Friday, May 17, 2019

Epistles to Lonnie Frisbee

Letter #10

Seraph Postal - Forever
Dear Lonnie,

First of all, after waiting for such a long time, I finally got a copy of the third book of your posthumous autobiography. It came in the mail back on March 30th. As anticipated, it is subtitled "Set Free". It is slightly longer than either of the preceding two books, and it covers the years from when you quit your ministry position at Anaheim Vineyard in 1983 until your final illness and departure from this sad world in 1993. Your book is very interesting, and I will probably need to read it through about four times so I can digest completely the various topics you covered.

Now I don't need to tell you the details of what is in your own book. And you probably already know the final text that your friend Roger Sachs laid out. My guess is that you are satisfied that your side of the story is out there finally. It took a little over 26 years for Roger to finish it and get it published. But I think that taking this long was unfortunate, and I wish that it had been done much sooner. On the other hand, the long delay is understandable given that Roger also had many other responsibilities, such as running his own construction business as well as a foreign mission ministry on the side. But still, 26 years is an awful long time! The book indicates that he and you had already done much of the work on your story back in the 1990s.

It is likely, after I finish thoroughly studying Set Free, that I will write out a brief book review. Your book will get a positive review from me. I can tell you that ahead of time. It was very worthwhile to read, and it also gave a more complete picture of what your personality was like. You had your ups and downs (way down), and you could be overly candid with people, outspoken to the point of being tactless and undiplomatic, even with your friends. It is easy to see how you could have gotten yourself on the bad side of church leadership by speaking your mind too openly. This further reinforces my view that, if somehow you were still here today, you would have a difficult time fitting into the system. But your book shows me that over time you learned to tone it down.

Lonnie, there were several places in the book where I wished you had retained more of your outspokenness and had given a more detailed explanation about what was happening behind the scenes. There are several things that are not clear to me, the reader. For example, on pages 12 to 13 regarding the circumstances surrounding your departure in 1983 from Vineyard, I don't entirely understand what the problem was between you and John Wimber. I am talking about the point in the narrative where, after explaining how John had de-scheduled you from doing any more pastoral counseling sessions, you finally said, "I had several more meetings with John Wimber over the next couple months, and more accusations came at me until my final blowup, when I declared ‘I quit!’"

I suppose that you were trying to cover for John Wimber here to avoid as much as possible casting him in a bad light. From what I know about John, he was a godly leader, but he also was fallible and could make some serious mistakes, which later he would come to regret, have to walk back, and apologize for. However, I also think you should have been more up front about what exactly happened, especially at this very crucial point in your story. The readers should have been given more insight about John's motivations, at least as they existed at that time. As it is now, the picture is blurry, and I am reduced to guessing about the reasons behind what transpired.

You mentioned that multiple rumors and accusations had been circulating about you. But who exactly were your accusers? Did they have names and faces? Were you ever allowed to confront them? Where was John Wimber getting his information from? Why did he give it any credence? Where were the (1 Tim 5:19) witnesses? You never really provided answers for these questions. But it sounds to me, going by what was written in your book, that you were being pushed by John into an unfair no-win situation, as if he had determined beforehand that he was going to shut you down and had found some convenient pretext for doing so. Consequently, there was no feasible way to defend yourself no matter what you say or do. And you became extremely frustrated with the situation, blew up at John, quit your position at Vineyard, and in anger walked out on him. There was a complete breakdown, which had huge repercussions on you afterwards. I am just wanting to understand fully the reasons for the breakdown.

John Wimber might have been under a lot of pressure at the time, or at least that's one possible theory. You know how accusations work in the real world — they don't have to be true in order to be truly destructive. When accusations get repeated often enough, they can take on a perverse, inextirpable life of their own. And labels, once applied, are worse than difficult to remove. Looking at the situation this way, I can only imagine the havoc that self-appointed vigilantes could have inflicted on John and Vineyard if they had latched onto the accusations against you, used them as high-explosive ammunition, and started broadcasting everywhere "hey people, look here, the heretic John Wimber is also allowing a such-and-such person to continue to minister at Vineyard churches!" And they were very influential (they still are) and had platforms from which they could do serious damage. One noteworthy inquisitor had his own well-known national radio program. Others published widely circulated books — there is a big market for books by makebates — and they were often invited to expound their imprecations from the pulpits of various churches. I remember that one of these vigilantes was also invited to speak at Harvest several times.

If I look at things from this perspective, John Wimber's motivations in the story might be more understandable to me. I mean, for example, where he repeatedly took steps to make sure that you would never be invited to minister at any other Vineyard churches (such as the "telephone calls" you mentioned). Now some readers easily could interpret this as a form of stalking, motivated by spite. However, it is very difficult for me to imagine that he was acting simply from a malicious desire to hurt you — although I must admit it showed a side of John Wimber that isn't pretty to behold. But I suspect that, given the pressures he was under, John might have calculated that the risks for the Vineyard brand name were just too great if he allowed you to continue having any ministry visibility. Do you remember what I said in a previous letter about reputation, how important it is? More than they like to admit, church leaders are concerned about reputation and therefore can bend under the pressure of controversy — and you were always controversial if nothing else.

Another puzzling incident is later in 1985 when John requested a meeting with you, which the book covered on pages 31 to 33 and which you attended. This looked to me like it might have been a lost opportunity to turn things around. However, you rejected John's offer, which seemingly had mild conditions attached, and you said that "I didn't really trust him or his motives at the time" and that "he is trying to shut me down and label me." Something in your relationship with him had gone terribly wrong. Although I think you were far more perceptive than your friends gave you credit for, you didn't clearly explain to the readers what the underlying issues were here. Why exactly didn't you trust John? What do you think his motives were? Why was he trying to shut you down? Is the "label" the same one that you mentioned on page 13? Lonnie, I am just trying to understand what actually happened. There are other examples where I wish a more complete picture had been provided for the reader.

I get the distinct impression from reading your book that over time you came to regard your fractured relationship with John Wimber as very much tied to all the heavy psychological baggage you carried. Yes, you had a problem with feelings of rejection, and you became very embittered and angry, and you needed to overcome these things. But was everything strictly a one-way street? Was the onus only on your side, like a one-man seesaw? It is sad to say this, Lonnie, but people have been abused or mistreated by clergy due to malfeasance, incompetence, misguided priorities, or good intentions. Church leadership doesn't always get it right — what happened on page 94 was a very sad example of this. And you yourself said on page 6, "Good men can be really wrong," and "the more power and authority they get, the more chances they have to be wrong." True, you had to learn forgiveness, and you made it clear this was the major aspect of the Set Free story. But there must have been something to forgive. So I am guessing that, in their dealings with you, John Wimber and Chuck Smith might have made a few mistakes which they should have owned up to. Tell me, Lonnie, did they ever once apologize or ask you for forgiveness? About anything? The book doesn't say, which is strange. It was good that at least Kenn Gulliksen, the original founder of Vineyard, issued a retraction, given on page 271. I was very surprised by this, though I think it might have been added to the book just recently. He apologized for something in a "so-called Christian documentary" that he said about you, which was "due to false information that I was given from some church leaders." I think I have a good guess about what "documentary" he was talking about here. Heaven knows who the "leaders" were.

All this might not matter too much as far as you're concerned now, for every tear has been wiped away where you are, over there in The Sweet By And By. But we have the record you left us, your autobiography, parts of which were very heartbreaking to read. And after reading it, I can tell its major underlying theme: the severe traumas and rejection you experienced in childhood continued to affect you throughout your entire life. You were a "broken" individual, which is the word your friends most often used throughout the book to describe you. And it wasn't until after you met up with Rich Buhler that you started to get the kind of counseling you needed to begin healing your deep seated, emotional wounds. On the other hand, the substitute "father figures" in your life whose approval you most desperately wanted, John Wimber and Chuck Smith, apparently never had the percipience to understand what was going on beneath the surface of things and to see the break down in your heart. Wouldn't they have sought healing for you if they had? Instead, they treated you as if you were little more than a difficult employee — very useful to have around for some purposes but otherwise hard to manage — and when push came to shove, you were expendable.

Lonnie, I can try reading between the lines and connecting the dots, but in the end I have no choice but to accept your decision regarding how much information you wanted to tell the readers. Later on in the book, John Wimber agreed, at the instigation of others, to allow VMI to provide you with financial support during your final illness and decline. You were given a car, a small stipend, and an apartment on Balboa Island, your last earthly residence. Therefore, I can see some reason for why it would be very awkward, and downright ungrateful, if your book were to depict John Wimber too unfavorably. Consequently, some things had to be toned down, and some details had to be left out. But I get the distinct feeling — although the book wasn't clear about this — that your relationship with John Wimber here on Earth was never fully repaired. I am glad to know that now in Heaven it has been restored.

Now I want to move on to other topics …

Chapter 22 of Set Free could be considered your final farewell address before crossing the Jordan. Everyone should read it. By the way, Lonnie, can I borrow your mantle? Or at least your easel? (LOL) 😄

At the end of the book, when your friends eulogized you, some of them likened you to "Samson". I think this was just another label that people were trying to paste on you, a convenient way to make it easier for them to understand your life by putting you into a category of some kind. Your friends probably meant well by it, but labels were something that you always very much disliked. And I particularly disagree with the Samson analogy for several reason, most of all because I don't believe that it fits you. I think you would agree with me about this: you were scrawny little guy — "too light to fight and too thin to win" — and not a comic book level hero doing superhuman feats of strength, such as carrying off the gates of Gaza or killing a thousand Philistines using the jawbone of an ass. (Oh, by the way, have you met Samson yet up there in Glory Land? Did he ever grow his hair back out?)

The book indicated that you went to the Docklands Arena in England in October of 1990, though you were just out in the audience somewhere. Besides your meeting up again with Roger Sachs, I wish that you had told the readers more about why you were there, what you did, and what you saw. That conference was a crucial turning point for John Wimber and a big disappointment. The influential "prophet," who was with the Vineyard at that time and up on the stage with John, had to eat crow burgers afterwards because the big bang revival that earlier he had predicted would follow the "Holiness" conference simply did not happen. "I think we missed that one," he said on page 78. Who is this "we," Kemosabe?

Also, in the sermon you preached at Tom Stipe's church in Denver, back on July 20, 1991, you told the congregation about the "seven lights" vision, which hit you while reading Jamie Buckingham's biography about Kathryn Kuhlman. You never made it clear exactly when this vision occurred. Now at the end of the vision, you were told to "call Chuck Smith." Lonnie, you probably remember the part I am talking about…
Then He lowered a golden scepter at my head, and He said, "Thou art received in the beloved. Now call Chuck Smith."

I was brought back into my body. I called Chuck Smith. I hadn't talked with him in years. And I said — it was one-thirty in the morning — "Aah!! I am one of the seven lights!"

Old Chuck was going, "You need prayer!"
Lonnie, I must say that Chuck's response was a funny ending to the strange vision you told everybody about in your sermon, but I wish you would have told the readers a little more about what else transpired in that telephone conversation between you and Chuck Smith. Did you explain to Chuck all that happened? Did you and he discuss anything else? Or did Chuck just dismiss it all as lunacy and hang up on you? After that sermon in Denver, did Tom Stipe and you continue to be friends? Later, Tom went on to have his own falling out with Vineyard, as you probably know by now.

I noticed on page 229 that you paid a big compliment to Greg Laurie, saying you that were proud of him and calling him "one of the most dynamic evangelists in the United States." Yes, Greg's been hugely successful at the stadium level. And he even has a hired PR firm, The Kairos Company located in Glendale, that helps his news and media optics. You also added, "Of course, he definitely has his opinions about me, but that doesn't matter." And when I read this, it seemed as if you had prophetically anticipated what I said in my previous letter to you where I talked about Greg's latest book. I guess it also reinforces what you said in the angelgram you sent me. Yes, it's true that Greg does have his opinions. Whether he ever changes them is anyone's guess.

Finally, Roger Sachs gave a postscript at the end of the third book. In it Roger mentions a "prophecy" that was given to him by someone named Tom Chapman …
"Immediately, I heard just two words: ‘Book four!’"

"You got to be kidding, Tom!"

Lonnie's story had been such a long endeavor, with so many challenges, delays, and spiritual warfare, that Tom's message was not really welcome news at the onset.
Lonnie, the idea of a fourth book might be a surprise for you. But what Roger Sachs is proposing to do is publishing an additional book that contains transcripts of your recorded sermons, along with some other miscellaneous material. I guess it would be an interesting supplement to your autobiography. There is one thing I wish Roger would include in a fourth book: he should add an essay explaining all the difficulties and "spiritual warfare" that he faced in the process of getting Lonnie Frisbee's autobiography published. That in itself would be a very interesting story to read, and I think that Roger has shown himself to be a fairly good and perceptive writer. In fact, I wish it were possible for me to meet Roger. I do hope that he publishes this "book four" in a timely manner. But I am very glad that at last I have lived long enough to read the final book of your autobiography.

In other news, my wife's restaurant business, Bimbo's Coffee Pot, is doing very well. In fact, it's really taken off and become famous, so much that Gordon Ramsay has scheduled us to be filmed in an episode of his new show highlighting outstanding, excellent restaurants that do the job right. We don't know the name of the show yet, which will be on the Food Network, but we are looking forward to working with Gordon. He is especially fascinated by our authentic Byzantine desserts, which are truly extravagant and were derived from ancient Greek manuscript recipes from pre-Ottoman Constantinople. It should be a whole lot of fun. I can't think of much more to say for now, so I will end this letter. Please write me back, Lonnie, if you think I am getting things wrong. Thanks.

Forever young, you're set free at last. Shout hallelujah!

Sincerely yours,
Old and Grey and Weeping by the Rivers of Babylon