The Damn Dark Room

Lately, I’ve been thinking about fear as it relates to belief systems and wrestling with some challenging questions. A few of them are as follows:

  • Where is the line drawn between healthy and unhealthy fear?
  • To what extent is fear-mongering practiced within belief systems. i.e. religion, politics, academia, etc.? FEAR-MONGERING: exaggerated habits and tactics which purposefully arouse fear.
  • How do fear-based ideologies evolve into accepted facts, truths and beliefs for individuals, groups and institutions?
  • At what point does critical mass occur, when fear-based ideologies become institutionalized by morphing into doctrines, policy, curriculum, methods and messaging?
  • What methods have proven the most effective in dealing with delusional, socially accepted fears? DELUSION: irrational ideas and thought patterns so fixed that nothing, including rational evidence, can persuade a person that what they feel or believe is not true.

For me, these questions are very personal, especially as they pertain to religion.

Love Wins?

I grew up in the “Bible Belt,” served as an evangelical minister for over two decades, and travelled the world with mission endeavors. My interactions with thousands of people, from various walks of life and numerous cultures, have produced a plethora of quandaries and observations.

Midway in my career as a full-time minister, I started to discern how largely fear factored into numerous doctrines and widely accepted practices. Years of experience had opened my eyes to the extent of damage caused, and how it tends to produce symptoms related to PTSD (RTS). Eventually, I began to speak out publicly. But, as you can imagine, my words weren’t always received with “open ears or hearts.”

In time, my clarity sharpened, and so did my message. I labored tirelessly to reverse the damage caused by religious fear-mongering, superstitions, biases and even paranoia. Weekly, as I spoke to small and large groups, I had a center-stage view as to how fear-based ideologies grip people of faith with an almost omnipotent hold. Seeing this motivated me all the more to understand: how fear takes hold, and when it achieves the upper-hand. Unsurprisingly, I traced it back to the initiating point of conversion.

Ask any convert, new or old, why they converted and you’re sure to hear a myriad of answers. Eventually though, it always comes down to one major catalyst—the fear of hell and eternal damnation. To question these sacred beliefs is to solicit strong reactions. Just ask Rob Bell, author of “Love Wins.”

For many laypersons, the chief rationalization for the doctrine of hell rests in the belief that God “loves sinners but HATES SIN!” This love/hate revelation quickly becomes a cherished mantra for converts. And over time, it produces fear-induced changes in their thought patterns, personalities and behaviors. Affectionally, this all-encompassing change is referred to as “sanctification.”

Here’s a look at how it generally works, when fear is the leading catalyst in a person’s religious experience.

The Splintering Effect

In the beginning, this love/hate conundrum indelibly produces hairline fractures within the new convert’s psyche. Though difficult to detect at the onset, eventually the splintered fractures multiply, grow and become obvious. Oftentimes, this happens at a rapid pace, prompting the new convert to exhibit early traits of a split personality–acting one way with some and another way with others. 

Insider peers are prepared for this early stage of conversion/sanctification, and eagerly offer advice focused on “dying to self” and “becoming fully possessed” by God’s will. This counsel initiates a test of loyalty for the convert. Please self? Others? God? The splintering effect increases and intensifies.

Wrestling with self-worth, purpose and identity issues, the convert begins to suffer with bouts of intense anxiety and mild forms of depression. Both are symptomatic of irrational, fear-induced trauma. But there’s a fix! It’s called confession. No one can argue that honesty and authenticity are worthy attributes. However, religious confession is often tethered to fear-ridden, limited viewpoints, which promote exaggerated negativity and criticalness. 

In short time, the convert becomes fully consumed by harsh, self-judgement. They are taught, their thoughts are untrustworthy, their hearts are wicked and their bodies are sinful. Everything about themselves needs to be taken captive, beaten, crucified and killed daily. Not doing so, could potentially result in eternal punishment or loss of reward! At this point, their vulnerability to fear-mongering, denial and delusion reaches an all-time high. I should know. Not only have I witnessed it repeatedly, I’ve experienced it myself.

By age four, I was a celebrated, newbie convert. By age nine, I had proven myself proficient with confession and laying “my all” upon the altar. What exactly was “my all?” Obviously, I was too young to comprehend or vocalize it, but this didn’t stop my religious peers from praising my achievement. By age seventeen, I was fully vested, vetted and recognized as an emerging spiritual authority.

Spiritual Authorities

Spiritual authorities are extremely important. They stand center stage in a throng of desperate converts, serving as valued connections to godly wisdom and revelation. Their dogma is rooted in an ancient Eastern honor/shame paradigm, and stained with centuries of blood atonement rituals.

They have little to no understanding of either, both being completely foreign to their cultural experience and modern framework. However, thanks to elaborate Western (Greco-Roman) systems of theology, massive gaps in understanding are inventively filled in. Personally, I feel if there’s anything the Church at large needs most today, it would be a good “de-Greecing!”

Nevertheless, spiritual authorities often manage to modernize the archaic for their contemporary audiences. Today, MEGA-efforts employ thick catalogs of trendy music, scads of diverse programs, groups, resources, and loads of cheap merchandise.  All this proves highly costly for the masses, but very profitable for a few at the top of the pyramid. Regardless, the impact of ancient, fear-based dogmas is profound, even for the casual participant. After all, history confirms, people of every generation, background and culture respond in-like to the fear of suffering.

Fear Normalized

Over time, the convert learns to accept their group’s normalization of irrational fears and biases. The motivation to do so is strongly anchored in their psyche by the dualistic paradigms of love/hate, honor/shame, punishment/reward and loss/gain. If, for one reason or another, they cannot conform to their group’s expectations, they often quietly adopt the necessary level of denial and secrecy to maintain status quo.  

Eventually, the convert’s mental landscape evolves and adapts to their social-religious conditioning, i.e. Fundamentalist, Conservative, Moderate, Progressive, Liberal, etc. Thought patterns, personality traits and behaviors shift accordingly, giving rise to cognitive dissonance. Predictably, members of their host group often applaud and encourage their “progress.”

Overtime, the convert’s worldview changes and they come to see themselves, others and the world with “new eyes”—a splintered, dualistic, “us versus them” narrow-minded viewpoint. It’s no surprise then, that many in faith circles believe themselves to be harshly judged, misunderstood, marginalized and persecuted by those outside of their group.

I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to speak clearly with those trapped in this fear-induced delusion, knowing full well they are both deaf and blind to what I’m saying and revealing. Unfortunately, the part of them which is inherently present at birth to receive rational instruction, has been religiously crucified over and over again.

The Damn Dark Room

Sadly, many faithful converts remain none the wiser that fear has become the basis of their religion, judgmentalism their addiction and fear-mongering their dogmatic message. From day one and thereafter, fear has reconfigured their thought patterns and splintered their identities. It has narrowed their viewpoints, stunted their maturity and enslaved them with a form of religious psychosis—an impairment of both thought and emotion so strong the host has lost contact with reality.

Unwittingly, they become entrapped in white washed sepulchers, where legions of fear-mongering influences lie in wait with intent to exploit. There, in the dimness of only “seeing in part,” converts learn to exercise blind faith. In time, they come to feel a great sense of belonging in this entrapment, claiming it as their refuge, fortress and strong tower.

My friends and I call this place “The Damn Dark Room.” The reason being, you’re damned in staying, and damned for leaving. I remember when I first cracked open the door and saw the light; I literally cried for four straight hours.

As I write this, I’m keenly aware of those who are still on the inside, contemplating leaving “The Damn Dark Room.” I’ve heard from many of you in the past few weeks, and I know full well what you’re going through. I sympathize with the anxiety you’re feeling right now as you wonder: Is it safe to open the door? Will it be worth it? Is there’s really freedom and clarity on the outside? Or, will there just be more fear and self-loathing awaiting me?

Friend, I want you to know, you’re not alone. There are many more just like you, longing for sanity. Please keep asking, seeking and knocking. And be fearless in doing so! I personally am a witness to the fact, there’s a wonderful life awaiting you just outside “The Damn Dark Room.”

For inspiration, check out Christina Cobb’s:

The Beauty of it All

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Click pic to view an interview with Christina Cobb.

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?

 

Protected: It’s Called Consequences

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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.

The Eternal Love Shack

My follow up article to Only Human is live now on Patheos: Exit Plan. I confess, there were a few drafts, and obviously the one posted made the final cut. In no way am I inferring the current article is deficient in any way. IT IS NOT. Linda, the blog editor, and I worked hard to tell the story with enough detail to hopefully answer as many questions as possible.

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My working title was “The Eternal Love Shack”, which upon reading Exit Plan makes no sense whatsoever. For you following me on FreshLA.me, below is a portion from the first draft which reveals some of the backstory and emotions I started writing from. I would suggest taking 5-minutes to read Exit Plan so the below excerpts jive better for you:

But, before I reveal how this all came about, let me back up a bit with my story.

 I went to bible college in the early 90s when Christian Music (CM) had given birth to as many sub-genres as there were new modern bible translations flooding bookstore shelves. Christian Counseling was a popular major. Friendship Evangelism was the big breakthrough in proselytizing methodology. And, the topic of “accountability” was turning the age-old duty of making disciples into a sexy mandate! 

 In the late 90s, I started working professionally in ministry. By then, a dozen new CM genres and revised bible translations had been discarded for new and improved infatuations. Interestingly though, the attraction for accountability had never faded. The desire for it had actually increased, making it a steamy church-house obsession.

 To keep my story short, I’ll just say: For the love of Jesus, I do not want to be in a weird, three-way accountability relationship between me, God and you — all in the name of discipleship of course. If I want to experience something new and understand my potential, I’ll find someone who’s not interested in making me a love slave for all time and eternity. Sorry, no offense intended; feel free to do likewise. I won’t be hurt.

 For the group sitting on my patio, the idea of existing in the divine’s secret place of accountability was repulsive. For all we cared, you could tie a millstone on that #%@$! and drop it into the Marianas Trench! We could stomach no more. For us, Forest Gump’s sentiments summed it up best: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

 Thus, Patio Church originated from a shared ache to be free of compulsory bondage and stupidity. We all were just looking for a safe place to hide from the disciple-making-holy-match-makers. In a professional capacity, we each had lent our vitality to these religious, lovesick practitioners, and we were now desperate to be free. But was it possible? Could we really breakaway?

 A safe place was needed where we could rest, think freely, question critically and talk without fear of reprisal. We needed a haven outside of The Damn Dark Room — better known to me now as The Eternal Love Shack. Why? Well… my experience on the inside had revealed this space to be home-sweet-home to numerous pet fetishes and oppressive exercises. I (and my staff) had been exposed numerous times to 50+ shades of misogyny, abuse, racism and sexism rooted in sacrificial bloodletting rituals and foreboding promises of never-ending punishments/rewards. I needed an escape, and my staff likewise. In time, Patio Church served as the gathering where “exit strategies” were discussed and evaluated.

 After serving together in ministry at the same church for almost two decades, we slowly and graciously worked ourselves out of jobs. There was nothing sexy about it…

Exit Plan definitely does a much good job telling the story in a straightforward manner. Thank you Linda! For everyone following me here at FreshLA.me, I couldn’t help but share the above first draft excerpt. No doubt, it gives insight into my state of mind — sentimental with a dash of Fifty Shades of Grey… OMG! Actualy, I have plenty to say about faith and sex, but I’ll save that for another time.

Predictably, when I started writing what is now Exit Plan, I was jamming out to the B52’s timeless hit Love Shack. And… I still am. Bang! Bang! Bang! on the door, baby! I can’t hear you… YOU’RE WHAT?!?  The “Love Shack” was a rustic cabin with an outhouse where the B52’s wrote their music. Sadly, it burned down in 2004.

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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.