I saw my old friend Graham down at our local fish and chip shop the other day. My husband and I were in on a Friday night on our own for a change, the kids had all gone out, and we thought we would whoop it up and get some takeaway. I was talking to Steve about what looked nice, and glanced up suddenly and there to my surprise was Graham. For a brief moment I nearly forgot everything that had happened. The words were on the tip of my tongue except they weren’t released. “How are you Graham? Good to see you’.
Then I realised. Graham wasn’t allowed to talk to me. He attended a church which didn’t let him talk to people who had left. I wondered if Graham knew why he wasn’t talking to me. It was clear by his face – the jaw set, the eyes staring straight ahead, that expressionless yet so expressive look which I had come to connect with ‘them’ – that to talk to him would have caused him embarrassment. We hadn’t spoken in over ten years. But I couldn’t ask about his wife and children. I had to pretend that we didn’t know each other. Or care. It was ridiculous.
Yet, if I had spoken to Graham out of determination not to allow his scruples to affect me, I would have offended him, embarrassed him as well probably. He was the ‘weaker brother’ in this situation. I didn’t want to make him any more anxious and distressed than he obviously was. Nobody else in the shop, which was pretty crowded, would have seen his distress, but I knew from experience that his heart would have been pounding and his mind racing just because he was in the same room as us.
Of course, there was every possibility that he didn’t even see or recognise me. Graham was a bit vague like that. He was the absent-minded professor type. He was a very clever man and his mind was always on other things. But we had been friends. We had been friends before the takeover by the cult. We had used to sing, laugh, talk and enjoy church together. We even used to have meals together, our families, our kids, without the hard-faced, hard-heartedness which I was now confronted with.
Ironically, this shunning, this sword into the heart twisting and pulling, was being done without much forethought. For a man who was used to thinking a lot, he had become a zombie; a Stepford Wife. He was married to the church, his wife came second, his children third, his friends a very faint fourth if there was such a position. And God? God was the elders of the church and Graham was being a good Christian. He was doing what he was told, and what he thought was necessary for our salvation, in the hope that we would one day come back to the fold and once again submit ourselves to the insanity which had forced us out in the first place. Yet, Graham would not have read his bible, would not have realised that this sort of discipline was reserved for the heartless, wicked, rebellious person who had refused God time and again and refused to change their ways when they had been repeatedly confronted. Graham thought that he was helping us see the error of our ways, he didn’t realise that we had left because of the error of the ways of the church he attended. He was told we were no longer ‘of them’, therefore, he treated us the way so many of his type treated us. He was the superior person for removing himself from us. We were to be treated as though we were not even present.
So Steve and I bought our fish and chips and went and sat in the car and ate, laughed, talked and lamented about poor old Graham. Graham took his takeaway, and sat with his little boy looking out at the sea, on a bench by himself, lonely and devoid of the presence of God, like all rebellious men are, yet still thinking that he had done the right thing by pretending we didn’t exist.
It’s strange, I would have thought people like this were hardly rebellious. They were always being accused of such by the men who led them. But this was because the men who led them were rebellious. There was an ‘older son’ mentality at this church. It looked down it’s nose at those who did not ‘get it’ and became envious and jealous of everything the younger son appeared to be getting which by their reckoning was completely undeserved. Yet they were like dogs in the manger. They didn’t want what the Father had given them, but they didn’t want anyone else to get it either. No feasting, no rejoicing, no love over the return of the prodigal, or concern for the lost who are perishing, just hard, arrogant, patronising refusal to let God melt their hearts. Rebellion does that to people. It hardens their hearts and makes them angry and bitter.
Graham and his friends would attend church that Sunday and believe all was right with the world. We wouldn’t attend church at all, but we would pray with our kids, read our bibles, and be free of the religious accoutrement which men like Graham take for granted. We would not be yelled at by controlling, perfidious men with greedy hearts and ugly manners. We would not join with those who destroyed marriages and families and praised God all in the same week. We would remove ourselves, yet our punishment was to be bereft of people we cared about and loved. This was their way of telling us we were wrong. If they thought this was going to make a difference, they were right.
We would be wounded because of the terrible loss and because of the terrible pain which the loss created. But we would not regret having walked away from the cult, and we would not regret having the scales lifted from our eyes and the hardness from our hearts. We would know for sure that our lives were changed. Graham would continue coldly ignoring friends who had left. He would think all was the way it should be. But he would be ignoring the still small voice of God in his own heart which told him that it really wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He would become, had become, spiritually atrophied.
We love you Graham. We won’t forget you. We mourn the loss, we miss the friendship and we hope you leave the pigsty before it’s too late.
Enjoy your fish and chips matey, but we hope fervently you don’t miss out on the marriage supper of the lamb.