Don’t Call Me An Ass

Some might say I’m an apostate, agnostic, atheist or anything else starting with the letter “A” deemed derogatory. I’m resolved to not take issue, so long as no one calls me an ass.

I once was a religious insider myself, well versed in the labeling and categorizing of heretical outsiders. So, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to divine what many may be postulating about me personally: 51-ZTwr3slL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_“Is he possessed? Has satan deceived him? Is he delusional? Hurt? Confused? Rebelling? Why in God’s name would he turn his back on his upbringing and walk away from his calling?!” Thus it is for all those who’ve dared to question their inherited, deep-seated beliefs, and even more so for those who once served in a professional capacity such as I did for 25+ years.

The stories of former clergy like me are heart-wrenching and too numerous to recount. Sadly, the tragedy of being ostracized, humiliated, shunned and often terribly impoverished is a common thread running throughout. For a society [the Church] claiming to be built on foundations of grace and unconditional love, the question which begs to be answered is: “Why is it necessary to demonize and shun those who doubt, question and/or choose to simply be a good human being apart from all the religious trappings?” Some have suggested the answer lies in the past, starting with the early European settlers of America.

Puritanical Heritage

It’s been my observation that most churchgoers throughout the Bible-belt and America’s Heartland possess very little knowledge of their particular sect’s history. Furthermore, in my opinion, they are woefully lacking in objectivity as it concerns the cognitive behavioral motivators both past and present. From sea to shining sea, the American Christian culture remains deeply influenced by the puritanical heritage originating with the first Thirteen Colonies. Researching this history of Puritan influence, the historian John Coffey has noted:

New England exercised a disproportionate influence on American ideals…thanks to a powerful intellectual tradition disseminated through its universities, its dynamic print culture and the writings of its famous [Puritan] clergy.

Today, the Puritan’s ideology is largely championed by the rise of Evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Emphasizing this, is an article published in 2015 by The Gospel Coalition entitled 8 Reasons Why We Need The Puritans. The article concludes with the following quote by the contemporary theologian John Piper:

My own experience is that no one comes close to the skill they [the Puritans] have in taking the razor-like scalpel of Scripture, and lancing the boils of my corruption, cutting out the cancers of my God-belittling habits of mind, and amputating the limbs of my disobedience. They are simply in a class by themselves.

It’s been my experience that very few evangelicals would privately disagree with Piper’s summation, though publicly opting for a softer, more digestible, “seeker-sensitive” version.

Scarlet Letter

Piper’s “lancing, cutting and amputating” are obviously figures of speech. However, it is reminiscent of a familiar aggressiveness known to his Puritan ancestors whom he puts in “a class by themselves.” Certainly, when it came to dealing with so-called sabbath breakers, smokers, merry-makers and dissenters, “no one comes close.” Employing the same torture devices they had once fled, they religiously shackled, branded, cropped ears and stitched scarlet letters on the clothing of so-called sinners.poster8x-whi-z1-t-the-scarlet-letter

For persons of differing faith traditions, namely Quakers and Catholics, tolerance was in short supply. Often, their ears were cut off, and hot pokers pushed through their tongues. Others were publicly flogged, imprisoned and either hung or burned at the stake.

Fortunately, in our modern society, such physically brutal reprisals are forbidden. Sadly though, the wording Piper uses implies old, puritanical attitudes which remain to support harsh, cruel behavior. For instance, with those who dare to question inerrant, sacred text, they are told to “cut it out” or risk being “cut off” from fellowship. Almost instantly, news of their offense travels quickly in the form of “benign” prayer requests dripping with juicy, exaggerated gossip (i.e. lies).

Usually, the resulting drama is enough to bring the backslider “back into the fold” quite quickly. However, for those who persist, reprisals akin to shunning end up producing tremendous, physical pain. For former clergy, the price that is paid is horrific (i.e. divorce, loss of income, no network to find another job, broken relationships with friends, family, children, grandchildren, stress related illnesses, depression, PTSD, etc.). Adding injury to loss, the “razor-like scalpel of Scripture” in the hands of the religious zealots produces horrific scars for life.

Abduction Please!

Interestingly, in Puritan times, life was so hard for children, some often preferred to be abducted by the neighboring Native Americans who were freer in thought and practice, valuing equality between the sexes. I guess it comes as no surprise so many, led by today’s evangelical youth, wholeheartedly refuse Piper’s amputations and dream of abduction by progressive, critical-thinking tribes. While doing so, many brave the constant threat of being branded and forced to wear the scarlet letter (i.e. apostate, agnostic or atheist). I would implore all rational, compassionate minds to not consider them an ass for doing so.


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It’s Called Consequences

Prior to writing my previous post A Thousand Tears, national news headlines had been saturated for days with the torrent of Catholic abuse stories pouring out of Pennsylvania. Every article caused me to shudder with grief until my knees grew weak and I was forced to sit down. It was then I realized, I had to write and post my story, but I didn’t want to.

Painful Chore

It’s in no way satisfying for me to cast my parents in a bad light. Whether deserving or not, it’s a painful, deplorable chore. Complicating my feelings, is the compassion I have for them. I can sympathize with their past actions when I consider the institutionalized, religious oppression they were raised in. I was subjected to the same, and for many years, like them, I willingly submitted.

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“Divided” by Julie Roth

Fundamentalistic belief systems, even those considered wholesome by pious church-goers, often result in robbing good people of their rationale and basic common-sense. In the void, blind acceptance and conformity gain strength. Until at last, the unthinkable occurs: desperate souls willingly sacrifice their own children, just to please their new master(s).

Doorbell Chimes

Over three-decades ago, behind the church camp cafeteria, my father and Deacon Scott exchanged heated words. Scott promptly packed his bags and quietly left before lunch. The rumor around church camp was, a local farmer had called. Rain was in the forecast and Scott’s help was needed.  Even though our farming community was experiencing a drought, no one seemed to question his hasty departure.

Two days later, once the annual summer camp had concluded, we returned home exhausted to the quaint parsonage sitting next to our quiet country church. Over the following days and weeks, the only thing that disturbed the peacefulness of our simple abode, was the occasional chiming of our front entrance doorbell.

Sadly, it was always Deacon Scott on the other side of the door.

Over the course of a few weeks, he and my dad continued their exchange of words. I was never privy to their ongoing conversation. It always took place on the front porch late at night after I had gone to bed. However, my mom’s worsening nervous condition informed me, it wasn’t going well.

Horseplay

Over time, I was eventually able to piece together what transpired every time the doorbell rang. Apparently, Scott had been determined to plead his case. In his mind, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. Eventually, his persistence paid off, and my parents started casually speaking of how, “Boys will be boys sometimes; it’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

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“Push 1” by Julie Roth

I don’t think my parents ever fully believed what they were telling themselves. If they had, such a grievous offense would have warranted a severe, biblically-inspired whipping for me. Weeks passed by as I patiently waited with nervous anticipation, but it never happened.

Regardless, my parents were desperate to accept some form of explanation, which would allow them to forgive, forget and live in peace. Scott succeeded in meeting their desperate need with his less offensive, more palatable story involving horseplay.

After all, he was “just a loving camp counselor” who foolishly wrestled with his favorite camper late one night.

Wedding Bells

In the months which followed, peace and tranquility returned to our home–for them… not so much for me. This lasted for two years, until once again, the solitude of our home was dramatically disturbed.

After supper one night, my parents sat me down in the formal living room. The look on their faces was exceptionally grave. They had something very serious to discuss with me. My sister was exiled to her room to do homework and memorize her daily bible verses. Once they heard her door close shut, they commenced with divulging the horrific details.

Scott was getting married. My dad was the officiant and I was to be a groomsman. If I did not comply, he had assured my parents he would change his story. He would tell the entire church how I, as a 12-year old, had seduced him when he was 26!?! Apparently, this version would have been completely believable for the faithful, pious church-goers attending our quiet, country church.

Plastic Mouse

In that moment, I felt like the small, plastic mouse in the board game Mouse Trap. This entire time, the adults in my life had been playing a diabolical game, and now the trap had just been sprung. Not only was I the bait, but the prey as well.

Long story short, under great protest I was forced to comply. Next to Scott I stood with my father to his right, as the three of us watched his bride slowly walk up the center aisle. She was young and small with a boyish figure. She was also a little bit “slow” as my parents would say. She may have had a learning disability. I’m not sure.

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“Escape 3” by Julie Roth

Following the wedding, my helplessness and despair sank to all-time lows. I was buried under the grief of being victimized, as well as, the shame for being made complicit.  The next Sunday morning, I came to learn how deep my hole of despondency was when I learned, Scott and his new bride were making plans to be foster parents.

Whether my dad took part in the application process or not, I have no idea. Although I highly doubt it. Administrative duties were not his forte. It’s my understanding, they never did become foster parents. Whether or not they eventually had children of their own, I have no idea.

Consequences

I wish all of what you’ve read, in this post and the previous one, had not happened, but it did. I wish these events were not part of my past. but they are, and always will be. No one in their right mind would wish any of this on another human being. Sadly though, many have similar stories, and some far worse, as the headlines continue to reveal daily. 

Therefore, with all who have been abused and oppressed,

I STAND IN SOLIDARITY, refusing allegiance to belief systems, bigoted traditions and tribal loyalties which persist in covering up crimes.

I STAND IN PROTEST, refusing to kneel with the masses as they habitually pray for the hurting, while kissing the rings of criminals.

I STAND IN DEFIANCE, refusing to enter in through church doors, which remain closed to honesty, transparency, morality and justice.

I wonder what would happen if, every Sunday morning, people would stand in solidarity outside churches, refusing to attend or give money until legal justice has been served? Perhaps, Pennsylvania would be a good place to start.

It’s called consequences.


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“Push 2” by Julie Roth

The artwork in this post is by the very talented illustrator Julie Roth. She’s local, here in West Bend, WI. I’ve admired her work for years, but had no idea who she was until we met this morning at the downtown farmer’s market. I bought a print of Push 1. I’m gonna order Push 2.


 

Take Your Time God

Tragedy strikes in a variety of ways. Storms, wrecks, sickness, death, job loss, the list is endless. Adding insult to injury, are those wishing to assign purpose and meaning to misfortune. They seemingly can’t help themselves when it comes to offering senseless, pat antidotes–especially on social media.

This past weekend, while people were fleeing the raging wild fires consuming homes and businesses near Redding, CA the following post popped up in my FB newsfeed:

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We know this is creating space for God to show up and do some amazing things in peoples lives… Jesus be near.

In my former, religious frame of mind, I never really liked such sentiments, but idly stood by without opposition. Now however, when reading this free of my past superstitions, everything inside of me bristled! It left me troubled and upset for hours. I couldn’t shake the sentiment being conveyed: God will show up AFTER everyone has suffered and lost everything.

Time to Show Off

For centuries, religion has sought to answer the ageless quandary of suffering. Countless theologians have weighed in with too many cooked up antidotal recipes to post here. Regardless, the choice dish devotees prefer to serve up to the hurting masses is: the divine uses calamity in order to show off his greatness.

Along this line of thinking, it’s not tasteless for God to quietly stand by while people are abused, enslaved and consumed. After all, there is a biblical precedent for this. In Israel’s ancient past, he waited 500 years before showing up and showing off. At first, neither the Hebrew slaves nor Pharaoh their oppressor were convinced of his power and intentions. But the final dish God served, featuring roasted lamb for the Hebrews and dead babies for the Egyptians, motivated everyone to be compliant.

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Continuing in this same line of thought, perhaps it’s reasonable for God to let the nations rage for countless millenniums? According to ancient prophecies, he’s just waiting for the right moment to make his grand entrance! His first order of business will be to slaughter the majority of earth’s human population, serving their flesh up as a hearty meal for the birds of the air.

Afterwards, he will sit down to a victor’s feast with his chosen few who gleefully assisted him in committing mass genocide. Apparently, roasted lamb will be on the menu again. Following the dinner party, he will graciously provide the earth’s remaining population with eternal peace and prosperity as they recover from PTSD.

Heavy Lifter

No one in their right mind would ever entertain such unconscionable reasoning or behavior. And if they did, they’d need to enter a temporary insanity plea to hopefully avoid an extended lockup. Sadly, God and his chosen people persist in this line of thinking. Theologians, ministers, rabbis and mullahs are eager to supply them with creative loopholes and exemptions.

Thankfully though, humane laws exist to prohibit the earthbound faithful from preemptively acting out in the hopes that God will be enticed to show up, show off and finish off.

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Meanwhile, back on social media, while the religious continue to post their mindless antidotes and dark predictions, humane reasoning quietly does the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Breakthroughs in medicine and science continue. More effective building codes are enforced. Relief aid is funded. First Responders evaluate and test improved procedures. Environmentalists combat pollution and promote healthier food sources. Peace keepers protect the innocent. Industry gives bonuses for maintaining clean, safe workplaces.

I’d say, the work of showing up is in good hands right now.

So… take your time God.

Save Your F**ks

I’m sitting here waiting on a call from someone I haven’t spoken with in a long time: a once fellow evangelical minister.  Like me, he is no longer in Christian ministry.  He lives on the East Coast, and I a few miles west of Lake Michigan. We’ve kept in touch via Instagram. He messaged me earlier today asking if we could talk tonight. Apparently, a lot has changed with him recently.

Oh, my phone is ringing!

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My friend is the analytical type, very thorough and exact. However, differing from others with the same gift of precision, he’s capable of adjusting the level of transferable data according to the capacity of his audience.

Since it was me he was talking to, he started by downloading the 5-minute CliffsNotes version. Apparently I’ve lost some of my intellectual capacity through the years?!  LOL!

Beautiful Disaster

His story reminded me of Kelly Clarkson’s song Beautiful Disaster:

He drowns in his dreams, an exquisite extreme I know… He’s magic and myth, as strong as what I believe,a tragedy with more damage than a soul should see… Such a beautiful disaster.

What he shared was something akin to a tragicomedy, highlighted by abuse, betrayal, false accusations and extreme loss. It had all the makings of the numerous ancient crucified messiah tale.

Apart from the terrible sh*t, he did share some amazing, wonderful shizz. In the midst of extreme pain and loss, he’s experienced his own miraculous version of resurrection! To his surprise, the power that raised him from his grave came via… a lovely humanist!

She shared none of his religious beliefs or inherited convictions. With excitement, he told me, “She doesn’t even believe in God! But, she applies Scripture in context with greater clarity than I ever did as an evangelical minister!”

maxresdefaultHis story is not uncommon. Countless ones have plenty to share, but remain largely unheard. Pop culture is obsessed with the Kardashians and the like. As it concerns Evangelicals, they are simply ruthless when it comes to suppressing objectivity and keeping things hidden. It’s not so much an organized effort, as it is an inherited culture of denial and blame shifting.

They are masterful with the cup and ball game, always distracting attention away from what they are skillfully concealing. Misogyny, sexual abuse, gender biases, impoverishment, racism and mindless servitude shift from one cup to the next. The faithful masses remain entertained by their divine, loving “Father” figure who knows best, while carelessly tossing their time and money away.

A headline mega-church pastor once told me:

What’s happening with the Catholic sex abuse scandal is nothing compared to what will eventually be exposed in the Evangelical Church.

For many, the only way of escaping or surviving the madness is via self-sabotage or silent compliance. For my quoted mega-church friend, it was self-sabotage. His scandal provided Oprah, Barbara Walters, Bill O’Reilly and HBO a momentary surge in ratings. It was big news nationally, but on the local level the grassroots cup and ball games never paused or stopped. The status quo remained intact.

A New Found Faith

Presently, my friend’s relationship with his lovely humanist has taught him how to truly love himself for the very first time in his life. With this, he’s experienced a new found freedom with problem solving and decision making. Furthermore, he’s learned to place his former zealous faith in… wait for it… wait for it… IN HIMSELF!

Recently, he put his new humanist faith to the test and started his own company. Currently, he’s well on his way to financial freedom! #applause

“Even so,” he woefully confessed, “I’m a complete f**k up; seriously man, I’m just a f**k up.”

What do you say to that?

I completely understood where he was coming from. After all, we both share similar religious backgrounds, trained from an early age in the self loathing art of condemnation and repression. However, I no longer practice those dark arts. YouTube sensation “Sweet Brown” famously said it best when she exclaimed: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Aint-nobody-got.jpgSo how did I respond? Well, sometimes I surprise myself by saying something amazingly profound. My close friends refer to these moments as “rare flashes of brilliance” — emphasis being on “rare” and “flash.”

In those brief moments, I’m often moved to scratch my rare brilliance out on paper. Thinking, later I’ll put it to text on the background of a cool pic and then post it to Facebook? It’s sure to go viral!?!

Well, thankfully in this particular moment the brilliant wisdom of Instagram was close at hand. Thank you high speed internet! Here are the anonymous wise words I successfully transferred to my friend in less than 7 seconds:

You should give a f**k. You really should. But only about things that set your soul on fire. Save your f**ks for magical sh*t.

And with that, we both sighed and exchanged heartfelt “I love you man” valedictions and promises to talk again very soon.

Goodnight. Sweet dreams my friend.