Between Two Gods: Trudy Harder Metzger
A few months ago, I spent the better part of a night reading this book from cover to cover (if such a thing is really possible with an ebook). I read it for three reasons: first, because the topic of abuse inside of religious communities is a disgrace to the God they claim to serve and is worthy of discussion and correction , secondly, because I’m a big fan of first books -and those who are brave enough to start with autobiography and thirdly, because I am loosely acquainted with the author (having met a grand total of once about 20 years ago if my memory serves me correctly).
It is important to note that this is not a review of Trudy, her ministry or anything other than this book. I’m more than aware that Trudy is one of those people that people love to love and love to hate. Since I’m a firm believer in” talking to, not about”, those topics are off limits in this short review. My only comment to that is simply this- don’t say anything about anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
What is evident however, are three things that I think make this book a highly recommended read in my limited library. First of all, Trudy tells a compelling and realistic story of grace- just the way that the story of grace is meant to be told. Grace is something that is undeserved, unexpected, and completely overwhelming for each one of us who taken the opportunity offered to us to latch on to it. It’s also something healing, like a salve on a wound, or as Trudy puts it in her book “understanding, compassion and grace. That is what brought me healing”. Sometimes we talk about grace, but it takes an entirely different approach to live that grace through the dark places.
Secondly, she tells the story with an appropriately sensitive degree of realism – the threats, the abusive encounters, the forced sexual acts, are conveyed in a balanced way that most authors in any genre struggle with accomplishing. As a reader, I was appropriately horrified by the broken world that sin causes as she described it – and even more brokenhearted by the stories of those who knew better and turned a blind eye to it in the interests of appearances. As someone who is attempting to learn how to deal with some of those cultural expectations (not particularly well so far, by some accounts), this element of her writing resonated strongly with me. Her willingness to state events factually, but without malice is one that many authors struggle with, particularly those who claim to be Christian. I’ve also spent enough time in the trenches of spiritual warfare to know and to agree wholeheartedly with this statement: “we are a messed up lot in desperate need of forgiveness, with shameful sins hidden in our pews”. This is true – in my pastoral role, I see nothing more frequent than struggles with pornography and sexual sin – a sad and timely reminder that the church is just as desperately in need of grace as every one of the sinners that makes up the body of Christ is. On that note, I will say this – through my ministry work, I’ve become all too sadly aware that abuse is something that thrives in faith communities, or churches of all stripes, not just Mennonite ones. Don’t let the denominational indicator in the title of this particular book let you think that this issue is one that is confined to the Mennonite subculture, by any stretch of the imagination, but recognize it for what is really is: a world wide attack orchestrated by the devil to weaken the witness of the church. Which, sadly, he does quite well regardless of denomination.
Thirdly, she opens a window into corners of the Mennonite world that I have only known at a distance. Those of you who know me may find that statement somewhat difficult to process, but those of you who know me well know that my childhood, my experience, even what my definition of a Mennonite is, comes from a completely different perspective. The Old Colony culture, the colony structure, and its legacy even transplanted to Canadian soil is a world that I am only beginning to learn of. From that perspective alone, my heart breaks even more for the Old Colony Mennonites in need in our community, having only been involved with their material needs in the past, the spiritual needs tug at me far more. To a similar degree, I found myself being both disappointed and appalled by the humanity and brokenness, expressed through various forms of abuse, that Trudy discusses experiencing in the CMCO churches (once again, a group that I know virtually nothing about, to be honest).
To me, churches as a place of hurt when they are sought as a place of safety is a particularly sad and sobering thing. But it is reality, and will only change as each one of us desire to change our own responses, our own attitudes, and our own actions to become more like the Redeemer who stayed on the cross for us. Too many times, we look at the church as a museum for saints, but as Trudy’s story clearly shows, we need to recognize that it’s a hospital for broken people – all of us. If you spend enough time being real in any church, the words of Romans 3:23 will ring very true to you: all have sinned and fallen short – the problem only arises when we think we have “arrived”. The narrative of the entire book reminded me of the inherent truth of the words of Francis Schaeffer when he said that “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”. If you’ve doubted the veracity of that statement in the past, the stories that Trudy shares bear sad testimony to their regrettable truth.
As I read the book, I noted some of the inherent theological differences that I may have had with the content in the book, and arrived at the following conclusion. Even though I read the New Testament, or Menno Simons differently, or view the nature of the body of believers differently, or the roles and lines of relationship in church structure differently, I say this as clearly as I can: My opinions, my convictions are the product of my experiences, my education, and my life, as are hers – no attempt to endorse, promote and hold lines of doctrinal fidelity can come at the expense of protecting the innocence of children, or at the expense of placing culture and appearance as an idol about our living service to our Creator God – the one who formed us, knew us intimately, and walks with us through every dark place, whether we acknowledge His presence with us or not. Sadly, those dark places spill out of all of our lives, in different ways, and different places. The ultimate question that a book like this really draws out to each of its readers is simple this: whether or not you will permit your experiences and the power of the gospel, mixed together, to shape, to mold and to sanctify you in your role as God’s child.
So, read the book with an open mind and a heart full of prayer. Ask God’s Spirit to guide you as you read, and consider the ways that your life could intersect and prevent some of the pain that spills out on these pages, regardless of your place and position in faith communities.
To Trudy, I say this: Well done – and may the second book be as considered and well articulated as the first.
And if you want to find it – Amazon Here