Addicted To Religion

Those who suffer from RTS are prone to a variety of trauma-induced dysfunctions, including addiction. Commonly, when the word “addiction” is mentioned, alcohol and drugs immediately come to mind. Rarely, do we think further, and certainly we don’t consider how religion may actually enable addiction. 

Actually, it’s common to view religion as being a cure for addiction. After all, many addicts in rehab begin their road to recovery by appealing to a “Higher Power.” With such a powerful connection to divine omnipotence, one would think the success rate of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous to be miraculous. It’s actually quite the opposite. Some researchers report it to be as little as 1%, while others indicate it’s no higher than 12%. It’s difficult to get accurate data from an organization that is anonymous. 

Breathing Under Water

As a former evangelical minister of 26 years, I’m interested in the connection between addiction and religion. Certainly, I’ve dealt firsthand with those addicted to substances and ironically, those addicted to religion. I know the connection is not something commonly thought about, but what can I say? I’m different! My life experience has given me a front row seat to a lot of “different” circumstances and experiences.

Early in my career, I observed many desperate, hurting people were attracted mentally/emotionally to religion. I also observed how a few among the masses testified of tremendous transformation, while unwittingly demonstrating an addiction to religious practice. Interestingly, both groups had a hard time seeing how much they both had in common. 

As a local church pastor, this troubled me greatly. In an effort to help both groups, I adapted “transformational” language in my sermons, and directed church programs towards a focus on helping people takes “steps” towards greater levels of freedom. I found Richard Rohr’s book, Breathing Under Water, a great resource. Actually, one of the most well-received sermon series I did, was based on it.

Magical Results?

I wish I could report incredible success, that I helped hurting people transform ashes into beauty and motivated religious people to transcend into Christ-levels of compassion and healing. But, my success rate wasn’t much better than AA. In admitting as much, I’m certainly not detracting from a handful of magical results and widespread impact for the good. I’m simply being objective and sincere with my confession.

What I often observed was, the initial “conversion experience” enabled many to continue through life, blinded to their deep level of personal and social dysfunction. And, as their time and involvement progressed, most became inoculated to internal reflection and evolutionary maturity. I suppose you could blame me since I was at the helm, but I can assure you, my experience is not uncommon, largely speaking.

Over time, I came to acknowledged the sad reality: all my efforts were encapsulated in a system that actually enabled addictive behavior. Sure, there were those who eventually kicked bad habits, albeit largely due to therapy, medicine and group programs. But, in the context of religious practice, many learned to exchange their dysfunctions for a religious form of codependency. Some even used religion as an excuse to not take their meds or seek professional help. How frustrating!

The common outcome for many was to throw themselves headfirst into services, volunteering, weekly groups and pastoral counseling sessions as often as possible. This was predictably a tradeoff, one addiction for another. Honestly, I saw the connection early on and quickly partnered with credentialed professionals who could counsel both myself and all those I referred to them. Sadly, they were all super religious themselves and encouraged the people I sent them to “do more” in the church.

Take a Break!

I can remember a number of times when I actually told people to “TAKE A BREAK,” to limit themselves to one service/group a week, to spend more time with their family and outside in nature. By their reaction, you would have thought I had told them “GOD IS DEAD!” They acted as if I were kicking them out the church, a classic sign of someone who’s codependent, even treating God like a drug. OMG!

With that in mind, consider this: Is it possible to become addicted to religion? In September of 2016, The Pacific Standard published an article on the subject. The following are questions the editorial staff posited:

  • Do you use religion to avoid social and emotional problems?
  • Are you preoccupied with religion to the point of neglecting work?
  • Does your commitment to a religious leader or institution take precedence over your children and family relationships?
  • Does religion isolate you from outside friends and activities?
  • Do you use religion as an excuse when you are abusive to friends or family members?
  • Would people who know you describe your religiosity as extreme or obsessive?
  • Are your religious contributions financially imprudent?
  • Do you feel irritated and act defensive when someone questions your religion?
  • Do you use guilt to beat up yourself or others?
  • Do you think of sex as shameful or dirty?
  • Do you use religion to manipulate or exploit others?
  • Does your religion threaten aggression towards people who believe differently?
  • Are you uncompromising and judgmental, quick to find fault in others or evil in the world?
  • Do you find yourself arguing against scientific evidence to defend your religion?
  • Do you wait for God to fix things in your life or blame your problems on supernatural forces?
  • Do you tell other people “what God wants” or the “right” way to interpret the Bible?
  • Are you preoccupied with sin and the afterlife?
  • Do you experience psychosomatic symptoms, like headaches and backaches?
  • Do you threaten others with divine punishment or otherwise try to control them?

I hope you spend some time with the above questions, answering them for yourself, and not for others as tempted as you may be. Whether or not you determine religion is addictive for you, is solely predicated upon how transparent you are with your answers. 

The First Step

For me personally, I had to sit with the questions for a prolonged season. Ultimately what followed was an enlivened season of deconstruction. Admittedly, I was initially terrified, but I quickly discovered even Jesus did not object! After all, consider how passionately he railed against the religious phrarisees of his day. And consider his impassioned call to the masses: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?…Get away…rest…learn to live freely and lightly.”

The first step with every addiction/dysfunction is admitting the truth to yourself. Then, where you choose to go for help will determine how successful your next steps will be. Consider wisely and don’t fear the process of deconstruction/reconstruction. It may seem overwhelming at first, even terrifying! But, I can assure you it will be worth it in the end.

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For inspiration, check out Love Is My Religion by Ziggy Marley.

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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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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We All Ache

FreshLA: The following is the latest guest submission by my dear friend of 20+ years, Fred Grewe. Fred is a full-time hospice chaplain on the West Coast, regular seminar speaker and published author. Without charge, he’s always mentioned me in the “Acknowledgements” of his books. Actually, he feels strongly I owe him for his tolerance these past two decades and counting. Personally, I think I’m a credit. PAX!


Monday, I visited three people…

The first was a woman who has battled MS for most of her life. Now bedbound with great difficulty in swallowing, when I asked what she wanted prayer for she replied, “I want to be married. I want to be loved.” I prayed, knowing full well that’ll never happen.

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A really nice woman with a quick mind and teasing sense of humor trapped in a body that has never worked well. Her soul longs to be special. To be desired. To be loved.

Next I visited a young man (in his thirties) who was born addicted to drugs. Mom was and is a meth addict. He’s emotionally on the level of an eight year old and terribly afraid of dying. Painful wounds on his buttocks that won’t heal. Ashen white skin wrapping his protruding bones.

When I showed up he was out in the courtyard of the facility smoking. Shortly into my visit his mom arrived. He immediately reached with both arms from his wheelchair and tearfully cried, “Mommy.” She had brought him a bean burrito with no onions from Taco Bell … his favorite.

A life of drug use has left him with few teeth, so my patient was reduced to merely sucking on the burrito rather than biting it. Mom stood by and dutifully squirted taco sauce on it between sucks.

Two cousins an aunt and an uncle joined us in the courtyard. The sky was blue, the sun was shining but it was cold. Everybody smoked but me. It was awkward. These folks who knew each other well and loved each other were on polite behavior as I, a relative stranger and supposed man of God, was in their midst.

I tried to be nice, made a few attempts at conversation, and encouraged them in their love and care for my patient. But it was awkward. They were too nice to just say, “Go sell crazy somewhere else … we’re all full up here.”

My final visit was with a woman in her nineties who can no longer remember who she is, or where she is, or why she is. Mercifully she was soundly asleep, saving us both from the uncomfortable chore of trying to converse, so I just sat silently and prayed blessings for her…

The next morning as I was thinking about these folks, and praying for them, I became keenly aware of how alike we all are. These three dying folks and me. The details of my life are a little different but we all share hopes and dreams that will never happen. We all have experienced painful disappointments. We all ache to be loved. To feel special. But often only feel awkward in a world that has no place for us. Frightened lost souls looking for a place to fit… more here.


Fred’s latest book:

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FYI: Featured post pic is of T-Hollywood doing her sunset yoga on vaca in Hawaii.

 

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

Take Your Time God

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

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

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

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

Time to Show Off

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

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

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

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

Heavy Lifter

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

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

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

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

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

So… take your time God.

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

I Work With Death Daily

Fred Grewe has been my dear friend for 20+ years. Our friendship, through many seasons in life, has enriched my life in countless ways. Fred has a new book out right now, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in London and Philadelphia: Time To Talk About Dying. He’s a brilliant storyteller and his insights about life and death are always thought provoking.

Check out his Amazon Author’s Page here.


Why is the Grim Reaper so Grim?

By Fred Grewe

I work with Death on a daily basis and over the years have come to know him quite well. On an average week I visit about twenty dying folks, more than three hun51eiXTG4j-L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgdred terminal individuals annually, and over the past twelve years I have provided spiritual care for nearly two thousand people who have died.

I’m a hospice chaplain.

A little context might be helpful. Nearly all of the folks I meet and serve are north of 70 years of age. Most often, people in their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. Also, I work in a relatively safe middle-class environment. By and large, the people I serve have at least had a shot at a good life. These facts color my experience with Death. I’m sure ministers who work with dying children or in places of great poverty and privation might have different feelings about my friend Death.

Now generally I don’t tell people what I do for a living. I mean, when you tell someone you’re a hospice chaplain, they tend to just tilt their head knowingly and look at you with big doe eyes like you’re Brother Teresa.

And I’m not.

It’s not that I don’t love what I do or am not proud of it. Actually, I find my work both inspiring and refreshing, inspiring because of the courage and strength I witness everyday by patients and family members.

Refreshing in that I encounter very little in the way of nonsense. By the time I get to meet our patients most of the nonsense has been kicked out of them – either by a doctor’s terminal diagnosis or by some painfully failed therapy – or both.

Most clergy by and large have to put up with a lot of nonsense. I sure did when I was a pastor. It usually sounds something like this: “Why do we have to sing the same songs every Sunday?” or “You know, if we could just get out 15 minutes earlier we could beat the Baptists to all the good restaurants.” or “That was a wonderful sermon pastor, one of your best!” Pure nonsense.

Hospice patients know they don’t have time for such silliness. Every alert minute takes on profound importance when you know there are precious few left. I find the brutal honesty of conversations with such people incredibly rich and refreshing. There’s so little pretense, so little posturing. The sacredness of such moments often demands my full attention and it feels as though time simply stands still in silent homage.

That’s not to say such conversations are always serious. They’re not. But what they are is real.

For example, I remember when Carolyn was telling me about how depressed she became after her doctor told her cancer was inoperable and she only had a few months of life left.

“I stayed in bed for three or four days just crying,” she said. “I didn’t get dressed or shower – I just cried. Then one morning my daughter Jennifer came in and brought me breakfast. I started yelling at her that I didn’t want any God damned food, and if I’da had a bag I’d just put it over my head and end it all right now!

‘Paper or plastic?’ Jennifer asked.

Well, how can you stay depressed when someone treats you like that? So I got up and ate and decided to continue living until I can’t anymore.”

Such folks are daily reminders for me to live intentionally now – while I can. Because the reality is none of us is promised tomorrow. I would say this is the supreme lesson the dying have taught me about living. I call it the dying well paradox: contemplating my death compels me to live a fully engaged life now and living a fully engaged life now is the best preparation for my death. I imagine you’ve heard something like this somewhere before. So the real question is how do we engage this wisdom to actually impact our day to day existence? How can this insight shape our spiritual maturation?

Vital Signs

What can be considered as evidence of spiritual maturity anyway? Church attendance? Tithing records? Number of memorized Bible verses? Faithful rotations in the nursery? I suggest signs of an authentic spiritual life must go deeper than these.

Now one of the drawbacks in being a minister is most everyone lies to you at a first meeting about their life of faith. For example, when I meet a new hospice patient or their family as a chaplain and ask, “How is everyone doing?”

They usually all say, “Fine.” Or, “Praise God, I’m good … I’m just waiting to go to heaven.”

Often those are simply deflections.

Those are the responses we’re all trained to tell the minister to keep him or her far away from doing any harm. If we actually tell the truth, the minister would likely try to probe deeper and unearth all the little tawdry dark family secrets that have caused enormous pain for years – and no one wants that!

To circumvent the social niceties that deflect against really getting to know folks I’ve developed a list of spiritual vital signs to help determine what’s really going on inside someone’s soul. Here’s my list of spiritual vitals: gratitude, generosity, submission to reality, and an ability to shower the people you love with love. (I know I stole that last one from James Taylor.) These are the qualities I look for in meeting a new patient to help determine the relative health of his or her soul. These are signs I look for to see if someone is really alive.

Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has famously promoted the mantra, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” A brief scan of the TED Talks library gives you an indication of the growing awareness on the importance gratitude holds for spiritual and mental well being. I’ve learned that gratitude is something we cultivate. It’s also magnetic. The more I express gratitude the more I find to be grateful for. Sadly, I’ve also learned the same is true for ingratitude. The more I bitch – the more I find to bitch about.

In recent years there has been a growing body of research to demonstrate that simply doing three kind things a day for others can help lift depression, improve sleep, and increase spiritual resilience. Generous behavior is evidence of a soul that has been humbled by the reception of grace and understands the deep connection we all have with each other. I have never met a truly generous person who was not aware of how much they have been given as gift and the natural response is to share that gift with others (see the story of the four lepers in 2 Kings Chapter 7). Conversely, stinginess and a sense of entitlement are symptoms of a grace starved soul.

By submission to reality I mean one’s ability to simply and humbly accept the impermanent nature of life. All living things die. Over the years the folks I’ve met and served who can accept this fact generally die a much less painful death. Those who insist on fighting the inevitable, who refuse to give up when the end is in sight, often need far more analgesics (heavy duty pain killers).

In serving nearly 2,000 departed souls I have never once had someone say to me, “I wish I had gone to more football games.” or “I wish I had spent more time on line.” or “I wish I could have gone shopping more often.” What matters most to those at the end of their life are the people they love and those who love them. Jesus taught there is no more important investment we can make in this life than loving God and those whom God places in our lives (see Mark 12:28-31). For so many years as a practicing Christian I thought this is what I needed to do to make God happy. To my joyful surprise, I have discovered that this what truly makes me happy.

So these are my spiritual vital signs, signs to give me an indication of how really alive someone’s soul is. Are they truly awake to the wonder of life? Or are they asleep, simply eking out an existence without truly engaging this miraculous gift?

Why is The Grim Reaper So Grim?

In the years that I’ve worked with Death and felt his presence at the bedside of a dying patient, I’ve thought about his costume. I mean, what’s with the hooded cowl?

I wonder if Death uses the cowl to hide his own grief, grief at having to come and collect folks who have never really lived? Never given their hearts freedom to love and be loved? So afraid of what others think, seduced by culturally unachievable standards of wealth, beauty, and knowledge, or traumatized by painful life experiences that they spent their limited precious moments in a self absorbed sleep walk. Why is the Grim Reaper so grim? Maybe because he aches so deeply for the missed opportunities we all had to really live?

Of late I have been working to strengthen my own spiritual vital signs. I want to be alive while I still can. So I look for opportunities to be generous, especially with my time (which is very hard for me)–surrendering to the things I cannot change, battling the ones I can and praying to know the difference between the two. I start each day praying for the grace and courage to be Chaplain Fred for yet another day and ask God for the openness of heart to use the day as a treasure hunt. In the midst of my tasks – the daily phone calls, traffic, charting, emails, meetings – I pray to really see at least three people this day. I mean really see them, see what is beautiful and special about them, and then find some kind way of communicating that to them. Then as I sit for prayer in the evenings I try to reflect on those folks I saw and pray for them. What I find can be big or little – but I want to find and bless at least three people. I so want my life to be a blessing for others.

I have come to the realization that all I seek at this point in my life is to be a good man. I want to spend my remaining days telling the people I love why I love them. I want to reflect back to them the beauty I see within them. I want to be a conduit of God’s grace rather than a participant in the fear of “not enough.” I want to be kind and generous – trusting that if I give myself to these tasks I might become the son God dreams me to be. I want at the end of my days as I lie on my deathbed for the last words to cross my lips to be “Thank you.” I want my friend Death not to be crying when he comes for me – but to have a gentle smile and knowing glance indicating that I really lived.

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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