My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 17

For part 16 of my journey, click here.
To begin at the start of my journey, click here.

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6

                 The first couple of years of my ministry went by fairly well, our church grew from about 20 regular members to near 50 in a matter of months. That might not seem like much but in a church that hadn’t experienced real growth in over 20 years, it was incredible. I had a very excited group of kids in my youth group and we did various things to help the community. One month we ran a food drive and another month we walked the city cleaning up the roads. My style of teaching was meant to encourage community outreach and for a short period of time that’s exactly what we did.

At around the one year mark, I spoke with the other pastors and asked when we might hold a revival. Their main concern was whether or not anyone would actually show up, and if the church would be willing to put it on. I assured them that I felt willed by god to hold a revival and so one Sunday, I spoke in front of the church and asked if they were ready for revival. The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing to allow us to put it on and about half of the cheers went out like a light. Luckily, for me, enough members of the church agreed that we were able to hold the revival about a month later.

“The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing and about half of the cheers went out like a light.”

Revivals can be tough. For one, you have to decide whether you will hold a revival that lasts a specific number of days, or “allow god” to dictate how long your revival should be. We went with putting the decision-making in god’s hands. Secondly, you have to line up who is going to speak and on what days. You would think a church with three ministers would have no problem with scheduling, but since we each also had a secular job, it took some doing to work out something that would fit everyone’s schedule.

We decided that the revival should start on a Saturday and go on from there.  My first preaching would be the next day on Sunday, in which I was given both morning and evening services. My duty Saturday was to lead the song service, ask if anyone had any prayer requests, and pray over the offering. Revival services are generally very fast paced events until the prayer service and so choosing the right music is crucial. If anything can be said, it is that I took this job very seriously and did a fine job, if I do say so myself.

The first night of the revival went extremely well. There were close to 80 people in attendance and they were all very energetic and excited to be there. The pastor who had married me spoke that night and did an amazing job.  This man is short, stocky, and speaks with a tinny slightly southern accent, but when he preached it seemed at times that he was ten feet tall and his voice boomed through the church. His sermon was filled with imagery of hell-fire and sin, he would speak often about his smoking and drinking addictions that god cured him of, and the audience would be nearly sobbing by the time he finished his testimony. (A couple of years later I would learn that he had swapped smoking for chewing tobacco which took away some of the miraculous nature of the cure.) By the end of the night I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well. I feared that I could never have such a reaction as he had, so I went to sleep that night with a deep anxiety that would follow me until I got behind the pulpit the next morning.

“I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well.”

It still amazes me that when I got behind the pulpit, my entire character changed. I am a very timid, quiet, peaceful person, and I absolutely hate talking to people. Small talk and chit-chat are not my forte and so you might think i would make an awful minister, this was not the case. When I got behind a pulpit I was filled with courage, I had a strength in my voice that is not normally there, and I could talk for over an hour without the slightest hint that anyone in the congregation had lost interest; at least for the most part.

That morning we had close to 100 people in attendance, the small church looked incredibly crowded. I sat in the back and prayed until I heard the song service begin, then I took my seat at the back of the church. The song service ended and I took the stage. I began shaking and dancing and broke forth with tongues. I began preaching my sermon, a cliché sermon on those left behind after the rapture, the torments they will face and the hardships they could have avoided simply by asking Christ into their lives before it was too late. I preached for well over an hour and by the time I finished the congregation was mostly in tears or deep prayer. My aunt stepped forward and requested prayer, I prayed over her and the next day she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.  I dismissed on that same high feeling that I described in an earlier post.

“…..she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.”

My favorite service during this revival was a night we had promoted as “Tag Team Preaching Night.” During this service all three ministers took the stage.  We would start on a particular passage and in the middle of speaking would hold out our hand to one of the other ministers and tag them in, they would then speak on the same passage and go for a while before tagging out, and so on and so on. It was an incredibly exciting service, never quite knowing when I would be called to jump in and start preaching. I still look back at this memory fondly, if that makes any sense for an atheist.

Services continued in this fashion for nearly a week when we were struck with some devastating news. A suicide had occurred in the head pastors family and he wouldn’t be able to preach any further nights. The female pastor would be preaching that night and I wasn’t scheduled again for another two days. We discussed what out plans were and decided that neither of us could take the other pastors night and so after she finished preaching that night, we let everyone know that the revival had come to an end. It was such a sad night for me, I knew that god had wanted us to have a revival that lasted weeks and it was ending after one, had I been wrong, had the other ministers been wrong to end the revival, had god been wrong?

Little did I know but this would revival would mark the highest point of my ministry. We would have a couple of short, two or three-day revivals in the future but nothing would ever compare to this first one.  I would soon learn the politics of the ministry, how the church IS a business and how my faith wasn’t quite as strong as I believed it was. It would still be several years before any of this would add up to my leaving the faith, but the ball of me losing my faith may have begun with the incredibly high elevation that this revival left me upon.

To continue on to part 18, click here.


Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #2: Psychics, Mediums, and Channelers

For last weeks article on Synchronicity, click here.

“But Abraham, you mean I’m supposed to make stuff up!?!?
You are creators, you make stuff up all the time!”
― Esther Hicks

Make up stuff, indeed! Ever watch the episode of “Family Guy” where Peter becomes a psychic? (S 8 Ep. 12) If you have yet to see it, I suggest you check it out. Not only is it hilarious, but it points out some of the flaws of those who claim to have such abilities in a very pointed way. Folks will go to a psychic out of desperation, then after the medium tells them what they want to hear, it instills a belief in them that’s difficult to shake. All the psychic has to do is make one or two correct guesses, and the believer will see it as a successful reading, while ignoring the mountain of things they got wrong. Remember the concept of confirmation bias? It works very well here, too.

The techniques used by mediums and channelers are always the same. They utilize cold reading as a way to obtain information through verbal and non verbal cues, clothing, gender, etc…, they then guess which direction to take the reading indicated by responses the subject gives. They throw questions at the subject very quickly, to emphasize the hits, and draw attention away from the misses. There is also warm reading, where they make general statements that could apply to virtually everyone. “Something difficult has happened to you recently,” would be a good example of warm reading. Lastly, hot reading is quite the creepy and sly technique where the psychic actually investigates their subject before a reading by listening to phone calls, talking to friends and family, or merely giving them a google.

Here’s an example of just how many hits and misses a medium can have. It’s rather long, but not only amusing, but very revealing.

If you’re pressed for time, there is also this short clip of James Randi discussing just how devastatingly wrong Sylvia Browne is on a special by Anderson Cooper.

There are other varieties of channelers, who claim to possess the ability to make contact with aliens, people from the future, or spirit guides. This particular brand of medium usually offers platitudes or wise-sounding anecdotes in order to astound and comfort those in their company. Again, it can seem harmless, but it is charlatanism that claims to sometimes make predictions of the future, as well as sometimes fuel conspiracy theories that are dangerous to mental health.

Here’s Bashar talking about “chemtrails” and how to use gold to control the climate. Yes… GOLD.

Ester “Abraham” Hicks charges around $500 ($225 workshop fee, and $250 at the door) for events, not to mention book sales and special appearances. What a racket! Now it may feel good to listen to these folks, but at those prices I think you would be better served taking a spa day or going fishing.

When I was into my woo-woo phase, I practiced channeling myself, and can safely assert that what came out of me was absolute junk mail from my subconscious mind. Rather like a dream that doesn’t reflect reality – a jumbled mix of nonsense that had no value of predictability or virtue. In fact, some of it was just scribbles of symbols.


It took years trying to develop my “intuitive skills” for that scribble, not to mention all the money I spent on books.

Now, apparently I’m no psychic, and cannot know for sure the intent of others, but charging large amounts of money to offer the distraught absolutely nothing is a scam. I have known a lot of folks to claim to channel, typically for free (though some of them do charge), and they express their intent as an attempt to help others connect with the spirit world in an effort to guide their lives during times of confusion. That seems noble on the surface, but is misguided in itself, and is a lot of responsibility. They give readings suggesting they leave or stay in relationships, move to a different area, quit their job, and all sorts of big life decisions that they would normally make themselves if they hadn’t placed all their trust in the medium. The question is rarely asked: what if they are wrong? Making reasonable choices is difficult, especially in times of stress, but it’s something we must all learn to do as adults. It may actually be easier to be an adult if you refrain from wasting your money on a psychic.