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.

Satanic Sundays

Satanic Sunday #3: Heavy Metal

For last weeks Satanic Sunday post, click here.

I bet you didn’t see this one coming did you? No, of course you did. Probably one of the most attacked topics, during the 1980’s, in the church was heavy metal music. These long-haired, supposedly satan worshiping, drug using, sexually immoral musicians were fodder for just about any pastor looking for an easy sermon to give. Rock music was long considered evil by many in the church but when heavy metal embraced the evil accusations and went with it, the church fought back twice as hard.

Probably no other band was hated more than AC/DC, the Australian rock band with hits like, “Shook Me All Night Long,” and “Highway to Hell.” I remember being in a service where a pastor encouraged members to tear their kids rooms apart and if they found any AC/DC music they were to destroy it immediately. The pastor gave a warning though, “You can’t burn their records, the devils power is too great on them and they will not burn.”

“You can’t burn their records, the devils power is too great on them and they will not burn.”

Does that statement sound strange to you? If it does you might be surprised to hear how prevalent those sentiments were during the 1980’s. In fact the idea that their records would not burn gave the 5-year-old me an amazing idea. During one service when that statement was said I raised my hand and asked why people don’t build houses with heavy metal records….needless to say the pastor was not amused.

“… why people don’t build houses with heavy metal records….”

Heavy Metal music was blamed for just about everything that was wrong with society. It was why children were rude, why people were murdered, why women were raped, and why your grandmother’s joints ached on a cold winter day.  Yet as with everything popular in society, Christianity wasn’t going to be left in the wake of all the money to be made by heavy metal music. Christian heavy metal music was just around the corner and considered just as evil as regular heavy metal in my local Pentecostal church.

When I was about 12 years old, my aunt took me to a “Whitecross” concert. “Whitecross” was Christianity’s answer to bands like “Poison” or “Twisted Sister.” Look them up if you want to enjoy some incredibly bland lyrics with angry heavy metal screeching. Anyway, at the time it was incredibly fun and the closest thing to an actual rock concert that I had ever experienced. The next Sunday, at church, I was treated as if I were demon possessed. The church prayed over me to remove the evil beats and riffs of heavy metal music from my mind. A scary situation to say the least.

What Christianity never understood was that heavy metal musicians were, for the most part, satirizing the fears of the Christian church.  Folks like Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, and Kiss were simply taking what Christianity was saying about them and running with it. The fact that the church spoke so hard against the music is why nearly every kid in the church absolutely loved heavy metal. When you prohibit kids from doing something that seems fun, more kids are going to sneak around their parents and do exactly what was prohibited.

The 1980’s and early 1990’s satanic craze came to an end but the sentiment against rock music remains relatively the same in most churches. This actually stems back to a much older belief that rock music was attempting to infiltrate our homes with African beats and racially impure lyrics. Look to how Elvis was treated by the church for evidence of this. Racism plays a huge part in why the church was so anti-rock music for so long. It was believed that your pure, white, daughter would listen to a bit of rock beat and you’d find her shacked up with a black man in no time….so scary…

I still love many of the bands that I was told not to listen to as a child. It shocked me to no end when I found out that Alice Cooper was a born again christian and that one of the members of “Slayer” was also a believer. Rock music never led me to devote my life to satan, or murder anyone. It did lead me to sitting alone, rebelling in my room, listening to music on my tiny radio that I had been told was evil.  It was silly and considered satanic, but nothing evil ever came from it. Much like the entire Satanic craze of the 1980’s and early 90’s.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 20

For part 19 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

The next day, after the big blowup at the church, seemed like a relatively normal day. I awoke, went to work, came home and started doing some chores around the yard. My son brought the phone to me and I found it was the head pastor who had called. What he said would change my ministry entirely.

“Hello,” He said, “I just wanted to say how hurt I was last night during the service. Now I don’t want to worry you, but there are rumors that the district is going to strip you of your credentials. I don’t want that to happen and so the district has agreed that if you will get up next Sunday, apologize for the disturbance you caused, and say you were completely wrong, they will forget the whole thing.”

The only thing that I could say at the time was, “I’ll think about it.” He told me to think and pray about it, knowing that I would eventually do the right thing, the thing that god would want me to do. I hung up the phone realizing, that for the first time in my life, I was actually being blackmailed. I felt sick to my stomach, sad, hurt, and beaten down. How on earth would god allow something like this to be done to me after I had stood up for actual biblical teachings?

I don’t remember much from that week outside of the prepared statement I made. It wasn’t very long, about two paragraphs but had taken me almost the entire week to write. Every time I sat down to write it, emotion would overtake me and I that same sick feeling would hit. I knew that this was going to be something I would not be able to turn back from, and so just the thought brought waves of nausea and panic.

I arrived at church very early, the next Sunday, and spent a long time in prayer. This wasn’t something I wanted to say but I was being forced to say it. I had spent a good period of my life trying to become a minister and being threatened with the stripping of my credentials had hurt me more than you can possibly imagine. As the service started, the pastor came to me and asked if I had thought about what I was going to say. I told him that I had and was ready to give my statement.

I really don’t think I have ever been in a service that seemed to last as long as that one did. Every note during the song service seemed to last longer than the one that had come before it. The prayer requests seemed to go on for an eternity, and then the sermon seemed long and drawn out. I remember the message, the pastor gave, was on heeding authority and bowing before god. It was obvious to me that I was being told to tow the line and get back into my place before it was too late.

Finally, the sermon ended and the pastor said that I had a short statement to read before the church. I took the stage and gathered my thoughts. I looked out among the congregation of people who had become my friends. I saw the faces of my family in the congregation as well and knew how shocked they would be by my statement. Then I caught the face of the head pastor, smiling in the way one does when they know they’ve won.

I pulled my statement out from my bible and began to read. I will summarize the majority but here was the first couple of sentence. “I know that you know how much I love being a pastor here. So it saddens me to say that I am giving up my credentials with my denomination.” The church was absolutely silent apart from a few gasps that escaped the mouths of a couple congregants. As I said those words you could see the smile of victory fade from the head pastors face and replacing it was a look of fear and anger. “I have been told that my credentials would be stripped if I did not come here this morning and tell you folks a lie.I will not lie in order to please man.” I remember watching as the head pastor stood up, along with his wife, and walked out of the church.

I am not a bold person, but my point was made, I am not someone who can be blackmailed. The idea that my credentials were being used as a weapon against me had sickened me to the core and it was not something I could stand for. The rest of my statement went on to say that I would still be happy to fill in as a lay minister(A preacher who doesn’t hold credentials) and that I loved everyone in attendance.  I walked off the stage with the congregation in complete and total shock. I grabbed my stuff and I left.

Later that day, one of the deacons called me, he had been one of the people that had agreed with me during the fateful night that I had called out the non-biblical beliefs. He said that as soon as I had left the church board had met and decided that I could continue to preach as long as I felt willing. The also said that they would speak to the head pastor about what had happened and never again would that fraudulent woman’s faith healing be taught in our church.

As I hung up the phone, I don’t really know how to describe the feelings that overtook me. I had won, I was still going to be a minister at my local church, even without the credentials backing me. The joy would follow me to the next Sunday when I was handed the printout of ministry duties for the next month. The head pastor filled this out and when I looked at it I found that I was scheduled to preach only one Wednesday night bible study for the entire month, no Sunday morning or evening services. It was obvious, if he couldn’t force me to accept his dogma, he was going to try and force me out of the ministry one way or another.

The next couple of months went exactly like this and then the night of the church business meeting arrived. The first thing that was brought up was why I hadn’t been preaching as much as the other two ministers? A vote was taken and the church stripped the head pastor of his scheduling duties and gave it to my aunt. From that point on, I was back to my regular schedule.

After the initial statement was given before the church, the head pastors messages took a dark turn. He gave the same sermon nearly every Sunday that he preached, a message against those who dare to usurp authority and go against the will of god.  For the next couple of years, that was basically the only sermon he would deliver. He might switch the biblical passages up, but the message was clear, he was saying that I was an evil usurper and that I was hell-bound. Inwardly, I took a little pride every time he spoke out against me.

The next few years went by in a fairly normal fashion. Eventually the church told the head pastor that he had to stop beating me up every sermon and had to apologize before the church or he would not be allowed to preach there any more. The apology was lackluster but things did seem to improve for a bit after it was given. He started preaching less and less at the church which meant more services for me and the other minister.

Around this time I decided to go back to school. I had worked at the meat packing plant for nearly 5 years and it was killing me. Ministry wasn’t going to be something I could make a living on, the most I ever made was 50 dollars per sermon, and so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in accounting, actually it was history at first but I found accounting to be much more practical. Going back to school was scary but i found that I really enjoyed it. I was studying topics that broadened my mind and I loved it.

Life was seemingly getting better and while my mind was broadened in many aspects, my faith had never been stronger. I knew that god had protected me from the wrath of the head pastor and that I was doing his will. My sermons were still filled with fire and brimstone, sin and hellfire, a very dogmatic approach to the faith. I felt that if I just continued on this path I was on, that life would continue to get better. Things at home had seemed to calm, mostly due to the fact that my ex was having another affair, during which she would more or less leave me alone. I was happy and healthy and making a better life for myself and the kids.

I remember thinking at the time that nothing could shake my faith, I would learn very soon that not only could my faith be shaken but it could eventually leave me altogether…

To continue on to part 21 of my journey, 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 19

For part 18 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

Needless to say, the pastors words had shocked me quite a bit. How was I to respond? “Oh, Pastor, you know people don’t come back from the dead…” No, I still fervently believed in the resurrection of Christ at the time, but something told me that this miracle was not going to occur. My grandfather, a sweet man, took my silence to jump in and say that it would be an amazing miracle and that we would all be praying for god’s will to be done. We then said our goodbyes and got back into my grandfather’s truck.

“He’s lost his mind,” my grandfather said.

“No, he’s just deeply in grief, he’ll come too before the funeral.” I said, at least that is what I hoped.

The day of the funeral came and around the time it was going to start I received a phone call. It was a woman with the church saying that the head pastor had got the prayer chain going, he needed us all to pray so that god’s miracle could occur. I hung up the phone believing then that my grandfather had been right. I knew that his daughter was not going to be resurrected and that in the end he was just going to make a mess of her funeral. I learned later that when the funeral was just beginning, he had gotten up, gone to the front of the church and commanded her to get up. A few seconds later he did the same thing. He then screamed at the top of his lungs for Jesus to heal his daughter and yet still she lay still. I’ve been told that he nearly collapsed and was helped to his seat, the only words he said for the rest of the day was, “If only we had more faith.”

After that, a tension fell upon our church. Each Sunday that the head pastor preached, he would speak on faith and that not believing god could do something was the same as praying against a miracle to occur. I hate to say it but a few times went by when I did question if my lack of faith had been what had prevented the miracle that he had been so sure of. His sermons lacked energy and you could tell that he was a broken man. I felt awful for him but would pray daily that god would heal him of the depression that he had fallen into.

This went on for about 6 months and then one day he arrived at church in a positively manic mood. He was bouncing with excitement and couldn’t wait to speak before the church. When he took the stage he said that he understood what had prevented the miracle from occurring and he would make sure we never went through another struggle like he had experienced. He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed. She had talked about all the numerous healings that she had taken part in and that she was willing to teach anyone who was willing to listen how to do it. That night he had bought several of her books and a DVD of her miracle ministry.

“He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed.”

He then went on to say that he would like to lead a bible study based on her books and that he would be inviting other local churches to take part in it.  The first night we would watch her video, and the next night we would read from her book and see if god would bring about the healings that she promised it would do. He was absolutely sure that if we just paid attention to what this faith healer had to say, we would see miracles and revival like we had never seen before.

I was very doubtful that anything could be found in this woman’s book that we couldn’t already find in the bible and even more so, I absolutely hated faith healers. From the first time I saw a Benny Hinn video tape at around the age of 7, I knew the whole thing was absolute bunk. I remember the scolding I got, from a church member, for asking why Mr. Hinn’s cameramen are never slain in the spirit like everyone else around them? I saw through the act even at that age. Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t believe that miracles could occur, I definitely believed in miracles, but I didn’t believe that god would be ok with people making money off of miracles.

The first night of the Bible study started like any other. We had an enjoyable song service, a testimony service and then the lights were dimmed so that we could watch the video. Within minutes I knew it was a complete and total scam. The first miracle shown was a woman being healed of legs that were different length, as an attempt to cure her back pain. This is one of the oldest cons in the book and I will include a video of the con below. The video isn’t the greatest quality but shows how old this trick is, basically you slip one shoe slightly off making it appear as if one leg is shorter and when you push the shoe back on it looks like the other leg has lengthened.

I was absolutely disgusted, but everyone around me was eating it up. This faith healers schtick was in the prayer-book she sold. While healing someone she would repeat a prayer from her book and the healing would occur. She said the reason that we didn’t see miracles was due to the fact that we weren’t praying with the right words, but lucky enough for us, god had spoken the correct words to her in a vision. She then went on to cure a man of his blindness, and another of her deafness. These are all common cons that fraud healers practice every day,  they work by acting as if the persons ailment is worse than it actually is and playing off of it. So if someone says they have trouble hearing, you play it off as if they are fully deaf, trouble seeing, you play it off as if they are totally blind.  It’s bullshit and they know it, but enough gullible people exist to keep the scam going. When the video ended, I sat in shock as people in the congregation, from several local churches, openly wept and praised god that we had been sent the answer to all of our prayers.

After that it was question and answer time. People would ask the head pastor a question and he would give a nonsense answer. I seethed in anger at some of the things I was hearing but probably would have kept my mouth shut until the pastor said one thing.

“This video has opened my eyes, the only book I’ll ever need for my ministry from here on out is this book,” holding up a book of prayer sold by the faith healer.

That was too much. I stood up and raised my hand to get the pastors attention. He acknowledged me and I asked, “Isn’t this entire thing contrary to what Christ taught about prayer in the bible?” He asked what I meant and I read from the bible this passage from Matthew.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

                                             – Matthew 6:5-8

I was simply trying to point out how the video and the biblical passage did not line up, but I could tell how angry and hurt the head pastor was. He looked up and said, “Do you think I don’t know what the bible says about prayer?” I tried saying that I knew he did and wasn’t questioning him personally but he cut me off. “I know exactly what the bible says about prayer and yet I know this woman is right, sit back down, Matthew.”

I stood my ground and my aunt, also in the congregation that night, stood up for me. She said that until I had spoken up she had been in awe of the video but that I was right and that everything in the video was non-biblical. A couple of others agreed and said that while they too had been amazed by the video, they didn’t believe she was teaching something that Christ would approve of.

Angrily, the head pastor said, “If that’s how you folks want it, we’ll end the bible study now, we won’t speak of this again, but don’t be surprised when you need a miracle and god doesn’t grant it because of what has happened tonight!”

I was both hurt but also happy. I had stood my ground and won. I knew that god would bless me for standing on his word and not allowing my mind to be drawn away by greener looking pastures. I went to bed that night thinking that things might calm down. I figured I had been through the worst of it but little did I know how vindictive this man, the respected pastor that I loved, the one that had performed my wedding ceremony, could be.

To continue on to part 20, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 18

For part 17 of my journey, click here.
To begin at the start of my journey, click here.

“And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;” – John 2:15

After the revival things remained relatively stable, when it comes to the ministry, for a couple of years. I continued preaching and our church continued to slowly grow. The fact that we were growing at all was still exciting and all three ministers took a lot of pride in what we had been able to accomplish in that small town Iowa church. I was fairly well-respected in the church and more than one member asked when we were going to have our next revival.  At the time I had no answer.

Truth is, I would have loved to have another revival but stress at home was getting to me.  As I said in a previous entry, things at home were never good. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy life, because I did. The kids were my life and I enjoyed every moment that I got to spend with them. Even if at times stress got the better of me and I was short with them.  I still adore these two kids and enjoy every moment I get to spend talking to them and keeping up with their lives.  The issues with my wife, though continued to grow and grow.

One day, after I had been preaching for about two years, she asked me to quit the ministry. The audacity of the request took me off guard, and I told her that I would think about it. A few weeks later, she brought it up again and I told her that I could not quit the role which god had given me. It wasn’t even so much that she disliked me being a minister, what she disliked was what that meant we as a couple could get away with.

We hadn’t even been married six months, before she asked if I would be interested in an open marriage.  I was sickened by the idea and told her in no way would I ever do that.  She didn’t like how she had to sneak around having affairs, wishing that she could instead have open relations with anyone she chose. Over the years things became worse and worse and about the 3 year mark of my ministry, she quit coming to church and I had to continually make excuses as to why she was not coming.

Before that occurred though, I had another experience that shook me a bit. I had been in the ministry for about a year and a half and of full gospel denominations convention was going on. I honestly hadn’t wanted to go but my head pastor gave me a bit of a guilt trip and so I went. The first day we each gave small 5 minute sermonettes and I actually found it quite fun. I spoke on the sinner in hell, crying out for his family to turn to god so they wouldn’t experience the same fate.  It seemed to be well received and so I took my seat and the day continued on. We ate a good meal, and returned to services for the guest speaker.  I remember the message of the speaker clearly.

 “I honestly wondered even then if this guy wasn’t trying a bit too hard to come out against homosexuality.”

The man who took the stage was an old school Pentecostal pastor and he was angry about everything. The thing I remember most about the man was how much he talked about homosexuality, what made this more memorable was that he walked with a slight swagger and spoke with a slightly high-pitched almost effeminate voice.  It was hard not to laugh because it honestly sounded a lot like Jim Parsons going on a rant about the evils of gay marriage.  I honestly wondered even then if this guy wasn’t trying a bit too hard to come out against homosexuality.

Anyway, the first day was rather enjoyable and so I couldn’t wait for the second day to begin. We arrived early and I was informed that today we would be having a denominational business meeting, everyone would be able to ask questions, but it would probably just be fairly boring. It didn’t take me very long to become sickened by what I heard. The topic at hand was tithing, namely how to get more people to tithe and in higher percentages. The ministers were talking about their wages and how they wish they could get a bit more money coming into the church, as it would help raise their standard of living a bit. I was absolutely appalled.

“I was absolutely appalled.”

See, one of the things that I never preached on was tithing. Even at my most fundamental I hated the idea of robbing from poor folks to line your pockets. Tithing stems from the old testament and was in effect the was the early Israelite people collected taxes. Everyone was obligated to give 10 percent of all their earnings to the priests who would survive on that portion throughout the year, as they weren’t allowed to make money by any other fashion. It was my belief that this custom was done away with in the new testament, as the Council of Jerusalem, in the book of Acts, did not mention tithing as something that gentile believers had to do.  Not only that but tithes were not meant to be used to build larger houses, make grander foyers, or buy a more expensive piano. Tithes were meant for sustenance and to help the community.

Deuteronomy 26:12 states:

“When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled;”

When the conversation got around to me they asked me if I had anything I might add to the conversation. I opened my bible and I read the above scripture. Then I closed my bible and I said that unless the church I was preaching at was prepared to do exactly as that scripture said, then I would never preach on tithing. The looks of shock and horror are still fused in my mind. The first thing that was said was that I was far too young to actually understand what that scripture was talking about. When I remarked that I had been told scripture was easy enough to understand that a small child could do it, and that we are to come to Christ as small children, the looks began to change to anger. I was then told that I would never have my own church with that type of mentality and that I need to understand that the church is first and foremost a business with a bottom line.

That line should not have been said to me… See, I am incredibly blunt, OK, I’ll just say it, if something pisses me off I can be an outright asshole.  I looked at the minister who said that and I said, “You’re lucky that Christ weren’t standing here or you might have a whip across your face for making that remark.” I then looked around the room and said, anyone here who believes the church is meant to be a business is wrong and in danger of hell-fire. I said the church is supposed to be a type of hospital, there to help the sick and the widowed and to send the strong out to do god’s work. I then walked out of the room and went home. In all honesty I am shocked my credentials weren’t stripped from me for that outburst but outside of some hurt feelings, I never heard another word about the convention…and I was never invited to another one.

Meanwhile, back at my church, my ministry continued and things began to stagnate a bit. We lost a handful of members and the worry was that we might soon lose even more.  My suggestion was that we might hold a monthly soup supper for the community, which in turn might interest more people in coming to church. That was shot down because it might be too expensive…(It wouldn’t have cost hardly anything, since I was once again going to get donations) My second suggestion was that we hold another revival, a Friday through Sunday event, that would hopefully reignite some of the fire we had not so long ago. This was approved and so we had our little revival. It was abysmal, not even half of our regular members showed up for the services and we averaged below 25 people each night. Something was wrong and I was going to find out what it was!

Not long after that second revival, the head minister, the man who had performed my marriage, had a major family issue. His daughter, who had seemed completely healthy, died suddenly of massive heart failure. I received the call late at night and the next morning, my grandfather(A deacon at the church) and I, drove up to the pastor’s home to see how he was doing.  His wife answered the door and she was distraught, she cried and cried, something that I should have been prepared for but unfortunately I’ve never been good at judging a situation and how other people might react. When we asked where the head pastor was we were told that he was praying in the garage.

We walked over to the garage and we could hear his prayers, nearly screaming towards the heavens and intermittently speaking in tongues. We waited a few moments before saying something not wanting to interrupt his prayers. He suddenly turned, saw us, and stood up with tears in his eyes. He hugged both of us and told us that everything was OK. God had told him that this situation was only a test and that his daughter was going to be fine, not only that but she was going to lead many souls to god. My grandfather, not knowing what was going on, asked if we had been mistaken and that his daughter had actually survived.

“No,” he said, “but that doesn’t matter, god told me that he is going to resurrect her!”

To continue on to part 19 of my blog, click here.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #2: Psychics, Mediums, and Channelers

For last weeks article on Synchronicity, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Junk

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

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