Becoming Human

Mic’ed up and with cameras recording, the interviewer asked me point blank, “Do you believe in God?” Immediately, numerous responses flooded my mind, but quickly a question formed. As if I were having an out-of-body experience, I heard myself ask, “Which God?” 

There was a short pause and then the conversation continued. It meandered about in numerous directions, while my internal dialogue continued in the background. Eventually the mics and cameras were turned off, small talk ensued and finally warm goodbyes were exchanged. Then, as if nothing significant had occurred, life quickly returned to normal. However, in the background, my internal dialogue continued to ebb and flow. Why had I asked, “Which God?”

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Loaded to the Hilt

When replying with a question, I wasn’t trying to be cheeky or snarky. I was sincerely searching for a context. Which one? Allah? Yahweh? Vishnu? Ganesh? Jesus? Apollo? Ra? The Universe? Ether? And we wouldn’t want to exclude women: Athena? Aphrodite? Sophia? The Holy Spirit?

In that moment, it would have been helpful if the question had been phrased, “Do you believe in my God?” After all, if this conversation had occurred centuries ago with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, he undoubtedly would have asked, “Do you believe in…MY GOD…the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

Obviously, the topic of “believing in God” is always personalized and often loaded to the hilt with emotion. As it concerns Allah, one has to establish which version is being inquired about. Sunni? Shia? Khumra? And we shouldn’t exclude the marginalized Sufis. Personally, I’m a big fan of their witty and humorous poet, Hafiz.

When it comes to Greek or Norse gods, our modern day society has largely decided to retire them to a mythological status. However, they are experiencing somewhat of a big-screen revival thanks to CGI and millions of contribution$ from Marvel, DC and Warner Brothers. The scads of obscure island gods have yet to claim the same mass fame, largely remaining on small, local stages entertaining gawking tourists. However, I’m hoping Aquaman can open a door for a few of them.

Continental gods, such as those throughout South America, have largely died from starvation, due to a scarcity of young virgins and bleeding hearts. On a small scale, eastern gods have extended their lives by appealing to hippies and hipsters. In India, it seems no amount of deities have proven sufficient enough to provide an upper hand or leg up. And recently, the Judeo-Christian Jehovah has been stumbling a bit, first with the Holocaust and now with ceaseless conflict in the Middle East. However, he did manage to get a win in the 2016 Presidential Election. #MAGA

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Cherry Picking

When it comes to Christianity, many assume the discussion would be obvious and understood. But with a disputed 30+ thousand sects active around the world, it’s proven to be quite the opposite. For those of us who’ve gone on short-term mission trips, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Located within blocks of one another, you’ll often find a dozen, maybe even twenty or more denominations competing for converts. They all read from the same book and practice faith in similar ways. Though rarely, they are on speaking terms. Why? Financial support aside, their ideologies keep them far apart as the east is from the west.

Orthodox? Catholic? Protestant? Baptist? Pentecostal? Charismatic? Methodist? Lutheran? Fundamentalist? Conservative? Liberal? Progressive? Prophetic? Apostolic? Non-denominational? Inter-denominational, Unitarian? Universal? Whew! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even gotten started! Obviously, the divide is massive. Maybe now’s a good time to admit: we’ve been cherry picking sacred texts for a long time, crafting preferred versions of the Divine we either could defend, or stomach for a season.

With such an admission, I know I’m asking a lot. After all, confession is rarely easy. For me, it took a few years of self-searching and decluttering. In the beginning, it seemed heroic to dismiss and ignore all the divine decrees regarding diet, menstruation, fashion dos & don’ts, polygamy, celibacy, justified violence and slavery. As a matter of fact, I was often praised for doing so, and encouraged to continue.

Later, when I was willing to relinquish the pro-misogamy references, I experienced my first serious pushback. But the heat really got turned up when I did the same with anti-LGBTQ references. All I can say about that is, “WOW!” Nonetheless, each experience caused me to dig deeper. Eventually, I could no longer ignore the countless contradictions, both within the Bible and within myself.

beinghuman_us Being Human – One of my all-time favorite series depicting the struggles of a vampire, ghost and werewolf reclaiming their humanity. It portrays the ugliness and beauty of finding love, forgiveness and redemption.

Becoming Human

In the end, I was left holding onto a very thin sliver of what some still considered sufficient for faith. It was largely a collection of metaphors, a bit of sacred poetry and a few words of wisdom. I lovingly held it close for a season, until one day I had an epiphany: My relationship with supernaturalism was over, and I would survive. Heck, I might even thrive! So, with the same veracity of commitment and moral devotion of my religious past, I decided to pursue simply being human and all it entails.

It wasn’t long until I discovered, my humanistic endeavor was considered by many as heretical and foolhardy. In some faith circles, simply being human is actually tantamount to committing a crime. Nonetheless, I’m undeterred. After all, everybody is a heretic to somebody. In my defense, I like to point to the fact that most religions share a similar narrative: at one time or another, many of the gods (including “God”) pursued the same thing—becoming human.


Postscript

I’m not so naive to think that this article will answer all my critics, or for that matter please every one of my supporters. What about NDE’s? The afterlife? Eternal punishment & reward? OI VEH! For now, I suggest we stay on point with what it means to be human. Personally, I feel this topic is far from being exhausted. Here’s a few links to get things started:

Ze Frank: Are You Human?

Daniel Wendler: What Being Autistic Taught Me About Being Human

Erwin Raphael McManus: What Makes Us Uniquely Human?

Sonia Sanchez: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Bob McDonald: What If Everything You Know Is Wrong?

 

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Need A Job?

Post 20+ years in ministry, I landed a good job with a billion dollar company. Currently, I am an interior decor project manager working with leading franchises around the world.

As much as a job can be, it’s fulfilling. I enjoy the people I work with and the creative aspects of decor. I’m salaried with freedom to work from home when desired and I’m building a retirement that will hopefully be “golden” in 20 years.

Average Me

I was 45 when I left ministry. I have some college but no degree. I have no background in design or engineering. My computer skills are average. With Mac, I’m exceptional; Microsoft, the preference in business, I hate! I had some experience in the trades before ministry but nothing recent. 

The question I’m most frequently asked by former clergy is: “How did you get the job you got?”

Hmm…

Initially, I exhausted all my leads from current and past friends. One was a business owner who was eager to hire me, but not for the reasons I thought. He offered me base pay and wanted a commitment that I’d counsel him at least 2 hours a week.

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Hmm… thank you, but no. I had lost valuable years of accumulating $$$ in a 401k. I couldn’t consider base pay and free “on-the-side” counseling.

Those few months were very rough. I was so depressed, and didn’t know the first thing about writing a resume. I also struggled with self-condemnation, dwelling on how I had “thrown my life away” and put my family in a terrible situation.

Eventually, I reconnected with a friend who’s a business consultant. He had been active in my church when I first planted it, but had left shortly after. Life took us in different directions.

Not a Loser!

He helped me process my predicament and sort through my “woe is me” emotions. He also helped me uncover the hidden gems (my skills and life experience) from what I thought was only rubbish! Together, for a few weeks we worked on my resume.

He shared with me that most professionals have at least three to six different resumes, each tailored for similar but different positions. We identified that my collective experience screamed MANAGER! Then, he taught me a new language. Religion was my native tongue. Business was not. I needed a translator, and he was that!

FACT: I had preached with translators around the world, but had never put two-and-two together. Translators paraphrase the message, and by de facto direct the conversation which follows. Learn how to translate and you can be the one leading and directing the conversation, even when being interviewed.

We started by listing my pre-ministry jobs and highlighting my skill sets. Have you ever participated in safety meetings, time studies, board meetings, interventions? That’s called problem-solving!

We then tackled my “gap years” in ministry. 

We identified my ministry experience as a specialization in non-profit management. We listed out a few of the projects I had been part of: building projects, community-helps programs, weekly presentations, capital campaign initiatives, overseeing staff & volunteers, hiring, firing, etc.

FACT: Charitable initiatives are very popular with small and large companies. Few people have experience in coordinating and leading these initiatives. As a former clergy, a.k.a. non-profit manager, having past experience with charity drives is a big plus.

Highlight This!

The initial goal of my resume was not to be exclusive about my past work experience; it was to highlight my worth and value. We kept it focused on my managerial experience, including buzz words such as, problem-solver, solution-oriented, positive, team player, etc. Because I didn’t have a completed college degree, I attached a link to my Strengths Finder summary.

The primary goal was not to oversell anything. It was to peak interest, and to get me into an interview where I would have face-to-face time. As a former minister, I knew I had the people skills to deal with that!

To make a long story short, the next interview I went to with my resume lasted for an hour. I was anticipating questions about my non-profit experience, but to my surprise, it never came up! Instead, we talked about family, marriage, music, movies and a host of shared interests.

When I left the top floor to find my car in a parking garage below, I wasn’t sure I had even interviewed. Two weeks passed until I received a call back inviting me to take a tour of the production facilities. This lasted for two hours, and the conversation was much the same. My head was spinning with bewilderment.

Can I Work With You?

Another two weeks passed and I was hired. Turns out, from reading my resume they were confident I had the managerial chops they were looking for. Their chief concern was:

Is he personable and likable? Is he a good fit with the other team members? Will they enjoy working with him 40+ hours a week?

This explains why my two interviews were so casual and conversational. That was 3+ years ago, and obviously my employer’s initial hunch proved correct. They enjoy me and I enjoy them. Last night, my direct report and I split a bottle of wine and 4 small plates with desert, reminiscing about life, work and growing older.

Let’s Try It Again!

After I had been employed for a year, my wife and I decided to create a resume for her. She had zero college and no trade skills. However, she’s confident, smart and possesses exceptional communication skills. She got her face-to-face interview with the same company and was hired as a salaried PM like me. Presently, she’s killing it, and has been tapped to be a leader in her department soon. Why? Because she knows how to get people to work together.

A year later, we did the same thing with my daughter. She has some college and a brief job history. She’s smart, a quick study, amiable and a good communicator. Long story short, she was hired as a customer service representative. After one year, she is being promoted to a salaried project manager position! Why? She has a good work ethic and is willing to tackle difficult projects others freak out with.

This past week, my 18 year-old son got word he’s being hired to work in the production plant. He’s excited, because after 6-months the company will pay for schooling as long as he’s employed and has good grades. He sees his future in IT and software engineering. Why did he get the offer? He had exceptional references, via dad, mom and his sister.

A Growing Trend

For us, things have worked out very nicely. I realize not every company out there is willing to hire people with little to no experience. But there is a growing trend right now prompting many companies to take a chance with people that are lacking experience, but are kind, responsible and willing to learn.

The economy is good right now; demand is high, and companies are desperate for good workers. As a result, the hiring environment is far more open to giving people like you and me a chance. We just need a little re-educating behind the scenes, learning how to translate our previous experience in a format that is appealing.


RESUME TIPS:

In preparation for creating your resume, I’d recommend taking a personality test. Even if you have done so in the past, take it again. Many of us have taken “gifts test.” That was then; this is now. A lot has changed for you since then.

I’d also recommend taking the Strengths Finder test. The results will help you understand how to translate your religious experience into a more business friendly vocabulary. You’ll also learn a lot about yourself in the process!

When formatting your resume, don’t be afraid to try a variety of styles. There are numerous free resume templates online. If you have a Mac, Pages has great templates. That’s what I used.

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Once you’re satisfied with your resume, update your LinkedIn profile. It’s important to have an online presence. Once I completed this, I reached out to a handful of friends and asked them to endorse me on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people are willing to help, even if they don’t agree with you. I gave them a deadline and followed up. Soon, I collected a handful of references, and posted them on my profile in a PDF attachment as referrals.

Once you’ve completed these things, you’re ready to interview. If you don’t have any leads, consider a temporary job service. I used Seek Professionals. They were highly motivated to get me an interview and super great to work with. They will also provide counsel on how to tailor your resume for a particular job posting. They get paid when they place you!

Once you land a decent job, the panic ensues as how to keep that job. Consider these tips.

JOB TIPS:

  • Be a good listener — Practice active listening by asking clarifying questions.
  • Resist divulging your past Your past is your past, not your present.
  • Enjoy being you without a ministerial title — You no longer represent an ecclesiastical order or position; you represent you.
  • Display willingness to learn — You’ve made this transition in life because you are a natural seeker and learner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keep learning.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes — Confession is in your wheelhouse. “Hey, I screwed up! I have a plan to remedy the situation. What do you think?”
  • Avoid work politics — You’ve had plenty of experience with power plays and position flexing. Therefore, you know how to spot it when it’s happening and how to avoid it.
  • Complete tasks in a timely manner — Deadlines are nothing new to you. Think Saturday night before Sunday service, and for some, multiple services.
  • Enjoy yourself — Console yourself with the reality that you are doing something very few have had to do. Celebrate the small things. Every day is an opportunity to keep moving forward.
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T & LA at work

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.

What If There Was A New Earth?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a promo for the 2011 sci-fi movie, Another Earth.  It immediately intrigued me because it promised to be a deeply moving, emotional sci-fi film about two earths, employing none of the usual sci-fi garb such as aliens and UFOs… interesting!  I searched and found it on VUDU, placed it in my wish-list, and finally found time to watch it late last night with my wife, whom I had successfully convinced to join me for the sake of “research.”  Convincing her wasn’t a chore; she was intrigued too.

Another Me?

Even though the movie has been out for four years, I want to be careful not to give away an spoilers, so I’ll be brief with the synopsis.  The storyline centers on a young lady whose life is filled with promise and possibility untea_anotherearthil something tragic happens, drastically altering the course of her life.  At the moment of this tragedy a second earth (Earth Two) appears in the sky and she, along with all the residents of Earth One, are captivated by this new reality.  Furthermore, they are challenged with the suspicion that there might be “another me” out there living a similar life but differently due to opposite actions, choices, and events.

This movie was made on an extremely low-budget.  The actors even did their own makeup, and the director created the Earth Two scenes on his personal computer.  However, you’d never know it.  The cinematography is great, and the depth of characters and storyline are superb.  Brit Marling did an excellent job playing the leading role of Rhoda.  She also was the co-writer of the movie script.  I’m sure you’ll recognize her from her many screen roles, namely in I Origins, and her role as Liz Garvey in the TV series Babylon.

Meeting Yourself

I was immediately drawn into Rhoda’s internal struggles and the new choices she labored to make in the light of Earth Two just over head.  The director Mike Cahill explains that Earth Two is “kind of this externalization of the interior world of Rhoda.  She could have dealt with those ideas of the confrontation of the self just by looking in the mirror, but I felt like there was something [more] powerful about really externalizing it,” by creating a situation where there really is another version of us all.  Co-writer Marling elaborated further by saying the image of another Earth provokes a primal reaction, “we all feel something [deeply] about looking back at the Earth.”  Definitely, this movie is a “feeling” movie, very personal, introspective, and surprising… especially the ending!

Ultimately, the movie is successful with taking a very high, external concept and internalizing it in order to explore the inner world of who we are, and what it means to be a human.  Rhoda has a strong desire to become an astronaut and explore this other Earth, but ultimately her greatest desire is realized—the exploration and discovery of herself.  For me, what makes this movie so deeply emotional is the use of the doppelgänger.

A doppelgänger is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions as a harbinger of bad luck.

In pop culture, when you meet your doppelgänger, “you see each other, and then one of them has to die, and so it turns into an action adventure movie in which one of them has to kill the other,” says Marling.  Another Earth “was never going to be a movie about an Invasion of the Body Snatchers style” confrontation, she adds.another_earth-1

Another Earth deliberately turns the usual idea of doppelgänger on its head.  Says Cahill:  “For me, I pushed completely the opposite [idea].  I think we, as humans, have this desperate yearning to connect, and we are so alone, no matter how many people we know, our close friends or whatever, we are ultimately alone.  And I think there’s a yearning to not be alone.  So, to confront someone who has your shared history and all your secrets… I think there would be the greatest amount of empathy.”

Don’t Watch It Alone

In short, this movie highlights forgiveness, hope, and our common need for redemption.  I love high concepts, and I especially love when they are employed in a pop culture medium that captures our imaginations while invoking a deep sense of wonderment and awareness.  This movie certainly did all of this and more for me.  If you’re in the mood to be entertained and challenged, watch Another Earth.  And I would advise not watching it alone.  Watch it with someone you love, someone you’ve dreamed with, and been forgiven by.  The impact will be greater.