Hello Again, Bible

Shoot, I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m reading Rob Bell’s latest – What Is the Bible? – and I’m digging it. In it he explores the human side of the Bible, looking at it for what it really is (from the cover): an ancient library of poems, letters, and stories.

witb-cover.png

It’s so easy to treat it one of two ways: 1) as a holy, sacred text offered from on-high that is infallible, untouchable, inerrant and practically perfect in every way. Or, 2) to just completely reject it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been treating it as #1. Over the years though, particularly in recent years, I’ve been sliding more toward #2. There’s an internal check, though, which keeps me from going all the way into #2, but as time goes on I see it’s not that I’m sliding more and more toward junking the whole thing, but more toward junking my understanding and reading of it.

The Bible is something I’ve had with me ever since I was a kid. I remember trying to read it on my own as a kid and not getting a thing from it. Then, in the mid-90s, when I had my first real Jesus moment, it came alive to me in a new way. I still have the Bible I got around that time; maybe ’96 or so. It’s an old, beaten up NIV Study Bible. It still has this SUPER long list I wrote in the back of it, naming as many people as I could who I knew or had known. There were times I’d pray for chunks of the names each night over the course of a couple weeks.

Anyway, the systems of Western theology have failed me time and again – on varying levels and to varying degrees – over the years. Or, again, perhaps just my interpretations and implementations of them. In the most recent years – last five or so – I’ve learned that giving up worrying about getting it right has been the best thing for me to improve quality of life.

You see, during that aforementioned Jesus moment, the huge thing was this immense burden of guilt I felt lifted from my soul. For the first time in my life, I felt truly loved, truly safe, truly free. I had never gotten that feeling from anyone else before with perhaps one or two exceptions… It’s that feeling which accompanies the receiving of unconditional love. It’s that feeling that comes along with realizing you’re just enough, you’re just fine the way you are and there’s nothing you need to do to improve yourself except keeping on being you.

I wanted to share that feeling with as many people as I could; I wanted them to be able to feel what I felt. Part of what was taught from my sources of teaching (and what I still hear from time-to-time to this day) is that all who receive Christ’s love have a special gift; they have a cure to the cancer of sin dwelling in the hearts of all who live on the planet. If they don’t get that cure, if no one goes and tells them, then they’re doomed for an eternity in hell.

Over time I came to see a few fundamental flaws in that thinking, not the least of which is the immense guilt complex put upon eager believers wanting to do the right thing. It’s super easy to reach the conclusion that YOU are these peoples’ ONE AND ONLY HOPE for a shot at salvation. Some folks jump on that line of thinking and run with it. Good on them – we all have our journeys. But that’s not mine. Mine is not one to be motivated by guilt; for my understanding is that Jesus takes our guilt away.

For some reason or another, be it genes, inherited disposition, or something else altogether, I find it incredibly easy to be sucked into guilt and flesh that out with some masterful self-loathing. Every time I’d go back to the trough of the Church, somewhere at some point that kool-aid would come up again. So, after my divorce I junked it all again, throwing it into a fire and seeing what remained.

God always remains. You can’t burn the Infinite.

I know there’s more to it all – God; the Bible; faith, love, and hope… Getting out and seeing a fair amount of the world has helped me see this. Getting out from under the burdens of rules and guilt have helped. A very wise man told me that you can choose how you feel in a situation. All depends on how you look at it. Though I rarely believed him or understood him early on, I get it now.

Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the LORD and lean not on your own understanding.

Don’t trust in rules; don’t trust in things just because a lot of people do; QUESTION AUTHORITY. Question religious authority.

Around that time (going back to the time shortly after my divorce), I heard the story of Mike McHargue on the You Made It Weird podcast. On the episode, he talks a lot about the brain, neuro science, and his story of how he grew up Southern Evangelical, became an atheist, and then a believer again. It spoke to me on so many levels.

Since then, I’ve been actively skeptical, trying to stay out of cynicism for extended periods, and trying to find what’s real and what’s BS; or what’s deeper than the mainstream, common understanding of things.

I’ve come to really appreciate Rob Bell. As I mentioned at the top, I’m reading his most recent book, this one about the Bible.

I just read chapter 13 in which he talks about the story of Jonah. Did a fish actually swallow Jonah, then spit him out three whole days later? Does that matter? Bell says it doesn’t matter because the bigger part is the heart of the story: Jonah going to Nineveh to preach a message of salvation and upon a magnificent success, he wants to kill himself, he wants to die.

In the cultural context, Jonah going to speak to the people of Nineveh, the King of Assyria, is like Elie Wiesel going to speak a message of salvation to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Bell’s point is that it’s easy to get caught up in whether or not a literal fish literally kept Jonah in its stomach for three days, literally spitting him up on some beach approximately 72 hours after swallowing him and miss that deeper part of the story – forgiving and loving your enemies.

Could any of us forgive and offer a similar message of hope to our greatest adversaries? Could we do it for democrats? For Trump supporters?

For Trump himself?

Or for Hillary Clinton, for that matter?

Could we offer a message of hope to members of the KKK, to bullies, to the members of ISIS?

Could we offer such a message to ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-spouses, to family members who do nothing but criticize you day after day? Just telling them that God loves them and wants the best for them?

I’m not saying anyone should; just asking if anyone could.

In that regard, I believe the deeper meaning of what I now believe to be a parable, at the time, wasn’t to encourage Israelites to plan mission trips to Nineveh. Rather, it’s important that we remember all of us on this planet – from the saintliest saint to the most despicable, vile asshole – are human beings. There should be no Us vs. Them – we’re all in this world together. And we’re all loved by God.

That’s something I never got from the Bible before. Twelve years on since my first meeting with Jesus I reckon it’s about time and better later than never.

I Was Certain…

Woo, dog – going on four months since the last post; my apologies, but, it turns out I needed that unplanned sabbatical.

Last night I finally started reading the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. I’ve heard it recommended – at least the author – many times on a couple of my favorite podcasts: Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists. Maybe one or two others, I’m not sure…

Highly Recommended

Anyway, I only got through 3-4 of the first chapters (they’re very short, so far) and already I feel more capable of articulating my faith journey because what Enns describes is similar to my own experience.

Namely, growing up and cultivating a faith of absolute certainty, having a crisis or two of faith over the years, and watching that certainty erode, allowing for a more fluid, robust faith. Not a faith that hinges on arguments or apologetics – just a faith that is.

In so doing, I’ve found I’ve also increased my capacity to practice the greatest of these: love.

Instead of condemning others for perceived sins because I was so certain they were committing them, I can be more patient, compassionate, and understanding.

Instead of having to be right about my beliefs of certainty – and thus, building walls between myself and others – I can be more open and hear more of what people have to say, thus enriching my own life with these new perspectives and experiences.

It’s also easier to spot and stop self-righteousness when I saddle up my high horse and turn a potentially contentious situation into one of vibrant personal growth.

I’ve heard it said that the antithesis of faith isn’t disbelief, but rather certainty. And as I write this, I know that certainty has its place in the human experience, but I think I’m talking more about certainty without humility; certainty that is right and correct beyond a shadow of a doubt with no room for change. A static state. One that can’t grow because it can’t change.

And I guess it’s really more of an attitude than anything. On one hand we need to be able to change, grow, and adapt; but on the other we also need structure, boundaries, and limits. I believe that we need to be able to grow within any given structure, but always with the understanding that the structure itself can change – or that we can grow differently than what the structure prescribes, perhaps needing to restructure it at a certain point, or move on to another altogether.

Of course, this begs the ultimate question about God. Certainty? Faith? Where the hell does that come into play? Well, in the Bible, certainty is never commanded – only faith. There is Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Maybe it’s more about the target, or object of faith. Because you can put your faith in a certain thing, like levitation by snapping your fingers, but if you were to try it, you would fail; thus, the faith failed because it was placed in the wrong thing.

That’s the thing – realizing we’re living lives of faith. We can’t know any given thing is true. We can act on a certain thing, and if it works out, in that experience, it proves the hypothesis. Then we can try it again, if it works, huzzah. But then at some point maybe it won’t. Then maybe it will again, or maybe it will never again. And that’s when we can either just dismiss it and move on to the next big thing, or we can stay with it; question it, look deeper into it and try to see what’s up.

I think scientists do this kind of thing, too; some kind of method or something of testing principles, looking for certain results, etc. But then again what do I know?

Bottom line is, humility. Faith without it is presumption. We have to be willing to be wrong – about everything – which is why we can’t hold too tightly to anything. But we do this trusting that it’s going to be okay.

After all, what’s the absolute worst that can happen?

ANCHORS AWEIGH PART 12

Hey! So it’s been awhile. Holidays happened, life happened, and I’m finding myself overcome with projects, some going on a year old now. However, I didn’t want to abandon this. Thank you to the few who take some time to read my ramblings and I’m so glad to hear from some of you that this stuff actually helps encourage you! That’s the whole point, why I write, create, blahblahblah – to try and make the world a better place if only a little bit at a time. So, I’m going to try and get this back into weekly mode and maybe get into more stuff as time goes on and I get this time management magic worked out.

=====================================

So here’s where it starts getting weird.

I got that initial paperwork regarding the treatment of my kidney stone in as quick as I could. A day or two later I learned that it was not sufficient. There needed to be something stating that I was treated, released from care and that there were no subsequent occurrences. So, I figured I needed to do a little more footwork. I thought and thought and thought…and HUZZAH!

I remembered when after I passed the stone I visited a urologist for follow-up. So I tracked down the doctor who did all that, called up the office and was able to get the records sent relatively quickly.

However, in conjunction with that, Navy Personnel Command required I get tested locally to show a recent record of my clean bill of urological health. It would be a doctor’s visit requiring a pee test and a CAT scan.

Uh-oh.

At the time I was working in a call center department for a natural gas company through a temp agency. Because money was kind of tight I used their 0$ group health insurance. I had no idea how much a CAT scan would cost, but I was convinced my meager health insurance wouldn’t cover it, so I googled out-of-pocket costs for CAT scans. Holy Cheerios, the lowest was about $1,500 and highest around $4K. There was no way I could cover that at the time.

All that time I had been praying, seeking God’s will. I was sure he wanted me to pursue enlistment, but with the setbacks I wasn’t so sure he wanted me to succeed. I was seeing it more as a “are you willing to go this far?” kind of faith test, perhaps preparing me for something greater.

Well, I called up people back home in North Carolina and was encouraged to not give up quite yet. Just go into a doctor’s office and see what would happen. Bear in mind, I didn’t have a primary care physician at that time, so I had to go to a Minute Clinic. Before leaving the house that morning I said to God, “Hey man, you want this to happen, I’m gonna need to get this procedure for a song.”

On my lunchbreak, I went to the nearest Minute Clinic location. Handing over my paperwork to the lady at the desk, my heart skipped a beat as her brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry, we can’t help you with this.”

I asked her why not.

“Well, we’re in a Kroger grocery store, so we couldn’t really fit a CAT scan machine in here. But our location on the other side of the parking lot has one! You can try there,” she said with a smile.

So I booked it on over to the location on the other side of the parking lot.

I handed the lady there my materials, she had me sign in, and I asked how much it would cost.

“Oh, well, technically this is just a visit, so that’s $29.95.”

“What about the CAT scan?” I asked.

“We can just put that here under the ‘visit’,” she smiled.

“Wait,” I said, “so the whole thing is just $29.95?”

“With your insurance, yup.”

I swear I could hear the Divine humming Rooster In the Straw.

Sunrise in the early morning hours of Chanthaburi Thailand. (from Adobe Stock)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Anchors, Aweigh! [Part 5 of my story of making the best decision of my adult life]

PREVIOUSLY…

The second time – could’ve been another day, could’ve been later that day – I revisited the notion after a long day at work. For a good month or so I’d spend at least 15 minutes in a stall in the men’s room crying softly. The feeling would just come on all of a sudden; I’d have to log off the phone, hold it in while I walked quickly to the restroom, hope no one else was in there, and just let it out as quietly as possible, sometimes stuffing toilet paper in my mouth to help keep it muffled.

...but you already know what I'm thinking...
…but you already know what I’m thinking…

Following one of those many days I had a similar mental exchange. Except when I got to the accomplishing part it seemed a little easier; I was already in my car and there was a highway right over the hill I could have a fantastic wreck on. But then I thought of the other people who might be possibly involved. And then the third voice barged in again, asking what the fuck I was thinking.

You know what I’m thinking, I responded.

RIGHT – BEFORE YOU DO YOU ANYTHING YOU’LL REGRET, MAKE A FUCKING PHONE CALL!!

And then, I don’t know, I just came to my senses and called back home to North Carolina and talked to my surrogate mom – I was ashamed and scared to tell her what I had been considering. Ashamed for the stigma surrounding people possessing such thoughts and scared to admit it because that somehow makes it more real.

She wasn’t mad, she wasn’t ashamed, but she was scared for me and suggested I call my former therapist. I called her right away and we talked for a few minutes. I called her again a few days later; no more thoughts along those lines, and by that time more people were coming into my life.

The all caps, bold and italic lettering voice I think was the voice of God; or my guardian angel if you think God is above using the f-bomb.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Auditioning for the Band

The news started breaking as I was heading to bed after 0200.

“Mass Shooting in Orlando – 20 Dead, 20 Injured”

All I could think was, “Shit…here we go again.”

By the time I woke up this morning it was 50 confirmed dead.

Fifty souls lost at a night club in Orlando, Florida.

Gun crowd says there should be more guns in the hands of citizens to fend off such attacks.

Gun control crowd says the laws need to be tighter.

Some say it’s (radical) Islam which is to blame.

Some blame the President for making our country more friendly to terror – er…Muslims.

Some say it’s God’s judgement.

Some say it’s just a super fucked up thing to happen.

As mass shootings increase in frequency; as hatred continues to grow in strength and manifest in vile groups such as ISIS, the KKK, human traffickers, and politicians; as acts of terror become the new normal…I gotta confess, I’m not entirely surprised.

Always saddened and disappointed with humanity, but not shocked and certainly not surprised. Before things get better, they’re going to get worse.

There are moments of reflection where I sit back and wonder why on earth I colluded with another human to bring a new human into the world. There are moments where I reconsider and doubt the wisdom of my career choice in pursuing content creation (filmmaking, writing, etc); shouldn’t I be doing something important with my time instead of dreaming up frivolous stories for entertainment? The Titanic is sinking and I’m auditioning for the band?

"And the band played on..." image capture from James Cameron's 1997 masterpiece.
“And the band played on…” image capture from James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece.

Yup.

Entertaining is all I’ve ever really felt good about being good at.

When you can laugh, think of a joke, sing a song, or just be creative in even the darkest of circumstances fear is castrated, terror is mortified, brokenness is restored.

And when you can get other suckers to laugh, think, sing, create with you, then the doom of doom is even more pronounced.

Besides, the boat is sinking; ain’t nothing changing that fact.

Now, the more we laugh and sing and dance gaily about our merry lives, the more darkness there is that conspires against us, seeking to snuff out the delight of life bringing only ruin and misery to nature’s existence.

But did you know that scientists seem to be discovering that even in dark energy there is light?

Reminds me of ol’ Psalmist man saying to G-d:

12even the darkness is not dark to you
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Even in the darkest, coldest, most remote parts of the universe (apparently), there is still light.

So, light is everywhere; not darkness. Or wherever darkness is, light is right there with it, keeping the scary places not so scary.

The boat is sinking. You want to go down lamenting and wailing without dignity or shall we sing and laugh, reflecting on the time we had, marveling that we lasted as long as we did?

So, uh, yeah: fuck evil; fuck terrorism; fuck fear.

Shalom, y’all.

The Jesus Experience?

Now that I have your attention...
A sometimes accurate portrayal of how I feel with Jenn.

Why do I continue on in traditions such as celebrating Christmas and Easter; or praying before meals, especially with Jenny?

Why do I pray for her and our son?

The fire I once possessed has long since gone out. Perhaps for longer than I realize.

My first real positive experience with Jesus was LIFE ’95 during Jacob Aranza’s sermon. I google him now and there’s some serious stuff not of a positive nature out there. I suppose that’s to be expected.

Anyway, it was toward the end, during the altar call-type thing, that I first felt forgiven. It was the first time I felt that any evil things I had done didn’t matter in terms of who I was as a human being.

Following that experience, I tried to get the most out of every time of worship. Anytime there was singing to God I tried my hardest to commune with the Almighty. Sometimes there was success, but most of the time, I suspect, it was emotional responses.

And actually, I suppose that’s what it was at the LIFE event: an intense emotional response. A response to some serious truth, but an emotional response nonetheless.

Hm.

In his book No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton says that if one is in step with the Spirit one doesn’t feel it. Illustrating the point with a marching formation, he points out that when troops are marching in step together they don’t come into contact with each other, thus not feeling each other. It’s when you get out of step that you feel it; that is to say, how one feels is not necessarily a good indicator of one’s relationship.

One thing I can say though, is the LIFE event changed how I experienced thunderstorms. I believed (and perhaps still do (we don’t get many thunderstorms where I live nowadays)) that God is closest to our plane of existence in thunderstorms. I mean, the idea is he’s omnipresent, but maybe within the cumulonimbus formations, the membrane between realities is stretched a little thinner. Just the power and might of the rushing wind, the flashing lightning bolts and explosive thunder…

Saying all that to say, I went from having a mortal fear of thunderstorms to eagerly looking forward to them. To this day I still have what some may consider an unhealthy desire to personally witness a tornado.

That fire I spoke of earlier…

At its core I think it’s a good thing. However, I took it, in response to the aforementioned emotional response, and figured I owed God something. Like, I needed to pay Him back or something for the wonderful way He made me feel.

And then, over time, it turned into the feeling a junkie gets when he does all the drugs to try and replicate that one feeling he had, the first time he smoked a joint or shot up. No matter what I did or tried, I couldn’t get that exact feeling back.

And there was that whole issue when my first girlfriend put it on God to break us up because, I reckon, she was afraid of hurting my feelings or something. I was angry, upset, pissed off at the Almighty. After that great thing He had done at LIFE, and all I had done in those few intervening years before high school graduation, how could He pull this shit? I was a vocal witness for Christ; I got into debates and discussions about faith; I wore provocative Christian t-shirts that spurred conversations; I listened to nothing but Contemporary Christian Music, taking in the Word of Life through modern music styles to help edify my soul and remember doctrine more easily (I think I still know the full rap by DC Talk for Jesus is Just Alright).

All that – all that – and He ostensibly took away the most precious relationship to me up to that point in my life.

Of course, from what I learned at church and in books is that I was guilty of idolatry, putting my ex up on a pedestal, wanting her more than I wanted God. Close friends and family warned me about balance (which made more sense). But what was the death stroke was the shame my sexual desire was shrouded in. I didn’t give up my virginity until after that experience, but my innocence was already taken from me at a very early age. And someone who should have protected me and helped me heal, instead swept it under the rug; it was never to be spoken of; it didn’t happen. It was a shameful thing to have happened and to bring it up was to only bring on more shame…so it was never spoken of until my mid-20s, in therapy.

That shame came from a faith rooted in fear, not love. It was the faith instilled in me, even when I had that life-changing experience.

I guess therapy was when I had the next real Jesus Experience.

Not to retread, but it was there I learned that I was enough. I came to see that I am lovable as I am. That’s what Jesus – or unconditional – love is all about. And as such, it’s a love with no demands or expectations. There’s nothing to pay back, there’s nothing to do in return.

Of course, there’s reciprocity. When someone loves you, you want to love them back. The root of desiring to repay, I think, springs from a guilty conscience. That mentality doesn’t believe one is worthy of that love; and maybe one isn’t (from a certain point of view), but one has it, and it wouldn’t be so freely given if the giver didn’t think the receiver was enough.

Reciprocity is different than paying back. You don’t have the compulsion to repay, but someone makes you feel good (i.e.: loved) and you want to make them feel the same way. What’s scary is that this principle is also at the root of vengeance.

So anyway – we’ve got LIFE ’95; therapy; when would be the next Jesus experience…?

I think it would actually be…meeting Jenny.

When Jesus was on earth, He was all about upending the System, bringing new light to old wisdom and new life to old souls. I was caught up thinking that marriage – finding a mate – was supposed to be a certain way. “Equally yoked” was a buzzword concept thrown around a lot in my formative spiritual years and, as such, was ingrained in my membrain (I know that’s not how you spell it).

As my first attempt at marriage fizzled, I put myself back out there. In spite of all relationship failures up to that point (and they are legion), and in spite of that ultimate relational fail, I was bound, determined, and sure that true love was out there waiting for me.

However, as fast and hard as I tried to run from the old way of thinking, “equally yoked” still prefaced every prospect. There was a lady or two I met who met the conventional meaning of being equally yoked but many more (with whom I felt more compatible) who did not; Jenn was among them.

And this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

When I was in college I dated a young lady who wasn’t conventionally equally yoked, yet upon reflection the relationship had the potential to be one of the best I ever had. But because of that conventional belief, I ended it. At the heart of it I was a coward and didn’t know what I had. Twelve, thirteen years later I resolved that if I ever found myself in that position again to not just abandon it, but to hang on as long as I could.

Though I am a quick study, I’m a slow learner. After a few dates with Jenn I knew in my gut that she was the one, yet convention still called…as well as fear of happiness. I called it off; but she didn’t. She still liked me and when I went off to Germany for a few weeks we stayed in contact.

It was one afternoon, after traipsing through the beautiful countryside, and then seeing a picture in ein alten Frau’s living room of two horses: a mare and a stallion standing together, looking into the distance…weird, I know, but it was in that picture – let’s say the spirit of the picture – that I saw us.

As soon as I could I skyped her and told her I loved her and that I wanted to be with her.

This is what true love looks like.
True love is serious business.

And then with her, it’s just been one Jesus experience after another. We take turns in pissing each other off, or disappointing each other to varying degrees, but everything is overshadowed by our love for each other. Most of the time we’re making each other smile and/or laugh.

And inherent in love, I believe, is commitment, faithfulness, and trustworthiness (to name a few). Such things I lacked in myself for a very long time because I couldn’t ascribe them to myself; I didn’t think I was worthy or sufficient.

But then learning that I am, I’ve slowly been able to develop these traits and cultivate them more and more, and thus, love more freely. Not perfectly, mind you; and I still screw it up more times than I get it right, but I’d like to think that now the majority of my actions come from a place of love instead of fear.

Now more than ever with Stormy in the picture – managing the love streams between child and spouse.

These have been my Jesus experiences so far – experiences of unconditional, unbridled love and self-realization. I reckon it’s facilitating such experiences for others by being an honest, loving human being that Jesus is getting at when He talks about the Great Commission. Not making a sales pitch for hellfire insurance, or getting people into the “feel-good-about-yourself-club” and making them follow a bunch of rules; but rather showing love, dignity, and respect to everyone; and insofar as we’re able, to aid them toward self-realization so that they know they, too, are worthy and sufficient, and that that’s something that’s worth keeping going in this broke-up, busted-ass world.

Maranatha, and all that.

My Faith Story – An overview

 

On a Sunday morning it seems appropriate to write/talk about faith.

I never really know where to start when talking about it, though. For instance, what do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?

My main inspirations for this are from a couple other blogs I read – Jamie the Very Worst Missionary and Addie Zierman’s blog. It also comes from The Liturgists Podcast and even a bit of You Made It Weird With Pete Holmes.

A really big push came when I finished reading Addie Zierman’s first book, When We Were On Fire, A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. That was late last year and the motivation ultimately fizzled. But now I’m in the midst of reading her second book, Night Driving, and I’m finding the inner compulsion welling up again.

Her first book, When We Were On Fire, especially resonated because I felt as though I was reading my own personal history of growing up as an ON FIRE FOR CHRIST teenage crusader; that is, were I a female and had I grown up in the Midwest instead of being a dude growing up in North Carolina.

JUMP!!!
“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich. Feelin’ this every now and then…

I grew up going to church every Sunday. Once I hit youth group age Wednesday nights were thrown into the mix. The more I started learning about God, the more I became afraid of him.

I distinctly remember in the summer of ’93, we were having a rash of thunderstorms and tornadoes tearing up the piedmont. Whenever a severe storm or tornado warning was issued for our area, I’d go outside and walk into the middle of our neighborhood circle and bargain with God to just hit me and leave my family’s home – and the neighbors’ – alone. My conscience was just so saturated with guilt and fear, and for some reason I’ve always associated weather conditions with God’s immediate presence, that I was sure in those thunderstorms he was gunning for me.

A couple years later I attended my church denomination’s tri-annual youth conference, LIFE ’95. In one of the last large meetings I felt God’s love for the first time. It was the first time I felt no judgment; only love, forgiveness, and as if an enormous weight I didn’t even know was there was suddenly lifted from my soul.

Fast-forward eleven years…I’m in therapy to try and hash out some detectable, but indiscernible emotional issues.

I had been through the height of the True Love Waits movement in which the lesson I took away from it was that my natural, budding, sexual urges were sinful – or could lead to sin. After all, just thinking about having sex was a sin (often citing, and I believe misusing Matthew 5:28).

After considering going to a Christian college I went to East Carolina University instead. I got some advice from an author I admired at the time, John Fischer (just discovered he’s still writing (of course he is!)), asking which would be wiser. He said that if I really wanted to see what my faith was made of, go to the secular school.

Within those four years I experienced a few significant firsts: disillusionment with the Church; abandoning God; sex; grace in a new way; severe self-loathing.

You see, I could have chosen to remain in a Christian bubble, similar to what I had at home, but I decided against that.

And then I moved back home.

It wasn’t long before I found myself cycling between backsliding believer and Bible-thumping asshole.

The jobs I worked at got me further into the real world with the people who I worked alongside and there was more dissonance I felt between being told I should spread God’s good news of unconditional love and yet remain separate from the sinfulness of wicked sinners – especially homosexuals. Shoot, the guy I could most relate to at my first job out of college was gay*. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble café a few years later, one of the shift leads was gay and we’d always, well (heh, heh) have a gay** old time singing showtunes and such toward the ends of our shifts.

As a young adult, the deeper I’d get into the Western Church Machine, the more I found myself despondent, despairing, and ultimately depressed. I couldn’t do anything right. Anything I would do right wouldn’t be me, because God gets all the glory. The only thing I could take credit for was everything I did wrong, and everything I’d do wrong would keep me from knowing God, so just try/pray/read your Bible harder, harder, harder.

Not exactly grace.

So yeah, therapy. First time I was ever told all that was bullshit and that I’m enough as I am. The kernel was planted in my spirit, and has been budding more and more in the last few years, that I will never arrive and be who I was meant to be. I arrived in July of 1980, in all my perfectly flawed glory, and the Darkness got to work (as is wont to happen to all of us who breathe, eat, and shit). But the Light – the Light has always been there, too. And always will be.

I was in therapy for three years, read a bunch of books (I recommend The Ragamuffin Gospel and No Man Is An Island), and went on to make the same damn mistakes…but this time with tools and strategies – a humble way of saying, “the beginning of wisdom” – to augment the ever-present Light and deal with the never-leaving Darkness.

What really helped put things in perspective was my first marriage. Yeah, Jenn’s my second marriage.

That first time out was my last time trying to do things by the book. At the expense of my identity and who I am, I tried following the teachings put out by modern evangelicals instead of trusting my gut. The result was one week of attempted happiness followed quickly by about five months of agony.

Granted, I probably shouldn’t have rushed into it the way I did, but I was sure that if I followed the modern teachings rooted in ancient wisdom everything would turn out okay.

And this is a very generalized telling of the story in extremely broad strokes, but it’s the essence of my experience and how I processed it. It was enough to get me to abandon the system and just go after some freakin’ happiness.

And here I am. Maybe you’ve seen the previous posts in this blog, maybe you haven’t (I’d recommend it for context), but I’m happier and more content with this life than I ever have been.

I still believe in God and Jesus, but I’m finding a need for some serious rethinking on concepts and doctrine; the true depths of mercy, grace, sin, and love.

So, I don’t know what follow-ups to this post will look like, but the door is opened now.

And does any of this resonate with you? Just curious…

Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook
Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook

*adjective, gayer, gayest.

1.

of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed towarda person or persons of one’s own sex; homosexual:

a gay couple.

 

**5.

Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:

gay spirits; gay music.

6.

Older Use. bright or showy:

gay colors; gay ornaments.

7.

Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures:

a gay social season.