Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Good Divorce

 First off let me say that it has been quite awhile since I wrote about anything of substance or with any theological bearing at all.  However, if  I may lean a bit on my laurels I will say that I did devote quite a bit of time to writing back when I was a pastor.

I wrote as a pastor for two reasons.  One, I believed that I had a unique perspective on the scriptures that I was "called" to share with the world.   So it was sort of a requirement for me.  Two, had to do with what I believed about Jesus.  Jesus spoke up when it was important.  So, that is what I am doing here.

Notice I did not say I am opening up my blog for debate on this matter.   I am well aware that there are plenty of folks out there with differing views on the subject of divorce.  In fact in the Christian world, there are as many views on the subject as there are denominations (which last I checked was around 41K)

I will start by saying that if we are going to review what a Christian believes or should believe about a subject it is important to ask the bigger question of "What does Jesus think about the subject."  It doesn't matter to me what this church believes or that church or this denomination or that, but what does the tongue of God have to say on the subject, the very embodiment of God in the flesh according to our faith.

I believe that in the context of the Christian story, that Jesus came to earth to be the spokesperson of God to a generation of people that were completely missing the point thus far.   God had tried using prophets and seers and Kings and weirdos from the wilderness to deliver his message, but to no real avail.  I mean the scriptures are full of the stories in the OT, read them.  

If after reading the story of Abraham, Noah, Elijah, or Moses you feel like you drank way too much wine and just want to go to bed, well then you might agree with me and God that, this approach simply was not working.

So here comes god as a baby, and then tadah he's a grown up with a lot of grown up words for the established religion of the day.   Notice that Jesus does not spend any time criticizing the world at large, the Romans who had held his people captive and ruled them mercilessly, the Samaritans whom the Jews despised or any other nations or peoples.   His major gripe was with the Jews and the religious leaders among them.

It is their laws, their edicts, their doctrines that he rails against in the Sermon on the Mount.  Many people read these words as nice little phrases that are fun to remember and recite, but living by them seemed more a task of angels than men.  I mean "Turn the other cheek" and "Walk a mile" and "Give up your coat", and "Don't sue?"

Really Jesus?  I mean really?

But many don’t know that Jesus actually addresses divorce in a powerful and stunning way in the sermon.  He literally goes on attack for and about divorce.  He often gets quoted out of context from the sermon and people take his words and twist them to say that "Jesus says its only ok to get a divorce if your spouse cheats on you."  But, if you examine the context of the sermon along with the words spoken around the subject you will begin to see that Jesus was really an advocate for a good divorce.

Turn your wife into a Prostitute?
I know.  Believe it or not there is such a thing.  Even Jesus would agree.   In order to get my meaning here you will have to understand first of all that marriage was a construct of human people at a time prior to Jesus arriving.   Back then it was used more like a contract regarding the ownership of the man over the wife.   She in a sense becomes his property through the contract.  Now I know this sounds crude and you're probably thinking "who would sign up for that?"  I mean what woman in her right mind wanted to become property to a man?  Well, as the saying goes, "it's just what you did back then."  There were benefits too.   As the mans property you were entitled to take on his name and management of everything he owned and you garnered a certain amount of respect based on who you were marrying.  Still doesn't sound exactly like a win-win to me.

Unfortunately the opposite was true for any woman divorced by a man back then.  As a divorced woman you lost everything and you were not allowed to own property.  You lived in a sort of shame that was carried on by the people around you -- friends and family members.  You were considered to be damaged goods and the only way you could raise any money was by completely illegitimate means. 

So in order to survive a divorce, a woman would have to either marry another man in a degraded relationship, work for her family as a sort of maid, or sell her body for money.  In a sense, when a man divorced a woman back then he gave her very little options but to become a prostitute and to commit adultery.

 "Society simply would not then, as ours does today, support a divorced woman to any degree or allow her to support herself in a decent fashion." Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
Jesus the first women's rights activist?
Every body knew this and the religious folks of the day protected the men in their society and liked very much that the men made out while the women suffered here.    The only rule they had in place is that when a man divorced his wife, he had to give her a piece of paper saying they were divorced -- a legal document  -- a right of passage for most of the men back then who were tired of looking at their current wife, who wanted sleep with other women openly or who simply did not like the way their wife looked after having ten of their children. 
Jesus, being the activist and lover of all people, and advocate for women did not like this.  He saw that women were not being treated fairly.  Let's just say this, God saw this.  God in his glory looked down on man and despised they way men treated one another in the name of…  him.  So he came here as a man and said this:
"31 "It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."  - Matthew 5:31-32 ESV
Jesus is not making this stuff up. He is merely stating a fact that this is what men have been doing to women the whole time and it was wrong to divorce a woman because you grew tired of the way she looked.  He is saying that unless there is "Sexual immorality", that the divorce forces women into a sort of adultery.

Why Sexual Immorality?
Remember marriage is man's construct blessed by God.  It is what men chose to do.  Jesus is saying that if you choose to marry, then you have to play by the rules.  You cant just dump your wife in the street when you grow tired of her and want something new.

So why sexual immorality and not some other reason?  I mean assault and battery is a pretty good reason, and so is accidentally marrying a criminal or a glutton or a person that is morally bankrupt.  I mean isn't all sin…. SIN? 

Well if we read our bibles right it is! ;)  Was God somehow obsessed with sexual sin?   Is sexual sin worse than the other stuff?  Any victim of a sex crime would shout "Yes" right about now, but in religious terms all sin is sin according to God.

This is where it really pays to read the scriptures in context.  The entire time that Jesus is speaking here he is drawing this picture of how God wants us to love one another and not harden our hearts towards each other.   If we read the sermon carefully we can easily draw from the previous words that sexual immorality is one of the few crimes in a  marriage that will cause a person to harden their heart to another growing angry and contemptuous with each passing moment.

There is a sort of death that occurs to a human being when one hardens their heart to them especially within the bonds of marriage.   We have already read earlier in the sermon that to merely be angry at someone is the same as murder in god's eyes (Matt 5:22) .   Imagine what hardening one's heart can do to them.  It is a never ending state of constantly murdering the other over and over again in one's mind.   This happens to people when they are cheated on.  Jesus is saying that if you cannot love the person you are with and rather that you are contemptuous and angry at them constantly it is not good for either of you to remain married to one another.  This is not the purpose of marriage, but a broken version of the original contract.

A Good Divorce
It is better to divorce than to stay married and constantly and mercilessly kill one another through contempt and anger and lost love.   Save yourself, and be merciful to the one you signed on to love regardless if you can find love for them ever again or not.  Jesus is saying that if you are in a marriage where the other is cheating on you, and you have tried to forgive them time and again, but simply can't, it is better to divorce.

Jesus is saying that if you hate your spouse because he has ruled over you from day one with an iron fist and has threatened you and physically hurt you and hurt your children. It is better to divorce.

He is saying that if you have lived with a woman who has stolen money from you and your children to buy drugs and who refuses to get help and doesn’t seem to care about you or your children or anybody for that matter and you can find no compassion in your heart for her, it is better to divorce.

He is saying that if you married someone who is mean, and who puts you down and refuses to listen to you when you speak and who disrespects you in front of others and who emotionally abuses you on a regular basis - get out now.  It's not good for you, it's not good for them and it is especially not good for the kids to stay.

God says that he hates divorce when done frivolously by men to dispose of unwanted property (women).  He hates to see people treated this way.  Hates it so much he sent his son to speak up about it.    But don’t get lost there.  God hates divorce, but he hates human cruelty more.  He hates contempt and anger and murder with the mind, way more.   SO  much so that when given an opportunity to speak (Jesus), this is all he seems to want to talk about.  None of the fire and brimstone stuff you see from the prophets, but this.  God loves a good divorce.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Things That Bug Me (A Distraction)

This post is designed merely to distract you from my nipples and Sara's forehead (the previous post).   I know that the mere mention of these things is not a distraction at all but quite the opposite.  So, please read and enjoy the following:

Things that bug me

- People who judge others without ever having a conversation with them.
- Dogs that aren't on leashes that roam the streets and see runners as the enemy.
- Having to get in an airplane and fly 2400 miles and about 6 hours to see my best friend and get a hug.
- Having to work for someone else for the rest of my life.
- Ill fitting undergarments.
- Lots of snow
- Lots of rain
- Lots of Heat
- Lots of cold
- Being low on fuel in your car but not knowing exactly how low
- Poor leadership
- Bad decisions made by upper management
- Racist Politicians
- People who follow racist politicians because they think they are not racists.
- People who follow racist politicians because they are racists themselves.
- Discrimination in all forms
- Churches that fire gay pastors.
- Birds that target my car for some reason.
- Bitter and angry people who can't seem to move beyond their bitterness and anger for whatever reason
- Houseflies landing on my food while I am trying to eat it.
- Cats that pee on the furniture or otherwise attempt to destroy it.
- That hot sticky feeling you get when your legs and other body parts are all sticking together.
- A bad haircut
- When my fingers are numb and I want to play the guitar
- Feeling fat after eating too much
- Walking more than 5 minutes on a four mile run
- Running in a rainstorm
- Chaffing
- Ants on my nightstand
- Ants in my bed
- Ants devouring a soda can left overnight
- Did I mention ants?
- Waking up after getting little sleep
- Sleeping when I am not tired
- Cuddling a pillow every friggin' night
- Missing her so much it hurts
- Counting the days until the next trip
- waiting, waiting, waiting...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nipples and Wrinkles, oh my!


Okay, I said it.  Nipples.   There it is again.  Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that word?

Nipples.   So here we go.  Class, I did not want to have to talk about this subject, but it has become necessary at this point to bring it up.  No, "bring it up" is not a tongue-in-cheek reference to my nipples, so you can stop right there.

Nipples.  Why am I talking about this?   Why do I keep repeating the word nipples?

Well to be honest I am trying to psyche myself up into actually writing this bit about insecurities in general; Glaringly evil, wicked insecurities.

Maybe nipples are no big deal for you.  Yours may be entirely normal and not obnoxious in the very least.  Maybe they are just a little more relaxed in certain situations.  Maybe they are relaxed most of the time until you need them to be there and then BAM...  NIPPLES!

Me?  You really don't want to know this, I know.  Ever since I was a boy, I have been barrel-chested. I have a rather large chest that sometimes gets in my way.

I think because of this, my nipples always appear to be at the ready.  You know prepared for the next great war, terrorist attack, ready to run into battle to fend of the alien invasion, or the zombie apocalypse, or well, whatever.  It doesn't matter what temperature it is here, whether hot or cold; they are there.

Present.  Available?  On-the-ready.  BOOM.  I have been well aware of this ever since I was a boy and it has been the source of much embarrassment, insecurity and well, shame.  For the longest time in my youth I would walk around with my shoulders hunched over to de-emphasize the pronouncement of my chest.  Parents and friends always told to me to stand up straight and hold my shoulders back and use better posture for fear I would become a hunch-back.  Until one day, when I got older I realized that I was not so different than others.

I convinced myself that maybe they weren't so bad.  Maybe this is all in my head, this obsession with people making fun of me or noticing.  Maybe the whole time it was just me be being silly.  So from that point on I threw back my shoulders, and walked with my head held high and my chest out.  This came as a huge relief to my back and neck which had been hurting due to the aforementioned hunch, and I again began to feel somewhat normal.

Normal that is until someone, usually trying to get a good laugh would say "is it cold in here?"

People don't seem to realize the power their words have sometimes.   My friends would most likely never know that I had this strange insecurity about these obvious body parts of mine.  So, they might not realize that drawing attention to that area of my body, be it negative or positive almost always makes me feel a little ill.  It makes me feel noticed, strange, abnormal -- deformed even.   The feelings I have towards my own body are startling at times - don't get me started.

To speak of them usually worries people or makes them realize they are not alone in their own self-judgement of their body.  So for me, bringing up the fact that I have nipples is one thing you can do to really make me feel awkward and sometimes hurt me deeply, especially if you are someone I love and trust.  It usually just makes me want to run and hide. Sometimes I do that in my head anyway when this happens.

Recently, I have been told the following:

"Is it cold in here?"
"Must have been cold over there."
"NIPPLES!" (as a one word comment on Facebook in regards to a picture of me)
"If you were gay you would have no problem getting men with nipples like that"
"Dude, you're nippin'"

In the past it has made me want to walk around wearing two shirts in the Summer.  It has made me want to never take my shirt off.  It actually did make me want to change my posture.   But these days, I don't worry about it so much. Instead I just usually grin and bear it. Lately, not a lot can hurt me.

I have this person now who loves me in a way that makes me feel like I am alright.   She is the only person that I allow to talk to me about my chest and she always makes me feel normal and happy and well not weird at all about it.  In fact, her kind words and observations make me feel good about myself in general, and dare I say comfortable in my own skin?   I have a new appreciation for my body because of it, and I am more resilient to the comments I hear.

That's not to say that the comments have no effect whatsoever.


Funny thing is that as she feeds my self-esteem with her love for me, I do the same for her.  She has these amazing lines on her forehead.   She calls them wrinkles and relates them to being old.  I don't see them that way.  For her these wrinkles are as noticeable and as unwanted as my over-obvious nipples are for me.  When someone notices them or uses them to make a joke or says anything about them, it sets off a score of insecurities in her, and it causes her to have a physiological reaction to those particular comments.

Sometimes she will spend an entire day stressing and feeling ugly and unattractive and weird because of just one comment made by someone she loves and trusts.   I do the same thing when it comes to my chest.

And again for me, her wrinkles are beautiful.  I love the way her forehead scrunches up when she smiles, for real.  Because when she is completely relaxed, and at ease and in the zone, she smiles with her whole being.  She is not worried about how she looks to me.  She is just in the moment having fun, laughing and being herself.   She lights up the world usually at those times.

Her face is this amazing projector of joy and giddiness and just awesome bright beauty.  She is so beautiful when she lets go and just smiles like that -- her forehead wrinkled, her teeth showing, her eyes bright and wide and blue and her cheeks dimpled.   This is usually at those times when she has not done her makeup and her hair is not styled in any way at all whatsoever.

This is real beauty, not some contrived, dressed up, over-glamorous attempt at beauty.  Not some relaxed forehead, lips sealed, hair and makeup poised, put-on and forced attempt at prettiness, but a genuine explosion of life that is both outlandish and aggressive and soft and sweet and takes your heart by storm.  She is all of that when she is not even trying. She is beautiful in so many ways and no one generally gets to see this but me, because she is afraid to show her forehead lines to others. So what do I do?  I take lots of pictures.  Lots.  And I show them to others, usually on Facebook.

For other people (those with insecurities), it is their eye brows, their nose, their ears, hair, belly, butt, feet, breasts, neck, you name it.   For some reason anything that we see as different than the norm, or even a little more noticeable than others about our face or body, we tend to obsess about.  We fear others noticing those things about us.  And we anticipate the comments that might come from those observations.

It's like we are all doing fine usually, but in the back of our head,  is this ever-repeating mantra, "I hope they don't notice my nipples right now" or "is my forehead relaxed right now?"  Or "Am I sucking in my gut enough?"   Or "remember to keep your mouth closed when you smile, dummy"  Or "I wonder if this jacket is covering my overly large misshapen hips."  And so on and so forth.  We are always stressed about people noticing, because people don't seem to realize when to just keep quiet about things.

What can we do to help those who are insecure?
I want to ask you to think about your own insecurities.  Maybe you have something you don't really like people noticing about yourself.  Maybe you think you have hidden it well and that no one really sees it the way you do.

Now imagine someone noticing and making a comment to your face about it.  Imagine how that might feel.  So the next time you are looking at someone's picture on Facebook or you see them in real life, don't say anything to them that might point out their obvious differences.

Chances are they have already heard that joke, that line, that particular critique of their body or face.   Just keep it to yourself.  Say something else.  Say something nice about something you think they may want commentary on.

Use your mind and remember, we all have things about our body and our face that we care to keep to ourselves. Don't make it your business to expose those things for others.

If you have recently said hurtful things to someone even unwittingly, then find them and let them know about your insecurity and tell them you are sorry.   If you are one of my friends and have said one of the things above about my chest, don't sweat it, I did not expect you to realize that these comments would forever be engraved in my mind due to my particular insecurities.  Just, watch that stuff in the future would ya?  :)

Friday, February 27, 2015

I still believe...

"So don't you think that the reason you are changing your beliefs about god is kind of selfish?"

My friend sat across from me in the cafe area of the church and said these words carefully as if to feel out whether or not the statement might set me off or hurt my feelings.  I considered the question and answered with the best response I could muster.

"It's all selfish isn't it?"  I meant to say that all pursuit of greater truth be it god or science or anything else is done with the self in mind.  If its a pursuit of god, then it might be for salvation sake, or for the sake of connecting with god as an individual.  There are definitely selfish reasons for it. That does not make the pursuit of god a bad thing though.

In  much the same way one does not read the classics in order to better the world or the people in it, but to better one's self -- to grow, to learn, to heal, to enrich your mind, to save your soul, to rescue you from evil or ignorance.   These are the reasons we pursue god, literature, science, spirituality and reason.

So the answer is yes, after a recent trip out of the country, I chose to believe in god based on a rather exclusive and subjective experience I had personally.  This decision is based on selfish observations. But that in and of itself does not disqualify the experience and choice from being relevant, meaningful and true for me.

The experience was deeply personal and it involved an answer to specific prayers, a felt sense of love by another person, an acceptance and welcoming from people I would not have expected a welcoming from, a confirmation of earlier beliefs going back to childhood, providence and protection and favor and good-timing and all of the other buzz words used to describe an interaction with god.

I would go into great detail on all of this, but I would like to refrain from over-sharing.  Let's suffice it to say that I came to see that god is real, and that god genuinely cares for people and their various plights for the sake of love and other. God showed me himself/herself/itself that night at Whataburger and I wanted nothing more to do with it.

But as they say, God aggressively pursues his people.  I was made to see and believe once again. Does that mean I have all the answers?  No, in fact I have more questions than ever.  Does it mean that god is right for you, or that I am trying to sell god to you or belief in god? Of course not, that kind of behavior irritates me when I see others do it.

What I am saying is this.  I believe in god. I choose to worship god in the context of the Christian experience because that is what I know best. Your beliefs are your beliefs and I respect that. I ask that you would do the same for me. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To be honest...

So again I was faced with new information and had to figure out the best way to deal with it.  I decided to continue to explore community.  I remember that I went to church the next week and really did not participate much.   I was there, but my head was somewhere else if you know what I mean.  I realized that to be honest with myself meant that indeed for whatever reason whether it meant my own mental departure from reality, the presence of a family ghost that would not leave me alone, or some other being that existed in the spiritual, I could not rely solely on my scientific explanation of things to inform me of all things that truly exist,

See, I set out on a personal journey about 11 years ago to pursue honesty, integrity, transparency and authenticity in my own life.  I was a Christian youth pastor at the time and up until then you might have called me a fake if you knew me well.  You would at least think that I had some sort of split personality if you knew me that well, but the truth is, barely anyone knew me that well.

I myself had a little trouble figuring out who I was back then.  I blame the church's approach to holiness doctrine mostly.  At least the church I had gone to prior to that.  It was a Nazarene church that subscribed to holiness as a way of life.  Sanctification, according to the church is a gift you receive shortly after becoming a believer that effectively seals you for work inside the kingdom of God.

So, once a person is sanctified, there is no turning back, they are now holy, set apart for all practical purposes. Except that after I declared my sanctification to the world around me at the tender age of 18, I didn't exactly feel any different. It was embarrassing.  Other members of my flock who received sanctification had become perfect models of Christianity, but me?  I was the same old John.  The same guy that made mistake after mistake and chose selfish behaviors over Jesus-like actions all the time.

So what did I do to remedy this?  I began acting holy.  I figured I could fake it until I made it, ya know? I mean I already knew the language of church, and the culture and what was expected of me. So I talked the talk and talked some more, never really able to walk the walk of true holiness.  That did not seem to matter to my Christian friends however. They accepted the "new" me and rewarded this behavior by giving me high-praise for my apparent piety.

It wasn't until I started going to a different church (The Vineyard in 2003) that people started calling me on my holy behavior. They asked me questions like "Why do you do that?"  They challenged me on things like art and music and culture in general.  One pastor pulled me aside and asked me point-blank why I only listen to Christian music.   I gave him the standard answer I had learned from my past and he seemed baffled.

This conversation led to other conversations whereby I started to pick apart the armor I had been wearing - that I myself had donned on a daily basis.  One article at a time came down and I began to realize that I used these concepts and actions that appeared holy merely to mask who I truly was inside -- that scared kid that had been mistreated by not only imaginary beasts and monsters in my childhood, but who had also been brutally mistreated in school by a number of bullies and at home by his own brother; that kid who had never been nurtured, loved, cared for; the one who had anger issues and bitterness towards men and women.  I had covered that kid up for so many years (since I was about 16) and did such a good job of it I was surprised when he actually surfaced.

He was even more angry than I could have imagined having been ignored for so long by me.  But I decided then and there I had to deal with him, nurture him and become more like him than the fake super-Christian I had created. This came as a bit of a shock to people who knew me before, but in 2004, I made an active decision to never be a fake again.  I would be who I was, who I was meant to be and if that rubbed people the wrong way, well then so be it.  I stepped down from ministry at the Vineyard and pursued authenticity and transparency full-time.

This also meant that I was questioning everything.  My faith, the way I talked and walked and thought. Everything was up for grabs, everything had to be reconsidered and evaluated. Nothing could be overlooked.  If I found I did anything one particular way because I wanted people to think I was something that I most certainly was not, I would strike it out of my life.

This period for me started back in 2004 and is still going on today.  It took me 38 years to become that way, and it will take many more years to weed out the false-piety I had grown so accustomed to. Because of the fact that this fake-self so impacted my life and because of all of the work I have done to recover from it, I have an aversion to anything that appears fake or phony when it comes to faith -- and there is a LOT of that going around.  A lot.  I will usually expose it for what it is when I see it for that reason.

So considering all of that, I have re-approached the subject of God very slowly.  And I refused to accept the blanket answers to things offered up by my fellow fakers and their predecessors.  I wanted to know the truth and I wanted to know now. What I guess I didn't realize is that there is no proof, no concrete anything, no way of showing the results, recording the findings.  God is subjective to everyone.

Ask anyone who claims to believe in god, and you will get differing accounts of god even within the same peer group of the same denomination of the same religion.  I had to either accept god's existence based on my own subjective observations (knowing full well I could not prove god to anyone and that I could just as easily be mistaken), or reject god's existence based on objective physical evidence alone.

More on this later...

Monday, February 23, 2015

God found me at the Whataburger drive-through

So there I was, feeling really smug in my new-found acceptance of the denial of God's existence. I had been going to a secular humanist community for a bit and had really enjoyed my time with these people.

Evangelical Test:  If the words "secular" and "humanist" just set off a red flag or loud alarm in your head, then you know you are deeply embedded in the evangelical/fundamentalist culture and way of thinking. I might as well have said a "Satanic, God-Hating" community -- right?  However, those words in and of themselves don't really describe anything bad.  The word "secular" merely means "non-religious", and the term "humanist" merely means "celebrating of humanity".  If you really think about it, Jesus fit both of these descriptions in his time here on earth. So don't knock it until you try it.

There was an honest approach to living that these folks had adopted that blows away most forms of community I have ever been involved with including the church.

There were atheists, agnostics and believers mixed in with this lovely group of people and they all seemed to get along fine, choosing to focus on topics of discussion that were scientific and educational in nature.  It was and still is a beautiful thing, and I am not done with those good people.

This particular evening however, I was coming home from an experimental group I belonged to.  We were getting together to try and see if we had what it took to form a quasi-religious, irreligious community of our own.  In my mind this community would be more open to issues of faith and might possibly be a blended group of believers and non-believers alike from all walks of faith and life.

The title of my message that I shared that evening was "Because the Greek philosopher told me so." This was an expose' of the Christian religion and how much of the ideas, patterns and theologies that we have adopted in our faith are not really found in the Bible, but are borrowed from Greek philosophy,

In the end, I found myself in a heated discussion with my friends that made me realize three things:

1.  I did not want to give up on the Bible, just the old ways of viewing scripture that were not entirely scriptural or considerate of the context in which it was written.

2.  I was not an atheist all the time.

3.  This experimental group would be short-lived for me, because I may have been the only advocate for the Bible as a reference.

One of the members argued that we should not even be using the Bible because it mentions things in scripture like justified rape and promotes slavery and misogyny.  I had very little to respond with except to say that we can't throw the baby out with the bath water.  All in all I was pretty disappointed in the end.  I felt that I had failed my friends and that I maybe even failed myself as a wanna-be atheist.  I was in deep thought about these things when I pulled up to the Whataburger drive-through.

My standard order? A number 2 with cheese, grilled onions, mayo instead of mustard, no pickles with a large Diet Coke.  As I rolled down my window on this balmy Summer's eve though, something strange happened.  No, I did not see a fiery chariot descend from the heavens with 14 faces and tongues of fire, sporting a goatee and a moderately large pair of Ray-ban reading glasses (I know you were thinking that).

I felt it.   You know what I mean by it?  Refer to this post if unsure (or just keep reading).  I felt that benevolent, parental presence surrounding my vehicle and enveloping all of the empty space between me and the world around me.  It was huge and powerful and overwhelming and I started to cry.

I was flabbergasted.  I was angry, and to be honest I felt a little crazy.  Like, why doesn't anyone else ever complain about feeling this presence in their lives?   Why do I have to be so damn aware of the thing?  What the hell is it?

I yelled out loud (in my mind) at the thing "leave me alone".

That's when I heard the voice.

It sounded a little garbled at first, and I had some trouble making out the words in the message, but once I recognized the sound of it's voice, I readily understood the meaning behind those words.  Here is my best interpretation of them.

"Welcome to Whataburger. Can I take your order?"

"Uh, yes, let me get a number 2..."

After talking to the nice lady over the small voice box I resumed my conversation with big and silent.

"I am trying to be an atheist. Would you leave me alone please?"


"What in the hell are you anyway?"


I pulled up to the window and paid my 8 dollars or so and wondered why hamburgers costs so much and then the thing was gone as fast as it came.  It was like it was taunting me.  Staying barely in the margins, watching and waiting.  Always there, never completely gone.  It was as if the entity were waiting to be there for me, anxiously waiting to comfort me and watch over me like it did in years past.  But, I wanted nothing more to do with it.

I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous to some of my more intellectual friends (trust me I am right there with you), psychotic to those who are more in tune with mental health issues and down-right offensive to folks of faith, but I can't explain these encounters any better than to just say what I saw and describe what I felt.  I know that I risk appearing over or under spiritual. I know that this sounds like the ramblings of a mad man.   But, it is what it is.

I explained this encounter to a friend of mine from my community and she helped me to understand things better.  She said that being an atheist is not necessarily about denying that God exists.  There could very well be a god, or gods in our world, but if those beings do nothing for humanity, nothing for us in general, why waste time trying to get to know them or trying to understand them?

I truly appreciated her take on things and there is a lot of truth to what she told me.  In essence, if all God does is make me feel less afraid, but does not actually conquer evil, maybe I can do that on my own.  If all my god manages to do is help me sleep, why can't I just take a pill rather than to pay homage to the great unknown?

What good is a real God, if God does no real good?

More on this later...

I believe in God (but it's not what you might think)

I woke up scared out of my mind.  I remember that feeling like it was only yesterday.  Lying in bed afraid to move.  I adjusted only my eyes and looked around the room for any movement -- any indication that there was something there to get me -- steal me away in the night, eat me, devour me, kill me and take me away from my parents for good. 
The trees moved slowly outside rhythmically with the wind and I could swear I saw a shadowy finger brushing up against the window.  I could hear the tapping the finger made against the glass pane and it went right to my spine and seemed to irritate everything in my small system.  Listening and watching I determined that the finger was a branch from a tree, tapping away as the wind moved the tree and everything outside back and then forward. 
It was either that or some cruel beast playing tricks with me -- messing with my head, making my tiny heart race and my insides ache in fear.  Establishing that the windows were devoid of beast or entity, I took the risk of slowly moving my head towards the closet door.  I wasn't sure if I had left the door opened or closed, but either way the menacing entryway and cubby posed a threat. 
Closed the door could easily conceal a monster that would burst out at any moment to cover me in its immense size and darkness.  Open and the monster could be waiting within the recesses of the darkness within, waiting for the right moment to pounce.  Waiting until my guard was down,

I was 5 years old at the time, and this was a typical night in my childhood home.  I had been waking up regularly for days to this unimaginable fear of harm - fear of something supernatural at best that would be there the next time I awoke in darkness, be there to hurt me.  I was determined for a few days to just not fall asleep.  I figured if I remained awake, nothing could sneak up on me while I slept and therefore nothing bad could happen to me,

This particular night I remember praying.   I did not exactly know to who I was praying to, or to what, but I do remember praying.  I asked (god if you will) whatever benevolent presence I felt at the time to please just make the nightmares stop.  I implored the good of the universe to overshadow the evil that I felt was there to harm me.

I called out to the darkness and the emptiness of the great unknown and begged for a moments rest as a small child in my room that night. And to my small imagination and eager little heart I got an answer.

It was subtle at first.  The response I got back from the great unknown was a physiological one.  My body just started to calm down, my breathing slowed, my heart relaxed a bit and the tension in my belly eased.  My mind was still racing, and my eyes continued to scan the room, but I felt the presence of something really good in there with me.  Something strong, clean, and parental.

I closed my eyes and slept like a 5 year old for the first time in days.  The next night I uttered the same words to the same benevolent presence and got the same results.

Now, one could argue that my parents taught me about prayer or that Sunday school had taught me as much.  That paired with a child's immense imagination could have caused me to conjure up these feelings and the peace I felt, just as I had conjured up the feelings of fear and anxiety before.  But to me, in that room for that period of time, "God" became real.

As I grew older I learned to attach labels and names and categories and structures to this god-being. When I was a teenager, someone told me a story about Jesus and I thought that maybe, this good thing that I knew from childhood fit into the context of who Jesus was.

I mean he loved children. he stood up for the marginalized and the minority, and he confronted evils of all sorts.  So, it was just a natural thing for me to accept Christianity as my religion because well I had already experienced the goodness of God to comfort me and to chase away the bad.

Now as an adult, I have tried desperately to shake off those old ideas.  I have learned that maybe my god does not necessarily always fit the molds of Christianity, nor does it fit into most contemporary religions or understandings of God.  Maybe my god is no god at all, but the combined feelings of all on the planet who wish to do us well.  Maybe this comforting presence is a ghost of a family member long since gone from the world who has chosen to watch over me.  Maybe, it really is a god defined as good by most earthly well-intentioned religions.

I tried to be an atheist a few months back and I am sad to say that it didn't work out for me.  See I have a huge amount of respect for atheists.  I think it is because deep down, when I am honest about myself I have troubles reconciling this good god with a world in trouble.   I take issue with the descriptions that religion has constructed for God -- the excuses they have made for god's seemingly uninvolved, unconcerned, or unavailable approach to human suffering.   I take issue with believers who look and sound more like the evil presence I felt in my room than the loving, concerned and caring presence I felt back then and still feel today.

It's embarrassing to say I am Christian at times, knowing full well that others who use that label use it to bash people over the head with their own interpretations of the Bible or their own opinions and judgement about what is right or wrong.  It's a little infuriating to be honest.  I tried to run away from all of it, live in denial, steer clear of hatred in all of it's ugly forms.

More on this later...