They stood silently beside me, eyes wide with horror, fists clenched in fear. Beads of sweat pierced through drawn brows. An occasional strangled gasp broke through the silence as they turned to me in alarmed revulsion, condemning me for not moving to change the situation, rescue the condemned, and stop the murderous scene before them. But the older ones stood more solidly; they knew the drill, and they knew no one could stop the machinery.
They were my children.
The scene unfolding was barbaric beyond words. One of their friends was confined and fed into a wood-chipper feet first. The engine roared to life. No screams mattered now... it was over. The roaring of the Machine, the ugly noises, the bloody spray into the field beyond, the smell of death.
We turned to walk away.
I saw the whites of their eyes, the fear, the terror. There were questions, so many questions, but none that would be asked or answered. Why? Why did it happen? Who were those people that would do this? Why did we live in this place? Why did it happen to him? Will I be next? Will you do anything to stop it? Why can't we leave? Do you even care about us as a Dad? What if I make a mistake tomorrow? Will it be me then?
They live with it every day.
I had an epiphany last week during the night as I lay awake in the night hours. I began to see why my children, and the children of many ministry families, feel the way they do. They struggle with a whole set of feelings about ministry, about Christianity, about people, about openess, about community, about trust, and about fear.
Those of you who were raised as a PK (preachers kid) may well understand what I mean. People always scrutinizing every move, waiting for the slightest misstep, for an excuse to pounce on and shred you. These children feel it far more, and to a greater degree.
To most folks, being in ministry looks like one continuous vacation. There are lots of trips. There is a big bus involved, and standing on stage with hundreds or thousands of people watching. There are nice clothes and excursions to exotic locations, and experiences in prisons, cities, conferences, and concerts that look dreamy. People often ask when we return from a trip, spent, exhausted, and sometimes literally vomiting, "How was your vacation?" We hear lots of criticism for the 'fancy bus'. (usually from people who drive new Lexus and don't realize the bus is 20 years old) More trips are planned: freebies are given to the children: another recording comes out: posters are made with their pictures on them: they get to go on a cruise. To be sure, there are many things that are exciting, adventurous, and fun.
But lurking in the back of the minds of the children is the horror of THE MACHINE.
The Machine has no feelings. It has no sense of right or wrong. It chops, shreds and obliterates without recognition or remorse. It is powered by devils but requires the agreement of Christians to fully engage its horrible teeth. To put it plainly, the MACHINE is the gossipping, shredding, character pulverizing mechanism that annihilates respect, honor, character, personality, identity, courage, morality, decency, uprightness, and righteousness in general.
We have never required our children to act in a certain way because " we are in ministry ."We have gone out of our way to tell them that it would be better to make a mistake and be honest than to become "pretenders" on a grand scale. I would often tell the little dippers, " We are not trying to teach you only how to ACT. If I wanted you to learn to act, I would send you to Hollywood." We tell them their identity and calling is higher than merely an act; it is in reality and believing what Christ spoke into them before they were born. Despite it, they feel fear. They see the Machine; they watch it reach out to rake them. All of them have come to us bleeding from the scratch marks of its claws. Many are the nights they have bled and cried themselves to sleep. Sometimes, I worked with someone else until 2 AM, and they decided they didn't matter in their hearts. Many times I was simply too tired to notice.
Words were flung at them; careless remarks were made about their uselessness, poor class, lack of ability, or a mistake—angry words spoken over them about their stupid parents and their wrong ideas. Criticism burned at choices of colors or songs, being too social or not social enough, immodest, or too old-fashioned.
We tried to compensate for some of this in various ways. In some ways, this is just life... get over it. As a Dad, my mindset is so far removed from this stuff that I seldom notice the barbed remarks and hate fests that folks hurl. I weep much, far into the night, quite a lot actually, but it does not generally concern things folks have said or done to me or against me. My sensitive wife probably ends up picking up more of the pieces. But all of this is not where the actual fear lies.
As I saw last week