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?

 

Killer Conundrums

Her unfamiliar face and obvious baby bump solicited stares and hushed whispers. She was new and different in a community which wasn’t accustomed to the like. The only new and different things making an appearance were those speeding through the only four-way stop in my tiny town. However, here she was at a full stop, parked in my home room with a compelling story very few were willing to approach or inquire about.

Cigarettes & Short Skirts

Sadly, I confess I never spoke to her. Her “condition” was far outside of my comfort zone. Besides that, my parents would have grounded me if I had done so. I was already out of their good graces for coming home smelling like cigarette smoke. My girlfriend had borrowed my jacket, lit up and left me with the lingering odor of rebellion.

In case you’re wondering, that is the truth and surprisingly my parents actually believed me. Nonetheless, I was buried alive under loads of extra-chores because… having a girlfriend was forbidden! The fact that she was a cheerleader made my offense seriously grave. My parents cringed when they thought of how every Friday night she could be found dancing around the gym floor in a short skirt before a rowdy home crowd.

Sternly, they warned me how I was to “live in the world” but “not be of this world.” From now on I was to avoid scandalous relationships, which could potentially screw me out of experiencing God’s perfect plan for my life. Clearly, I would have to be careful around the new girl in my home room. Thankfully, I had a lengthy chore list in hand. My dad believed firmly that manual labor would cleanse my soul, and I honestly had no reason to doubt him.

Inoculated

My off-the-beaten-path public school was a perfect place where pregnant teens could lay low for six months. Then, as spontaneously as they had appeared, they disappeared, arriving home alone as if returning from an exchange student program. Sorry to say, due to the general ruse and temporary nature of the situation, befriending them wasn’t a high priority. Furthermore, heavy doses of religious fear, swallowed three times a week on Sundays and Wednesdays, served to inoculate me against having a conscience.

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The drama of teenage pregnancy is as old as the Bible and still much older. During the Christmas season, it’s rigorously celebrated with ritualistic fervor. For weeks on end, the airwaves swell with tunes and melodies extolling the pregnant maiden who was whisked away by her gobsmacked fiancé to give birth in a stable. Certainly a scenario like this today would prompt someone talking to someone, an intervention at the very least or maybe even criminal charges. But who wants to be a “scrooge” by disparaging a beloved tale?

Killer Conundrums

Amidst plastic replicas of singing angels, serene barnyard animals and eastern wise men illuminated by a cheap star blinking overhead, the matriarch of teenage pregnancy is enshrined. People of faith worldwide gather to stand silently in reverence before the blessed maiden and her holy child. They rehearse her story with hushed whispers and humbly bow to the fruit of her womb, a molded plastic baby representing the “Sacrificial Lamb,” a.k.a the ultimate human sacrifice.

Obviously, to this day, remnants of ancient blood rituals live on in the religious psyche, enlivened by centuries of sacred paranoia. These time-honored superstitions serve to provide irrational justifications for a host of killer conundrums and bad behavior. Sadly, opportunities for dialogue, understanding and meaningful relationships often get placed on altars of blind obedience.

Rarely do faithful adherents consider what has truly been sacrificed. I should know. For the longest time I never stopped to think, just like I shamefully never thought to speak to the pregnant teenage girl sitting in my home room.

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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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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 the lead 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