Why I Don’t Wear “The Ring.”

7 Nov

This is a ring.

It says “Semper Honorablus” which mean “Always Honorable” in Latin, I guess.

I was given this ring when I was eighteen, after “committing to live a life of honor.”
I don’t talk about this much. I might say casually when people ask me where I went to school,

“Oh, this errr… bible college.”

Sometimes, I will mention to people I lived on a bus for two and a half years. Some look at me like I am insane, most don’t really care.

I don’t always mention all the wonderful and terrible things that happened from being a part of Teen Mania Ministries for four years.

I don’t mention I took the ring off soon after leaving in 2007, because I didn’t even know what it meant anymore.

I began to question what I really believed and whether aspects of my faith were really mine, or something that had been forced on me.

Can I be honest and say, it’s hard to write this?

I decided to no longer remain silent because things seem to be coming to a head. People are hurt, and people are angry at those who are hurt.

People say Teen Mania is an abusive cult.

People say it is a life-changing program, the best ministry ever.

People say that it is where God is.

People say that God has used this ministry to transform thousands of lives. IΒ  understand that, mine included. I was seventeen and desperately needed God. I knew if I didn’t go to the Honor Academy I would end up in a trailer park with the baby of some druggie.

But right now, I need to shut out what people are saying.

Right now I am letting go of it all, the good, the bad, the ugly.

Not because of what anyone did to me, but because of the bondage I put myself under.

Please hear my heart in this. I am not slandering anyone.

IΒ  am speaking up now, because a lot of things have changed. Because I have changed. Because I used to be afraid. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of not being accepted by God, (at least not after a while) I was afraid of not being accepted by them.

Being accepted by the group I claimed allegiance too, spent thousands of hours on the phone convincing people to attend, gave four years of my life to… that meant everything.

At one time I felt guilty. I felt like I owed them my allegiance. After all, I experienced the love of God there like I never had anywhere else. I realized my life had purpose there. I learned to love myself there. The world opened up to me. I got to travel, experience incredible things. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever met, and many of them I still have a deep connection with.

But now I know, those things were simply the grace of God in my life.
Jesus was loving me.
I am not angry. Ok maybe a little. I am angry people are hurt and no one is listening. I am angry at the gross militaristic “us vs. them” mentality. I am angry at religion trying to make people pay for what God has already given us for free. But by the grace of God, I am not bitter. I am thankful for the things I learned, the opportunities I had, and the beautiful people I met.

But I can’t wear the ring. To me, it represents a mental and emotional legalistic pressure that Jesus never ever put on me.

I am under no obligation to anyone but Christ.
And in that, I am free.

I don’t need to “be the standard.”
I don’t need to conjure up some fake pious morality.
I don’t need to sign a creed and commit to an ideal, a better way of life.

Those things are bullshit.

They don’t work.

Jesus made a covenant with God and has given me all things. I just simply have to believe. I don’t owe God anything… How can you pay for something that is a free gift? Even if I tried, I couldn’t pay Him back if I tried. God doesn’t want my disgusting bloody rags, my failed attempts to be holy.

He just wants me. And He has me.
He wants me to understand what he did on the cross was enough.
I don’t have to “try to get closer to him,” He is part of me.
I don’t have to rally people to a massive conference to beg God to “come down,” He is everywhere.

And I already am holy. Because He made me a new creation. It wasn’t my doing.

(At times, the self-righteous nineteen-year-old in me is cries, “Heresy!” in the back of my head. But I am learning to shut her up.)

I am completely free.
I am under no obligation to any system of religion, any conformity, any pressure to be a leader, or to keep up appearances.

I can just be Brooke.

And Brooke, with the Holy Spirit in her, is more than enough.

EDIT-

Ok, I need to add this. I don’t want this to come across like I am bashing Teen Mania. This is not my heart. I almost didn’t put the name here, but I figured most people would figure out what I am talking about anyways. This is not against people, this is against a system that tells you you have to be more then Jesus has already made you in him. I could apply this to many churches as well. There are Christian communities out there that are loving and grace filled and not exclusive. Those are amazing, we need more of those. The point is, my identity is not in being “alumni” or a church member at so-and-so.

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25 Responses to “Why I Don’t Wear “The Ring.””

  1. savedbygrace November 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this. This is so real and honest and powerful, and it encompasses many of the things I feel like God’s been teaching me lately as well. Thanks for being willing to be a critical thinker and share those thoughts.

    • brookeluby November 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

      Hey savedbygrace. Thanks for reading. I am glad God is teaching you those things to. So freeing and beautiful!

  2. KristinC November 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    This is a beautiful, balanced, and gracious response to the controversy at hand. Thanks for this.

    • brookeluby November 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

      Thanks Kristin. I re-edited my more angry one after I cooled down and went for a walk. πŸ™‚

  3. Kim Fusch November 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    Amen.

  4. Ben November 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Well said. πŸ™‚

    You reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in quite a while. While I was at Teen Mania, Derek Webb released an EP of songs that were part of what would be “She Must and Shall Go Free”. Listening to the song ‘Lover’ while I was there was a fairly significant factor in creating dissonance between the Jesus I knew, and the one I was presented with. What you said is true, Jesus was loving me.

    • brookeluby November 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      Ben, that’s so funny, I was just saying today how God used Derek Webb (and many other thing outside classes) to preach the true gospel to me. That song means so much to me. I actually posted it a few posts down. (Under “Shout it from the rooftops” I’d link to it but I don’t know how through my phone.)
      Thanks fore reading and sharing that! Reminds me I am not alone or crazy. πŸ™‚

  5. Lucas November 7, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    This is great…I’m just now finding out “what is wrong with me” is what I allowed myself to become by being there…Jesus loved me then, too.

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 9:40 am #

      Lucas, that is a great way to put it. It makes me think of GK Chesterton’s response when asked what was wrong with the world,
      “I am.”

  6. '99 alumnus November 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Maybe this is why I *should* wear my ring. Mine doesn’t say Semper Honorablus (well, it’s inscribed on the inside). Mine says “I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine.”

    I don’t think of myself as the kind of person that they would want the world to look at and say, wow, if she came out of there, TM must be great. I don’t deserve to still be “in the club” so to speak.

    But, I AM my Beloved’s, and He is mine.

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      Hi Lindsay, yes, they stopped those rings right before my class! I hope this didn’t sound like I was “anti-ring” it was more for me that I don’t feel like I can honestly stand for what it represents.

      I love that our only identity is we are his beloved.

  7. lori ludington November 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    brooke, go spread the love of Jesus to a hurting population. I am praying over your ministry. Lori royal oak, mi

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

      Thank you Lori. That is so encouraging!

  8. Angie Pope November 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Very beautiful posting, Brooke. Well put. Everyone should read this. I personally didn’t wear my ring after I left the HA because I felt guilty for every single thing I did wrong. But I wasn’t thinking of what God might think about it, I was thinking about what people from Teen Mania might think if they saw. It’s so important for people to realize what you said–our obligation is only to Christ.
    πŸ™‚

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      Angela! Good to hear from you. Thanks for reading. πŸ™‚ It was a weird thing we went through, for sure. Lots to sort through. I am glad life goes on and just gets better. πŸ™‚

  9. gRegor November 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m an alumni from August ’97 and I’ve been mulling over writing my own post about everything. My experience was largely quite good, but I’ve certainly realized a divergence between myself and TM over the years and have concerns after following the stories on Recovering Alumni. I recently signed the “Concerned Alumni” letter.

    Anyway, this was written really well and I appreciate you sharing it.

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

      Hi Greg, thanks for reading. It’s a lot to mull over, huh? I am all for talking about the good, but my heart goes out to those who are hurt and ignored as well.

  10. Megdalyn November 8, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Brooke this was beautiful and honest, thanks so much for taking the time to write it and speak up. (I was an HA intern in 05-06 and worked in ATFOPS so I’m pretty sure we met a few times, but it’s awesome to see how your story is continuing. I don’t wear my ring either– but the Holy Spirit is always present.

    • brookeluby November 8, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Hey Meg, thanks for reading. Yes, you look familiar I am sure we met. πŸ™‚ Yes, God in us is enough.

  11. amanda maclean November 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Which is more difficult to do – stop identifying with the culture of teen mania, or stop identifying with evangelical christianity on a theological level altogether?

    Ron Luce made an interesting point in his response to the MSNBC documentary portraying teen mania as a cult. He mentioned that TM’s belief systems are not much different from those of pretty much any contemporary evangelical christian church. From my experiences of traveling with acquire the fire and visiting churches and having conversations over the phone with hundreds of evangelical pastors and leaders all over america, I would agree with ron on his claim. However, TM is an organization with a personality that communicates and celebrates these core beliefs found throughout mainstream evangelicalism in such intense ways (long periods of corporate prayer and fasting, ESOAL, not dating or listening to secular music for a year) that it is easier to marginalize them as an institution. I wonder how many of those who are angry or frustrated with or confused by TM would take on the challenge of seriously scrutinizing the systematic theology at the very core of the faith they ascribe to and which mainstream evangelicalism believes and teaches all over america as readily and easily as they criticize this one particular institution (TM). Are we right to marginalize and accuse one institution for being intensely devoted to the same core system of beliefs that drives a great portion of all evangelical organizations and churches in the US and all over the world? Is there something wrong with TM or with the way north americans have interpreted the bible for hundreds of years? Has TM done more to shape our culture (for better or worse) than fundamental preachers like john wesley or jonathan edwards? Imagine what the bloggers and documentary makers would have said in their day.

    I started getting frustrated while I was at TM because I saw so many people being accused and blamed for the failures within the ministry (failures like not having enough attendees at events to break even financially, or decisions to hire or fire or lay off staff in haphazard, disorganized ways). You know what I started to realize during and since that time? It wasn’t a teen mania problem. This is a human problem. We all want someone to point the finger at and to blame. Just look at the story of Adam and Eve in Eden. Has much changed?

    Has much changed since the story of Moses delivering the Israelites from Egypt, when who exactly was it that hardened the Pharaoh’s heart and brought judgment upon the first born of the entire nation? Who was to blame for that? Oh yeah, the book of Exodus names him: Yahweh.

    There are a lot of things in the Bible we Christians simply do not understand.

    But thankfully there are a few things that Jesus said and did with his life that I think we can understand, and would serve us a good deal to spend our energies and focus on instead of blaming, accusing, and being angry at people for their failures and mistakes. Revolutionary ideas like: be kind to your fellow man. Don’t condemn or judge your neighbor (your evangelical neighbor or the asshole customer service agent or your spouse or mean family member or whoever your neighbor happens to be at that given time). Pray for your enemies. Lay down your life in service to the poor. Do your good deeds in secret. Choose the lowest place at the table. Live not by the law of justice, because that law will condemn you for your human fallibility. Live rather by the law of mercy, the story of Christ.

    Its a living law. Killed, buried and resurrected, and wild with the mystery of love that shatters the bonds of our finite thinking and turns the system into a body that functions and breathes and pumps the blood of animate, gratuitous joy.

  12. brookeluby November 10, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Amanda, you are my hero. This comment is so well written. I want to publish as its own blog post!

    This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about through all of this. It is not just a Teen Mania issue, the whole system is messed up. Like you said, they are simply taking the views of traditional evangelicalism and following through to the most extreme actions. I believe the root of this is a lack of understanding of the new covenant as a whole in the body of Christ.

    When we don’t understand what Jesus has already done, it becomes all about what we can do for Him. There is very little understanding that we are not under the law. Much of The Church is still afraid of that, they see grace as a license to sin, when grace is what truly empowers people not to sin. I adore your last paragraph,

    “Its a living law. Killed, buried and resurrected, and wild with the mystery of love that shatters the bonds of our finite thinking and turns the system into a body that functions and breathes and pumps the blood of animate, gratuitous joy.”

    Yes. This is a beautiful summary of the gospel.

  13. amanda November 11, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    And we all have our own path to discovering this reality of love. I didn’t discover it until I was at the Honor Academy πŸ™‚ TM is doing all they can to represent Jesus and the Gospel in truth. Like all of us humans, they have weaknesses that cause them to falter. Just like our parents. Just like churches.

    The only thing we can do is decide who WE want to become and what WE believe for OURSELVES – move on, follow Jesus and live the life He offers us.

  14. Keegan November 13, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I cried a little when I read this because it resounded so deeply with me. There’s all this pressure. For someone like me who truly has a desire not only to please God but to genuinely be a good person and follow the path He wants for me, it was easy for me to fall into trying to DO all the right things the right WORKS. And I was good at it. As a leader on my GE mission trip I was exemplary, I “did all the right things” but (although I felt the spirit moving in me) something didn’t feel right. I was exhausted. I was working so hard to be perfect. When I came home I couldn’t keep it up. I became so self righteous and pushed so many people away. I cracked under the pressure. God LOVES you. He created you. All he needs from you is your best.
    Thanks again.

  15. Chris Kelley January 9, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    As a alumni of the HA I want to thank you for this incredible post. I agree with your idea that it is not just the HA that promotes mind sets like this. I have also noticed that ministries like this tend to die off after awhile.

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