My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 9

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 8 of my journey click here.

“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” – Proverbs 26:11

Looking back, I believe that my outlook changes so suddenly because I had a form of mental breakdown on the way back home, after attempting to chase the bus. My brain wasn’t capable of accepting the truth and so it created its own truth. It would be years before I realized just how easily our minds can do this. At the time, however, I thought that I was better off and in the short-term I was at least able to look past my current issues and attempt to make sense of my life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just my ex that I quit caring about. It was anything and everything that I had ever found enjoyment in and especially anything that I didn’t especially want to do.  One of the first things that I did was quit my job. The second thing I did was sell all of my video games and equipment. I would sit, alone, looking at the walls in my apartment for long periods of time. I would eat once every couple of days, and with what money I did have, I spent on alcohol.  It’s not that this was the way I planned to live but shortly after waking up I would see a bottle, pick it up, sit down in a chair and not do anything else.

My family was especially worried and my brother spent a few days with me just to make sure that I wasn’t suicidal.  Even as bad as things were, I had no plans of offing myself. In reality, I don’t even think I could have come up with the motivation to attempt anything of the sort. This went on for nearly two weeks until one of my neighbors knocked and asked if I wanted to hang out with them for the day.  I acquiesced, even though the thought of spending time with another human being was dreadful at best for me at the time.

After a few hours of conversation I found that I did feel somewhat better and so this became my normal routine. Get up, drink, go to my friend’s apartment, hang out for a couple of hours, go home, drink some more, and then go to sleep. It wasn’t much of an existence but at least it was somewhat better than drinking alone all day looking at the walls.

Even before I had quit my last job, we had been badly behind on bills. At around the third week, the electricity was cut off, and at four weeks, the water was shut off as well.  In order to get by I would fill large jugs from my friend’s house and would only eat when something was offered to me. I think the longest I went without food was around 4 days. Anyway, it wasn’t very long after the water was shut off that my landlord informed me that I had a week to vacate the premises.  Having really no place else to turn I called my parents and asked if I could stay with them for a few days until I found somewhere else to stay.

If I could pinpoint the most humiliating moment of my life, it was when I moved back home.  It was not something that I had ever planned on doing, having moved out at 18 I thought I was ahead of those who were forced to live with their parents well into their twenties, but having lost everything else I went back home. On of the things that bothered me the most about moving home is that I knew I was going to have to quit drinking. My mother and father are complete prohibitionists when it comes to alcohol and I knew that if they even assumed I had drunk anything, I would be back out on the street.

So I quit drinking, at least for the short-term and moved home. My parents had an old camper in their backyard which they allowed me to move into. This at least gave me some sense of privacy but the nights were unbearably cold. Even with the space heater on full blast, the temperature barely escaped the 40’s, inside the camper, during the cold Iowa winter.  Even so, the small amount of privacy, and the time to get my thoughts together was therapeutic. After a few days I began to feel almost human again.

I lived in the camper for about a week, when one bright cold morning I heard my father banging loudly on the outside wall of the camper.  I hadn’t slept well the night before and had gotten to sleep around 3 in the morning.  I remember thinking, as I opened the door, this had better be important. Before the door was completely opened the words that my father was screaming became clear in my mind.

 “GET UP, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!”

Upon opening the door, the smell of smoke was thick in the air. I saw a cloud of black smoke pouring from the roof and heard the distant sound of firetrucks heading our direction. Everyone made it out of the house fine, but the house was totaled.  A mouse or squirrel had bitten through a wire in the attic and started the fire going, luckily a neighbor had been awake and called the fire department just after the fire started.  My father’s radio went off and he was quite astounded to find they were sending trucks to our house.  He nearly called and told them it was a false alarm, but upon second thought he walked outside to check and that’s around the same time he ran to wake me.

We spent the next two nights at my grandmother’s house. I slept in the same room which my wife and I had slept only a year earlier.  I remembered how good it had felt to be back in Iowa and how hopeful I had been for our future. A deep depression swept over me and the need to escape was great. If we had spent any more time there I might have lost my mind but instead we were allowed to move into another home in the same town as the one which had just burned.

In this new home there were enough bedrooms for me to stay in the house and so I did. I had a small room but I made it my own and I began to once again feel better about my situation. I got online one day and found an e-mail from an old high school friend. He lived in Des Moines and was looking for a roommate. This was the key to my independence. I called him up and moved in with him a few days later.

To continue reading, find part 10 here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 8

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 7 click here.

              “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”     – Ephesians 5:25  

At first it seemed like being back in Iowa would be very good for me. Starting out we lived in an upstairs room at my grandparents house.  It was relaxing and good to be back with family but the nightmares and the anxiety attacks didn’t go away. I would awake numerous times in the middle of the night, cold with sweat, and my heart beating rapidly. During the day I would have someone walk up behind me, or hear a loud noise, and my heart would nearly stop. I had to find some way to deal with the anxiety that I was experiencing and so I went to the doctor.

About six months prior to this I had been on Zoloft due to stress at work, and it had seemed to work perfectly. However at the time it wasn’t cheap and there was no generic brand to help with the cost. When I quit my job at the prison, I lost my insurance, and so I no longer had a means of paying for the drug. So I had to quit cold turkey, which made the anxiety come back in force.

The doctor prescribed me amitriptyline, which he said was exactly like Zoloft. Not only that but because I was on a high dosage of zoloft he started me out on the high dosage of the new drug. I would learn later that this was a big mistake.  The drug worked really well, if by really well I meant it made me sleep nearly 20 hours per day. I would take a pill, fall asleep shortly after, wake up, eat something, take another pill, and be out again. This cycle went on for about a week before I had to stop taking the drug as it would make getting a job, as well as getting out of my grandmother’s house, impossible.

So I stopped taking the drug. The effect was almost instantaneous as the anxiety returned and I fell into a deep depression, one that would take years to pull myself out of. I did get a job and we found a small apartment to live in, but my work ethic was awful and so I bounced from job to job over the next several months. The anxiety and depression continued to build during this time.

If there is something that I regret more than anything else in my life is that I didn’t share with my wife how I was doing. instead I became distant and would escape from the anxiety in video games for more hours per day than i would like to admit. This led to my wife feeling as if I didn’t want or need her around, while at the same time her mother was telling her that I would never change and that I was never going to be the kind of man who her daughter deserved.

See, in reality, her mother had always hated me. She would refer to me as that dumb corn-fed Iowa boy, or more sweetly as Gomer Pyle. She saw me as the exact opposite of what a man should be, and this led to much strife between the two of us while Jennifer and I had lived in Texas. Outside of Texas she continued her campaign to rid me from her daughter’s life, through long telephone calls.  Now, after many years, I can somewhat see that she was right in some ways, but at the same time she never gave me enough of a chance to prove myself either.

It was much the same with my own mother and Jennifer. Things were more cordial but my mother was very clear that she didn’t believe we were right for each other. No one could be good enough for my mother and add to this the fact that Jennifer was a practicing pagan at the time and fireworks occurred several times during this period of our lives together. Jennifer was a take no shit type person, and my mother would take the passive-aggressive route. I on the other hand tried to stay out of the whole situation which led to my wife’s feelings being hurt, knowing I wouldn’t stick up for her.

Anyway, after several months of living in the apartment, with a husband who was more interested in his video games than her, my wife decided that she had been through enough.  Add to this, the promise of signing up for college classes had been broken because at the time I was so insecure that I believed if she did go to school, she would find someone smarter and better than me, whom she would leave me for.  The fact that I couldn’t seem to keep a job didn’t help matters either.

Shortly before this, I had begun working for a construction company that built prefab homes throughout the Midwest. If there was any job that I hated more than working at the prison it was construction. For one, I was absolutely awful at it, and two, I couldn’t stand any of the neanderthals that I was forced to work with. These men were disgusting, sleeping with anything that could move and pretending to be good family men with a wife and kids at home. It wasn’t long before word got back to my wife that I was soon to be unemployed again. She was done.

I came home from work one week and found my wife waiting for me. She took me out to a little gazebo outside of the apartment and let me know that she was leaving me.  I begged her to reconsider, bawled my eyes out and assured her that I would change, but she had made up her mind. Our marriage was over. I have never felt pain to that degree before, it was as if my heart was trying to force itself out of my body and leave me for the empty shell that I was.  I don’t think I have ever cried so hard or shook with grief.

A few days later, my wife was on her way back to Texas on the bus. A family member had purchased her a ticket and taken her to the bus stop.  I was called and told that she was on her way. I jumped into my car and drove as fast as I could in an effort to catch the bus. Nearly 50 miles later I realized that my effort was a futile one, I pulled over and bawled my eyes out. Then something clicked in my mind and when I say click I mean in an instant my mind went from complete grief to rage.

I drove home cussing everything that I could think of. I screamed at the top of my lungs and tore at my clothes all while driving much faster than the speed limit, it is a wonder I didn’t get pulled over. Upon reaching my house, I tore the place to pieces. Breaking anything and everything that I could get my hands on.  I decided I was glad my wife was gone, I hated my wife, I couldn’t stand the thought of her. I went out of my way to promote the idea that I was happy that she was gone and over time I even convinced myself. This anger would stay with me for much of the next decade.

For part 9 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 7

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 6 click here.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

Meeting Jennifer absolutely turned my life upside down. I had never talked to a more interesting and profound person in all of my life. She lived in Texas, which was obviously a bit of a problem but through the internet and telephone conversations we were able to become very good friends fairly quickly.  However, I wanted more and so one night I asked her if she might be interested in a long-distance relationship. The plan was that eventually I could travel to Texas and see her or she could travel to Iowa to see me and we would see how things went.

At this time in her life, Jennifer ascribed to a pagan/Wiccan style faith which meant to me that she was more or less a devil worshiper but she was really cute and by that point I didn’t really care. We would spend hours on-line talking to each other and always had a great time talking about any number of topics. I got a job in the next town over, mainly so that I could afford phone cards and save up money for my eventual trip to Texas to see her.  I cannot even imagine the hundreds of dollars that I spent on phone cards alone.

As I said, the plan was to take things slow and eventually visit each other a few times to see how things would go. Those plans all changed when one morning I drove to work, a tire and lube shop/gas station, and found all of my co-workers huddled around a small radio in the back of the shop. Several customers were standing there with them and several of the employees were obviously crying. I asked one of my co-workers what had happened and he told me that someone had flown a plane into one of the twin towers and then shortly after that another plane hit the second tower. The news was dire, I listened as the first tower fell and we all stood shocked as the news came of the second tower going down as well.

Such a shocking situation causes you to rethink everything in your life. I was more or less going nowhere in Iowa. I still felt as if I couldn’t truly be myself in the local area and I desperately wanted out. Jennifer on the other hand was distraught and worried that we might never be able to meet if things got too bad. You’ll have to remember that on this day, things went absolutely crazy. As an example, The gas station I worked for changed the price of gas from $1.34 per gallon to well over $7.00 per gallon. Even so there was well over a mile long line of cars waiting to fill up, fearing that our nation was going to face some type of invasion. Traffic was at an absolute standstill, a major feat considering I live in a rural area that you rarely meet more than a handful of vehicles on your daily commute.

After work that night I called Jennifer and we talked for quite some time. We decided that I could move down there and live with her and her mother for a while until I could find a place for us both to stay. I bought a bus ticket the next day and about a month later I was on my way to Texas. When I arrived in Texas I saw her standing there. She was even more beautiful that I could have ever dreamed possible. I’ll always remember that first kiss we shared there at the bus stop. That night sitting on her roof, she sang me a song and I thought that things had never been more perfect. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman from that very moment.

Being so far away from home was hard but i enjoyed the freedom that it afforded me. Absolutely no one in Texas knew a thing about me. I was no longer that strange Pentecostal kid that everyone knew. I was a nobody and I completely loved that aspect of living so far away from home. We didn’t attend church and religion rarely was ever a topic in our house. Being with Jennifer was an absolute joy and that was the most important part of it all. We enjoyed each others company so much that we were married 7 months later.

Texas, on the other hand, was an excruciating experience for me. The heat was oppressive, I never knew it could be that hot and we didn’t have AC. On top of that the job market at the time wasn’t the best in the area we lived, especially for a kid right out of school. I did find work as a bagger at a Brookshire Brothers store in town but the pay was awful and the hours were minimal. It wasn’t long before I had to look for a better job, which I found, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I still have nightmares from my time as a Prison guard. Every single day that I would go to work, I knew, was going to be the day I died. The job was horrifying, I still find the clank of bars to send shivers down my spine. Obviously I didn’t die but that experience will never quite leave the back of my mind. During one night I was knocked down some stairs and stupidly, at the time, I hoped back up and turned down any medical assistance. I believe this has led to the severe back pain that I now experience almost constantly in my mid-30’s.

The other thing that my experience at the prison did was it changed my mind completely on the criminal justice system. I understand that criminals need some form of punishment but to be placed in a prison in Texas, with no AC, in the middle of Summer is cruel and unusual punishment. Not only that but it is absolutely dangerous, with the outside temps hot, the inner temperatures of the offenders could be even hotter and this leads to fighting and injuries. Even without the fights it is a dangerous environment, having seen several guards collapse from the heat and nearly go into shock. Lastly, Texas is fairly notorious for running their prisons with too few guards. I don’t think people realize just how easily a prison could be taken with the handful of guards that were on duty, at least this was the case during my time there.

I worked at the prison for over a year and was at my breaking point. I asked Jennifer, who had recently enrolled in college courses, if she would consider moving to Iowa. I promised her that when we got to Iowa she could soon sign up for classes at the local college there and that things would be much better for the both of us. In Texas we had almost no support system whatsoever, in Iowa my entire family would be their to help us out if a need ever arose. It took some pleading but eventually Jennifer agreed to move to Iowa with me.  One of my happiest memories in life was being able to tell my commanding officer at work that I was quitting.

As the we put the miles behind us and drew closer and closer to Iowa, I felt as if all of my problems were fading away. Being far away from the prison, I thought, would rid me of the nightmares and the constant anxiety that I had felt for so many months. Boy was I wrong and in the end, my anxiety and nightmares would be the least of my worries.

For part 8 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 6

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 5 of my journey click here.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” – Exodus 20:12

The rest of my family’s time in Branson was fairly awful and routine. We only lived there a few short years but it seemed like we went up and down, from just about making ends meet to near financial collapse. It was a deeply troubling time for my childhood. My parents had never argued much growing up but these two short years it seemed like arguments were an almost daily struggle. It was obvious to me that moving to Branson had never been gods plan in the first place.

My mother found work at a small shop on the strip that sold decorative angel figurines. My father bounced from one job to another. When it was apparent that the boys ranch vision was little more than an elaborate con, my father and his former boss started a security business in old town Branson. Jobs were few and money was short. To make ends meet my father attempted phone sales and soon found it was not for him. He was hired to work at a small kiosk, outside the IMAX theatre, that sold decorative glass figurines, (A humorous endeavor since the kiosk was tiny and my father is a tall and large framed man. He probably broke more figurines than he ever sold.) Finally, his break arrived when one of the larger hotels hired his company to provide security. Things seemed to get better for a short period of time when the hotel chain abruptly ended their contract, later we learned that the hotel was in severe financial problems and would close not long after.

After losing the security contract, Dad had reached his final straw. Reluctantly, he went back to Iowa, staying with his parents for a few weeks, while he found a job and a place for us to live. I was overjoyed. Not only were we moving back home but I would get to be with my friends again and we could put the Branson nightmare behind us. I would however miss the church and the friends that I had made there, but as I said in my last post, I thought the majority of them were foolish anyway.

Being back in familiar surroundings was wonderful, the thought of returning to the dull and droll sermons, in the church that hated children, however, was not so wonderful.  We attended the church that had been our home a few years earlier just a few short weeks before my parents decided it was not the environment we could endure. The minister had begun to have some mental issues, whether it was dementia or Alzheimer’s we may never know but his moods were anything but predictable. He could go from happily praising God to screaming at a member of the congregation for not being devout enough in second. We left that church and never returned.

The next church we attended would be my family’s home church for close to the next decade. The minister there was a kindly older man who I still think of fondly. He had actually been the minister at the Assembly of God church that my family attended during the 1980’s and so there was a connection there He also happened to be the minister that had dedicated me to the lord as an infant. (A ceremony in which parents offer their children to god, symbolically in the same manner that Abraham offered his son Isaac) So the family felt comfortable at his church and though the services weren’t as lively as we had been used to, there was at least no screaming at congregants. More to my liking, the services were incredibly short by the standards I had become used to, generally an hour or two instead of the 4 or 5 hour services we had attended in the past.

By this time I was nearing the age of 16 and the only things on my mind were girls and getting a car. I was working at a factory at night, getting rides from a friend, in hopes that I might save up to purchase my own vehicle soon. On my 16th birthday, just after getting my driver’s license, my parents surprised me with an old beat up vehicle that they weren’t too worried about and let me go. I had never experienced this amount of freedom before.

I would drive around constantly, listening to the radio and having to constantly switch the station due to the poor reception I received in the vehicle. I believe this might be where I earned my eclectic taste in music that almost no one but me can stand. The Punk rock genre became my passion though and I lived the life as well as one can in rustic southern Iowa. The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, The Dead Milkmen, and Greenday were personal favorites. There music spoke to me in a way that nothing outside of religious euphoria had ever come close to.  I began collecting albums almost immediately much to the chagrin of my parents, who found the lyrics to be satanic and the beat far too quick to enjoy.

I began staying out late and sleeping very little, I started drinking and experimenting with pills and drugs, you could say that I had fallen into the wrong crowd. I, however, found the experience to be absolutely marvelous. I still believed in god but over time I had begun to tire of the dogmatic approach to the gospels. I was bored with all of the rules and tired of having to worry every single day about some sin I might have committed without ever knowing it. I quite praying and by the time I was 17 I quit going to church. Understand that during this time, I was still a fundamentalist at heart but a fundamentalist who knew and didn’t care that he was going to hell.

Around this time I got into a serious relationship with a girl from another town. This relationship would last nearly a year and would end up being one of the most abusive experiences of my life. If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship then it is hard to grasp how easy the abuser can make the victim feel as if it is their fault they are being abused. At this same time I began to question why god would allow me to be treated so poorly? Was it because I was so sinful? Was it because I had quit on god and not became a minister? Was it because god really didn’t exist? I decided I would go with option 3, really knowing nothing about atheism and yet still calling myself an atheist. It was more of a rebellion from my parents since I still thought that in reality a god had to exist.

Thankfully, that relationship didn’t last too long and I was able to break it off without getting myself killed. Although she did try to run me over with her car the day I broke up with her, after I had stopped to get back some of my things.  I was happy to be away from that situation and in all honesty I had better things to do with my time. I had met an absolutely gorgeous girl on-line and while we were fairly good friends at the time I was hoping that maybe I could make it something more.  She was fun to talk to and knew all sorts of things about topics that I had no understanding. She introduced me to music I had never heard before and ideas that I had never thought before. In my mind I said to myself, I’m going to marry this woman some day, and you know what, I was right…even if things didn’t go exactly as I had planned…

For part 7 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 4

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part three click here.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

Finding out that I was going to preach just a short time in the future sent me into a panic. I had never prepared a sermon before and heck at that point I had never even prepared a speech in school before. The closest experience that I had in this area would have been the book reports we were forced to give in front of the class and even with those I had performed awfully. I’ve always been a very nervous person when it comes to speaking in front of a group and this was going to involve topics that I believed others in the church would know much more about. I was terrified.

Since the church we attended had so little to do for the children, my mother had started a youth group, every other Saturday, from 1 to 2pm. I mention the time because that was all we were allotted, one hour every two weeks. We were also told explicitly that we were not allowed to turn on the heat or the AC and even though Iowa isn’t the warmest of places, mid-May can be fairly hot at times. None of this mattered though because it gave me an opportunity to practice in front of a group prior to my actual preaching experience.

I asked my mother if it would be alright to prepare a sermonette(A short sermon) for the youth group and she said I could. So now I had a group and I had a time to practice but what would I speak on? My mind was a complete cloud and so my mother suggested that I give a sermon on the love of god. I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the topic, wanting much more to preach a fire and brimstone style sermon but without any idea of how to come up with a sermon like that on my own, I agreed to preach on god’s love.

I scoured the Bible, picked out a bunch of scriptures that dealt with god’s love and built a small sermon around it. All I can remember from the sermon now is that John 3:16 was the central verse and I talked about how god’s love is even better than a parents love because god will love you forever whereas parents can only love you while they are alive. Looking back at it, it’s pretty grim stuff and not something that I am particularly proud of but hey, it was my first sermon.

The next week at youth group, the sermonette went off without a hitch. At the end of the sermon I asked if anyone wanted to be saved and my best friend raised his hand. I still have no idea whether he did so since we were friends or if he actually felt the need to get saved but at the time the feeling was intense. I hadn’t expected it and I think I probably led him in the worst “sinner’s prayer” that has ever been uttered. (Remember we were back at an Assemblies church at this point and they believe salvation comes through faith not the speaking of tongues)  I might feel awful about this if not for the fact that I know my friend grew up to be an atheist tattoo artist who does fairly well for himself. My indoctrination didn’t stick with him at least.

So getting my first sermon out-of-the-way, in front of the youth, was encouraging. It went so well that I got a bit overconfident and imagined the hundreds that might come forward at my grandfather’s church to get saved.  My grandfather preached at a run down church in Missouri, with an average attendance of 20, so my imagination was far greater than any actual experience that would ever occur.  Even so, I was pumped and ready to get my opportunity to preach.

The days seemed to go by so slowly from that point on. What had seemed to be such a short period of time before giving my sermonette, now seemed like it would never occur. I passed the time by reading my bible, studying the scriptures that I was preaching on, and probably a good amount of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on the NES. If there was one thing that I enjoyed more than church at the time, it was video games, and that one in particular was amazing…..but I digress….

My Grandfather’s church was small and had a small but dedicated group of ultra-conservative, ultra-pentecostal, and mostly ultra-old members as a congregation.  These were the type of Pentecostals that didn’t believe in TV, home-schooled all of their kids in christian theology, and saw everything that might be considered as even the smallest amount of fun as evil. I found out after my sermon that none of them were thrilled with the idea of a child preaching to them.

The Sunday finally came and the service went by as usual, then the time of the sermon came and my grandfather called me up to the stage. I could barely see over the pulpit and as I went to put my bible onto it, I dropped it. All of my neatly placed bookmarks fell out as well.  I picked my bible up and tried to remember any of the scriptures that I had planned. They were gone, my mind was blank. I could hear the sounds of the congregants beginning to get annoyed and so I decided to give the same sermonette that I had given the youth group weeks earlier.

Only one problem, after I read John 3:16 I looked out at the congregation and saw nothing but angry faces. I tried to speak and nothing came out. I stood there paralyzed for about 5 minutes before my grandfather stood up, walked over to me and told me to go sit down behind him. I sat there on the pew behind my grandfather and bawled. He gave a quick sermon and let everyone go as quickly as possible. After the service he tried to give me some words of encouragement, tried to tell me that every minister has a bad sermon their first time and that since I got it out-of-the-way so young, I would have no problem as I grew older and stronger in my faith.

I heard my grandfathers words and they did make me feel slightly better. In my mind though I had only one thought. A thought that would haunt me years later and would bring me back into the ministry, eventually, years later. The thought was this…

“Well god, I did what you wanted and you failed me. I’ll never preach again and it’s all your fault. I hate preaching and I think I might hate you.”

For part 5 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 3

To Start at the beginning of my journey click here.
For part 2 click here.

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” -Matthew 5:28

Receiving the baptism of the holy spirit, in the Full Gospel church, was, in a way, to become an adult member of the church. At only ten years old I was allowed to speak in front of the church, share testimonies, and take part in the laying on of hands when the prayer service began. Some in the Pentecostal faith believe that children have a purer, less tainted by the world, form of faith and so it wasn’t all that uncommon for a member of the church to specifically ask for the children who had received the baptism to come forward and pray for them.  It was exhilarating to be respected in the way that I was by both the adults and those my age who had not received the baptism yet.

We spent the next couple of years in attendance at this church. I loved the fast pace of the services, the music was like a rock concert, there was a bassist, a guitar player, and a drummer who could really get the place booming. The preaching was incredibly fire and brimstone, everyone outside the church was evil and decrepit, everyone inside the church who hadn’t yet been baptized were usurpers of the spirit though not nearly as looked down upon as those outside the church. The saints in attendance, who were spirit filled, we likened to the apostles themselves. Everyone in the church had a ministry and each person could speak and be heard as the “spirit” led them. It was an absolutely thrilling experience for a child my age, that is until one day we stopped attending.

For no apparent reason we simply stopped going to the Full Gospel church and started attending an Assembly of God church in the same town. I would ask why we started going to “the boring church” as I called it, but would be told to hush and when i needed to know why I would be told. Little did I know the massive scandal that had caused us to leave our former home church.

I remember, sitting at my grandparents house during thanksgiving and my grandfather made a joking remark about my aunt being pregnant by immaculate conception. Everyone looked very upset, and my aunt started to cry. I wanted to know what the big issue was and it was then that my father took me aside and told me. Our former minister, had an affair with my aunt and she was pregnant. I then learned that the former minister had been arrested for doing therapy sessions in which he would initiate sex as a form of penitence for sinful women in the church.  I was completely shocked. Not only was our former minister a man of god who had been married for over thirty years, but one of the topics he talked about the most was lust and how god removed lust from the hearts of believers. It was the first time in my life that I realized a minister could be just as evil and wrong as any other human being.

As I said before, I found our new church to be an awful experience. The minister was stiff-necked, dogmatic and angry about just about everything. There was no laughing in his services and the movement of the spirit was relegated to certain times during the service or special revival services. He also did not like children much, and while I had been seen as basically an adult in my former church, I was nothing more than an annoying child in the new place of worship. Worse yet, even though I was younger, I had been attending teen youth events and Sunday school classes at the old church, but here in our new surroundings I was stuck in a little kids Sunday school class. It was at this point that my skepticism really kicked into swing, even if it only lasted a brief period of time.

I became an absolute pain in the ass, I would spend my time during Sunday school asking the questions that no Sunday school teacher wants to answer. Questions like: If god created everything, who created god? If god is eternal, then what did he do for all the years before he created the earth? Explain the trinity to me? If god created the devil, and the devil is where evil came from, then god created evil, and so….is god evil?

Generally when this happened I would be taken to the sanctuary, sat in the front row, and told to keep quiet until the end of services. I knew that this would result in a spanking once I got home, but the adult classes were more interesting and by that point the spankings I did get weren’t hurting all that bad anymore. So I’d sit and listen to the adult class, enjoy the song service, and then listen to a long and boring service by a pastor who would, more times than not, point out that rebellious youth who didn’t do what they were told used to be stoned in the old testament times.

Though I questioned my teachers I still at this point never questioned God. I would pray and speak in tongues during my nightly prayers and would read the bible diligently attempting to memorize as much scripture as possible. I thought if I got close enough to god I would recognize the call that my grandfather had prophesied years earlier. Over time though, when I hadn’t felt the call, I began to be convinced that maybe my grandfather had been wrong.  I questioned the prophecy, something that isn’t explicitly called a sin but is treated as such in the church. I wasn’t really worried about it but I did wonder if my doubts were what was preventing me from hearing the call of god.

As with most young boys of twelve, my voice was starting to deepen, I was noticing hair where there had been no hair before, and my bones ached from the growth spurts I was experiencing.  I started to notice that girls weren’t icky anymore and I thought several of them were fairly pretty. Puberty was hitting and I was headed for a traumatizing experience that still gives me chills thinking about it.

One night, I awoke after a lustful dream, probably the first one I had ever experienced.  I had experienced a wet dream, a perfectly normal experience that almost all people have from time to time, especially during puberty. However, to me, I had committed a horrible sin. Not only had my mind conceived lustful thought but I had committed a sexual act within my mind and so I was no longer saved. I remember crying for what seemed like hours and begging god to forgive me, but no answer came. I sought out every sin that I could remember committing and confessed it all to god, still no answer came.

Finally, in near exhaustion, I said, will you forgive me if I agree to preach? Something clicked, I felt something turn within my mind and thought I heard someone say yes. I asked again.(This would become my standard procedure in the future to see if god really wanted me to do something. It seems silly not but at the time I believed that maybe I could trick myself once but only god would speak directly to me twice.) This time I clearly heard an audible, “YES!” I got out of bed, knelt down and prayed.

“God if you will forgive me for the sin I have committed tonight, I will become a preacher as soon as possible.”

I felt a calming sensation and I knew that I had been forgiven. I changed my clothes, laid back down and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The next morning I awoke and ran downstairs. I found my mother and I told her that god had told me to preach, leaving out the rest of the story as I think any young boy would. She praised god with me and we prayed together. She then had me call my grandfather and tell him the news. He congratulated me and then told me that he wanted me to give a sermon to his church when we visited next.

I don’t think any sentence has ever filled me with complete and total horror as that sentence coming from my grandfather. I had told god that I would preach as soon as possible but I didn’t realize how soon that would be. My brother and I would spend two weeks in June with my grandparents, and it was nearly May.  Just a month and some change later I would get my first taste of real preaching and I wasn’t ready. I was horrified!

For Part 4 click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 2

For Part 1 click here

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
                            -Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

I have often been asked throughout my life, especially after leaving the faith if the things I witnessed in church seemed odd or strange at the time. With a few exceptions the answer to that is no. Being raised in the Pentecostal faith, things like speaking in tongues, people getting slain in the spirit, and prophesying were regular occurrences. As a child, you would ask your parents what was happening and they would give you their dogmatic explanation.

Some people still seem to have an issue with this explanation and think that they would still find these things as odd regardless of if they had been born into the faith. To those who say this I ask if as a child they believed in Santa. Think of all the illogical and weird things that you must simply accept as true in order for Santa to exist.

  1. A Man lives on the North Pole
  2. Elves are real
  3. Deer can fly
  4. A diet of milk and cookies can sustain you
  5. Santa is able to break into everyone’s home
  6. He is fully capable of carrying an seemingly infinite number of gifts
  7. He can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.
  8. He can reach every home on Earth in a single night

Now why do we as children simply believe this absolutely out of this world story? We believe it because our parents tell us that Santa is real and, in our minds, parents don’t lie. So too is true with anything that I experienced in a Pentecostal church.  Speaking in tongues was god’s angelic language, being slain was God’s power knocking someone over, and prophesying was god speaking through someone a truth that someone else needed to know. Simple as that, I believed it because my parents told me to believe it.

So after the prophecy, that I would be a modern-day Elijah, things basically went back to normal for a while.  I did however get glasses which made my eyesight much better than god seemed to have the capability of doing. Being able to see the world and get around without bumping into things was an amazing experience for my 6-year-old self. Things were going fairly well and then I started school.

Going to school for me was an absolute nightmare. I realized very quickly that I wasn’t the same as everyone else there. I acted differently, I talked differently, and the kids that I saw knew almost nothing about the Bible.  I would talk about a story, such as Noah’s ark, and kids would laugh at how ridiculous it sounded to them. It seemed to me that I must be going to school with a bunch of evil people who hated god and his word. It seems funny to me but I clearly remember thinking to myself, someday they are going to try making me bow to the devil and then they will try killing me because I won’t do it but Jesus will save me.  Needless to say I had a very dark and vivid imagination for a child that young.

One of the reasons that I thought in that way is that I can’t remember a time when  I wasn’t completely aware of my own mortality. As Pentecostals, we believed that Jesus was going to return any day now. The rapture, when Jesus returns and takes the Christians to heaven with him, is talked about in almost every sermon given in a Pentecostal church.  This is taught to children in Sunday school as well. Jesus would return and take us all away and that could happen today.  I knew my life was going to be very short and I absolutely hated that fact.

When I say I hated the rapture, I truly mean that. My parents would plan something fun for a couple of weeks in the future and I would spend hours at night praying that god would hold off the rapture until we got to have our fun day.  I would pray for god to wait until the first day of school if it was summer. I’d pray for god to hold off until after Christmas. Most nights were spent with me praying that god wouldn’t rapture us so that I could continue enjoying my life.

To get back to where I was, school was a nightmare. Not only was I different but I was picked on for being different. My school years were spent in absolute hell during the week and complete solace during the weekend. I loved church, I knew all the stories and by the time I was 8 I could quote scripture better than my Sunday school teachers. I was the kid in Sunday school that the teachers hated because it was around this time that I went through my first rounds of doubt.

If something didn’t make sense to me I was going to question it, and if the teacher didn’t have a good answer, I’d ask the minister in the middle of his sermon. I was an absolute pain in the ass, but it does show me that even then I had the makings of a skeptic that would come in handy much later in life. I didn’t lose my faith at this time, in fact I felt like my faith was getting stronger. Every question I asked and understood pushed me closer to god and closer to being the Christian I wanted to be.

My family had switched churches when I was about 7 years old. The church we had been attending was an Assembly of God church, known to be one of the less strict Pentecostal denominations, and the church we began attending was Full Gospel. The Full Gospel church preached a very hard-line Pentecostalism. The Assemblies teach that you are saved by faith with no other requirement for salvation, the gifts of the spirit are for doing God’s work but must be sought after. The Full Gospel church taught that salvation was only through the baptism of the holy spirit, and only by demonstrating your ability to speak in tongues.  This was fine when I was younger because it hadn’t stuck me yet but by the time I was 10 the realization of what this meant hit me full on.

Both of my parents spoke in tongues and so they were saved, my grandparents all spoke in tongues and so they were saved. I on the other hand had only prayed the sinners prayer and had never spoke in tongues, I was going to hell! I remember being so horrified by the fact that I had been taught wrong in the past, I had been told I was going to heaven but now I knew I was on my way to hell and needed to get the holy spirit quick!

The next Sunday when the minister asked if anyone would like to receive the baptism of the holy ghost, I raised my hand. They led me to the front of the church and had me kneel before the altar. I once again was guided through the sinners prayer and told to remember any sin I might have committed because the holy ghost will not enter an unclean temple. I prayed for a while and the minister asked me if I felt forgiven, I told him I did and so he called the church forward to pray.

Now something that I haven’t told you yet is that I absolutely hate being touched. So the moment that the church started laying their hands on me I felt waves of panic come over me. I wasn’t going to let this stop me though, I needed saved from hell and I wasn’t going to get up until it happened. Receiving the baptism was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life.

Receiving the baptism was basically following whatever directions any member of the church shouted out the loudest. I was told to raise my hands, put my hands down, cry out, remain silent, stand up, kneel down, shout, cry, scream, look up, look down, open your eyes, close your eyes, etc… I was terrified, both because I didn’t think it was going to happen and because I was being screamed at by everyone in the church.

After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only about thirty minutes the minister began to give cues that we were going to give up for the night. I began to cry, I knew I was going to hell, I was going to die unsaved and nothing was going to help me. All of a sudden a syllable came to my lips, I repeated this syllable over and over. The preacher told the congregation to pray harder because it was starting to happen. A few moments later a second syllable and then a third and then a full string of syllables started pouring out of my mouth. I felt an overwhelming joy spread over me and I knew that i had received the baptism of the holy ghost. Not only that but I knew I was saved and I knew that I could put the fear of hell, finally, behind me…..or could I?

 

For part 3 click here.

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 1

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:”   —-Joel 2:28

 

As any former fundamentalist will tell you, there isn’t a time that they can remember not being Christian. Oftentimes your first memories occur in the church or are in some way completely enveloped by the church. My story is no different.

I was born into a low middle class family. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a deputy sheriff for the county we lived in. While I didn’t see much of my dad when I was young, because he worked nights and would oftentimes be asleep while I was awake, what i did see of him was always fun and happy. My mother might be called today a helicopter parent, she was always there, which was fine since I suffered from bad eyesight and occasional convulsions as a child. My parents were both good and loving, I was spanked when I misbehaved but so was everyone else my age at the time so it wasn’t considered abusive by any means. I led a pretty common place life at the time.

One aspect that was different though was that my parents were Pentecostals. The Pentecostal faith had been in our family for at least three generations. My grandfather and Great Grandfather on my mother’s side were both Pentecostal ministers and my parents, along with my aunt, were in a traveling Pentecostal singing group. My birth was especially central to our faith since it actually brought my Grandfather back to the ministry.

At a year and a half, I was rushed to the hospital, after I had gone into convulsions and stopped breathing. My grandfather, who had been backslidden for the decade prior, was said to have gotten down on his knees and prayed to god, promising to return to the ministry if god saved my life. I lived, he re-entered the ministry, and the families faith in Pentecostalism was completely rejuvenated. I was a miracle walking.

So by the time that memories started to develop, we were in church at least three to five times per week. At one point, during the 1980’s, our church held a revival that was set to last a week and ended up going for nearly a month. We were there for every single service and I remember falling asleep underneath a pew almost nightly during this time. Services oftentimes lasted until well after midnight, and even then there was the “afterglow,” a prayer meeting after the service that could by itself last another few hours.

At three years old, I remember my first taste of the ministry. My mother had prepared a simple rhyme for me to say in front of the church. “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me.” Somehow I got it into my mind that this was in the same vein as the pledge of allegiance. So when I spoke, I said “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me, by the United States of American.” The church roared with laughter and applause and I was left with a sense of accomplishment.

Just before the age that I would be starting school, another revival started at my grandfathers church. Though it didn’t last as long, it was marked with an occurrence that would follow me throughout the rest of my life. During the prayer service my mother brought me up to have my grandfather pray for my eyesight. I would soon get glasses and see for the first time how man could succeed in fixing an issue where god had seemingly failed. Anyway, my Grandfather began praying and then he started prophesying, or telling the church a message that God had directly told him to give.

That message was this…

“Matthew is being called to the ministry, he will fulfill the promises of Joel and be a prophet and minister in the same vein as Elijah.”

Those words would follow me throughout my childhood, at times haunt me, sometimes torture me, but they never left me. Even today as I write this I am reminded of the feeling of pride and awe that I felt that night. I honestly had no idea at the time what my grandfather was talking about but I remember clearly the weeping of the people around, the praises, and the respect that the adults in the church showed me that night. It was a feeling that I would search after, many years later, once I had joined the ministry.

This marks the beginning of my jouney. Thank you for reading and I look forward to writing part 2 soon.
An Atheist In Iowa

Continue on to part 2 here.

General Information

Humble Beginnings

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters, Friends, Comrades, Countrymen, and Godless heathens like me, I welcome you to my new blog.

So to give you some background information. For nearly a decade I was a Pentecostal minister. Soon I will share the complete story of my path from faithful to faithless but today I just want to briefly express my gratitude to anyone who takes the time to read this blog as well as give some idea as to what exactly is the purpose of this blog.

I don’t exactly know where to start other than to say I want to offer my own spin on faith and how to overcome some of the obstacles you might face in day-to-day life.  I want to offer a glimpse into the mind of someone who once followed a very fundamentalist lifestyle. Most importantly I want to make people laugh, smile, and feel better about the choices they make in their lives. Life is far too short to waste even a single moment of it.

I also want to spread the idea that you can be an Atheist and not have to leave the area. In the short time since I left faith behind me I’ve seen numerous people in the atheist community leaving for seemingly greener pastures. This however seems to do a great disservice to the rest of the people in the area you left. We need role models in our communities that children can look up to. We need voters to fight back against the power grab that religion has undertaken. Last but not least we need people to change the communities they come from, making the world a better place; doing it from within and not tucking our tails and running away from our problems.

So until my next blog I bid you adieu.

Many Thanks,
An Atheist in Iowa