Sunday, February 24, 2013

Trip Back to Enemy Territory

One of my parents best friends passed away last week. Which is a huge bummer since good friends are hard to come by. Over the years I have gotten to know him and his wife really well and have enjoyed conversations with them when our paths have crossed.

The funeral is at the old church of course and the pastor doing the service is the one that always made me mad during his sermons. Even a couple of months ago I would have sweat going back much more. Now though, I dont mind and will be going to support his family in this time of grief.

What makes this guy a true friend is he picked the song  When the Saints Come Marching in to be played at his funeral. He wants my dad to play his saxophone along with the song. What makes this huge is my dad has always had to play his horn low key at church for 31 years they have gone there. His friend said he wanted a loud song to be played so my dad can rock out for once in that building.

Through all of this I see when we are there for our friends they get to know us and find awesome ways to thank us for our friendship. It may take 20 years or never happen, but its pretty awesome that this guy did this for my dad.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Cat the Killer

After a long week I come home from work to relax. My cat once again has snuck outside and greets me on the way back into the house. I think nothing of it and go inside to watch a random Netflix documentary amd doze off befor dinner.
My wife told me to go out and look at the carnage by the front door. I immediately knew that my cat got the rabbit living in the hedge in front of my house. Sure enough he did and actually ate quite bit of the poor fella.
I went outside and cleaned up the mess on the porch and thought I was done. Later in the evening I noticed his yellow nametag was discolored and there was stringy stuff hanging down. When I took his collar off the tag was covered in blood and the stringy stuff was rabbit fur. So any doubt about who done it was gone and now I got to wash his collar and tags.
The domestic house cat is an amazing creature if you think about it. They are basically a miniature version of a mountain lion and I don't think they are actually 100% domesticated. They turn feral rather easily and can can survive second only to hogs maybe.
Even after the kill, this ferocious feline still needs to sleep it off and happens to be doing so on my lap.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


As the fog started to lift on my evangelical beliefs I realized how alone I was. My entire immediate family for the most part were in the fold so to speak and I thought this was the only version of Christianity to believe in. If I cant buy in anymore I guess I am an atheist/agnostic.

There were many nights over a period of 2 years I stayed up reading and thinking about how or what I could believe. There were nights of anger when I beat a sugar maple tree in the back yard with a bat. There were also tears when I realized all the time I wasted in a heretical church.

Fortunately, I tired quickly of the new atheists books since they were just as circular as the evangelical authors. After a visit to a Catholic church, I started reading church history and pre reformation theology. I started to realized how nuanced Christianity is and how hard good Orthodoxy is to nail down.

We all have dark nights of the soul but that was never acknowledged in my past. I had to allow myself to let go of ally my old comfortable beliefs and actually say I don't know sometimes. I had to teach myself to be mentally ok with ambiguity on theological issues . I had to realize that I could no longer hold others responsible for any issues I was still hanging on to. Now I was out on my own and I had to be a man and resolve things.

All of the nights of loneliness and rage were what I needed to get the motivation to confront my shortcomings. No longer did I have an excuse to isolate myself from other people. I had to also learn to operate without an opressive amount of negativity in my life. Now that I had worked through issues at work and left the old church I could redirect this negativity in a positive direction.

I no longer feel lonely or unhappy with my life anymore. I stand up for myself and don't let people use me any longer. Sure some friendships have faded away but I am meeting new people with whom I can relate with better. Most of all I don't feel despair when I realize I can't keep up with the law in the bible.

From a Lutheran perspective the law points out our sin and where we fall short. The gospel is revealed in church every week with Christ focused homily, worship and Eucharist.  Now church every week is a temporary reprieve from the rigors of daily life. The old churches version of the gospel was focusing on the law. This make the everything tiring and put me into terrible dispair. Which was good since the flip side of arrogance wouldnt have got me out of there. I would have just fit in better...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Remembering My Father In Law

15 years ago on the 18th my father in law passed away from a heart attack. He was a huge role model for me and made an impact on my life that still shows today.

My father was a great role model as well as is a musician and a hard worker. My father in law was an old school mans man and we hit it off the first time I met him. Once he figured out I was into cars and loved his daughter I was immediately a part of the family. He offered me another perspective on being a man that made me more well rounded.

After we got married at 19, he helped us buy our first house with his comission from the sale of the house. He also came over and showed me how to do home repairs. I was able to adapt my knowledge of auto repairs to learn plumbing and carpentry. Close to my 21st birthday he showed up at my house in his newly purchased 1975 corvette and took me out for a molson ice at his favorite bar. It was only 3 years later he was taken way too soon by a heart attack.

He has missed out on knowing 5 of his grandkids and seeing his kids and their familes grow and succeed. I would like to think I have been able to pass along the positive things I got from him to my children and nephews. The main way we live on here on earth is the impact we make on our loved ones.

Larry, your love for your daughter who became my wife was a great example on how to be a good dad to my daughter. Your ability to make everybody feel important I try to do in my daily interactions too. The balls you had to try to fix anything that was broke has enabled me to attempt repairs on houses and cars I never would have done otherwise.

We have missed you so much over the last 15 years and if my kids miss me half as much I will know I did a good job.

Looking at Fundamentalism from the outside

With being gone for a little over a year from my culty country club with Jesus former church, I am beginning to see what constraints this type of environment imposed on my family. Gone is the trying to keep up appearances to fit in or worrying about what you say and what others might think. Also, that place was insular and you never got out of the bubble and experienced anything different that wasnt church related.

I have occasional interaction with people from the old church or new acquaintances that are in a very conservative denomination. One thing I see is a sort of tunnel vision where the members of the group can't seem to grasp why people leave or don't see things the way they do. Once you buy into a highly authoritarian belief system I think it is difficult to look back at others that don't buy in or worse yet leave. Many people have their entire social group or careers on the line so confirming your beliefs are correct is paramount.

You can look at any sub denomination from the western church family tree post reformation and see enough books on any theology to keep you busy for years to come. The hack evangelical world I came from that is embracing Calvinism as they see fit do this too. They churn book after book out saying basically the same thing. Each book can be jettisoned after reading the first chapter since the subsequent chapters repeat the same topics brought up over and over again. If you look at what all of the prematurely sainted authors by the gospel coalition churn out in one year it would make you think you have stumbled on an erudite theological camp.

With these constraints gone I have grown in ways that I never thought possible. I am getting out of my shell and getting involved for the first time in my adult life. My wife has gone and made several pen pals from around the world and expanded her horizons as well. She even got a new gym membership and is stepping outside her comfort zone to get in better shape.
My getting better and maturing has helped my family out too. I wish I would have come to this point years ago, but things happen for a reason sometimes. It was too painful to be stagnant anymore.

How to Start an Evangelical Parachurch Ministry

Between my time spent at the old church and listening to bott radio to avoid car commercials when I am commuting to work, I have noticed a trend or pattern that is the basic business model for one of these ministries. Bott radio is an apolgetic radio betwork that partners with ministries affiliated with a southern baptist bend. There is one show in particular where they interview these authors and road warrior ministry hacks that offer captain obvious advice for everything from raising teens to porn addiction.

The one key thing that will put you on the fast track to success in these circles is admitting to having a problem in the past. This is usually safe territory in these circles but still risky if you're willing to drop the mask of perfection and do it. This gets your foot in the door or even on the fast track to evangelical leadership. Now you cant really admit to be currently struggling with anything because that would mean the perfect doctrine of conservative evangelicalism isnt bearing fruit in your life. If you are brave enough to admit trouble with porn in the past, even better because sex sells to this crowd too. It is a constant throughout humanity and the reason we are all here.

Once you step out on a limb and show you're not perfect you need to take a course in Christianese. This is easy adapted vernacular by some but always left a bad taste in my mouth. After that you read secular authors on the subject of your ministry and find a bible verse to back up every point you make yours. For men and women both there is a certain fashion style on must adopt to be credible. Since you are harking captain obvious law to consumerist Amercian Evangelicals you must look the part too. For women its big Texas hair with lots of jewelry and a wardrobe from a high end store like Talbot's. For men I think it gets more ridiculous, first you nees hipster black frame glasses, sideburns, frosted spiky hair for baptists or dark black hair for calvinists. Nothing looks more silly than a 40 something in an Ed Hardy t-shirt and the rest of the previously mentioned wardrobe pieces.

As you can see highlighted above a shallow message gains depth by putting a certain wardrobe on the messengers. No wonder the few real men that are left have no time for any of this. Especially these porn ministries they drag us out to humilitate us to make the women at church feel better. Meantime, I would bet these guys view porn more than men that dont even go to these churches. In my experience shame based attention to a behavior only creates more of the undesired behavior. If only I was more of a sociopath I could quit my day job abd cash in. I would just need to source a fancy captain obcious robe...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Trip to Missouri while staying in Kansas

I went to a book discussion group today with several Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors and lay people. It is always very deep discussion and I feel like its a free seminary class at Concordia. Today, we discussed the writings of the other Martin, Chemnitz I believe. We discussed free will which is as much fun as discussing the trinity in my opinion. The session went over with discussion on whether or not certain types of outreach are beneficial or not. Since I am not in the fold so to speak it was interesting to see how their tribe discusses and sees things. I learn a lot from the discussions but I am an outsider and feel like they look at me as a project that can win over. I have to sit through comments of unbelief that I am at an ELCA congregation since I am intellegent and understand theology. Its like these guys know very well the right theology and intricate church history. on the other hand they fall prey to broad brush assumtions about a sister denomination that makes me think they are of the mind there is no salvation outside the lcms.

I get a lot from going to these discussion groups since they are academic and highly intellectual, but there is a bad feeling I have like once again that I am project to be won over. I see why people stay in their own comfort zones of their own denominational tribe. There can be a lot gained by meeting with others and seeing the good they have in their traditions as an ecumenical learning experience.  However, it seems that tribal loyalties take over and since they are a part of the group you would be crazy not to join them. I think I have a lot of insight from my past that can help these guys possibly grow their denomination. Probably going forward I will play hard to get and not go every time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Quest for Fish Food Makes me a Cat Owner

I hadn' t owned a cat for 5 years or so. It seemed like every cat I ever owned got hit by a car or tried to kill my dog and got taken to the humane society. Whenever I go to Petsmart I always check out the cats that are available for adoption. This time one really caught my eye, he was an older male cat with the poldactyl paws. Or otherwise known as a Hemingway cat. I convinced my wife to come and look at him and we adopted him later that evening. Two months in he has been a great cat and gets along well with our dogs and anybody that comes to the house. He also has the personality of a dog and begs for food and eats table scraps. He is asleep on my lap as I type this and I highly recommend giving a shelter animal a second chance in your home.

Finally Found a New Church Home

A year ago my family and I embarked on an adventure. We started church shopping but this time something was different. Instead of retreating to another acceptable Presbyterian or Non denominational church I threw a curve ball and went denominational. We visited  Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches instead. I loved the liturgy and traditional hymns since it was a 180 degree diffference from my past low church experience. We finally found a home in an elca Lutheran church where we knew a couple of families that were long term members.

When I went to meet with the pastor about possibly joining th parish I noticed the bookshelf in his office. He had many of the same authors I did which was wierd because I was reading lots of Catholic authors at the time. Whenever I meet one on one with my pastor I feel like I have finally met someone who gets me. He has also read lots of church history and knows about all of the German higher critics up to the Christ myth theorists of today. Also at the time I was coming back to belief and my I pastor is an old school Orthodox Christian that helped steer me back on the right path.

The best thing about my new church is the people.  Everybody I have met is really nice and even the people in the congregation known as trouble makers are a piece of cake compared to folks I have dealt with in my past. Removing the irritant of being around people so different than me has done wonders. People who I havent seen for a while have noticed a huge change in me. Now when I am at church I can be myself and realize I am among friends and I have nothing to fear.

Now I am on church council and have a couple of other roles as well. It is strange to be wanted and needed for once just as I am. I even went to a synod meeting and got to talk to the area bishop and realized he was cool and accessible too. It really took me getting angry enough to get motivated to searching for a new church tradition. Is it perfect? No, but it is a great place for me to go with my family and heal and for once start to contribute to help fix the problems I see.

Evangelical Good ole Boy Network

Here are two scenarios in evangelical circles of women getting the short end of the stick where a pervy pastor or ministry director is involved. The first one I experienced at my old church and the other one is second hand through a friend. I tend to believe the second scenario from my experience with these types and will use it as a comedic opportunity later in the post.

Our church hires the new childrens ministries pastor and when I laid eyes on him I thought he was doughier version of Ed Rooney from Ferris Buellers Day Off. His tenure as pastor didnt effect me much and it wasnt until after he was gone did I hear the full extent of this guys creepiness. My wife told me after the fact because she knew I would have done something about it as a couple other husbands did and actually ended up leaving the church over it. He was a grazer, which means he would conviently brush up against women on their ass or breasts usually. The complaints and angry husbands started meeting with the staff and senior pastors and they sided with this asshole everytime. What finally did him in was he admitted to being attracted to a prominent attorneys wife that he has feelings for her in front of the whole childrens ministry team. No way for the patriarchal sausage commitee to write this claim off. Epic fail from this douche and he went on to another congregation to do the same thing yet again and probably did that at the previous one too.

In the second scenario we have a single friend that attended a marriage retreat put on by her local church a couple of years ago. In the meantime she likes the ministry on facebook and her marriage fails. Just recently the main guy from said ministry start commenting on her posts randomly. At some point he private messages her that he cant stop thinking about her and he wants to become involved with her romantically. She is heart broken by this since he and his wife of course modeled the perfect marriage while they took her conference fee. She responds that he is married and she is disappointed in him. He replies back with some surprise that she doesn't want to be a mistress. Offended she contacts the pastor that brought this schmuck in and he wanted to see screen prints to prove her claim. After she provides the info the pastor tells her she has posted pics on fb recently that caused him to sin or some horseshit similar to that. I am sure this guy got a talking to but since he brings in money and plays the game well, nothing will happen here and the blame for this behavior will fall on my harlot of a single friend.

What is it with conservative evangelical men? They blame women for their own issues and even if a woman does draw your attention it your responsibility as a leader to draw a boundary. Its like they use their ministry as an escort service. There are bad apples in every bunch but this happens far too often to excuse this. Their is a frenzy on shaming men for watching porn and actually you earn extra points if you give a testimony highlighting your struggles. Instead of adresssing an unhealthy outlet only why not address the problem. Most of these guys treat their wives like shit and dont even help around the house. What about getting in your wifes head and showing her you care. You might actually get laid more often and when you do she wont lay there like blow up doll.

The theology all of these guys share in common is laced with expectations of reward for devotion to the belief system. This manifests itself in selfish behavior that bleeds theough into every relationship you have in your personal life. So guess what your kids are a mess your wife is frigid and you are shitting where you eat career wise. A real man makes a difference in his family first and then goes out to help mistress is going to solve the void you feel because you are disconnected from your wife and children. The desire to break it off in strange or view porn is sympton of your failure to negotiate you marriage in a way that results in you getting what you need. In these folks eyes all they have to do is pray for forgiveness or tell their accountability partner about it and they are cured until the next time it happens 5 minutes later.

I am tired of this dogshit theology that has taken over American evangelicalism. It may be time for another reformation in the west since there isnt much difference between this theolilogy and the selling of indulgences.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Starting an Icon Wall

I know the picture and my wall hanging skills suck but I thought I would share a few icons i purchased recently. is a great source of western icons and all of them have inspired me throughout my reading over the past year.

1. The last supper. Going to a Lutheran church with a sacremental view of communion was an eye opener. The idea of Christ being present in communion every week to give us a break from the law was profound and made sense to me.

2. St. Patrick. Who doesnt love green beer and a guy who evangelized the northern British isles in antiqutiy.

3. St. Thomas Aquainas. Not only was this the namesake of the parish I first attended mass at. I actually read about his impact on church history and respect how he merged platonism with Christian thought. I am not a rigid Thomist in my thinking but I respect his courage for tackling a tough subject and keeping Orthodox Christianity relevant.

4. St. Francis des Sales. This guy would be my patron saint Iif I were to ever swim the Tiber. This guy went into hostile terrritory in post reformation France and brought back 40000 people back to the Catholic church. What makes this sweet was that they were all Calvinists. Since I have I fight or flight response with Calvinism I respect the pair this guy had to take them on. He used the power of the press that Luther used and brought people back to the church. Which is funny that I report in this manner since I am still protestant.

5. Virgin Mary. This came free with my order but to be fair I think she deserves mre reverence than a spot in the nativity scene at Christmas.  I am still wrestling about what being full of grace means and the perpetual virginity stuff. I do realize at the very least she was eentrusted with raising God incarnate on earth and that should count for more than the evangelicals give her credit for.

I like the fact that they are windows to another dimension where all of the saints that have lived before us are. It also allows me to respect Christians
that lived and didnt parlay their popularity into material success, like so many of the schmuCks hhavein the evangelical world.

Auto Mechanics

After I realized I was welcome no longer at church as teenager and skateboarding had run its course in my life I decided to learn how to fix cars. I took auto shop in high school and my friends parents gave me the 1974 olds 98 that was dead in their driveway. I paid to have the transmission rebuilt and I still had to replace the rear end, rebuild the carb, and many more projects to get it road worthy. I started to learn parts interchange between the different gm models and had fun going to the junk yard to get parts. As the years would go by I would grow in knowledge of auto mechanics and really take it to the next level when I finally got a house with a garage in 2005. This allowed me to get air tools to do front end work and welder to restore an old mustang a friend gave me. I can even repair new cars without fear and think they are easier than the older ones fix sometimes. I get mechanical things and can see schematics in my head and troubleshoot problems easily.

Once I had enough of my old church's theology in 2009 and I started to read lots of books, I found it easy to systematize theology. I still had trouble disconnecting myself from the emotional part of it and looking at it objectively. Each time I read something that confrimed my bias I was too eager to believe it and seprarate fact from opinion. Also when you know nobody that yoy can talk to and when you try you just get blank stares you start to think something is wrong with you. In reality I had outgrown my old church and I would have to muster the strength and self confidence to leave that place and pull my family out of there.

I was good at doing things on my own as a mechanic and could escape from larger issues. The challenge now for me was to confront something that would effect my entire family and I would have to sell them on it. The success I had as a mechanic was awesome but when it translated over to the theological realm more was being asked of me that was way out of my comfort zone. I could even retreat to work and make major operational changes that my family never knew about. Why was it so hard for me to push my own agenda at home?

I think it was due to the spiritual abuse I endured at the church of my youth. They plant ideas in your head that youre not good enough in certain areas but it never effects your ability to make money and put offerings in the plate. It usually causes rifts in your family and allows for disfunction that they magically have a seminar or a book for. Its like they set you up to fail so you can turn to them to have more control over you. It keeps you from being able to socialize without a prayer before and after and with a Pauline focused sermon in the middle.  Everybody around you has defense mechanisms built in to chastize you if you start to question things, kind of like a self protecting mechanism to keep the belief system going.

If this is your only exposure to Christianity you start to think that no belief is better st this point.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bad Work Relationship

Many people have the crazy ex story to share over beer with friends. I was lucky to have met my wife at the age of 17 so there is no crazy exes in my past. Instead I seem to have a long line of former employees in my past. One in particular was a human black hole that only took from me and everyone around him. He was a disgusting pig of a person and was just useful enough to function as my assitant manager for 10 years. He was great liar and a professional substance abuser. He read our companies policy on drug testing when it was revised and figured out all of the loopholes. He probably saved money since he could pay a copay after doctor shopping which was cheaper than using illegal stuff.

Every time you would talk to him his personal life would descend to the next level of hell and he used sympathy to get people to care about him. His children were self destructive and still are to this day. I still have to listen to the negative impact he had on my employees and apolgize for my stupidity in keeping him around for so long. You live in the shadow of these bad relationships and feel like you should have acted sooner and seen things differently. I thought from my past that my Christian example would influence this human version of jabba the hut and to no avail. Everything I did went into the void and more was expected. Every kindness I showed was just a baseline for this chump to ask for more. I even brought my wife and kids in on it and we watched his kids for free one summer while he had custody.

When I finally did have to end his employment, it was a relief and very sorrowful. I knew he put on his best to work for me and he was unemployable anywhere else. I also knew he had purchased guns recently and had mental health issues. If he didnt kill himself he was going to die from one of many dietary inflincted ilnesses he was juggling. I had former employees call me that he was conspiring to get me fired. A few months after that he committed suicide and his funeral was on the same day I had something fun planned. It was difficult but I decided not to go to and not allow his drama to effect me anymore. I still feel incredibly stupid this person was in my life and vow to never allow it to happen again.

Playing Dumb as a Defense Mechanism

In my job I always dedicated myself and did the best I could at the time. This allowed me to earn promotions and get a job at the age of 25 most people attain much later in life. This can be both a blessing and a curse since human nature takes over and I begin to expect more. Not playing dumb at work allowed me to bite off more than I could chew sometimes but that was the only facet of my public life I would ever do that in. At home I taught myself plumbing and auto repair but never told anyone about it.

My whole tenure as adult at the old church I would go and be quiet since I trusted no one there. If my wife chatted after service I went and sat on a couch and waited for her to be done. I even know how to navigate that place so I can walk in and get to certain parts of the building without being noticed. I realized that once we left and started visiting other churches I wasnt doing any of this avoidance stuff. It was then I realized the building itself messed with me and is one of the million reasons I could never go back.

I even got confirmation from an elder from the old place recently when he told me he thought I was just a dumb gearhead and he never realized how smart I was. The thing no one wants to admit is, someone who is a centerist and thinks for themself isnt welcome there. You become a project to be molded into the perfect disciple that can keep perpetuating the unhealthy theology to the next generation. If anything I hope they realize the people they have run off over the years and the people that stay really are the elect to use their Calvinist terminology. If I were to simplify I would say the leadership are the carnies that play a role to take money from the rubes they are catering to. Which are scared white upper middle class indivduals that buy into the hype of the religious right and the gospel coalition. Nobody there can see the fear that is being used to control them and they think they have the inside track to heaven. Just the idea of what it was like to be there a year later is scary and the burden very heavy.

Not having the negativity in my life has been huge. I still need to vent sometimes but overall I dont have the bottled up anger I once had. Just identifying what was messing with me and   distancing myself from it was a huge relief. Even if it isnt a shitty church in your life just realize confronting that which makes you miserable makes a huge difference.  Now I don't have to play dumb anymore since I am in a place where I am wanted and appreciated for who I really am anf not some fake person I have to be to fit in.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Beef With American pop Christianity

As I further process what bugged me about my old church or what Christianity is portrayed in the media or on the tv preacher channels on common thread comes up. God owes us something if we obey and go to the trouble to follow the teachings of Christ. This usually involves us doing something spectacular like giving a large sum of money, a missions trip or even some door to door evangelism. In the meantime most people who follow this model overlook their circle of influence in their normal everyday life and become less effective for the kingdom overall. What if everybody at your church is doing all kinds of awesome stuff they can brag about on social media and all your doing is saying hi to a lonely person. What if you never knew the difference you made or had pictures to post on facebook to get 100 likes. Can you be content with that meager existence even if there might be a remote possibility you are making more of difference than your modern day pharisee friends and you get no affirmation of it. If you understand church history and contemplatives in the monasteries you should realize it is a higher calling. Unfortunately, the American consumerist model has take over Evangelicalism and public glory is more important.

It seems like Evangelical churches I have attended have taken ques from the business world. They have usurped maketing techniques and growth strategies to steal memebers from rival congregations. So our relationships at these churches are as fake as they are at work since there is a ladder to climb for staus and acceptance. Church no longer becomes a weekly break from the law and Christ being present in holy communion. It becomes a self centered rock concert with 30+ minutes of a sermon that is nothing but practical advice. But this model sells and reels in all of the simpletons while more reverent type churches are dwindling in memebership. There is an obvious dumbing down of our culture and the church is playing right along with it in a way. I guess they have to evolve to survive in the msrketplace but I shouldnt have to use business terms to describe the church.

If I talk to friends from my old church they will say that the pre reformation churches are works based salvation. However, I think any church no matter the denomination can fall into this if they fall off the Orthodox belief track. For example at my old church there is tremendous pressure to attend service, Sunday school, small group and Sunday night class. Then if you have extra time you can volunteer and do door to door evangelism. That doesn't even take into account the hours of fox news and Rush Limbaugh you have to listen to be able to hold a conversation in passing between scheduled events at the church to put out the scent that you belong there. On the surface they tell you that all you have to do is pray the sinners prayer to be saved but then the rest of the requirements to belong become apparent after you are already hooked.

I guess good Orthodoxy in Christianity is a moving target and can be elusive at times. The challenge is to listen to our gut when things seem wrong and figure out what the problem is.

Tired of Myself

Sometimes I get in a funk. It usually happens when I start to process the past and I start to feel like I am becoming too self centered. The mind exercises are necessary to come to terms with my past and move on but it is still difficult to work through. I realize that I get proud at times and maybe some of my negative past experiences were partly my fault in some way. When I am in a bad place I wish there was a way I could put myself on auto pilot and maintain the status quo and check back in on Monday myself later like you would with a friend. When you meet with a friend every other week the tone is usually positive and the negative situations that have come up have been resolved and forgotten for the most part. I guess the challenge for me is to be content living in the moment and not wishing the present away. I am very goal oriented and want to focus in on a task and complete it and move on. What if I slowed down and just enjoyed the process?

As I blog about about my church past I am sure I come off half cocked and dismissive of truely genuine people doing the best they know how. I think if I lived more in the moment I would have realized sooner that I wasn't in the tribe for me and I needed to move on. I didn't need to feel guilty about it or let it inspire self destructive rebellion. I wasn't from a rich family or in the cool group in high school, I couldnt compartmentalize what was being taught on Sundays and write it off since the social part was great for me. Being present is realizing that there is nothing wrong with the people in my past but since I a wired as a comedian it is fun to self center and trash the stuff I didn't like.

Part of my fallen human nature is to blame others in my life for why things arent going well.That is one area I have been holding my feet to the fire on and I realize I am the main conductor of good and bad in my life. I can let relationships get out of wack and let people use me or I can set boundaries and have a more equitable existence. I have also realized I cant control others or get results I am expecting if I help someone. If help someone it has to be totally selfless and I expect no glory or satisfaction from it.

Suffering even if it is self induced can create depth and great comedic material. I just wanted to set the record straight that I would be nice to any of these people I came into contact with as I have forgiven them all. I am glad they are happy where they are and I envy them in a way. It takes a lot of effort to leave your much despised comfort zone and start over again. Also maybe my memories are incorrect, I could recount things that my own bias in thinking constructed. I could talk to somebody that was as every event I was growing up in the youth group and they remember it fondly. The risk with blogging is I could be full of it and my claims could be refuted by other parties.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Deciding no belief is better than Calvinist Evangelicalism

When a church changes theological direction they do it gradually so as not to tip off the less theologically astute pew potatoes. The church I reluctanly went back to as an adult did just that. Fire the long term Arminian pastor, switch to elder board rule, and bring back former calvinist pastor. Former calvinist pastor starts to piss me off every Sunday with his rants that seemed to be picking a fight with me directly. I was always lining up with the example he used in his sermons of how not to be. We adjusted by working in the nursery and leaving afterward skipping the service. Even though we were totally unhappy there it never dawned on us to leave or try another church. I think it was because we knew any other church on the approved list to try would suck just the same.

I had no idea what was pissing me off exactly but in the meantime realized that I didnt believe in the God they were selling anymore. Since this was the only Christianity I knew, I figured I was becoming an atheist. So I searched the web and started listening to podcasts and got a pile of books to read to better understand this worldview. I learned more from these podcasts about all the differences in than in the Evangelical world and why they were full of crap. One podcast in particular talked in depth about calvinism and I read more and figuered out what system terrorized me as kid and why the new pastor pissed me off so much. Calvinism was a basically narrow minded theology that uses fear and fake intellectual depth to lure adherents in. Funny how none of these podcasts mentioned pre reformation and Lutheran theology and tried to debunk that. The target was fundamentalist and petty evangelical theology the new atheists like to beat up on. That was what appealed to me was the new athiests were doing a comedy roast on garbage theology that inspired Bad Religion to write the song "American Jesus".

After reading some Ehrman and others I decided to talk with pastors at the old church to discuss the problems I had with their theology. This was a mistake since they had no answers and just made me a poor sap who was going to hell in their eyes. All of the stuff they gave me to read didn't answer any of my questions about where the new testament came from. You would have thought it fell out of the sky a complete work by how they made it sound. They couldn't answer the basic arguemnts Ehrman brought up in his writing and I felt they were selling a bad belief system. They even did a doubting thomas ss class for me and it usually was me ranting all of the new athiest arguments I read and them just sitting there with nothing to say.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What Caused me to Hit the Lever as a Youth

I went on my last nationals trip the year after my sophomore year of high school. I was older and wiser and knew that I would be hanging by myself on the park evangelizing days. There was night we toured a boat before a meeting and on the boat some kid dropped a wrench on my foot and I was pissed. The youth pastor walked up to me and said that if I was going to have such a negative attitude that I needed to decide if I wanted to come anymore. I was pissed and hurt and several people tried to console me bur I just stormed off over 800 miles from home and eventually wandered back to my hotel room later that night when my roomates were returning as well. What I took from the interaction was that I could sneak off to burger king on Sunday mornings and the youth pastor wouldnt care. It wad obvious since I skateboarded and listened to secular music. Who knew that he didnt want want the truth about how he was treating me to come to light and hurt his job stability. I was basically given a free pass to ditch whenever I wanted. I still had friends there and decided to still show up on Wednesday nights.

This went on for another year maybe until a strange prayer request came up on Wednesday night. This kid who was probably from an abusive home said he was having trounle of thinking of women as sex objects. With my quick wit it was a fast pitch in the strike zone anf I replied:"What guy doesn't." At that point I was admonished and told if I felt that way I could leave. So I got up and walked out and never came back. Looking back my reaction was wrong but I think I was mad at the fact that you got special preference ther if you admitted sexual sin and his prayer request stunk of hypocrisy. One of the youth leaders came up to me as an adult and said they put that offer on the table all the time and I was the only one who took it.

Studying spiritual abuse many years later I realized that the leaders run off trouble makers in subtle ways. I held on to so much anger for so many years because I didnt have this knowledge. I always thought there was something wrong with me instead of turning the finger on them and calling them for the cult that they were. I was caught in between my hatred of that church and my parents desire to fit in there. I also think they had no idea how messed up the youth programs were there. As an adult there, you can choose who you do and dont associate with, but as a child you are stuck and I think the church knows that and wants to make good worker bees young to keep the system going.

Time to Flush the Toilet as an Adult

I went back...... When I graduated high school and got married I swore I would never go back to that church. My wife and I tried her church from her youth and a spinoff church of a pastor we liked but they sucked for various reasons too. I think we had a couple years peace with no church attendance until my wife started going back there. I let her go on her own for quite a while and then the guilt meme from youth kicked in and I started to go back so my wife didnt appear as a single mother there. For the first few years it wasnt bad and we even made some new friends. Then one day the lead pastor abruptly was fired and they brought back the lead pastor from the 80's that was recently fired from his current church. One of my friends on staff quit right away and moved and we gravitated away from attending service and just volunteered while our kids went to ss and left.

I am not sure what exactly caused me to snap but I started to earnestly buy in again as an adult there. I had some employees I was trying to help out and they took advantage of me but I figured since I was using the guise of employer and witness for Christ everything would work out. In the old church it is hinted that if you do things with growing the kingdom in mind God will reward you for it. What else should you expect for your time invested. My wife had got on staff at the church and I was cool with until I started to notice she was becoming very involved, in my youth most of my friends would become more involved and our friendship would end. Doubts about the strenght of my marriage started to creep in and to make matters worse the 2 assholes I was coddling at work were making my life a living hell.

It was probably on a night when I had too much to drink but I felt in my mind a fog lift and the god I once believed in was gone and dead to me. Very scary at the time but a necessary death to allow me to grow and deal with my past. I started googling about ex christians and doubt and stumbled on to forums and podcasts. I also started reading books recommended by these podcasts and realized that I didn't believe any more. It was angering and lonely time for me but I also ended up firing the 2 jerks who made my life hell at work. Once that was done and I actually felt peace at work, I realized it was now time to get my self and my family out of that church. My first attempt was an epic fail but thanks to an inadvertant visit to a Catholic church I got a much better plan b.

The Guilt Trip to the Grand Canyon

It was the summer after my 7th grade year and I went on my first youth group trip to what was called "Nationals" in Flagstaff, Az. I remember certain parts of the trip like the church we stayed at on the way that had way too hot salsa awating us when we arrived. I remember endless sessions of singing and preaching as well. I also remember the day of park evagelization where I got stuck with another poor kid for an afternoon of witnessing. I was the friend of last resort for the rank and file in the youth group since six years of faithful attendance didnt make up for the fact I came from a lower middle class family. That all aside this other guy and me ran into a 20 something lady on the outskirts of the park we were at. We went through the tract we were given and probably coached on in those laborious sessions on the previous days. After our presentation was complete, she agreed to accept Jesus as her personal savior. I don't remember telling anyone about it and come to think of it all it probably did was buy me a couple years before I totally burned out on this youth group. In my more cynical days as an adult I thought she was a plant by the conference to inspire us to go into the world and make a difference for Christ.

Now to where the Grand Canyon comes into play. On the way home we were supposed to stop at the Grand Canyon. I was picturing that we were going to go hiking and actually spend time enjoying the natural beauty created by God. Boy was I wrong, we spent 10 minutes at a look out then met under a picnic pavilion for 4+hours as group to recount the teaching of the conference. Wow was it boring and a formal introduction into the world of evangelicals that can't do anything without every second planned around brain washing or guilt tripping of some type. One phrase I remember is the youth pastor saying that he wasn't trying to guilt trip us which means that is exactly what he was trying to do. The entire time I spent at that church as a child and an adult was nothing but a fear based manipulation to get me to believe anybody who didn't believe like we did was going to hell. It was never explicitly stated from the pulpit as the manipulation used was far more subtle. You really notice it when you leave as an adult and realize the people from the old church think you're leading your family to hell. I beg to differ, I pulled my family out of hell.

Now that I have a Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox understanding of Christianity I can call this place for the heresy it represents but in 2010 my gut reaction was agnosticism to escape this bullshit.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Betting on the wrong horse

I did it again, I gave someone an opportunity to work for me in a supervisory role that ended up burning me. With the economy being so bad you would think one could attract great candidates for an open job all day long. Apparently that is not the case as I had to look over several resumes and hold my nose before offering this schmuck the job.

I have a long line of employees taking advantage of my kindness and becoming either lazy in ther jobs or endulging their fallen nature over the years. I am sure everybody who manages a business encounters this but for some reason this wears on me. I should know that the pool I have to pick from is shallow and finding the person who wants to work a lousy shift in a warehouse isn't going to be a long term trustworthy person.

Chazz Palmenteri's character in A Bronx Tale addresses the issue of whether it is better to be feared or loved. I am starting to wonder if a little fear might actually help me out in the long run.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I realize I'm not a theological dummy

This was probably 3 years ago when my wife was on staff at the old church. She was reading a book with her team by some pseudo intellectual evangelical scholar. My wife brought the book home and couldn't make heads or tails of what the point was and asked me to read it and see if I could figure it out. I was annoyed I had to pause the Wire marathon I was watching but I grabbed the book and checked it out. I read a chapter and told her what the point was and even surprised myself at the insights I had. After sitting through sermons for years where the pastor weaved in subtley that only someone as smart as he could have spiritual insight, made me wonder if this was a control mechanism they use to put up a fence to keep people from wandering away from the fold.

This revelation started me down a path of reading all perspectives in theology and inspired a year or so of agnosticism to cleanse my evangelical palete. I was on a crash course with becoming a none once I figured out the intellectual power my old pastors had from the pulpit was based on fear and intimidation and had nothing to do with the truth. Jesus and hell were merely variables to control and scare you into submission. Little did I know I would emerge with a much more Orthodox faith and understand how difficult it is to find and maintain that. It requires you to be a theologian, scholar, historian, and not rely on popular flavor of the week pastors that are one wide stance away from disgrace.

The Smiths becomes my favorite band

I got invited over to a new friends house in the 8th grade. He skated like I did and had an older step brother with an awesome music collection that he didnt have to hide from his parents. I remember seeing two albums on his bed that that sparked my interest, the first one was Louder than Bombs by the Smiths and Staring at the Sea the Singles by the Cure. My friend gladly dubbed off the two albumd for me on his dual casette deck and I was introduced to what I like to call mope rock. Futher down the road my friend dubbed me a Buthole Surfers album over a tape my mom recorded herself reciting bible verses on. The dub started late so you got my my mom receiting whatever verse then the music kicking in. If I were a producer I would have used that as a technique because it wad pretty cool. Whenn I told my mom about about years later she said it was Gods way of pointing ou to me that I was listening to inappropriate music.

This music was melancholy and poetic and offerred an outlet for me to see the world as a much larger place than midwest bible belt town that I am from. As I dug deeper and listened to the Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus and Joy Division I realized the music being pushed by American pop culture was nothing but tits and ass. This music had references to poetry by Keats and Yeats, addressed real issues that mattered. I would go to church and youth group and be controlled and told what to think and how to think. This music was another avenue besides comedy that allowed me to escape and see the world as a much bigger place. Who knew that 25 years later it would also give me an appreciation for chanting in high church liturgy when I showed up at friends wedding at a Catholic church.

A bad night at youth group

I had just moved up from the 6th grade and was starting to attend youth group on wednesday nights. We always met at the youth pastors house since it was cooler than meeting at the church. This week when I showed up the vibe was different, there was no Michael W Smith or Altar Boys blaring on the stereo system in the living room as usual. Instead it was wierdly quiet. As I walked down the stairs the mood was somber and a girl I will call "Yolanda" was crying sitting in a chair where the youth pastor normally was. After everybody arrived the youth pastor said that Yolanda had some sin to confess that she needed to be held accountable for. She told the story of her relationship with her boyfriend and how it lead to sex and now she was pregnant. Keeping in mind she was sobbing uncontrollably the whole time and was probably embarassed and humiliated. Even as a kid my heart sank and I thought something was terribly wrong here. Little did I know that I had started attending a spiritually abusive youth group that would scar me well into my adulthood.

What made me the angriest as I look back is how clueless her parents were. They failed in raising their child and tried to get the church involved in setting her straight and probably saving their status there. There was no love or concern for her it was almost like she was being used as an example of premartial sex gone wrong. I don't remember what the youth pastor said after her admission of sin. I was so traumatized by her embarrassment and sorrow I blocked it out.

When Christianity is done wrong it is extra destructive. I really understand why people leave the faith and never come back. It is a wonder I still attend church but I would hazard a guess that the kool-aide drinkers at my old church think I am on the road to hell attending a Mainline Lutheran church. Oh well those people are in my rear view mirror for good.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why do I care?

I see it all around me, people who are content with watching sports or what ever garbage is on tv these days. I for some reason am compelled to analyze things and see how things work. This has helped me learn home repair, auto mechanics and solve problems at work that make things run more efficient.  Two years ago I started to care about theology, anthropology, psychology and sociology.  It was kind of a way my brain forced me to deal with my past in fundamentalist Christianity and find peace finally. It took me being so miserable in life to realize that no change was more painful than uprooting from a church I was associated with for 30 years of my life and leaving.

Think of moving to a different city but worse since you live in the same house but are a stranger in your own town. I actually envy in a way people at my old church that can fit in and not question anything. I often find myself asking why do I care? Why do I feel compelled to read church history and theology as much as a member of the clergy would? The more I read and the more knowledge I have leads to more questions and even deeper digging. It also makes for an awkward fit in most social situations since I dont get pop culture and the people I am interacting with dont get me either. I had a friend stop our conversation once and say "you are just to damn intellectual".

Or consider reading so much that you understand all sides of an arguement but dont really have an opinion yourself. The more I start to understand things the harder it is for me to polarize myself to one side over the other. So all of this introspection leaves me questioning as to why I keep digging. Is it a midlife crisis?  Am I being called to a new vocation? Or am I just coming up with new material to make me more interesting for dinner conversations?

There is nothing wrong with me!

The nice thing about having an uber secret blog is that I can go off half-cocked and vent with no repercussions. I went for a walk with my daughter tonight who is an alum of the same youth group I went to as a kid. I still am kicking myself for allowing my family to go back to that church 10 years ago but you can't put the shit back in the horse.

She senses the same thing I do with old friends from there. We are treated with pity like we are stupid for leaving them behind. Now we are a prayer request, a project to try to get back into the fold. It really is ridiculous when you leave one type of Christianity for another and since it isnt where the people who leave that church normally go you get branded an apostate. If we went to a PCA, baptist, pentecostal, or cool named church that really is a sbc church we wouldn't have raised any suspicion. But since we left for a Lutheran church that is 90% Catholic, that meand our souls are in jeopardy. When I met with the different friends from the old church and they quizzed me about whether or not I was considering becoming Catholic or Orthodox I should have asked which one would piss you off more?

I should have been more honest with them about why I left and never will come back but they wouldnt hear what I had to say anyway. On a positive note another couple is leaving that church and now that they have we have become better friends since we dont have to pretend everything is perfect all the time. Since the level of belief you have to have there is so intense and you should expect rewards for beleiving the perfect doctrine. Any sign of weakness or humanity is strictly verboten and points you out as a lesser Christian or future Lutheran.