Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt

I grew up un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt.  I become a Christian in my late twenties after a series of miscarriages launched me on a spiritual journey.  Even though I have been a part of the local church for more than 15 years, I still approach the church with the eyes of an outsider and a heart for those who, for whatever reason, have not found a home within the walls of the church.  I am particularly drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church.

I think this sensitivity toward the outcast is the result of a traumatic event that occurred in 1977 when I was only ten years old.  Douglas Miiller was my favorite uncle, we called him “funny Doug”.  He always had a way of making me laugh.  I will never forget getting my first bicycle.  I could not figure out how to ride it so my uncle Doug decided to show me.  He looked so funny on that tiny bike with his knees up around his shoulders.  He went riding down our drive way, lost control and crashed my brand new bike into a tree…that was not so funny.  Thankfully Uncle Doug was fine but the impact bent the front tire of my bike.  My uncle, whom I know was not a wealthy man, immediately went out and purchased me an even better bike, this one had a basket on the front and ribbons on the handle bars.  I loved my uncle Doug.

Sadly, as a young man, Douglas Miiller was drafted into the army and has served a tour of duty in Vietnam.  He never talked about his days in the army but I overheard the adults saying that “it messed him up.”  I never really knew what they meant but in 1977, when he decided to end his life, this part of his past seemed to be the key to understanding why he had lived such a tortured life.  I also gleaned from my keen ability to ease drop on adult conversations, that my uncle had a drinking problem which only contributed to his pain.

He was the first person I can remember losing to death.  Dealing with death is never easy, especially for a ten year old, but adding suicide to that equation makes it even more difficult.  As I mentioned, my family did not attend church so the only images of God available to me were those shared by family and friends who claimed to be Christians.  I will never forget hearing the words, “Your uncle is going to go to hell for what he did.”, spoken by a child I thought was my friend.  This was the message the Church gave me during my time of grief.  These words wounded me so deeply that it was more than twenty years before I was willing to step foot in a church.

My call to create safe spaces for spiritual seekers grows out of this very early wounding by the messages of judgment that I heard as a child.  In my book, “From the Sanctuary to the Streets”, I have captured the stories of many people, who like my Uncle Doug, never found a home in the church walls but whose lives have enriched my own.  My prayer is that my book will bring honor to the lives of those who feel shut out, judged and cast off.  For those are the very people Jesus chose to identify with and spend time with.  It is in the presence of the “least of these” where I have seen the real “Church” come alive.

I know that my experience is unique.  Millions of people find hope, comfort and healing within the walls of the institutional church, so please do not think I am being critical of the local church.  My prayer is that through the stories of those who do not feel welcome in the church with walls, pulpits and steeples, we will begin to see that the Church Universal is far bigger than the structures built by human hands.  It exists in the very people who seek to be Christ in the world and in the faces of those Christ identified with in Matthew 25; those who hunger and thirst, the stranger, the sick and those who are imprisoned.

How has your early experiences with church shaped your faith?  What images of God do you think your children have been taught?  What images of God do we show the world through our words and actions?

I choose the image of the Vietnam memorial for this post to honor both those who have died in battle this memorial day weekend, but also those whom like my uncle had their lives shattered by war.  The lasting effects of the horrors of war continue on for generations.  In some ways, I myself am a victim both through the loss of my uncle and the effects that my uncle’s suicide had on my family, in particular my father who lost his youngest brother.

I pray for peace for all the families across the world who suffer due to war and I lift up a prayer for peace for all the nations.  May your memorial day be peaceful and blessed.


Filed under Book Related, missional church, Personal Reflection, Theology, Top Post's of All Time, Urban Ministry

10 responses to “Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt

  1. waltkaye

    ” I still approach the church with the eyes of an outsider and a heart for those who, for whatever reason, have not found a home within the walls of the church. I am particularly drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church.”
    This is a good thing. Church sometimes looses people out of sight. If you have depressions and suicide toughts, and some other problems, your are mostly not welcome in church. A sad experience, but mine.

  2. Cindy Neumann Isaacsen

    Wendy – I think as a child growing up in the Church, we repeat what we’ve heard, which oftentimes is insensitive and harsh. However, the only we become, the more we realize that our lives, and the lives of others, are not black and white. Most people live in a state of gray. Once I came to the personal understanding of how loving I believe our Father in heaven is, the more understanding and loving I became of others and the daily struggles they deal with. I have come to a better understanding of God’s grace, and what a marvelous gift it is. Thank you for the insight!!!

  3. wmccaig

    Waltkaye – I think that is true for many who suffer from depression. I know that over the years, I have encountered a number of people going through difficult times and have asked if they have shared with their pastors and have gotten responses like “No way – those are the last people on the face of the earth I want to tell my problems to.” I now when I was doing interviews a number of my interviewee’s said they always felt like outcasts in relation to the church and that broke my heart. I know that was not how Christ would have made people feel. The only ones who felt judged by Christ were the religious leaders who believed they were the ones who were “righteous” in the sight of God. I pray you find a group of people who actually embody the love of Christ and who admit that they too are on a journey and have their own struggles. I know I am just such a person. I certainly do not have this all figured out.

    • wmccaig

      Cindy – Are you going to the reunion? It will be good and kind of weird to see all the Lampasas folks after all these years. Can’t wait to learn what everyone has been up to. Do you lead a women’s ministry? I think the book is perfect for a church that is seeking to be more missional. I think the ladies in your church will really enjoy the fact that our whole ministry grew out of a women’s bible study group that I started. Please let me know what you think of the book and if you like I would be happy to sign some copies if you are at the reunion.

  4. Yvonne McCarroll

    When your Uncle Douglas committed suicide no one talked about it for years. It was sort of a taboo subject. We talked about Uncle Douglas, but rarely about the way he died. I think he’s in heaven having a heavenly time. Your Mom and Dad were so good to him, opening up their home whenever he felt like crashing there, and he enjoyed you and Cindy so much. I’m so proud of your family for never judging him negatively and making him feel special, just like Jesus would have done. Next time we talk, ask me about the deer he brought home!

  5. Heather

    I never heard this story about your Uncle Douglas. So sad.

    My first memory of Church was going with my Dad and his family after the death of my mother when I was six. I have always felt so warm, comforted and loved in church. Because it was a big family event, I remember all my Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents and extended cousins in our little Lometa/Lampasas Church. I remember getting on my knees at night and praying with my Grandparents, Aunt and Cousins. I feel very fortunate to have had such a big influence from my church and extended church family.

    I always pray for those children who wants so badly to go to church but their parents do not believe in going. My heart also goes out to those who do not feel welcome in a church. I feel the church is like a hospital and we are all sick (sinners) so we need to go to church to feel better and follow God.

    I believe when we see the face of a down trodden person we are looking into the face of Jesus and I tell my kids that.

    I am not as good a writer as you so please forgive me, I am not good at expressing my faith. I just know I have it and try to impress it upon my kids all the time.

  6. srice22

    Thank you for sharing your story. I join you in praying for those damaged by war.

    To answer your questions, I grew up going to church and loved the church we were in when I was in elementary school. We moved and ended up not finding a church we liked as a family so we just stopped going. Oddly enough, my distaste for the church didn’t come until I made a commitment to Christ and realized that much of the Christian church was as you described. Yet, because of that great experience when I was younger and seeing Jesus-like churches since then, I know that there are people out there who are trying to follow Jesus by loving everyone no matter who they are. There are people who know that everyone deserves to be treated like a human being and are serving others as Jesus did. Now that I’ve moved again I get to search for a new church. I hope to find one where I am comfortable being who I am and am able to serve.

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