My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 26

For part 25 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to write those first few words to my ex-wife. For nearly a decade, I had told myself time and again how much I hated her, how every thought of her made me angry and sad. Even though all of those feelings had been a sham and a protective covering for the hurt I truly felt, I was sure that she hated me and would never message me back. I spent hours debating whether or not I should even message her, but I did it and immediately felt foolish for the corny way I initiated contact.

She responded, “HEY!”

That went way better than I expected it to go, now was time for me to attempt a conversation with her, but I had absolutely no idea what to say.  I asked her how she was and if she had heard about my second marriage breaking down, surprisingly she had. My ex had contacted her and asked her for help in getting back with me, which is a really weird thing to ask someone. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and then I told her how sorry I was for how distant I had become during our marriage, I accepted my role in our divorce and told her I no longer felt any ill will towards her.

“I accepted my role in our divorce and told her i no longer felt any ill will towards her.”

She was shocked by the apology but acted cordial and let me know that she had forgiven me years before. We were both young and had both made mistakes. She then apologized to me for giving up on our marriage so quickly and for not being as understanding as she felt she should have been. In the end of our first conversation we agreed that we were mature and old enough to be friends.

I went to work after that and my mind kept wandering back to the beautiful redhead that had once sang to me on a rooftop so many years before. Talking to her again online had brought back all of those feelings that had been lost to me for so long. When I got home, I hoped on-line and saw that she too was on-line. We talked for a couple of hours and then she said she had a question for me…

“Do you still have feelings for me?”

My answer was an immediate, “no.” We talked for a few more minutes and were getting ready to end the conversation when my mind burst into action. “I lied,” I said “I have never stopped having feelings for you, losing you was the most painful thing that I have ever gone through but I still love you and always will.” Her response was, “I still have feelings for you too.”

Now this might seem a bit silly, but do you know the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch hears the Who’s down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes? That’s the absolute best way of describing what seeing her type those words did to me.  I literally jumped in the air and did a little dance in my friends living room. Never once did i think that I might have another shot with the woman of my dreams but this was it.

Thus began another series of late night talks like we had shared almost a decade earlier. Talking to her made me feel like a teenager again and every conversation left me wanting more. For nearly a month we continued these talks and eventually we decided that she should move to Iowa. Only a couple of issues, I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van that I feared wouldn’t make the journey to Texas and back.

“…I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van…”

Her life in Texas was stagnant, her mother had passed away and so she had no real family connections in Texas anymore. She had a daughter who was performing horribly in school due to the large class sizes and lack of one on one attention. She believed that the smaller class sizes would be good for her and so she decided to ask her if she would be interested in the move. One night she told her daughter about me, about Iowa, and about the new school she could attend. She was excited but demanded that she get to talk to me before any decision was made.

Our conversation was the moment my heart grew its fourth size. She had a sweet voice and demeanor, was absolutely in love with the movie Frozen, and insisted that I listen to her sing, “Let It Go.” We chatted for a bit, discussed our mutual love of video games, learned much more than I ever needed to know about “My Little Pony,” and she told me she couldn’t wait to meet me. I hung up the phone happy with how well that conversation had gone.

Almost instantly I found an apartment, I took my van to the shop and had about a grand in repairs done to it. I asked the mechanic if the van would make the trip and his words were, “If it would float, i’d drive it to Hawaii. It’s not going to give you any problems.” Everything was going so well and I thought they would continue to go well…

(Ron Howard Arrested Development Voiceover) “…they did not continue to go well…

It turns out that my wife at the time had hacked my e-mail account. She quickly learned that I planned to make a long trip, knew I had recently moved into an apartment, put two and two together and realized what was going on. She called me fuming. “If you get back with her you will never see the kids again!” I told her that we were separated and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life. She repeated the threat once again and I told her, “Do that and eventually the kids are going to hate you for it. In time they will realize what actually occurred and you will regret it.” She hung up on me.

About 20 minutes later she arrived at my apartment. She pushed her way in and quickly grabbed every picture of the kids that I had in my possession, or so she thought, I had in my binder an envelope filled with pictures that I had grabbed shortly after moving out. She broke several frames and I told her she needed to leave or I was going to call the cops. She left and went straight to the van and began kicking at the tires and beating on the windows. I ran outside and screamed that I had called the cops, I hadn’t, but that they would be there soon so she had better leave. She swung at me with a handful of junk mail, cutting my nose with one of the edges. I told her to leave and she finally did.

Later she called me and made the kids get on the phone and tell me how much they hated me. I could hear the pain in their voices as she goaded them to say these mean things. I told them both I loved them dearly and hoped they would understand one day. She then took the phone back and told me that I wasn’t allowed to see the kids again and that if I tried she would get a restraining order against me.  I laughed and said if anyone needs a restraining order, it would be me against her but that the whole idea was preposterous…

A few days later I hit the road and was on my way to Texas. I drove straight through the night, only stopping long enough for gas and to grab a couple of snack foods, nuts and beef sticks.  I reached Dallas by dawn and realized that my trip was nearly over, just three short hours to go. As the miles past, my excitement continued to grow. I pulled in to her driveway at around 11, gave her a quick kiss, loaded the van and we were back on the road before noon.

Only with my luck could we hit a blizzard in the middle of Texas, but that’s exactly what happened. We made it halfway through Oklahoma before we had to stop for the night. We were snowed in for nearly 3 days and what was worse, the nuts and slim jims had not done me any favors. I spent those three days in excruciating stomach cramps and pain, turns out I’m slightly allergic to nuts. Who knew? Nothing says love than being able to sit in a room where feet away the guy you love is shitting his guts out for three days.

When we finally reached Iowa, I thought things were going to calm down for a bit. We spent the next couple of days just enjoying being in each others company. We signed her daughter up for school and spent some quiet time alone. These days passed by so quickly that it was soon time for me to return to work. I hated having to leave her, but money had to be made and so I went back to work expecting a long and boring day.

Long and boring it was not, a couple of hours into my shift a police officer entered the premises. Speaking to the boss he asked if I was working. I stood up and said I was the one he was looking for. He walked across the room, handed me a stack of papers, and said “You’ve been served with a restraining order, you are to not come into contact in any way with your wife or her two kids.”

My brain checked out and I give my boss props for not sending me home. I sat in silence, feeling as if I had lost two of the most important parts of my life forever. Nothing, not even the feelings of losing my faith or my first marriage breaking down, had ever hit me with such deep depression and horror as hearing those words come out of that officers mouth. I was, once again, dead inside.

To continue on to part 27, click here.

 

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My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 25

For part 24 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Even as a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me … and no one showed up.” – Rodney Dangerfield

I don’t know what I was expecting when I told her I wanted a divorce but the response was a lackluster “OK.” We sat down and talked things over, deciding that we could do thing amicably and quickly. We even shared a laugh about how awful our whole marriage had been. The era of amiability wouldn’t last very long.

About a week later, I came home to find her crying her eyes out and laying on the floor. The kids weren’t home and so I asked her what was the matter. She informed me that she didn’t want a divorce and was sorry for the hell she had put me through over the years. She asked me if we could give it one more chance, and I informed her that I was done, the time for chances was over and I wanted out. She went on to spend the rest of the night bawling on the floor.

Fighting

Little did I know, but she had earlier encouraged a mutual friend to date me, when the friend said that she would be interested, my ex went ape-shit. So in reality it wasn’t that she had been crying because of wanting to stay together, but she wanted no one else to want me and so her display was an effort to keep me locked away from the rest of the world.  Her dramatics reached a point that I thought she was going to hurt herself or the kids and so I encouraged her to seek medical help. She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance. I told her I would think about it but in reality my mind was made up and nothing was going to keep me in this wreck of a marriage.

“She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance.”

Prior to going to the doctor to seek medical help she went to the bathroom and shaved herself bald. I tried stopping her but she locked the door and finished the job. We then drove to the hospital in complete silence. Upon reaching the hospital she once again went into theatrics and the doctor called a local psyche ward and encouraged her to stay a few days. Once again she agreed but only if I would promise to think about staying with her. Seeing her driven away, even though she had hurt me greatly over the years, made me feel like a monster. I was absolutely sickened by myself and decided that I would actually think over the matter for the next couple of days.

The one thing that made me question whether or not I should give her another chance were the kids. They were hurt, as children are during a separation, and felt to blame for the way things had happened. I felt awful to see them in so much pain but knew that eventually they would understand whatever decision I ultimately made.  I love those kids with all my heart and they have brought to me, more pride and joy than I ever could have deserved over the years. I still cherish every moment I get to speak with them.

Two days later, the stay had originally been scheduled for a week, she called me on the phone and asked if I could come visit. The facility was nearly 100 miles away and I literally had no gas. I told her there was absolutely no way I could make the trip. She screamed at me over the phone that a real man would get there one way or another, she then hung up the phone. A few minutes later a nurse at the facility called me on the phone and told me that she had checked herself out and that I needed to get there to give her a ride home. I ended up borrowing a few bucks from a friend in order to make the trip.

When I arrived at the facility, she was flipping out and angry. She looked at me with so much hatred that I knew there was no way I was going to give this another chance. We walked out of the facility, I drove to a convenience store and bought myself a pack of cigarettes. This was the first pack I had bought in nearly 10 years but I knew that in order to survive that drive, I was going to need them. The trip home was excruciating, her screaming into my ear for most of the trip about one thing or another.

marlboro

When we got home, the screaming continued for a couple of hours and she eventually decided that she was going to take a nap. I sat down and enjoyed a couple of moments of peace, knowing at any moment the bedroom door would open and she would be back at it.  I was correct as a little over 15 minutes later she was back in my face swearing at me for more than an hour. The kids had been at a friend’s house and when they came home suddenly, she stopped screaming and went back into the bedroom for several hours.

At the time, I was taking Ambien due to my severe insomnia, so around 10pm, after the kids were fast asleep, I took my pill and went to bed. A few moments later she tore into me again about everything she had said earlier. If you have ever taken Ambien before, when it hits, it hits. I told her I needed to go to sleep, and tried as best as I could to do just that. This is the end of what I remember of the night…

From what I have gathered, shortly after attempting to fall asleep, she had once again began screaming and poured a glass of sweet tea all over me. For those that don’t know, I hate being sticky. I’m told that I must have left shortly after that because I showed up at one friends house and spoke to them in garbled sentences for a little over an hour, dripping wet from the sweet tea. After that, I’m told, I drove to another friends house, told them I had been thrown out and that I needed a place to stay for a bit. This was the friend I spoke about in an earlier post, the atheist friend from high school. He said I could stay as long as I needed to and allowed me to crash on his couch.

Downey

That is what I have been told happened that night because the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange house, in a strange room, filled with strange things that I had no recollection of. I seriously feared that I had broken into someones house, the feeling was not a good one. I also could not understand why the hell I was so god damned sticky. As I began to gather my bearings I realized that I had been in this house before, and that it was a safe place for me to be. Shortly after my friend walked into the room and informed me of what had occurred the night before.

This would be my living arrangement for the next month as I sorted everything out. If it hadn’t been for the few friends I had made just prior to leaving the ministry, I don’t know what I would have done. During that month, the only way I was allowed to see the children was if I agreed to have sex with my ex. This went on a couple of times before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut things off completely. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t see the kids anymore but at the same time I had broken free from a horrible situation. I was both liberated and crushed.

Towards the end of my month stay, I decided to go through my past and seek out people who I might have hurt, both prior to becoming a minister and as a minister. I found that shortly after leaving the ministry and after getting thrown out of my house, all of the anger and hatred from the years passed began to melt away. I realized that in many of the relationships I had throughout the past, I had been at fault for much of what had gone on and wanted to personally atone for those issues.

This was a stark contrast to my time in the faith when I would atone through asking forgiveness and not actually seek to fix the broken and burnt bridges I had caused. The first person I knew I would seek out was the beautiful redheaded girl who had hurt me almost a decade earlier. We had divorced and the pain from that relationship had eventually driven me into the arms of faith and now out I could see much clearer exactly what had happened. I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request, she accepted it almost immediately.

I sat there for what seemed like forever and eventually typed out these words…

“Hey, you look like a girl I used to know.”

To continue on to part 26, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 24

For part 23 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

““How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” – Jeremiah 8:8 ESV

My marriage was a wreck, my schooling was going well, and my ministry was still decent but I was definitely not happy. The more I learned in my studies the less of the bible made sense. I took a world civilization course and found that there were thriving civilizations, pretty much the world over, by the time that any of the biblical stories were to have taken place. For fun, and yes…I’m odd, I took a geology course and found that there is absolutely no evidence for a biblical flood. Philosophy taught me that good people could be found outside the walls of faith. My worldview was beginning to crumble and my mind would back to the thoughts about my cousin’s suicide, a topic that I tried to avoid because of how it made me feel about my faith.

Around this time another book of Plato’s fell into my hands. It was “Apology,” which speaks of the trial and death of Socrates. Within its pages, the ruling class brings charges against Socrates for corrupting the youth with his teachings. Socrates, then lays out exactly why he wasn’t wrong to speak on the subjects that he did and goes on to explain why he feels like he is being wrongly accused. The trial ends and Socrates is sentenced to death, his followers attempt to steal him away to safety but he stands firm and drinks the poison given to him, knowing that it does more harm to those who accused him, to kill an innocent man, than to drink the poison and end his own life.

The man who had become the epitome of goodness had ended his own life by drinking the poison given to him. He could have run and hid but instead he met his fate with dignity. I remember thinking, does that mean that Socrates is in hell? Now I realize that there is debate on whether Socrates was an actual person but that really didn’t matter to me, what did was the idea that a god would send anyone as good as Socrates to hell was not a good god. Could it even be called a god?

For several months I had attempted to preach in a way that was acceptable to me. That meant basically throwing out the bible, outside of a starter scripture for the sermon, and then speaking on what I had learned through my studies and through reading philosophy. I began to realize that the people in the seats weren’t even actually listening to the words coming out of my mouth. If I raised my voice, I would get a spattering of “amens” regardless of what I was talking about. If I stomped my feet, I’d get a “Hallelujah,” shouted from someone in the congregation. I found that I could literally talk about anything and still the same responses would be heard from the congregation.

So one Sunday, I went to church and began my sermon with no scripture. In its place I read:

“Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.”

If you are a fan of philosophy and have read the works of Plato, you will be able to tell that the line I just wrote is from Plato’s apology. I then preached a sermon surrounding the idea of a good man being torn apart by those who would seek to have him silenced. Never once did I mention god, not once did I refer to the bible or Jesus.  I still received the same “amen’s” and “hallelujah.” Afterwards, only one of the people in the congregation said anything about the quality of the sermon, and this person said they had never heard a sermon that was so good.

After that I continued to preach mostly philosophy, using quotes that I found interesting from Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, etc… Never once did anyone try to get me back on biblical topics and yet still the same responses from my congregation. This worked well for a while, yet I still felt horrificly empty inside. My life was a mess and around this point I started having health issues.

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One morning I woke up to get out of bed and found that my legs were completely numb. After about 30 minutes I managed to get out of bed and some of the feeling returned to my legs. Walking became increasingly hard and I was forced to purchase a cane in order to get around. The doctors that I visited were completely stumped on what was causing my sudden health issues. They ran countless tests and outside of some arthritis in my back, nothing else could be found that was wrong with me. For me, the fact that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me was worse than if they had found something seriously wrong.

Due to my health issues, my mental state deteriorated even more. I no longer cared about anything, I would arrive at services without having given a single thought to what I was going to speak on, though did it really matter? No one was actually paying attention to what I was saying anyway. During one sermon, I had a bit of a breakdown, at least that is what I believe it was, because halfway through my sermon, I stopped talking and just stared blankly out at the congregation. Five minutes must have passed when I finally came to, and instead of continuing speaking, I instead went into a diatribe about all the reasons why I believe Star Trek is better in quality to Star Wars…I actually did get talked to after this sermon, though it was by a young boy in the church who completely disagreed with my assertions.

spock.jpg

One Sunday morning, I stood around after the service and sat down in the front pew. With everyone gone, I finally found the courage to ask what had been on the tip of my tongue for so long…”Are you real, god?” I began shaking profusely, crying my eyes out, and begging for god to show himself to me and prove his existence. I beat at my chest and screamed at the top of my lungs. I knelt down and pleaded, “God, if you are real, now is the time to show me, I’m at the end of my rope, if you don’t make yourself real to me again, I may end my own life.” My prayers were not answered, no miraculous appearing was to be had, and after a while, I picked myself up and walked out the door.

“Are you real, god?”

Later that day I confided in two people about my doubts. The first was my wife at the time. I told her that I no longer believed the bible was true and that I was questioning if god was real as well. Not long after this would I find out how bad the decision to confide in my wife had been.

The second person, was another minister. He informed me that everyone went through periods of doubt like I did and that it was completely normal. He said the key was to fake your faith until your faith becomes real to you again. That’s basically what I had been doing and it made me feel disgusting. Hearing him speak those words though did something to me, it confirmed to me that other ministers didn’t believe in god and were faking it. How many ministers in my past had been faking it, all while telling us how we are less than perfect without god and that we need to believe without question? I was sick both physically and mentally and I knew that something had to change.

A month went by and still I had no answers, the bible no longer made any sense, my faith made no sense, my life made no sense, and my heart was empty. I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart and I would start to do something and completely lose focus after a few moment. My life was absolute hell. Something had to change and if god didn’t show himself to me, I would take matters into my own hands.

“I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart…”

I spent most of the next week in prayer, once again asking god to reveal himself to me. I would say:

It’s Monday morning god, you have 6 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Wednesday morning god, you have 4 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Friday night god, you have 1 day to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Sunday morning god and I’m sitting in church, you have 10 minutes to reveal yourself to me.

When no revelation occurred, I walked up to the pulpit, gave a heartfelt message about lost love and how we all know the feeling of being lost, I finished my sermon by saying that I was lost. I blamed my health issues and told the church that I needed some time off to collect my thoughts and hopefully get better physically.

I went home that day with an immense feeling of freedom. I walked into my home and I sat down on my bed and began reading some Plato. My wife was out of the house and I believed she was having another affair which would soon be confirmed. When she arrived home, she found me sitting there reading my book. It was close to time for Sunday night services and she asked me if I would be going to church soon. I looked at her straight in the eye, I said:

“No, I’m not going to church tonight or possibly ever again. I want a divorce.”

To continue on to part 25, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 21

To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

My faith was strong. I spent long periods of time in prayer nearly every day. I communicated with god daily as well as spent much time reading my bible each day. I say this because the following blog posts will show how one might lose their faith and I get tired of hearing people say, “You didn’t lose your faith, you never had real faith.” If all that I did during my ministry can’t be called real faith, then no one actually has faith. There isn’t a single person on earth who could be considered faithful if my own journey is negated as fake faith. I preached the gospel for years and not a single person would have questioned my faith then, yet now it is one of the major arguments that I hear almost daily.


Thanksgiving Day, 2013, began like any other Thanksgiving has, I awoke ready to eat Turkey and stuffing. This year was going to be a bit special because not only was I going to be at my grandmothers house, as I am every year, but my grandmother had invited her two living sisters and all of their family. Normally I don’t do well with crowds but the idea of having that many of my family all together was a joyous celebration. Not too many years before there had been a huge wedge between my grandmother and her sisters due to the circumstances surrounding my great grandmother’s death. One sister had basically been left everything in the will and this had caused a major split in the family.

Luckily though, over the last couple years, that gap had been filled and we were enjoying being one big happy family again. I arrived at my grandmother’s house and was filled with the warm and delicious smells of home cooked thanksgiving dinner. There were three turkeys, two huge bowls of mashed potatoes, a humongous tray of stuffing and all the rest of the fixings for an amazing meal.  We sat around chatting and waiting for the eventual time that dinner would be ready and we could all stuff ourselves sick.

We were getting ready to eat when my great aunt realized that one of her grandsons was not in attendance. She called him on the phone and he told her that he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time. She told him that we all hoped that he felt better and if he did he was more than welcome to show up late and grab a plate of food, if he didn’t she promised to make him a plate and take it to him later that night.

“…he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time.”

My cousin had recently begun coming to the church that I ministered at and the Sunday prior to that Thanksgiving he had been saved during one of my services. It was an absolutely joyous event because this was my closest cousin, only a month younger than me, and we had lived fairly parallel lives. Both raised in the Pentecostal church, both fell away during our teens, both of us struggled with early marriages that fell apart, and both of us had also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in our early twenties, my cousin though had only broken that spell a few short weeks before Thanksgiving, at least that is what we had all thought. I cannot count the amount of times my great aunt had requested prayer for god to touch his life like he had mine, and bring him back to the church like I had done. So his getting saved was a miraculous event in our family.

“I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day.”

The dinner went off without a hitch, everything was fantastic. I had two huge plates of food and later that day returned for another huge plate of food. There was so much that we all took home enough food that no one would need to cook for the next couple of days. The day was perfect, it was one of those rare occasions in life that I could truly say that I was blissful. I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day.  As I laid down to go to sleep, happiness filled my heart, and I couldn’t wait to get to church the next Sunday to tell everyone what an amazing day it had been. As soon as I started to drift off to sleep, the phone rang.

The voice on the other end of the phone was my father, I could instantly tell that something was wrong. My father almost never cries and I could hear the quiver in his voice as he began to talk. “This is your dad, “*your cousin” took a shotgun and shot himself tonight, he’s been rushed to the hospital but he isn’t going to make it.” I don’t know if I finished the call or not, all I remember was being on my knees begging god to save my cousins life. How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?

How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?

I fell asleep that night on my knees. Awakening in a lot of pain I realized that as the minister and family member of a large portion of my church, it was my job to call and inform everyone on what had happened. First though I made the trip to my great aunts house to check in on her. She was in shambles, my cousin had a daughter who was just around 7 or 8 at the time and all she kept saying was, “my daddy shot himself last night.” I tried my best to comfort my aunt before heading back home and picking up the phone. Every call was excruciating and between each call I would bawl profusely. A minister must be strong in a time like this but I was destroyed. Finally all the calls had been made and I let myself completely release all the grief that I felt. I went to bed that night with a horrible headache and all the questions I had asked myself still unanswered.

Sunday was coming up and it was my turn to preach. I knew my message had to be one of comfort to my family, who would all be hurting as well as uplifting to everyone affected by my cousins suicide. I prepared a sermon that was in reality, one part sermon, and one part eulogy. It wasn’t a very good message but all that I could come up with in my current state.

I remember sitting outside the church, in my car, for much longer than normal. I didn’t want to go inside, I didn’t want to be the one that people looked towards for comfort and stability. I knew it was going to be the hardest sermon I had ever delivered and I was not ready to give it. Finally, I got out of my vehicle and I walked inside.

When a tragedy occurs in a church it is often the thing on everyone’s lips the next Sunday and this tragedy was no different. People were coming up to me and offering condolences which I greatly appreciated. I comforted some family as best as I could but something took everything out of me. An older woman in the church came up to me and said how sorry she was after hearing that my cousin has committed suicide, she then went on to say how sad it was that he was now in hell for having committed the act. I began to hear others speaking the same thing throughout the church and my mind began to swim in grief and anger. In reality the comment shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did, it was well known that suicide was considered a sin that instantly sent the person to hell. They took their life and destroyed the temple that god had given them, it was unpardonable and I had even spoken on the subject in years past. This time though something snapped in my brain and as I took my seat all thoughts of the sermon I had prepared went out the window.

I don’t remember the songs that were sang, I don’t remember the prayers that were requested, I don’t remember walking to the stage but I do remember the first words that came out of my mouth.

“If god sends tortured souls like my cousin to hell, then he isn’t a good god and he isn’t a god that I could worship.”

The rest of my sermon is a complete blur. I’m told I gave a touching message on how the bible does not teach that suicide is unpardonable and that even a suicide can receive redemption and salvation. It is as if my body went into autopilot and my mind continued to swirl around the question, “Is god good?”

This was the very beginning of my doubts, but it definitely would not be the end of them.

To continue on to part 22, click here.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #3: Interpretation of Tongues

For last weeks post on speaking in tongues, click here.

So last week I discussed speaking in tongues, glossolalia, and so I thought I would talk today another “gift of the spirit” the interpretation of tongues.  Basically, after someone has given a message in tongues, according to scripture(At least in the Pentecostal church), someone else, or in some cases the same person, is supposed to stand and give an interpretation. This is also supposedly divinely given by god, as to what was just said in tongues. If that isn’t the most convoluted way to get a message across then I don’t know what is…

Imagine sitting in a bar with friends and all of you speak English. Yet you don’t talk to each other in English, first one guy talks in gibberish, then another friend tells you what he meant. The next round the second friend talks in gibberish and the first friend explains what he was saying. That’s basically how speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues works in the Pentecostal church.

Another aspect of the interpretation of tongues that I always found hilarious is that growing up, whenever someone gave an interpretation, god, speaking through the interpreter, almost always had an old English way of speaking.  I never once heard anyone interpret anything along the lines of, “Hey, people, god loves you and he wants you to keep doing what you’re doing. Good job.” Instead a “normal” interpretation would be something along the lines of this, “Oh ye my people, thine actions have been seen and thy glory has been shown to shine across the land. The lord thy god will bless thee and keep thee for the works that thou hast committed.”

Now granted, in other countries where the native language is not English, I would assume that the interpretation of tongues does not have this Old English way of speaking.  There is one reason and one reason only why the vast majority of American Pentecostals speak in this manner during interpretation, they assume god speaks like that because that is how the King James version of the bible is written. One can only assume that if the bible had been translated centuries later, in 1930’s New York ,god would then give interpretations that sound much like an Italian Mobster of that time. This began to change as the popularity of more modern interpretations of the bible began to be accepted by members of the church, however the older the congregant the more likely the message would be in old English.

One other thing that always struck me about the interpretation of tongues is that they almost never had anything of substance. Not once did I hear an interpretation where god said anything groundbreaking. It was always one of two things, to praise the church for being the best darn church in all of churchdom, or to admonish someone who the interpreter had an issue with. God seems to have a whole lot of time to do a whole lot of nothing, and in other cases god always seems to dislike the people who the interpreter disliked…isn’t that odd?

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 16

For part 15 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

(Video contains part 15 & 16)

Having a couple of services lined up filled me with a great deal of excitement. I awoke the next day and immediately called my pastor to tell him the good news.  He listened and after a few minutes said, “Ok, that’s great, but don’t forget you are a member of my church and need to be in services on Sunday, try not to schedule anymore Sunday services.” I was crushed…instead of the good feelings that had filled me before making the call I know felt guilty for missing church.

The feeling of guilt stuck with me for a couple of days, then it subsided and was replaced with a slow burning anger. How dare he crush my spirit and attempt to crush my ministry? I was deeply hurt by his sentiments and that hurt would stick with me, leaving a scar on my mind that would follow me through my ministry.  It wouldn’t be long though before even more issues occurred between myself and the minister of the church I was attending.

Churches are actually very fragile things. It doesn’t take much to completely split a church down the middle and in the Pentecostal church, the risk of this is even greater, at least in my opinion. There seems to be a constant power struggle between groups of believers in Pentecostal churches over who understands the right interpretation of scripture. These differences can easily spill over into services and create a deep sense of tension. Just before I preached my first sermon, the church I was attending had just started going through one of these situations.

While my family were Pentecostals, there were certain rules that we ignored. For one, my mother has always had short hair, something considered a sin by many in the church and two, we admitted to owning a TV and using it for more than religious programming.  We also went to movies at the theater, went roller skating, and we even went bowling from time to time. All things that some Pentecostals consider as great evils to avoid. So while we were fundamentalists, we were far too liberal for some in the faith.

Just before I started preaching, a new family started coming to our church. They were old school strict and dogmatic Pentecostals, and they hated my family. I don’t say that lightly, because my great-grandfather had been crucial in stripping the ministerial credentials from the patriarch of the other family. He had been teaching some things that were not quite considered sane by the standards of the church. So when they started coming to our church, I remember thinking, this means trouble.

It wasn’t long before they started taking over the services. Interrupting sermons with messages of prophecy, or tongues, which always seemed to have scathing remarks against my family. It was alluded to that the church was filled with vipers who clung to the world and that if the church would just shake itself free of this evil, it could experience a great revival. Every service was like this and yet the pastor did nothing to stop it. What was important to him was that each Sunday, this new family were bringing more and more of their relatives into the church.

“It was alluded to that the church was filled with vipers who clung to the world…”

Things came to a head when during the Sunday morning service. The week prior I had preached my third sermon at the other church and it had gone very well. There was interest in having me come in as a more regular fill in, but I had told them that I would have to think about it because of what the minister had told me. One of the women in this family pointed at my mother and called her Satan, causing my mother to laugh.  This laugh brought looks of hatred from the woman and after the service, she literally grabbed my mother by her hair and knocked her to the ground. My mother is disabled and that was the last straw.  My family and I walked out that Sunday morning and we never returned.

“…she literally grabbed my mother by her hair and knocked her to the ground.”

The other family had won complete control of the services. They ran nearly everyone out, who had been a member of the church prior to their arrival, and started having trouble with each other. A couple of months later, that family moved on to another church and our former pastor was left with an empty building, everyone else having been ran off.

When the next Sunday arrived, I couldn’t wait to get to the church that I had been ministering at. I told the deacons of the church that i would be very happy to fill in and talked to the minister who had conducted my marriage about receiving credentials with his denomination. It was incredibly simple. All I needed to do was take a short test on basic pentecostal theology, sign a pledge that I would uphold the basic tenets of the church, and send 50 dollars to their national headquarters. Two weeks later I received my certificate. I was now a licensed minister with a full gospel denomination.

After receiving my credentials I began to spread my wings in the ministry. I was now preaching nearly every Sunday night, but I also got to lead Wednesday night bible studies, had a growing youth group in my new church, and taught the teen Sunday school class, with complete control over my lessons and activities.  My ministry was just beginning but it seemed like nothing but good things were going to come from it. I was sure that god had blessed my ministry and I would see it explode like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I was horribly naive…

To continue on to part 17, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 15

For part 14 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

(Video contains part 15 and 16)

Being contacted with a preaching opportunity, cleared my mind of all the negativity that had been running though it. Instantly I was excited and “on fire” for god again.  The woman on the phone had explained that my grandfather had been filling in on Sunday nights, but since he was getting ready to have treatment for Prostate cancer, he needed some time off and had recommended that they contact me to see if I would fill in one Sunday.

The church that I would be filling in at was one of the most fundamentalist Assembly of God churches in the area.  For several years they had been without a pastor and the Assembly of God higher-ups had recommended they close up shop. Several of the women in the congregation had refused to shut down and since the Assemblies refused to send a full-time pastor, they had chosen to have fill-ins from various Pentecostal denominations.  For the last several months the preaching had been done by my Grandfather on Sunday nights, a female Assembly of God pastor on Sunday mornings, and Wednesday nights were covered by the minister from the Full Gospel church that had recently conducted the ceremony for my marriage.

I knew that if I was going to be taken seriously, I would have to prepare a strong message full of hell fire, brimstone, Christ’s suffering, A hell to shun and a heaven to gain.  I sat down to prepare my sermon and was surprised when an hour later I was finished. The message came to me so easily I felt that it had to be divinely inspired, but in reality it was probably just the fact that I had sat in so many services, I could probably write a sermon in my sleep. Sermon writing is fairly easy to tell you the truth. All you need for a sermon is an introduction, three main points, each having a couple of sub-points, and a conclusion.  Any paper you’ve ever written for a class or any application you have ever filled out has been harder that preparing a sermon that will cause people to shout “amen”.

As the day approached I found myself getting more and more excited.  I remember how good that anticipation felt and how strong my faith was during that time before the sermon. I was going to save souls and rescue folks from the fires of hell. When the day arrived I was nearly jumping with excitement. Walking up the steps to the church, I took a deep breath and stepped in. I went straight to the altar and spent nearly an hour praying while the service began. I took my seat filled with a deep appreciation for the opportunity that I had been given. The song service was exciting filled with old gospel songs like, “Hold the Fort,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Everybody Will Be Happy Over There.” Then came my moment, I approached the pulpit, looked out at the congregation and saw the excited faces of 12 people.

Nothing is more discouraging to a minister than a church full of empty pews, but it didn’t matter to me that night. I opened my mouth and out poured my sermon. I jumped, I stamped, I paced the stage pointing out at the church at just the right moments. It probably wasn’t my best sermon but it was definitely one of my most passionate.  I heard an “Amen” and that sent me into overdrive, a hand shot in the air and my passion increased 10 times. Now, I will tell you, I’ve done a lot of drugs over the years, but there isn’t a single high that has ever compared to the feeling of having an audience in the palm of your hand.

At the end of the service an old man, bent over and barely able to move walked toward the pulpit, he asked for prayer and when I laid my hands on him, he began to shake, a few seconds later he burst into tears and shot his hands into the air, the next thing I know he is running around the church. In my mind I had just healed a lame man in the same manner as Jesus in the Bible. It would be months before I realized that this man did the same thing nearly every service he attended.

From behind the pulpit I delivered the priestly blessing from Numbers 6 to the congregation. We prayed once more and I dismissed the service. Afterwords everyone shook my hand and told me how good the service was. My great-aunt who was in attendance told me she hadn’t heard a sermon like that in nearly 30 years and she hoped I would be back soon. I drove home still feeling the high of the service.

When I got home my phone rang and once again it was the same woman. She wanted to tell me once more how good the sermon that night had been and asked if i could fill in the next two Sunday nights as well. I agreed, and hung up the phone. I had done it, I was a minister and I had more than one preaching date in my future. It took some time that night to get to sleep, due to the level of excitement that I still felt long into the night. I was doing gods work and I knew good things were in my future.

To continue on to part 16 of my journey, click here.