Interview with David Todd - 04/24/2017
You can connect with David through his website, David A. Todd.com.
David:You say you share your "own life-experiences, bringing them alongside biblical narratives in a manner that infuses the stories of our spiritual ancestors with life." How about giving us a brief overview of those life experiences?
Damon:That's a heavy opener, David, but there is no way you could know that. And, besides, it is a fair question.
We all speak and write out of our own experiences. It is unavoidable. These experiences figure largely into our world-view, our character, our personality, our tolerances.
Like many to whom I speak and write, and likely even many reading the text of this interview, I have dealt with numerous delightful and many painful events and issues over the years. I have endured sexual abuse, infidelity in a spouse, six years of watching my mother die of Alzheimer's disease. I was once incorrectly diagnosed and told I was losing my eyesight. That was a shocker. I have endured severe church abuse as a pastor, been fired, and ultimately changed careers. At one point I traveled over the U.S. - Canadian border for a year to see a Christian counselor. During one of our sessions, about two months in, he leaned forward, looked me in the eye, and said, "With everything you have been through in just the last two years, I am amazed that you're still sane," and he wasn't being sarcastic. He was quite serious. In 2012, I faced death twice with the same medical condition just seven months apart, and was told that typically this is a condition that is diagnosed during the autopsy.
I don't say any of that with bitterness, to sensationalize, or to elicit sympathy from your audience. But experiences like these give us insight not only into ourselves, but into the total human condition. So if we apply that to the way we approach Biblical texts and narratives, we are sometimes able to crawl inside the heads of those about whom we are reading, right?
Let's just take the example of Hagar in Genesis 16. She is a servant, or some translations say she is a slave. In any case, I get the impression that Hagar did not have much say over what heppened to her. Sari, Abram's wife, seemingly cannot bear him children, so she has him conceive a child with her slave, Hagar. Hagar does indeed conceive, Sari is overcome with jealously and ends up convincing Abram to send Hagar away. It's brutal!
So, here we have the first single mother in the Bible. What is going through her head? She did exactly what she was told to do - allow herself to be impregnated by the husband of her mistress. Now she's bounced out on her ear with no means of caring for herself and her young son. They end up stumbling their way through the desert, having run out of food and water, so Hagar lays her son under the shade of a bush to die while she goes off somewhere else becasue she cannot bear to watch it happen.
I have not experienced that specific circumstance, but we all have to be able to draw on our own life-experiences to identify with what is happening inside these people. These are not just stories. These are real men, women, and children who are floundering their way through life just as you are and I am.
David:Your website says you are a dynamic speaker, a word-crafter, and I see a picture of a trombone player there. Would you say you are a man of the arts, despite your technology background?
Damon:I started playing the trombone in the fifth grade and played all the way through my university years. Then it sat in the closet for a couple of decades until I pulled it out again to play in the horn line with the worship band at church. In fact, the photo to which you are referring was taken during a Thursday evening rehearsal with that band. I majored in music for the first three plus years in college, but decided I couldn't easily make a living that way so I changed majors to Mass Communication with an emphasis in radio broadcasting and newsprint.
But you're right, I've always had something of an affinity for the arts. I still do. I did a lot of drama in high school and college as well. In fact the Dean of the drama department along with his wife, tried to persuade me to change majors from music to drama. I declined, because the same problem exists there as does with music. There are too many starving actors and musicians!
The technology thing is just something I do to pay the bills. It is something I know how to do, but not something for which I have a great deal of passion. When I reached the end of my rope with the challenges of full-time ministry, I needed a new career path, and that one seemed reasonable, so I dove in and have been doing software development now for 22 years.
David:Summarize your speaking ministry for us.
Damon:The number one fear of most people is speaking in public. Number two is death. That tells us something! Interestingly, I have never had a fear of public presentation. Back to the arts question, I sand my first vocal solo at age four of five, so I guess I never knew that we are supposed to be afraid of being in front of people.
There are a couple of key components to being able to speak to a crowd. First off, I have to know what I'm talking about. If I don't know my subject, then it is best to just sit down. Secondly, I have to believe in the subject. I cannot speak persuasively about something in which I do not believe. This is why I could never make a career in sales. I cannot sell you something I am not persuaded you really need to have.
If those two components are in place, I can speak and teach, and I very much enjoy doing so. I have spoken to groups numbering in the single digits to those numbering in the thousands. It is critical, however, to keep this in perspective. What I mean is that you have to keep it always before you that this is not about you! I keep a statement from Randy Alcorn above my desk that reads, "The greatest danger of noteriety is you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you, exactly the opposite of what Christ modeled."
I have reached a point that I am building my ministry around the concept of "Long-View Living in a Short-View World." As believers, we must keep that eternal perspective in focust as we reach out to a world that can barely see beyond the end of its own nose. This has to be about Jesus and his eternal kingdom, and moving that kingdom forward. I recently attended a speaker's conference in Arizona where one of the instructors was emphasizing the point "It's not about you. It's about your audience." I understand what she was saying, but ultimately, I don't agree. It is not about me, or the audience. It is about Jesus, and how we all work as a single unit - his body - to move his kingdom forward. Now, to do that, I have to be healthy and functioning, just as you have to be healthy and functioning, as does everyone in your listening or reading audience. So, in that sense, what the conference speaker was saying is accurate.
David:Your first book is Finding Faith in Slow Motion. Tell us about it.
Damon:That was never really intended to be a book, but rather it was my own personal research project. My dearest friend had been diagnosed with leukemia, and has since passed on to be with Jesus. It was gut-wrenching watching this disease relentlessly attack his body. At the time we were beating our brains trying to figure out why he wasn’t being healed of this disease. I mean James tells us, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up."
Well, we did that - more the once. We prayed ofer my friend, anointing him with oil, pleading with God to eradicate this disease - and he didn’t - at least not in the sense that I wanted and expected. That’s where the research project began. I wanted to figure out why my friend wasn’t being healed of this cruel disease. And the more deeply I dug into it the more I realized I needed to wrap my mind around the basic concept of faith.
Those notes sat on my shelf for several years, and it is my wife who persuaded me to publish it, saying, "Damon, you can't keep this to yourself. You have to share this." So, I self-published that 2013.
David:Your upcoming book is The Christ Saturated Life. Tell us about it, and when it will be available?
Damon:The Christ Saturated Life is an idea I started toying with as I pondered Jesus' parable in Matthew 12. He talks about an unclean spirit that left a man and traveled through waterless areas looking for a place to rest, but found no such resting place. So the spirit returned to the man it just left, referring to the man as a house. The house had been swept clean and it was in order, but it was left empty. So the spirit, called seven of its spirit comrades, spirits more evil than itself, and the eight of them took up residence within the man. That's a nasty state to be in!
The driving premise for me is that the man left a void within himself, and a void demands to be filled. We have to fill ourselves with something, but what? So I began contemplating the idea of being completely filled with the mind of the living Christ. I were completely saturated with Christ, filled to the point of overflowing, so much so that he radiated through my pores, what would that look like? How would that change the man I am today? I assure you, David, the Christ Saturated Life does not look like me, and that's okay. With the ideal in front of me, at the very least, I know which way to walk. I know that toward which I am striving. I can see the target.
The manuscript is draft-complete, and I am in active discussions with a handful of agents who are considering representing it. At the moment I do not know when it will be released. I am learning that the wheels of traditional publishing turn very slowly. But I have no interest at this time in self-publishing again. To publish properly requires too much expertise in too many areas where I lack it.
David:I assume you have another book in the wings, or perhaps several. What do you have cooking up in the future?
Damon:I do have some ideas in the wings (there's a drama reference for you).
I'm chewing on one that I'm tentatively calling Swan Song of the Messiah. There is this myth that a swan will sing a song just prior to its death, so this will be a look at the statements Jesus made from the cross.
Another one I'm contemplating is based on Acts 2:42 where the new disciples devoted themselves to four specific things - The apostles' teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. My thought is that there must be something significant about those four devotions if that is what they applied themselves to.
I have been asked to consider writing a book on the believer's response to sex trafficking in the U.S. One of the most heavily travelled corridors for young girls who have been enslaved in the sex trafficking business runs just a few miled from my home - between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia. It's a horrifying reality that is far too easy to turn a blind eye to. A friend of mine runs a refuge that rescues these young girls and helps them escape that nightmare.
Interview with Sylvia Ronnau - 10/15/2016
I first met Sylvia when I read a blog posting wherein she discussed church abuse as a member under an oppressive leadership. Not taking issue with anything she said, I contacted Sylvia and spoke about how that abuse travels both directions, and that some pastors are likewise horribly abused. Intrigued by the conversation, Sylvia asked if she could interview me about my experiences as an abused pastor. I agreed, and that interview is below.
If you wish, you can follow Sylvia on her Facebook page: A Glorious God, or you can follow her on Twitter using @SylviaRonnau.
Sylvia:How did this affect your marriage? I mean, how did your wife treat you when you were going through this, and If you feel ok with sharing, how did you treat her?
Damon:The constant pressure and stress of the ministry (translate that as pressure and abuse from the elders, because it wasn’t the ministry causing the stress) eroded my relationship with my wife, much like every wave hitting the beach erodes the rock face just a bit. Wave after wave alters the rock face in the slightest of ways. I was overly busy with my work, trying to satisfy elders who would not be satisfied, and as I poured more and more energy into the ministry, I had less and less energy to focus on my marriage, and I was oblivious to how it was affecting her.
Now, she was very aware of what was happening, and was doing her best to adjust to the environment. The female university students loved her, and she tried to compensate for my being gone so much by involving herself with the young ladies, and by teaching children’s classes at church, and she was very good at that. But the reality is, she was lonely, and I was so overwhelmed trying to produce results for the elder board, that I missed that. I didn’t see all of the obvious signs of erosion that were taking place because I was so focused on my own pain, fear, the need to relieve the pressure on our lives.
Ministry is a 24/7 lifestyle. Even when I was home, I wasn’t really home. I was always in my home-office working on some lesson, or meeting with a student, or preparing for an on-campus study. We were married, yes, but she was very alone, and it was wrong of me to allow that intrusion into our lives. I needed to “man up” and guard that time like an angry panther, but I did not do so. I plowed ahead with all of my activities, and she was just pretty much along for the ride, and the ride was not a fun one. Rather, it was a nightmare.
Ultimately, in her loneliness, she looked for companionship in the arms and beds of men other than the one to whom she was married. It was not a good solution, but I understand what drove her to that choice. It destroyed our marriage, drove me out of full-time ministry, and caused deep, painful, emotional scars for our three children. The two youngest are married, but the oldest is single and may never get married. He has convinced himself (based on my experiences) that he is not good husband material. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sylvia:How did this all affect you physically? Did you start getting any maladies? Migraines?
Damon:Oh, goodness yes! Stress does amazing things to the human body. I aged more quickly than I should have. My hair lost its color, and began to fall out. If you look at my photo you will see a man with pepper-grey hair. I was a dark redhead like my father. All three of my children are redheads and have very thick heads of hair.
But the most notable physical rebellion came when I thought I was having heart issues. My father lived through two heart attacks (from job stress) and my mother wore a pacemaker. I was having severe chest pains for weeks on end, and finally went to see a cardiologist. He ran me through a grueling battery of tests and told me that my heart was completely healthy. I could engage in any activity I wanted, and could eat whatever I pleased.
I was having what he called “esophageal spasms.” My esophagus was contracting and releasing repeatedly in response to the stress in my life. If you make a fist, squeezing as tightly as you can, and hold that fist for long enough, your arm will begin to hurt. That’s what was happening to my esophagus.
The doctor, wanting to understand this, began to ask about my life, my work, my marriage. As I shared with him, he said, “Do you mind me giving you some secular advice? You need to go into the next elders’ meeting and tell that man to ‘Eat shit and die.’” I did not follow through with that advice, but the doctor did effectively identify the source of my anxiety.
Sylvia:How did it affect you emotionally?
Damon:Having impossible, unreasonable, and inconsistent demands laid on you has a profound emotional effect, and none of it positive.
Confidence is destroyed. I began to doubt my own abilities and gifts. I questioned every decision repeatedly. Fear became a constant companion. My focus was no longer on the spiritual health of the university students, but on my own survival. I had to have quantifiable progress to show at each successive elders’ meeting.
To allay my own anxieties driven by fear of the elder board, I became an abuser in my own way, exerting pressure on the students, those I was supposed to be shepherding. It was the cycle of abuse on display in my own life. The abused child becomes an abusive adult to his/her own children.
Eventually, I just gave up. Sylvia, imagine a horse is drawing a wagon when the wagon becomes stuck in the mud. The wagon-master whips the horse mercilessly as it struggles to pull the load out of the mud hole. As the whipping continues, the horse grows increasingly fatigued and wounded from the blows of the whip. The horse knows that it cannot free the wagon from the mud, and it further knows that the whipping will continue until it does so. So the horse resigns, and simply lies down in the mud and dies. That’s what I did. I just gave up. I no longer cared.
Sylvia:Do you see any good coming out of all this pain and abuse?
Damon:I am really struggling to compose an answer to this question.
I have to say yes, because we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. I love God, and know I am called according to his purpose. So the answer is, “yes.” Now I just have to look for, and identify that good.
These are just random thoughts that pop into my mind. No flow of thought here:
- I believe I have come to have a much greater understanding of grace, both in my life, and grace that I extend to others.
- I have become far more sensitive to Christ’s righteousness than man’s “rightness.” (That one may need to be explained.)
- I have become far more interested in the transformation of the heart than in the external conformity to a specific doctrine.
- I have a greater interest in who people are becoming than I have in what they are doing.
- I have met some wonderful people that I would not have met otherwise.
- I now have the freedom to ask “dangerous” questions that I would never have been able to explore had I not had these horrific experiences.
- My worldview is much less defined than it used to be. My world was always very black and white. Something is true or it is false. It is all binary – one or zero, on or off, in or out, true of false, right or wrong. That black and white worldview is a bit of an irony for one whose last name is “Gray.” Well, that defined world has blurred significantly over the years as I learn that things are not so easily defined and pigeon-holed.
- I have developed a compassion that was never there prior to this experience. I do not dismiss people’s pain so easily (even yours).
- I have discovered, to my shame, that ministering in that environment caused me to view people as a means to an end. It did not start out that way, but the demands of performance by the elders slowly morphed me into that mentality. It is sick and disgusting.
Sylvia:What did you do after that experience? Did you say "Forget pastoring" - because I understnd you're not pastoring now - or did you take another position later that wasn't so abusive?
Damon:Another good question.
When I left Kansas University after staying on that additional year, I ended up in Bellingham, WA. I was the senior minister for a little church there. I never wanted to preach full-time. I loved working with the university students. To that end, I interviewed at the University of Washington, New Mexico State, Cal State University at Northridge, and also Princeton, but none of those panned out. Doors kept slamming shut in my face. It was demoralizing. So, I took this pulpit position.
Though the elders in this church were far more gracious, I came in with a LOT of baggage. All of the fears from the prior experience were in my suitcase, as was the horse that had been beaten to death. So, even though the atmosphere was improved, I was deeply wounded and still had a lot of issues I needed to work through, and I was not getting that done. I did not have any mentors to work with, and had no one with home to effect any healing in my life. I was alone, and in my loneliness was causing my wife to be alone.
It was here (Bellingham, WA) that my wife had had enough. She was tired of uprooting and moving. (In this particular denomination the average tenure of a pastor is three years!!) She began to look for other relationships, one of which was with a young single man in my congregation. I did not know what was happening, but the people in the church did. It caused quite an uproar. Ultimately, it resulted in me being let go. It was the right decision but it was not well handled.
At that point, I was done. I decided to leave full-time ministry. My marriage was destroyed, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I’d lost my ministry, was misdiagnosed with impending blindness, and entered into a two-year nightmarish battle for custody of my children. I worked a number of horrible jobs just to keep some flow of cash moving through the home, but we got deeper and deeper into debt. My attorney was advising me to just declare bankruptcy and be done with it, but my integrity would not allow that.
Ultimately, I landed a job doing software development, and I have been doing that now for over 20 years. I found a new church home, and talked with the pastor about needing to come and just heal. He was very gracious in understanding that need, and said, “Absolutely, come and heal.” But the Jeremiah 20:9 burn continued within me. So, eventually, I began teaching at this church. I was able to teach classes, small groups, even preached a couple of times. I got involved with the church band, singing and playing on the horn line. It was a time of tremendous healing for me.
Since that time, I have married my high-school sweetheart, have published my first book, Finding Faith in Slow Motion, am about 90% complete on a manuscript for a second one, The Christ Saturated Life, and have a half-dozen ideas for future ones. Who knows, I may co-author a book with you on overcoming church abuse. Though I am paying my bills with software development, my true passion and desire is to teach. It would be a dream come true to be able to make a living writing and speaking, and maybe God will bring that about someday, but for now, I am going to just keep putting my left foot in front of my right foot, and vice versa. Just keep walking the path he reveals before me. If I do that, then all will be as it should be.