Finding My Voice

Recent news reporting has been inundated with the racist yearbook photograph associated with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Whether the photo is of him or not, is in question. However, TO SAY THE VERY LEAST, these pictures are truly despicable!

It’s sickening to see images like those, which hearken to a day when slavery and segregation were legal and socially acceptable. What turns the stomach even further, is the reality that those days were less than a generation ago! Even though the legalization of segregation was outlawed in 1954, the horrific ideology and bigotry which justified such gross inhumane behavior, continue to harm innocent lives and divide our nation.

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Last weekend, I spent some time with a good friend discussing racism, past and present. As we drove through his old neighborhood and talked at length, I asked him if he’d be willing to write his thoughts down so I could share them with you. The following is his submission:


“Finding Your Voice” by the Invigorated Observer

Recently, I re-read Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech, which he delivered at the March on Washington in 1963.  When I was in 7th grade, a guest speaker came into our classroom and read the speech in it’s entirety, with the intention of the original passion in which it was given. While a 12-year-old is not necessarily “changed” by a speech, there are aspects of it I heard that day, which profoundly resonate with me to this day.  

What I love about this speech is that it doesn’t have a one-dimensional perspective.  He certainly addressed the unjust treatment of black citizens in our country, but it doesn’t stop at that, it goes revolutionary further:

  • MEANING—It talks about the people in this country living out the true meaning of all peoples being created equal, and being granted the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  
  • VALUE—It talks about people being valued for the content of their character above and beyond their skin color.
  • HARMONY—It recognizes the religious conflict in our society and then culminates in painting a picture of those from various factions holding hands to commemorate their freedom with one harmonious song.

Dr. King’s dream speaks of a world in which I would like to live in. It’s a world and a perspective that I’ve done my best to instill in my kids. For me, it stems from the mentality of recognizing that, despite our differences, we still have many similarities to unite around. Furthermore, if we put ourselves in another’s shoes, we would treat one another like we would want to be treated.

Sadly though, if you’re addicted to 24/7 cable news and talk radio, Dr. King’s dream seems to have been gravely diminished. I believe Dr. King was speaking not only against actions, but against the ideology and mentality that precipitates those actions. The bottom line is: people are looked down upon and treated badly because they are viewed as inferior. People do this as individuals, and to keep a status of “good standing” within their groups, right leaning or left.

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It pains me to acknowledge, in our day and age, the issue of equality has been grossly complicated beyond the issue Dr. King cited so long ago. In many respects, the divide has grown seemingly beyond bridging!

  • RACE RELATIONS have actually gotten worse in many respects. The racism Dr. King spoke against still exist in many circles, has festered, and become extremely bitter for all sides involved. I understand saying this is not politically correct, but TV writer Norman Lear understood this well when he created both the Archie Bunker and George Jefferson characters. I long for the day when we all operate on “the high plane of dignity and discipline” that Dr. King spoke of. 
  • IN POLITICS, the rifts that exist today are not only differences of opinion between opposing parties, but also vastly differing ideologies. The language between them has become downright insulting and nasty. Things that were formerly unacceptable or unconscionable are a regular occurrence today. As “talking points” trickle down to the places where we work and live, the “ties that bind” us together as family and friends are stretched beyond the limits of decency, rational and compassion. The altercations which ensue often lead to irreparable damages.
  • IN RELIGION, people are supposed to worship and serve a loving God. Oftentimes though, they themselves exhibit the exact opposite. Complicating their hypocrisy, is the fact they rarely comprehend that what they are participating in is largely based on cultural preferences—religiously justified biases and prejudices. What a shame it would be to cut off members of one’s family based on some “religious holy war,” only to learn the belief which led to a “shunning” turned out to be wrong, unjust and inhumane!  

So-called “leaders” in our society, religious and political, seem to go out of their way to keep increasing these divides, AND SO MANY BLINDLY FOLLOW. Observing all the resulting hostility, hatred and abuse HAS CAUSED ME TO SIMPLY FOCUS ON BEING A BETTER HUMAN BEING. To do so, I have tried to adopt the following principles for my life:

  1. PERSPECTIVE: I come from the perspective of a kid growing up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI. I know this perspective best, because I lived it. Others in my circle of friends and acquaintances come from different backgrounds and experiences, and each of us brings something of substance to the table of friendship. For me, I’ve purposed to find the beauty in each of these perspectives and (here’s the shocking part) the humor in them as well—mine included. I reason that we’ve all gotten so preoccupied with being offended and have lost our collective sense of humor. I however, have not; nor have most of my friends.
  2. OPENNESS: With regard to national politics, I’m purposing to be open-minded and not choose a side. I am choosing to align my stance on topics with something larger – compassion and understanding. Personally, I believe that many politicians have decided to silence whatever their core values are in order to march in lock-step with their specific party’s talking points. In doing so, it has allowed them to turn off their consciences and line their pockets. For that reason, I refuse to wear their labels.
  3. FREEDOM: I’ve set aside my religious affiliations. By choice. On purpose.  As a 20 year volunteer in the evangelical church, serving in just about any and every role, I feel like I’ve seen and heard most everything. And a lot of “it” is just crap! What in heaven’s name is wrong with us that we would claim a connection to a loving God and act so immoral or hateful? Gossip! Lies! Rumors! Judgmentalism! Back-stabbing! Arguments! The list of egregious behavior goes on and on; all because somebody clings to some theology that they “believe,” believing they have all the answers to all the questions!?! I’ve decided I don’t need to have all the answers; rather, I need to be content with asking questions and embracing the beauty of life.
  4. EQUALITY: I’ve decided that I’M NOT GOING TO THINK OF ANYBODY AS INFERIOR, except for those people who can’t navigate a traffic circle or roundabout. Okay, I’m joking! But, I do struggle with this one when I find myself frustrated sitting behind somebody who’s stopped in a roundabout waiting for no one!  But… I digress. Seriously though, I’ve determined to personally treat others like I would like to be treated.

I’m far from perfect and I fall off of the wagon with these principles plenty. But I get back up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward. While I may not change the entire world by trying to be a better human being, I can dream. As I do so, I personally put action to thought with my simple guiding principles. Maybe, just maybe, I/we can eventually transform the discord in our nation “into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Here’s to the pursuit of the “dream,” and to becoming a “moral leader” in our everyday lives. Here’s to passionately demonstrating for our generation the “soul-force” needed to achieve equality and freedom for all peoples, regardless of skin color or social status. For this resolve, I thank Dr. King.

Click & Listen:

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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?

 

Lightning Rod

For most religious devotees, their particular faith tradition is inherited and reinforced by their immediate culture, i.e. legacy. Rarely are they challenged to seriously consider another viewpoint. And if they are, it’s generally opposed with extreme bias, lacking in fact and objectivity, i.e. cult, false religion, idolatry, perverts and satan worshipers.

Certainly, this was true for me as an evangelical in the American Midwest. To say the least, my general knowledge was firmly rooted in cliquey, sheltering group-think. It’s taken me years, but I’ve since remedied my deficiencies.

Atheists Know More?

In 2010, the Pew Forum Research Center conducted a Religious Knowledge Survey involving 3,412 participates. Out of the thirty-two general religious knowledge questions, the average participant answered only sixteen correctly.

Recently, I reviewed the sample questions and got a perfect score. The questions were so basic, I was saddened by how poorly participants performed. However, I wasn’t surprised. Ironically, atheists and agnostics got the most questions correct with Christians coming in dead last.

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In 2013, sixty-three related studies were reviewed and the results showed a “significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.” Experts theorized as to why this was so, offering a hypothesis summed up as such: more knowledge = less belief in God.

Open to Experience?

In my opinion, the focus on intelligence versus belief has merit but is narrow. It doesn’t fully capture an understanding as to why people choose to believe in the supernatural. I personally know a number of very intelligent persons who practice their faith with great commitment. For me, offering clearer insight is a Harvard study done by Shenhav, Rand & Greene. Rather than focusing on IQ levels, their research honed in on personality traits.

Their findings suggested that the deciding personality trait is being open to experience. This type of person displays a willingness to re-examine social, political and religious values. If he/she is an intuitive thinker, cultural influencers often steer them in the direction of spirituality. If he/she is an analytical thinker, the same often motivates them to be a skeptic. Clearly, for either type there is more common ground than most are willing to acknowledge.

On a personal level, this explains why my closest friends are either humanists or spiritualists, and why my marriage works so well–me, an amiable skeptic and she a delightful mystic. In contrast, it sheds light on why I, and my spouse, have always been lightning rods for closed-minded fundamentalists.

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Veggie-ligion

I was talking with a friend last night about an upcoming interview I’ll be doing. I’m no stranger to interviews, but this one will be different from those I’ve done in the past. It will be on camera. I’ve always stuck with print and audio only, affording me time to decide which side is my good side—right or left? I guess I’ll soon find out.

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As far as the interview content is concerned, I’m not lacking in confidence. It will focus on something I know a lot about: former clergy who’ve transitioned out of professional ministry, and the adversities they’ve faced in doing so. For many of my peers, the transition has proven extremely demanding and destructive on numerous levels. 

Fortunately, for me, with the support of my spouse, kids and dear friends, I was able to avoid many pitfalls. With that said, I still encountered adversity, setbacks and discouragement, but with each new day I was able to put it all in my past.

Perspective

Last night, I reached out to my friend for some perspective. Although she’s aware of my past, she’s only known me in my current role as a project manager, never as a minister. As we talked, I asked her what she thought about former clergy wanting to leave the ministry? Her response was intriguing:

First, she referenced the few ministers she knew besides me (neighbors) and talked about how nice and capable they were in their roles. Although she herself does not attend their churches or any church, her general attitude was positive towards active clergy.

Secondly, the thought of active clergy desiring to leave the ministry for good had never crossed her mind. And honestly, why would it? But, as a business manager who hires qualified people for high level positions, she felt strongly that ministers offer a wealth of experience for the job market—management, sales & marketing. Her actual comment was, “Why wouldn’t I want to hire a former minister?”

Thirdly, when I asked how she felt about a minister who actually stopped believing in the supernatural, she wrestled with wrapping her head around that idea. Even though she has no desire to actively practice her former Catholic faith, she feels belief in some kind of a higher power helps cope with stress. Tongue in cheek, she suggested a “head of lettuce” might be a sufficient god of sorts.

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Ancient Egyptian ceremony depicting lettuces offerings to Min god in the temple of Kalabsha, aka the Temple of Mandulis.

We laughed and agreed that a vegetable would not be the best choice. In talking further, it became clear that religious faith and coping skills are two very different things. To contrast, I can think of a few examples:

The Babble Method

I once worked with someone who, every time she got stressed or mad, started babbling loudly in tongues. When she did so, it was always quite uncomfortable; especially, since we worked together in retail. I remember thinking at the time, this must be her religious form of cussing!?

The Retreat Method

Another friend of mine, when stressed, would retreat to his “secret place” with a jug of water to fast and pray for hours, sometimes for days. I never saw an improvement in his communication skills or marriage. However, upon his return he always had interesting “visions” to share, none of which pertained to his day-to-day life.

The Lecture Method

As a former minister, I often sat in services where peers delivered messages, which were not applicable for the majority of the listeners. Clearly, he/she had issues with one or two in attendance, and had chosen to vent from the platform. This approach is not all that surprising when you consider ministers are primarily trained to lecture.

The Avoidance Method

Other peers of mine often used their “busy schedule” to avoid dealing with challenges and conflict. For many, the avoidance lasted only until things either exploded or they “felt called” to a new position elsewhere. Others used their “busy schedule” to hide the pursuit of unhealthy habits—addictions, affairs, etc. In hindsight. I think their blind reliance on the supernatural and their lack of coping skills drove them to self-sabotage, i.e. implosion.

Think About It

Obviously, avoiding, retreating, lecturing and babbling solve absolutely nothing. Sadly though, religion often not only strengthens these methods, it encourages them. Think about it: 

  • If you’re a stressed out charismatic, you’re told to speak in tongues. 
  • If you’re a stressed out mystic, you’re told to retreat and pray. 
  • If you’re a stressed out leader, you’re told to call sinners to repentance. 
  • And if you’re one of the nameless faces who once attended church, you’re still inclined to seek divine help, maybe even from a… head of lettuce?

Hey, perhaps being a vegetarian is far more than just a lifestyle or diet choice?

#Veggie-ligion


If you’re interested in getting “down to earth” with acquiring legit coping skills, check out these links:

Centre for Studies on Human Stress
Psychology Today
VeryWellMind
Eliminate Stress at Work
Anxiety & Depression Association of America

 

Strange Brew

Mark Taylor, a former firefighter from Florida, has been making quite a splash before and after the recent midterm elections. At the end of a 20-year career, symptoms of PTSD forced him to retire. Shortly thereafter though, he learned his trauma-induced hallucinations were actually visions from God!?

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Quickly, his prophetic predictions have spread like wildfire, via Christian cable network shows, podcasts, various prayer networks and magazine articles. All of this eventually netted him a book deal and a movie, The Trump Prophecy, funded and produced by Liberty University.

Strange Brew

If you are inclined to entertain the following conspiracy theories, you’re sure to love his weekly updates direct from heavenly realms: 

  • Earth is hollow and inhabited by supernatural beings
  • Nazis live under the Antarctic ice
  • Satanic vampires are feeding on aborted babies
  • Amber Alerts are part of a government conspiracy to cover up human trafficking 
  • Special US Forces are secretly fighting demonic, human hybrids
  • The POTUS is God’s ordained weapon to “trump” satan’s apocalyptic agenda

In years past, such topics were considered embarrassingly distasteful among the religious general public. However, times have changed, and the appetite for strange brew has increased dramatically. 

During my career as a local church pastor, I was frequently accosted by parishioners intoxicated with consternation—fear of world events, freemasons, demons, science, academia, politicians, psychology, illuminati, gays, persecution, fake news, etc. It numbed their rational senses and blurred their vision of reality, leaving them paranoid and inclined to hysteria.

In their desperate state, they often desired for me to confirm their suspicions. Furthermore, they hoped I would use my position and platform to call “doubters” to repentance. Uhm…nope. Sorry… not sorry.

Trashy CGI

Like numerous low-budget movies before with trashy CGI, “The Trump Prophecy” sought to cash in on religious superstition by portraying fiery demons and apocalyptic scenarios. And with the release of the movie right before midterms, it endeavored to inspire believers to cast their votes for God’s agenda, i.e. Trump’s agenda. Some would argue, this puts the film squarely in the horror genre.

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The movie genres of Sci-fi and Horror have their roots in classic stories which sought to confront social injustice and ethical abuses of science, technology, government and religion. Sure, there are plenty of examples where the only focus is on blood and gore, but in general these genres endeavor to unmask fear and manipulation.

Liberty’s “The Trump Prophecy” clearly had no interest in debunking absurdity, nor quelling fear-mongering. Rather, it unashamedly cashed in on age old superstitions while encouraging the self-fulfillment of insane prophecies, i.e. Mark’s hallucinations.

Don’t Call Me

Mark’s prophecies predicted not just a “Red Wave” during the midterms, but actually a “Red Tsunami!” Obviously, neither occurred, but he has a creative explanation which involves an imminent “earthquake” and demonstrations that are actually “demon-strations.” Oh, and there are massive arrests of democrats soon to take place with martial law to follow!

Don’t bother phoning him for a clarification. He’s only taking calls from friends. “After all,” he explains, “those who are ‘attacking’ me are only operating in the realm of intellect.” Obviously, the phrase “don’t call me” has a double meaning — Don’t call me and don’t call me out!

PTSD Info & Resources

PTSD is a serious condition. Help and treatment is readily available. For more on the symptoms, causes and risk factors, see the following link: Mayo Clinic. Also, click the pic below for information on available hotlines.

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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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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

Splash! Splash! Splash!

For those who have been reading my Patheos postings, you’ve no doubt noticed I keep referencing Icarus, the mythological risk-taker who flew too close to the sun and perished from his tragic fall back to earth. The inspiration which sparked my recent article came from an Oscar Wilde poem:

Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight. For the greatest tragedy of them all, is never to feel the burning light.

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Bruegel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (ca. 1558) is famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background — red arrow [added by me] marks the spot.

Lately, I’ve been questioning why I’m obsessed with making inferences to Icarus. After all, it’s a tragic story traditionally accompanied with warnings for the over-ambitious and reckless. There’s even an attributed psychological term called The Icarus Complex: a person who is fond of heights, narcissistic and obsessed with fantastical, far-fetched, imaginary cognition.

Psychosynthesis ties this complex to those whose religious/spiritual ambitions exceed the reasonable limits of their own personalities. They are characterized by self-gratifying, attention-seeking behavior and obsessions with apocalyptic “crash & burn” predictions. Interestingly, they also have an emotional fascination with fire (e.g. burning sexual desires, moral works tried by fire, scorching eternal punishment, etc.).

To say the least, there’s enough with all of this to keep me busy for months, writing and making inferences!

The Red Arrow

As it concerns my recent articles, my chief motivation can be found in the painting above. Icarus’ fall (red arrow marks the spot) is depicted as an unnoticed non-event. Farmers, travelers, fishermen, sailing merchants, they all continue their day-to-day tasks, unconcerned with the tragic splash below.

So, what is it that best represents the uninteresting splash? Without knowing the painter’s intentions, I’ll attempt to offer my own insights.

Splash! Splash! Splash!

Maybe the uneventful splash is symbolized by all the rising/falling religious-spiritual fads, trends, obsessions, predictions and ever changing, contradictory dogmas? You know, the elusive transcendental stuff. If this painting were a contemporary work, we could theorize the splash to be the numerous rapture theories or Zionist Temple Mount predictions featured by Charisma Magazine each month.

Or, we could point to the televangelists’s hyper theatrics serving up hot, steamy love songs to God followed by oratory hell-laced admonitions to the Divine’s captive bride.

Or, our thoughts could turn to Oprah’s recommended reading list and all the eager Super Soul Sunday guru guests.

The splash of week-old TV ratings certainly constitutes as a non-event.

Cable specials about angels and demons, books left out of the sacred canon, dinosaur-sized giants, ancient aliens, Nessie and Bigfoot exposes and alchemy secrets revealed… splash! splash! splash!

The latest, greatest study bibles promising word-for-word translations, religious programming’s annual pledge drives, right and left wing talking points, political call to arms and Church/State promises to use your tithes and taxes to honor God and country… SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH!

Who Gives A Crap?!?

For many, if it doesn’t impact grocery and gas prices, vacation resort deals, or 401K gains… who gives a crap?!?

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, many have learned to ignore the splashes. It’s just entertainment after all, right? Umm…

I’m a romantic, so I like to think the splash is not Icarus sinking into Davey Jone’s Locker. I like to envision him getting close enough to the burning light of reason, he realizes his world is upside-down. He no longer fears falling and sheds his father’s wings. He’s actually flying; for real, he… is… flying!

Think Neo being unplugged from the Matrix.

My romantic self likes to think of the splashes as being all the social, religious, political, inhumane mechanical bodies–the dim promises of transcendent flight–plunging into the waters of stupidity far below. Like Icarus, I envision myself shedding my inherited biases to soar high, far above the superstitious storytellers, religious dogma and prejudiced contemporary philosophers.

Together, we live without regret in the brilliant light of free thought and discovery.

Have I peaked your interest?

More romantic, sentimental musings to come soon… #Icarusflew #noregrets

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Daedulus and Icarus drawing by Lyle Saunders – click pic for link