Sunday afternoon I was sitting on the porch, reading academic journals on narrative structure, you know as you do to relax. Tim was off running errands in preparation of the work week. The phone rang and I picked it up, expecting it to be one of the five people who call me with regularity.
I did stop long enough to see that the call was coming from another state, a state populated with people who voted for that woman who curtsied when she voted to tell people making minimum wage: “Sucks to be poor, people” before she did a pony walk, swishing her tail-end in her $3,000 outfit.
I thought perhaps it was going to be one of those, “Can you please donate to preserve Democracy” calls, so I was tempted not to answer it. But then I thought perhaps maybe Hugh Jackman was calling because he heard about my forthcoming book and he wanted the starring role as the Police Chief.
But it wasn’t Hugh Jackman calling with a movie offer or the Democrats pleading for money.
In fact, I can’t even tell you the name of the person who was calling. Somehow I missed it or she never said it. As I recall, she asked if I was “Karen Zacharias” and when I conceded that I was me, she wanted to know if the stories I had written about Mike Kerr were true.
Regular readers of this irregular blog may remember Kerr from back in the Snowball Express days when he exploited Gold Star families in the pursuit of fame and fortune. There’s perhaps nothing more unpleasant than watching one group of people exploiting the families of fallen soldiers trying to one-up another person trying to exploit Gold Star families. I’ve witnessed this sort of exploitation in all manner of people. It takes a lot of gumption to call out those who appear to be assisting Gold Star families. That’s especially true if you belong to the community of Gold Star families. It costly me dearly in terms of personal relationships to report Mike Kerr for being a lowdown dirtbag. But that’s the thing about being Appalachian, you aren’t hindered from doing the right thing just because it offends somebody.
Last I heard Mike was up in Idaho somewhere hawking Jesus.
Seems this caller had gotten hooked into Mike’s latest ‘bilk them while you can” scheme. She’d sent him a couple hundred dollars, which she surely will never see again. Dollars she could ill-afford. Dollars that she, a disabled homebound woman, had access to only because her mother had died recently and left the money to her. Well, not exactly directly to her. The monies went through a brother first. A brother who had done his due diligence and discovered that Kerr was a crook and told his sister that perhaps before sending him any monies, she ought to check out Mike Kerr’s criminal background.
That’s how she ended up calling me and I ended up hearing a not unfamiliar story. She was lonely, struggling, vulnerable, when she turned to an online chat room where she felt, at least for a time, that she’d finally found the community she so desperately needs.
I was looking for deliverance, she said.
I knew the lingo. Among certain communities of faith, it is directed at those who suffer mental illness, who are in trauma recovery, those with addictions, even (or maybe most especially) for the LGBTQ community. Evangelicals in particular are bad to tell anyone “Other” that they need “deliverance.”
Demons were in pursuit of me, she said.
Mike Kerr, and she named others whose names escape me now, offered her that deliverance she so badly thought she needed.
For only the small sum of _____.
There’s always a price to pay with these folks. That’s the whole point.
She was supposed to fly to a conference they were holding. Mike was going to help her get there. But her brother had intervened, told her to do her research, and that’s how she came across me.
Don’t do it, I said. Kerr is a con man who keeps reinventing himself in order to take advantage of the unaware. He’s a shape shifter. He’s after money and power and identity.
She shed tears, began to demean herself for being so culpable.
No, don’t, I said. He’s a predator. This isn’t your fault. Preying upon people in need is what people like Mike Kerr do. He’s skilled at this. Blaming yourself is akin to the rape victim blaming the clothes she wore for the rape. Rape isn’t about clothes. It’s about power. Mike is a predator.
Besides, this deliverance of which you speak? It isn’t deliverance from demons you need. Anyone who goes around teaching an “us” and “Them” paradigm isn’t of Christ. Christ didn’t preach an “us” & “them” theology. He preached an “and, and, and, and” theology.
What is the summation of all Scripture? The summation of Christ’s life? Love one another.
Any theology that teaches you this world is evil and people are to be feared, and that demons are after you is only looking to control you. If you are afraid of everyone and everything, you are not present for this life. You begin to hand your autonomy over to that person who tells you they can “deliver” you, they alone can “save you”.
I understand that worldview. I lived with it for many years. Years in which I was convinced I was right, that the world was an “us” and “them” paradigm. Instead of an “us” and “us” and “us.” There is only “us”, the human race, all of us. Together. One for all and all for one. That’s the message Christ taught.
Love one another.
Look at the world with the eyes of a child.
The goal here isn’t to be right. It’s to be redeemed.
Don’t look for deliverance from your life.
Look to be present in it.
It’s not demons you should fear.
You should fear missing out on your life because you live afraid of so many things, so many “other” people.
It’s the trauma you have lived through that makes you susceptible to manipulation by ill-meaning folks like Kerr. The hurts and the wrongdoings of your past, and the anxiety about what hurt and pain the future might bring you.
We are all wounded. Each and everyone of us. We aren’t wounded by demons. We are wounded by each other. Just as we wound others.
It’s a healing we need. Healing from the past trauma and the anxiety over the trauma that may yet come.
It’s a redemption we need. Today and everyday.
New mercies, I see.
If it is true:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning…
Then may we present for it each and everyday:
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend (Mercer University Press).