Journaling about a trip to Milwaukee for a wedding in December 2014. What the benefits can be when a person repents, seeks forgiveness and reconciles. Also touches on how some national church issues affect people at the local level.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32 NIV
“Thanks buddy. I’m honored to know you and to have been let in to your journey. I love you :-)”
Text from Joe Blow as he was starting his Honeymoon on December 7, 2014.
I believe many evangelical Christians do not know what repentance and forgiveness truly means and what it can unleash when it is fully practiced. Honestly, prior to my faith crisis I didn’t know what repentance or forgiveness really meant. In today’s journal entry I want to write about a trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in December 2014 and how I learned what came about from repentance and forgiveness in the Dairy state.
In June 2014 I got a text message from Joe Blow who asked me to guess some news. I played around a couple of times, and he broke the news. He was engaged. We later spoke on the phone and I heard the entire story. I have known Joe from my days in Cru in Milwaukee, as he was a student at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UW-M). I have known Joe for almost 14 years and when I heard the news I was thrilled for him. That evening in a sandwich shop I cried in joy for him, because he’s the kind of guy you want to see go far in life. This was an amazing and big step for him. However, my relationship with him was not always that good. There was a time back in 2001 or so when I put boundaries on him. But he matured, grew and I was stunned by the transformation I witnessed into a man. I got to know him again and my life became richer by his presence. When I heard the news about the planned wedding I just knew I had to be there for that day. I couldn’t imagine missing that at all. Plus there were several other reasons why I wanted to go back. In my journey of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation I had approached almost everyone that I could think of in Wisconsin. It would be beautiful to see them again after all the leg work I had performed. Also having undergone weight loss surgery in July 2014 I wanted to have something to look forward to, and a trip back to my “hometown” of Milwaukee fit the bill. So in the course of time I purchased a plane ticket and planned heading back.
Arriving in Milwaukee…
I flew into Milwaukee on Friday December 5, 2014. Joe’s wedding was on Saturday December 6. I had given a number of people a head’s up by email and text as I wanted to spend time with as many people as possible. I couldn’t tell you what a joy it was to look out a plane window and see the Milwaukee skyline as the plane was descending into General Mitchell International Airport. When I saw all the Packer gear, the parkas and heard the accent I felt like I had arrived home. After renting a car (Volkswagen Jetta) I drove around Milwaukee and explored. One of the places I hit up for lunch is a Milwaukee institution called The Pizza Shuttle on he east side of the city. When I was a Marquette student I used to go there frequently. One of the things I miss about Wisconsin is fried cheese curds, those are quite the delicacy and germane to Wisconsin culture. Driving around Milwaukee just filled me with memories as I saw old haunts and places. Driving past Ma Fischer’s brought back memories of late night Cru breakfasts or joking around after midnight. Driving down Wisconsin Ave I saw the US Bank office where I worked while going to Marquette. Driving through downtown and over the Marquette University campus was a joy. Friday was a day pretty much for myself and I was tired since I was up most of the previous night. Plus many people were involved in Joe’s wedding and the day before was crazy. On Friday afternoon I visited a hobby shop called Sommerfelds that I loved to patronize when I lived in Milwaukee. Then I explored the suburbs…West Allis, Wauwatosa, (Tosa as the locals call it!) and New Berlin and was amazed by the growth. The last time I was back in Milwaukee was in 2007. Then I got a motel room in West Allis and collapsed in exhaustion. I actually slept through some text messages accidentally. That Friday night I ventured into downtown again and did some more exploring. One thing I miss about Milwaukee is all the German food. Milwaukee has the best German food I’ve had. So I went and grabbed a meal at Maders. Due to weight loss surgery it also became food for the following day also.
Reconciliation and Forgiveness
On Saturday morning I got up and got ready for the day. I drove down to Marquette University and planned to meet Kendra and her husband at noon. They were down from Green Bay and I was thrilled that I could see them. So I sat in the Brew Bayou in the Alumni Memorial Union and just chatted away. We spoke about life, caught up and I also spent some time explaining my faith crisis, and other faith issues. Kendra’s husband chimed in on a comment I made about how many churches don’t have Men’s Ministries. For me its always comforting to hear other people say the same thing I am thinking. Kendra explained that she saw my story on My East Coast Mom’s blog The Wartburg Watch. She also said she saw the letter she wrote me that was used as one of the examples of the many letters I received. Then the situation with Andrew White also briefly surfaced.
Andrew White was a Care Group Leader at a former Sovereign Grace Church called Redeemer Arlington. I hammered him in my faith crisis as I was drinking the Christopher Hitchens and other evangelical atheist kool aid. He committed a horrific sin against me and May 8, 2013 was one of the bleakest days of my life. It thrust me into the darkest season of my life. I honestly think Andrew made a mistake but I don’t think he knows how painful it was on me. Afterward I realized that grace, forgiveness and repentance is the only way out of the mess. When I started approaching people for forgiveness I thought half the people would tell me to get lost. It was an amazing journey of repentance and forgiveness and in the end I approached 140 people. 136 reconciled and I am at peace with today. Sadly the situation with Andrew is still ongoing and I am still praying that it can be redeemed and resolved.
Months after the relationship fractured I realized that Andrew was correct in the sense that he once told me that I hated Sovereign Grace. I cried in my kitchen when I realized that he was right. Originally I wanted to approach Redeemer Arlington and Eric Simmons for forgiveness as I thought that would be right. But due to what I was managing and the betrayal I faced I couldn’t approach Redeemer to seek forgiveness. From August 2013 until June 2014 what I was willing to do was to go before the congregation and repent publically. I wanted to own the pain I caused Andrew, and I also wanted to do this for his benefit, healing and show him grace. It would not have been easy for me, but I was so committed to doing the right thing. In August 2013 I approached Sovereign Grace for forgiveness and confessed my hatred toward the organization. Anyhow to tie this into Milwaukee what had happened is that I had asked everyone I reconciled with to pray that I can work through 140 people. I also asked them to pray that I can be at peace with Andrew White one day.
As I sat in the Brew Bayou with Kendra and her husband I explained that the situation with Andrew is still estranged. Kendra was one of the people who reached out from time to time to tell me that she was praying that peace could occur between Andrew and me. I wish I could put into words how much it meant to me when another message popped up from Kendra telling me that she was praying for peace. When the body of Christ shines…it can really shine. But I don’t think Andrew knew how many people prayed for him from Wisconsin alone.
After we bid goodbye and Kendra and her husband left I went inside the Marquette store and looked around at the new clothing, trinkets and other items. I picked up a couple of things for my wardrobe. I then walked around Marquette and re-explored my old home. I was stunned to realize that Angelos closed. I actually wanted to eat there as that was a Marquette tradition. I strolled around campus, looked at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel and explored the new Raynor Memorial Library. Walking around brought memories for me…late nights in the library, preparing for classes, and all nighters in the computer labs. Time was flying and I had to leave and get ready for a wedding in a couple of hours.
A Wedding in the Former Pabst Brewery
Milwaukee has a fascinating history. Before I get into the wedding and the experience let me share some history with you. In the 19th century (IIRC…) both Milwaukee and Chicago were growing cities. Then in 1871 the Great Chicago Fire devastated the city. Milwaukee had the brewing infrastructure in place and proceeded to grow and develop and as Chicago re-covered Milwaukee was able to ship and sell beer to Chicago and benefited from that growth. Milwaukee was touted as the “beer capital of the world.” It was home to breweries such as Blatz, Pabst, Miller, and Schlitz all of which became household names in American culture, history and families. On a side note if you want to read about the infamous “Schlitz Effect” and how it became a business model as to how not screw up a good thing, there’s a good article here. Only Miller from my understanding is the only major brewery manufacturing in Milwaukee, and I think it was purchased by a South African company. The other breweries have been converted into schools, condos, office complexes and more. By now you are probably wondering…why am I writing so much about this? Well if you are reading this from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and never set foot in Milwaukee I want you to understand the culture. The wedding I attended on December 6 was in the former Pabst Brewery.
When I showed up I was anxious as to who I would see. I have a lot of connections to Milwaukee and that I hoped was preserved by all the repenting and seeking forgiveness from my faith crisis. When I walked through the door I saw people who I had not seen in years. I first saw Kyle and remembered how in Cru he used to tie my shoelaces together when I fell asleep in a movie from time to time. Then I saw Jeremy who I interacted with casually but had a strong presence in Cru at UW-M. And I saw Greg Marshall which was a pleasure to see again. Then I saw my former Cru director Erick Lettner. It was emotionally overwhelming to see all these people again. I then saw Joe Blow as he was greeting people who arrived at the wedding. We hugged, I was so thrilled to see him. I’ve been to a lot of weddings in my lifetime and there never has been a time where I had so much anticipation to attend a wedding such as this one. In another post I would like to journal more about Joe and the relationship I have had with him over the years. In time things settled down and the wedding began. I watched the wedding commence and saw Joe and his wife exchange vows. I was thrilled for him as I watched this unfold. During the wedding I was reflecting on all that I had seen Joe go through in life. He went from a guy who was struggling in 2001 to a man who blossomed, matured and flourished. In my lifetime I don’t think I have seen someone mature so deeply. I also was spending time reflecting on older times when the relationship was challenged and I put boundaries on him. As I stood there and watched him kiss his wife I thought to myself how grateful I was that I re-engaged and let him back in my life as a friend. Had I not done that my life would have been spiritually poorer, wanting and having a void. Had I not re-engaged I would not be standing there and watching this wedding play out.
After the wedding the celebration commenced in another part of the brewery. I spoke for a while with my former Cru director. It was so good to see Erick. I love him deeply and am grateful for the work he does in Cru. I engaged a number of different people I was amazed that earlier on I was very estranged from almost everyone. I talked with one person who years previously once said, “goodbye” to me in an email as I had become so militant in my agnostic thinking. I spoke with another person and watched them hold their child, and contemplated how I once pushed his buttons by posting George Carlin on his Facebook page. It was when I was an evangelist for unbelief and secular thinking. And I watched the best man Greg Marshall toast Joe and I remembered the time I was harsh on him. I remember when Greg and the Figureheads came and visited in Washington, DC and I was trying to get all this John Piper out of my system, and Greg told me that I was drinking from the wrong well. In short order every person I saw that night I had approached and personally sought forgiveness – minus one. There was one guy there who was on my list, and I tried to reach out to him. I reached out through social media, through friends, and I couldn’t get a hold of him. I finally gave up frustrated. Then at the wedding I saw him and I pulled him aside and explained what happened – my faith crisis, hitting bottom, and the forgiveness and reconciliation I was seeking. It turned out he did not use social media and was busy in life. And at Joe’s wedding that reconciliation journey continued and this guy told me there was no “bad blood” between us. And my list of people changed from 136 to 137. While Andrew White came up a couple of times, there was another person that weighed on my mind more that weekend and especially that night.
It was a former accountability partner I had for years. He was a Cru student leader as well, and we were deeply close at one point. As I write this I can still hear his distinct laugh. He bore the brunt of my faith crisis in the early stages and his family was hurt by fundamentalism as well. And he is one of the 4 or so people who didn’t react to me reaching out to him. I didn’t know what was going on. That night I learned what happened and why its highly unlikely that I will not hear from him. I knew that a couple of people tried to contact him when they heard what I was doing in mass. And they were rebuffed as well. When I heard the entire story it was hard for me to process. I retreated in a restroom there and wept. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. I cried in pain as this was not the news I wanted to hear either. I wish I could sit down with him today and have a long heart to heart. I know he was hurt by fundamentalism as well. Actually when I knew him in Cru, I was getting into John Piper, and my accountability partner was getting into Mark Driscoll. I remember one conversation I had years ago in which he told me how he wanted to leave Milwaukee, move to Seattle and get involved in Mars Hill. I actually encouraged it at the time, after all I liked John Piper, Piper endorsed Mark Driscoll….and when is John Piper ever wrong? So I wish I could sit down with him and apologize for his experiences. I am not going to talk about it…but his family went through a lot, and it was hammered by fundamentalism as well.
As the evening wore on I spoke with Joe Blow’s mother and introduced myself to her. She was like, “Oh you’re that smart guy who lives in Washington, D.C.” I laughed and was like yeah..I attended Marquette and my student loan debt rivals a a nation state in Central America, that’s what going to a Jesuit school will do! In my conversation with Joe’s Mom I apologized for the grief her family has endured, and losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. I expressed my condolences and wished there was a way I could take away the pain. I also said that she must be very proud to have witnessed this day and watch her son got married. And we spoke for a little bit. I liked Joe’s mother. She was engaging, pleasant and nice. In the course of the evening Joe’s new bride came over and spoke with me. She told me how much she heard about me from Joe. I was kind of flattered. In a short conversation I told her how Joe was so lucky to have her. I was deeply impressed with Joe’s wife…I found her engaging, intelligent and warm. Though it was the first time I met her I felt like I had known her for a long time. The wedding wore down and people started to leave. I think I was one of the last ones to leave. I talked with Joe while I was there and wished him well, and told him how proud I was of him that evening. And with that it was over.
I then headed back to the motel and crashed in exhaustion. The following day I was going to attend church with Greg Marshall. Greg is a teaching pastor at Westbrook Church. Last summer my faith crisis and forgiveness became part of a sermon on June 29, 2014 called “David Dances Before the Lord.” That Sunday morning I was thrilled to go to church with him. And with that we just kind of worshiped the Lord together.
After church Greg and I grabbed breakfast and we spoke. We discussed faith, life, and so much more. He recommended some material for me to read. In the course of the conversation Greg and I discussed why people leave Christianity. Greg said that as a Pastor he sees two reasons why people are leaving the faith. The first is what the church was taught well…that people want to sin and choose to let go of faith and pursue that sin. However, Greg said that there is another reason why he is seeing people leave. People are getting hurt in church, their theology implodes, they deal with intense pain and suffering, and they associate God with the pain and they push back and reject faith. That was the experience I fell into…my faith crisis was driven by fundamentalism and doubt and its part of the reason why I am so puzzled as to why I am not an atheist today. Before I knew it the breakfast was over and with that I gave him a hug and started to think about leaving.
On my way back into Milwaukee I stopped at my old apartment in West Allis. I walked through the main door and breathed in deeply. It still smelled the same after all these years. On my way to the airport I swung by and met Jason and his wife and squeezed them in. Jason was a co-worker of mine in Milwaukee and he was also involved in Cru at UW-M. We spoke for a while and I told them about the weight loss surgery I had to undergo. Jason’s wife is a nurse and she explained a few things to her husband. Jason asked how things went with the reconciliation and forgiveness and said it was a long time since he last heard from me. What brought it about? I had to explain my faith crisis a little, and then I had to explain the situation with Andrew White and Sovereign Grace. He thought I showed Andrew incredible grace in how I reacted and managed the situation. But he also laughed, he was like, “What is it with you? I mean you have the experience with the Mormons in college, then Sovereign Grace, how do you run into these situations?” I just shook my head and said, “I don’t know…” We spoke for a while and I looked at the time and had to get to the airport. We bid farewell and promised to keep in touch.
One surprise for me was trying to fill up the Jetta…I didn’t know how to open up the gas tank and spent about 30 minutes trying to figure it out. Then I just tapped it and it suddenly opened. Wow…it was that simple? I checked in, got my ticket and ate a quick late lunch. As I was waiting for my plane Dee Parsons called and asked how was the trip. And with that I had to explain to My East Coast Mom how it went. The fellowship, the wedding, going to church interacting with people I once thought I’d never interact with again. I learned a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation that weekend. I also learned why repentance is so important not just to yourself, and God. But to people you love and who care for you. It was hard to leave…what struck me the hardest was this fact. I had been away from Milwaukee for nearly 10 years, yet I have a deep and rich community that loves and cares for me. After all these years, to include a major faith crisis that consumed half my thirties…that community is still there, loves, welcomes, and encourages me. I was reminded of that. Living in the Washington, D.C. area is difficult and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will not have community here. Its too transitory. I guess that means I’ll have to visit Milwaukee more in the future! Before I was to board the plane I posted the following on Facebook. “Goodbye Milwaukee goodbye…its hard to leave this city. So many memories, community, and roots. This weekend taught me that. I’ve talked with so many people I am horse. I’ll have to come back. Adieu. The Delta Airline flight was late to Minneapolis where I was to catch a flight to Washington, D.C. When the plane landed and was taxing to the airport I turned on my cell phone. I got a couple of text messages from Joe Blow. It was his first day as a married man and he was traveling to California for his Honeymoon. He referenced a difficult time in our relationship some 13 years prior and said that he hoped that last night made up for it. And then his other message expressed his love and thanking me for being involved in my journey of life. As the plane was taxing I first laughed at the first message and then cried at the second one.
In closing this journal entry I had a weekend that was one of the most memorable weekends on record. It included a wedding, catching up with old and friends, experiencing the fruits of repentance and forgiveness. That entire experience also was a buoy to my faith and grew it further and when I realized the results of my forgiveness and how it brought about healing to others I was stunned. Christians don’t repent today and in the process they miss a golden opportunity. It becomes even worse with the Reformed Industrial Complex and the idols they promote. When idols like Mark Driscoll or CJ Mahaney refuse to repent and flee, the message being sent to the church is horrific. In the future I would like to explore that more. In wrapping this up I would like to close with three videos from Marquette University. The first one is a pre-game video they showed in the Bradley Center before they introduced the team.
A Marquette University video that gives you a taste of the University and culture.
And a Marquette athletics video used a few years ago. This one is my personal favorite from the basketball department.