Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A tale of excommunication, continued

continued from here

Maybe the reason I was somehow avoiding getting to the excommunication bit yesterday was because it's still a bit painful...

So Megan and I had gotten SP. And we were hanging out a lot together, and liking each other rather enormously, and both of us rather serious about our relationship, and the likelihood of future marriage. And of course, the rule was that you couldn't get engaged to be married during your first two years on board, which for us meant more or less until after we had left Logos II.

My whole two years on board I was working for the engine department, under the chief engineer, the first engineer, and so forth all the way down to third. I had a lot of responsibility, spending shifts alone in the engine spaces making sure that a lot of equipment was working okay and that nothing went too drastically wrong. During this two years, the people filling the certified engineer positions changed multiple times, since these were people with current certification with which they could earn a lot of money in "the real world", and who were working on Logos II for free, so they tended to never stay for more than six months, and often only one or two months. So anyway, since Megan and I had joined the ship at times four months apart, we were slated to leave at times four months apart--I in October '00, and she in Jan. '01. But because engine room watchkeepers are hard to train and hard to keep, when I requested to extend my stay for four months, the engineers, and then thusly the ship leadership, were happy for me to stay so that Megan and I could leave at the same time.

Now during one's two years on board, one gets a one week ... "vacation". Generally, the rule is that one must spend this week somewhere in the country in which the ship happened to be. Sometimes, however, permission was given to fly "home". So Megan and I obtained permission in summer '00 to fly to Seattle and hang out with my parents for a week. And furthermore, I requested and obtained permission from the ship's director, Coleman Tyler (as an aside, there are kind of two head cheeses on Logos II. There's the ... technical head cheese, the captain--a licensed and certified ship's master one of whom we must have on board at all times to meet international regulations. The guy who was the captain for most of the time I was on board, Tom Dyer, is one of the kewlest, humblest, most amazing people I've ever had the privilege to interact with. Then there's the ... sort of ... ministry head cheese, who oversees ministry, personnel, and the ministry leadership, etc. This is called the ship's director, and ... IMHO, Coleman Tyler was right on in (from what I understand) definitely *not* wanting the job. He was more or less pressured into taking it by higher ups in the ships' ministry organization because *someone* had to do it, and no one was available after the last one left. But I digress) for us to get officially engaged to be married during our week in the states. Even though I was more or less trying to keep this little fact secret from Megan, she was (as is no doubt often the case), pretty much picking up on what was going on, and I do believe she was rather excited.

However, (and here is misstep number one, methinks), one day before we were to leave for Seattle, Coleman called me into his office in order to inform me that the people with the real power, the people at ships' headquarters in Mosbach Germany, had ... (and I'm actually not totally clear on this bit) either "found out" about the engagement permission, been shocked, and demanded it be rescinded, or else they had "changed their minds", having previously known about it. Truth be told I was so shocked that I didn't manage to take in the details super well. The bottom line was that the permission that had been granted was now being revoked. Bummer for us, dude. So then of course I had to go more or less talk to Megan about this, since, despite my secrecy efforts, at that point she was definitely expecting a proposal during our time in Seattle. I guess this was kind of the beginning of the end for us.

So off we flew to Seattle, and Megan got to meet my parents (with all that entails, hehe) and my *very* strange, rural, masochistic, fundamentalist, KJV only, sectarian home church (but that's a whole nother (yes, I know "nother" isn't ... technically a word. but everyone *says* that! Just *try* saying "a whole other". Sounds *too* weird.) story). So during our week in Seattle (which is, after all, sort of a medical "mecca"), we managed to get a medical appointment for Megan to check out some pain she'd been suffering with for a long time. And then surgery was recommended. So we talked on the phone with the ship's leaders about that, and they said "fine", knowing that it meant we'd have to hang out for 3 additional weeks for her to recover (of course, what else *could* they say, honestly!). And truth be told we weren't exactly *super* bummed about hanging out in summertime seattle for 3 weeks, although of course post surgery is post surgery, and isn't any fun for anyone.


So then, (and here we approach misstep number 2), we had to change our tickets. Now our tickets were into Trieste. However, since we were getting there three weeks later than we intended, Logos II would already be gone--during that three weeks, she would have spent a couple weeks in Rijeka Croatia, and then moved on to Durres Albania. Looking at a map, that looks like about 350 or 400 miles. So we thought (here's to naivete!) it probably wouldn't be a huge problem to get from Trieste to Durres overland on a bus or train or something. Truth be told, this simply wasn't the case, and we failed to plan accordingly. I think if Megan hadn't been preoccupied with the surgery, she would have picked up on this small detail, as she had a great deal more prior travel experience than I did. However, surely some culpability ought to (god I hate saying "ought to" Strike that.) belongs to the ships leadership. That is to say, one might reasonably expect leaders in a huge worldwide missions organization with 3000 full time long term adult missionaries in over 100 countries, along with many thousands of short term workers (defined as two years or less), especially leaders in a field like the ships, which are dealing mostly with fairly young people, often coming to the ships straight from living at home with parents, to ... have some kind of understanding of what is or isn't entailed in international travel of this sort, and to, perchance, even be willing to share that understanding/educate the aforementioned volunteers. (stepping off soap box now)

However, putting all that aside, we arrived in Trieste late one afternoon in August with nothing but the very vaguest of plans for getting public transport overland to Durres, with, alas, all our (as it turned out) amazing heavy luggage, etc. We were promptly told there were really no viable overland routes to Durres (well, um, triple duh-ola! How about a little awareness of war and it's effects on transportation. oh well.). We were further told we needed to catch a train *all* the way around and down the coast of italy, and then catch a ferry across the adriatic. Train had already left for the day. Ferry only ran twice a week. etc. etc. By this point we were both completely exhausted (which, by the way, very much ought to be pronounced "ex ha UST ed", with 4 distinct syllables), and wanted nothing more than to sleep.

Must insert two small details here, which, perhaps, comprise misstep number 3. Before we left Logos II, we had both signed an agreement, to the details of which neither of us had paid enormous attention (since I guess we both agreed with the spirit of the agreement), which stipulated among other things that we wouldn't ... oh I can't remember *exactly*, but what it entailed was not sleeping in the same room together. So in Trieste, we found out that the ship, moored in Durres, had no phone lines, which was not super normal (this speaks to the question of overland transportation through the former yugoslavia). So they couldn't be contacted. So instead we contacted the ships' headquarters in Mosbach, and specifically received permission to get a hotel room (I know, the normal people are going--what the hell is the big deal? And the ... other people are going "Oh my god! a hotel room, together, alone, not married, etc. blah blah blah") ( I will just point out here that we were *not* having sex, and actually did fulfill our intention to not have sex until marriage. Not that I think that makes us better than anyone else, nor that I necessarily think that everyone should follow suit. But it *was* kind of understood to be a core value of the organization for which we were working) (this strikes me as a bit of a pathetic core value. that is to say perhaps respect and kindness and treating people like adults would be better core values. But again I digress.)

And long story short, some $600 (which was *rather* a lot to us at that time, as it came more or less out of our pockets, and we had neither of us earned a dime for some two years) and 4 days later, we found ourselves on a ferry approaching Durres, with equal parts utter exhaustion and a sense of relief when we saw Logos II moored just a quarter mile away in the harbor: "At last, we're home!" Alas, the exhaustion was soon to be exacerbated, and the relief squashed. Little did we know!

I think we had about $5 cash between us at that point, and then we found out that we needed to buy a visa to get into Albania. It was a mere ... $15 each or something like that. Can you imagine--we were pulling into the port in Durres! We managed to explain (across languages, you understand!) that we were poor volunteer workers with that non profit ship just over there (pointing), and please please we don't have a dime--and I'm sure they'll pay for us, etc. etc. So *they* let us through. Next, in trying to move from port area A, where we had arrived, to port area B, where Logos II was moored, we were stopped by 3 armed guys, who made it clear to us we weren't allowed to go that way. So close! At last we also convinced them to let us through, flashing our ship issued photo ID's, and finally found ourselves dragging our asses and our luggage up the gangway and aboard.

It started almost immediately, even from very close friends--a sort of "where the hell have you been? you must have been having a grand old time." This was a Friday night, and we were both thinking "All right, go to our cabins, sleep until noon tomorrow. Finally!" This was not to be. We both soon found little notes stuck on our cabin door instructing us to "Meet with ship's leadership in the blue room tomorrow, 8 AM sharp". We requested that the meeting be moved back to 10 or 11 and were told "Can't be done--we need to meet first thing".

So next morning, still slightly bleary eyed, we found ourselves sitting in two chairs in the blue room. These chairs were placed side by side, and were facing an opposite row of chairs, in which sat several white males, looking gruff, named Coleman Tyler, Bill Frisby, (Americans) Diego Hill (Uruguayan), Wilco ...(Dutch. Can I just say thank god for the Dutch?), and Jonathan Rodwell (Australian). You must picture this in your mind--the blue room is actually quite small, the smallest meeting room on the ship--perhaps 10x12 feet. It felt very much like an interrogation was to take place. And essentially, that is what happened. It *felt* amazingly painful and shameful. The only saving grace was Wilco, chief steward, who, although he was sitting with the other interrogators, looked on at the whole procedure with apparent amazement and disapproval, as if he couldn't believe we were being treated this way. Wilco, however, as I remember, didn't *say* a whole lot that morning.

Over the next few days, we were told, a decision would be made as to whether we should stay on board, or be excommunicated. Okay, nobody *said* excommunication, but that's what it worked out to. Looking back, it seems to me that this group of leaders was absolutely terrified of *something*. I'm still not *totally* clear on what. Perhaps losing control. It seems to me that it should be taboo for people with power to be afraid of anything other than themselves (ha, wouldn't that be nice?)

I think perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the reaction of Diego Hill, first engineer from Uruguay, who had been aboard, I think, 4 or 6 months at that point. The First oversees day to day operation of the Engine Department, and thus is directly involved in the supervision of plebs like me. Diego expressed a sense of outrage that I had left him in the lurch for so long in terms of watchkeepers, while others had had to fill in. He had been told I would be back on board the day of our flight's arrival in Trieste, and had had me scheduled to stand watchkeeping shifts starting that day. He said that never in his (no doubt long and illustrious) naval career had he experienced or heard of someone so miserably failing to fulfill their duty. He sat me down with the Chief engineer and, after delineating a long list of the shocking things I had done while working for him in the engine department, he said he absolutely would not work with me any longer, and that I was no longer welcome in his engine room. Honestly what could anyone have said? I was a pleb who had faithfully worked in the engine department for two years, never missing a shift (indeed, standing extra ones so the whole engine room could have parties (which admittedly, I didn't want to attend anyway)). He was licensed and certified first engineer, a person whose presence was required for the ship to sail, and furthermore a person of the type for which the ships ministry is always scrambling. There's just not that many first engineers out there who are willing to come work on a christian ship for free. Sometimes sailings get delayed because the ship isn't able to fill it's required quota of engineering and deck officers. There it is.

So I was unceremoniously kicked out of the engine department. And this, methinks, provided more impetus than anything else to our being kicked off the ship. The reason I had been allowed to extend my 2 year commitment originally had been related to the fact that I was a valuable, already trained watchkeeper.

We were told, by Bill Frisby, the husband in our accountability couple, and one of the leaders onboard, that in his opinion the best possible thing for us was to leave the ship and go get married, and that he was lobbying for this option with the other leaders. I think Bill's take on things at that time, more than anyone else's, reminds me of the re: your brains song, part of the lyric of which goes "All we wanna do is eat your brain. We're not unreasonable, no one's gonna eat your eyes".

So there were two largish emotional upheavals for us. One was that we had thought to have some 4 months longer to both work out "What next" and to begin to prepare to deal with the huge loss of community and of the sense of place we had developed during our time aboard. Instead, suddenly, we had a mere two weeks to accomplish both of these tasks. The second was the actual tangible and huge sense, above and beyond the fact that we were leaving, of *rejection* by almost the entire ship's company. It's hard to describe this. I mean how often in life do you get to actually be part of such a community? I mean to live and work and converse and hang out and dream and study and preach and reach out and travel and just do and be all those things with this really tight knit group of people for two whole years. There's a huge emotional involvement, which can feel absolutely wonderful--a kind of "I'm part of *us*". Then to have the ... mass, the torso and arms and legs and eyes and heart of that body, somehow raise itself up to actively and passively *disclaim* you. That felt like shit. It was reflected in what happened on a community fun night just a few days before we flew out of Istanbul.

Community fun nights are a time when a large majority of the ship's company gather in the main meeting room to do skits, sing songs, --kind of a really big party. Since we were getting kicked off anyway, I figured it was certainly reasonable to go ahead and get engaged. So in Izmir, I found and purchased a ring, and on the sail from Izmir to Istanbul, out on deck under the stars, I proposed to Megan. And she ecstatically accepted my proposal. So, (oh fools that we were), we thought we should share our joy with the ship's company. So with some friends we made up a skit for fun night, at the end of which I proposed to her again. The reaction of the ship's company was a sort of shocked, deafening silence. I get horrible shivers just thinking and writing about it.

....

I would like to also share that the inestimably respectful, brilliant, humble, and kind Myles Toews, who was director of Logos II when Megan and I both arrived onboard, and who had left that position, and the ship, before the aforedescribed events took place, has apologized to us on behalf of OM on two different occasions, and has also expressed his personal sorrow and sympathy for the way in which we were treated. He has said that he rather suspects things would have been handled quite a bit better if he had still been director at the time when we were excommunicated. I totally concur with his suspicion.

22 comments:

byron said...

Wow, thanks for sharing. What a disappointing conclusion when you made it home (feels a bit like 'Scouring the Shire' in the Lord of the Rings, though without the same opportunity to kick some butt).

I can see why you resonated with the video...

Sharon said...

Thanks for posting this. I have been lurking around your blog for a while. A lot of what you say resonates with me and now I may know why.
I met my husband while "serving" onboard a Mercy Ship. While they were not as rule-bound as The Logos sounds, it was certainly a challenge and we left before the end of our commitment with a bit of a bad taste in our mouths (although not excommunicated!). This experience, and others before and since, have been contributing factors in a journey of questioning that we have been on for the past few years. It is good to know we are not alone in this!

Benjamin Ady said...

Sharon,

You're welcome. I found it kind of therapeutic. I'm glad it was helpful I also always find it helpful and encouraging to find out there are others like me out there as well. Have you written about your experience?

Sharon said...

I haven't yet written much about our Mercy Ships experience, I think mostly because I worry about who might read it! While I have many issues with Mercy Ships and how it is run (not to mention religious, medical and development related concerns) there are some very good people involved. I also think Mercy Ships still have an important role to play in bringing medical aid, and I guess part of me still feels a little protective. Maybe one day I will write about it, but I'll have to think about how and when. In the meantime you can read a little about my journey here.

phoeberae said...

Crikey! I have stinging eyes and a huge wad of tension in my belly.

Although on a much smaller scale, a girlfriend and I planned a week long interstate trip with two male friends, more like brothers. All our parents were happy for our trip, all trusted our integrity, we planned to stay overnight with family during our trip bar a few nights when we planned to tent at the beach. As soon as our church 'leadership' got wind of our trip, the interpreted 'wild sex romp' and told us that we weren't allowed to go. We were all over 25, I was divorced, two of the friends were struggling with parents fighting cancer, we all just needed a holiday but alas it never happened. I wish now we'd said, screw you all and gone on our holiday. But we didn't. We were crushed and felt shame when we'd done and intended to do nothing wrong. It sucks that people in 'authority' are so narrow minded and thoughtless even if their intent is in some way pure.

Benjamin Ady said...

Sharon,

Wow, thankyou for sharing a bit of your story. Sounds like we are on very similar journeys. I've found hanging out and joining the conversation at Helen's conversation at the edge has been helpful for me as well. Helen is also on a similar journey, and has written extensively about why she no longer goes to church.

Benjamin Ady said...

Phoeberae,

Wow. Thankyou also for sharing! I *hate* the way some parts of the so called "church" promote a culture of fear and shame and control. I mean that is just so shocking for the people with the power to crush and shame you guys like that--it's such a dark, cold, enclosed, horrible little world that they create and demand that people stay in. I'm so glad I'm out of that whole tiny world.

My friend Johm Ramey claims that god allows us to go through these experiences so that someday when we have power, we will be much more careful and gentle and respectful toward other people. Indeed, the thing I discover as we get older is that I *do* have a lot of power, and the point of having it is to give it away. I've been learning this from my friends over at justiceandcompassion.com

Megs said...

that brings back painful memories, Bens, yet I think the feeling of the pain is what slowly heals us. love you

Kate said...

Hi Ben, Hi Megs,

I've just had a look at Phoebe's blog and saw Ben's comment and thought I should explain that Phoebe is a totally wonderful friend of mine and I got her on to you. So I'm the missing link in the chain Ben -- Megs -- Kate -- Phoebe.

Isn't blogland great!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for sharing your story and I´m so happy that after all you are happyly married with 2 beautiful children......

Stringimi!!

Mauricio (chilean friend - ex logos II)

Benjamin Ady said...

Mauricio

Great to hear from you! How are you? yeah--stringimi tambien. Italy was crazy fun wasn't it? If you're ever in Seattle, you must stay with us.

Benjamin Ady said...

Oh--mauricio, you know about the LOGOS II connective sight over on myfamily.com? if not, email me at benjamin.ady@gmail.com, and I'll invite you. There's also some ex-logos people connective stuff on facebook. Just for your information. I just popped over and looked and couldn't find you anywhere!

Chad Minnick said...

Oh Benjamin. I can't tell you how my heart aches to read your pain and bitterness.

The pain I understand. You were mistreated and mal used. But to react with bitterness and intolerance to those who truly love you and invested in your life? Very unfair.

To call your home church masochistic, among other nasty things, is ironic given your apparent crusade of tolerance for every other belief system in existence. And how does that work, my dear friend? You can be tolerant of any belief system except orthodox Christianity? And since when did orthodoxy become odd or weird?

What pains me is to see that after years you have not healed from your experiences. Despite what you may perceive, and despite your disagreement with one or two people here at church, the body here loves you and always has. Even when we were mistreated by you, castigated and spat upon by you...we still love you and wish you the best in life. If you only knew the tears that have been shed on your behalf you would weep yourself. Know that, and may it bring some balm to your bitterness.

Truly, my friend, I am happy that you have such a wonderful family. Kids are a joy. Megs is such a talented and wonderful compliment to you.

The one fly in the ointment can be wounds that never heal because the heart can't forgive. Many of us have been hurt by those we trust and respect. Your story is not unique. It's how we respond that makes the difference.

I love you man. I really do.

My prayer for you is thus; that you will realize that the noise and trappings of religion do not hold the Answer. Purify your heart, free yourself from bitterness, forgive those who have hurt you, and listen for His voice. It's not in the shouting and controling voices of earthly authority. It's not in the earthquakes of life or even the fire of suffering. His voice is a calming whisper to our heart. But only if we are quiet enough to listen will we hear.

Still your good friend and never a masochist (well, except for that one time in Manila...but that's another story)...

Chad

1 Kings 19:12

Joe said...

Outrageous. Not sure what else to say.

Anonymous said...

is it possible that maybe this whole situation could be avoided by not sticking a young coed group in such a situation in the first place? this flies against any and all relationship advice that these people probably got throughout their youth. Really the organization winds up with two choices: everyone running nutty or micromanaging every second to try and control the inevitable, which still happens. This is a HUGE difference between a coed school, youth group...where there isn't that 24/7 interaction. Perhaps this kind of group bonding (with youth anyway, it would probably be just fine with much older people or marrieds) should best be confined to single sex groups. Which I am sure would bring out more shouts of legalism. But really, putting a bunch of young single adults together under those circumstances is just asking for trouble in most situations. The handful that it wouldn't be a problem for would more than be offset with the ones it would be. how cruel is that: we put you into a huge vat of temptation and then we punish you when you sin. Thats REALLY the problem; not the rules. The rules are just a way to control a situation that shouldn't even exist in the first place.

mec said...

I just posted a comment on part I of your story, but I just find it so ironic that your "excommunication" took place at the very port (Durres) where I first experienced ship life. In OM Albania, we forged documents to get past the customs guys....yes, a far cry from your rule-bound life.
I am so sorry that you were treated so patronizingly. I think I'll enjoy looking around your blog....

Anonymous said...

I'm truly sorry to hear that your time on Logos II seemed to be more "dealing with rules" than anything else. I too was on that ship for two years, and I will say that it was difficult for me many times to submit to rules that I didn't understand. I have a problem with submission that Christ is continuely working on with me. But I feel as though you missed the big pciture my friend. Logos II was not about a community of rules, you speak of legalism in such ways. It was not a ship of leaders exercising their rights and powers as leaders. It was about Christ. Can't you see? The whole time; learning to live in a community in which you are forced to look at yourself, in countries where you have to depend on your community and the Holy Spirit to guide you to live and act as Christ, in a community where you learn to submit and believe that even though you may not like the leaders, God uses them for His glory and for your good. Can you not see the powerful impact that your two years on board could have been? Why do you close your eyes to such power, to such change, to Christ? He was there all along. He tested you. He took you through fire to see if you would stick by His side.
I will say that there was a time when I too was threatened in being kicked off the ship. At the time, I was rebellious, (still can be) and stubborn, selfish, and immovable. I was 19 years old, and I saw only what I wanted to see. They were trying to take away what I thought rightfully "belonged" to me. But yet, I look back now, and I'm so glad that I did submit. I learned so much and God drew me closer to Him. He changed me...and continues to change me.
Dear friend, I come not to lecture you. I come not to judge you, but I do wonder, what did you learn? What did you gain from being on board? What valuable life lesson will you take from this? Better yet, what is Christ trying to teach you from this?

Benjamin Ady said...

Anonymous,

or "Dear Friend"

You could have at least left your name.

Me and Christ don't get along so well anymore, truth be told. Sorry to have to be the one to inform you.

Your "I come not to lecture you" didn't work out so well, I fear, since that's basically what it turned into. Better luck next time =)

Gimena said...

Hi Ben...all those pictures come to my mind now I have read your post...I love you , i love Meg and I love the girls, Thank you for sharing this healing way of expresing the facts, and the pain.
I deeply admire you guys, de verdad muchas gracias, estoy totalmente sorprendida de saber como fueron las cosas en realidad.
Tenemos que cuidarnos más en la vida...Sos muy sincero y valiente.
Love.
Gimena.

EllenM said...

Benjamin, I found your blog through thepoint.breakpoint.org. I've done a bit of foreign travel on my own in my early twenties (... twenty years ago!?!?) and know a little bit about overland hell trips to get to your destination, albeit none as hellish as yours sounds. I also know about traveling on the ocean having sailed the South Pacific from Mexico to New Zealand with my husband aboard our 34 foot sailboat. To be greeted by such a nasty reception upon your return to ship is gruesome.

We currently live in Idaho while raising up two more crew members. Our sailboat is still in New Zealand and we are interested in using her to partner with a marine reach ministry. Your story has given me food for thought... Thanks for be willing to share such a painful experience.

Martin said...

Benjamin
Very interesting.............

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.