weak specters who skulk like dogs in their master’s wake.
If you, or someone you know, has been hurt by the leadership of this church, I ask you to courageously step forward and share your story, not only as a testament to the truth, but as an act of healing for your own sake (you can reach me at  This account -  Ivory Tower Pastor -  is both an antiseptic and a warning to the church at large, and I will continue posting testimonies as they come in.  (For updates, click on our home page – – and scroll down to the bottom where it says ‘Ivory Tower’).
It is likely that some will be tempted to label this as gossip or slander or provoking disunity.  If so, those accusations are weak and manipulative – the Bible tells us to ‘bring into the light that which is darkness’.  The Bible itself is a testament to this idea; think of all the horrors recorded in its text, far worse than anyone in this church has committed. Thousands of years later we still know because they were written down.
And passed along.
For those outside this specific church, share this story as a warning to Christians at large; of the pitfalls of power, of elevating skill above character, and of the sick, twisted nature that resides in each and every one our own broken hearts.  We’re sinners, after all, in desperate need of a savior.
Throughout all of this, I've felt like a man standing on an old country lane - insects sing in the darkness, untouched by the light of the moon and stars covered by cloud - when God hands me a lantern.
"See that road?" He asks. "Now walk."
I don’t claim to see all ends, and by now, I’ve learned not to demand that before setting out.  This has been a blurry, day-by-day, step-by-step process. And it isn’t over.  But now, it’s time for others to take their first step on that dark, scary, country lane.
This is a story – a true story, every word of it, or at least the best I can recall.  And if you are one of those people, then is this not part of your story?  And aren’t stories meant to be told?  Write it down, not just as a means to ‘bring that which is darkness into the light’ and thus be another blow (to quote Justin from one of his own sermons) “that cracks hard hearts wide open,” but to bring forward enough evidence that leads to brokenness, and brokenness to repentance (while also allowing the aggrieved a voice, and thus begin their own healing process), for as I've stated earlier, not all are men (or women) of conviction, but of consensus - rendered so by a weak will, a weak faith, or just weakness itself - and words spoken by a solitary voice, no matter how terrible and true, simply do not penetrate.
For thousands of years, we've communicated by passing along stories, and only in the last hundred have we completely ceded that birthright over – to Hollywood, to media, to legion fools with phones and an upload stream.  We don't know how to deal with our own trauma because we don't know how to communicate, and we don’t know how to communicate because we don’t know how to tell stories.
Here is my hope in passing along the account of the Ivory Tower Pastor:
  1. To humble the proud
  2. To heal the broken
  3. To bring restoration to all of the above
The Bible is bursting with this idea, “Pass this along, teach your children, pile these stones up as a monument so that you don’t forget.”  If you can speak a warning, do you not have a moral obligation to speak it, whether you have a personal account within this specific church, or you were - or are - part of a similarly abusive power structure?  But instead, if you turn away at the hour of your calling, swatting away your responsibility with endless justifications (and they are endless, dear brother), then tell me, dear sister, what is the difference between you and every soul portrayed above?
If you’re still unconvinced of the power of storytelling, I would encourage you to listen to a sermon Justin himself preached a few weeks ago (which just so happened to be our last Sunday.  One might call this poetic twist of fate ironic, maybe even unlikely), or to the podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which details a similar situation with a much larger church.
In telling there is healing.
And in healing there is restoration.
About the Author
Danny Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as a master electrician for his own company. In his spare time, Dan rides and builds mountain bike trails, scrapes infinitely spawning cat hurl off the basement floor, and runs Story Unlikely, an award-winning literary magazine where he floats around self-important titles like 'Editor-in-chief'. His work has besmirched the good reputations of Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Tenth Muse, and many more unfortunate publishers, as well as being awarded semi-finalist in Writers of the Future.

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