Among the Barbarians…

I’m done. Finally. The withdrawal period from Churchianity ran its course awhile ago.

If your church teaches things I don’t agree with, I don’t care. You will believe what you want to believe and you will see what you want to see. I no longer feel a need to create a blog post regarding something that I see as “incorrect” with the church. I no longer feel the urge to engage in an argument over the same stuff all the time on Facebook. What’s funny to me is that I notice people still argue over the same things: tithing, worship, dress code, alcohol, cussing, legalism, etc., ad infinitum.

Literally, same shit, different day.

It reminds me of the song lyrics of “What it’s worth” which go, “Singing songs and carrying signs. Mostly say, hooray for our side”. That’s what it feels like and I just don’t care anymore. It’s a big joke and I’m not laughing anymore. Not even going to listen to the same old lines.

Literally zero fucks given.

 

Here’s the thing: I want the real thing. The real Christianity. I haven’t found it. I’ve seen glimmers of it, like the sun being reflected off the water in a fast flowing stream. Here one moment, gone the next, here again, gone again. The closest thing I have come to in regards to a real “picture” of our Lord and Savior, our Elder Brother, our One True Reflection of the Father, is in the book “Beautiful Outlaw” and in the audio series “The Life of Jesus”, both by John Eldredge. On the whole, they are a “retelling” of the Gospels. It’s the most riveting description of Jesus that makes me want the real thing. I’m not saying it’s 100% accurate, either. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with him on in his writings, or teachings, however he has been a great help over the years. This isn’t a book review. This isn’t even to praise John Eldredge. I mention those things here on the off-chance that you even care about what I am getting at.

You see, I don’t see that Jesus being discussed and shared in the Institutional Church. When I was a leader, I tried to bring that Jesus in. Some took to it, the majority didn’t. They wanted gentle lover, school boy, creepy religious Jesus. Enough, it’s not about that.

Inside and outside the Institutional Church has profited me about the same, spiritually, within being outside profiting me slightly more. Why? All I know is that I know enough to know that I have more planks in my eyes than I thought I did when I was in the IC.

Let me try it this way.

The early converts to Christianity from Ireland used to call the Holy Spirit, ‘The Wild Goose’. Because the call of the Wild Goose was haunting and to follow it over the moors and foggy areas into the Wild could be dangerous. Forgive me if I am slightly inaccurate here, just stay with me. In ancient Greece, the term “barbarian” could refer to anyone of a different culture. In Roman times, it was used for many peoples, Germanics, Celts and Gauls to name a few. They were the people “outside” the protection and borders of the empire. Outside the city gates.

Those outside the gates of the IC are barbarians.

I don’t hear any semblance of the call of the Wild Goose inside the borders of the “kingdom” of the IC. Once outside the city walls and in barbarian territory, venturing ever outward, away from the IC, I could barely, barely hear it carried on the wind.

Does the word picture make sense?

I want the real thing. The real Jesus of Nazareth. I know more “of” Him than I actually “know” Him. Do you know him or are you just leaning on your theological degree, or your latest euphoric worship experience? Just because we know His words in the Gospels doesn’t mean we know him. Do you know him like you know your best friend, or your close neighbor, or your brother?

Isn’t that the offer? To know Him?

Why would He say, “I never knew you.”, if that wasn’t the offer.

And honestly, it should scare the living shit out of us that we do not know Him!

I think I am looking for a different kingdom, a different city. Where the battle hardened soldier and the young choir boy can agree on the character and nature of Christ, because they know Him. Where the career criminal and the old lady who sits in the second row of your church can relate to each other about their experience of Jesus, because they know Him.

It’s probably out there, amid the lands of the barbarians. And I am content being out here in the wild, among barbarians for now. To paint another word picture: Their lives are unfettered, their communities are close-knit, their words are true, their mead is good, their feasting is magnificent and their tattoos are pretty damn epic.

The truth is that none of us escape this life alive. The only one that we know of that has come back from the grave is the one we place our mustard seed of faith in. And all we know is that He is preparing a place for us.

That’s it.

You and I have to deal with this black wall of Mortality that creeps ever closer to us each and every day. Not a single one of us knows the day that we will meet our end. We just know it’s coming. And if we are truly honest with each other and ourselves. We would admit that none of us, not a single one, can see past that curtain. You don’t get to. I personally suspect anyone who boasts of being able to see through that curtain as trying to manipulate or sell me something.

If He truly is preparing a place for us, then we need to know him. Really know him. He would be our only glimpse of what is over there and only because He came back.

I can’t settle for anything less than actually knowing Him.

Really.

I can’t waste my time on anything less.

I won’t.

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Grilling a Sacred Cow: Healing

Now this is going to rub some church-goers in the wrong way. I say this because there are many “leaders” who base their whole “ministry” out of (or off of…) the “gifts” of healing, and prayer/healing groups, etc. There are many churches who “boast” of their miraculous healings and the “proof” that God is active in their church by these healings. I’ve gone back and forth for awhile on whether or not I should post this. However, it holds true to the purpose of this blog. Dealing with and exploring the questions, especially in the journey of faith.

If you are offended, I would ask you to stop and ask yourself, why exactly, are you offended?

So…here we go.

I was reading through and deleting some old Facebook “Notes” and I came across one that I had posted roughly six years ago, labeled, “Tom is getting Healed!”.  With the exception of brackets where I removed names, here is the original post:

For those of you who know and those of you who don’t.  I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease around March of this year. This was the “mysterious” ailment that plagued me on and off for the last five and 1/2 years with bad vertigo spells.

Basically, Meniere’s is an inner ear disorder in which the ear tells the brain that the room is spinning when it’s not.

Since then, with the doctor’s suggestions, I’ve changed my diet, kept working out and have been taking natural supplements that help decrease vertigo symptoms and promote inner ear health.

Truth be told, I haven’t been ultimately GUNG HO on being healed as far as what has been provided to me through the sacrifice Jesus made for me. I’ve trusted that I will be healed in due time as I follow the instructions of my doctor and as I stay in the Word.

Sunday during worship I felt led and instructed that I needed to take it to the next level and increase my focus and trust in this area, which is where I ask you my friends to agree with me. I went forward during worship when [the church pastors at the time] asked for people who need prayer to come forward. [My wife] came up with me and in agreement with [one of the pastors] we prayed that I would accept nothing less than healing in my ear.

I went to my Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for my checkup today and he said that after the holidays I can start weaning off the supplements I have been taking!

I will be off my supplements by March 2009 – OR EARLIER!

I know that I am healed!

Now – two things struck me.

  1. I’ve been dealing with Meniere’s disease “officially” for six years now, “officially” meaning since I was diagnosed and 11+ years if I count all the symptoms and attacks pre-diagnosis. Thankfully, it has been quite awhile since my last episode, over two years and that last one was so violent that blood vessels broke all over my face.
  2. I’m STILL dealing with this damned thing…I haven’t had a violent episode of vertigo, nausea and vomiting, but I do get disoriented every now and then, only briefly, and I still have tinnitus (ringing and hearing loss) in my right ear.
  3. O.K., three things struck me.  The last being my naive level of “declaration” and so-called “faith” displayed in the note that was written. Oh how the times have changed!

Just over two years ago, before I walked away from participating in “regular” church services, I stopped the declarations and expectations of miraculous healing.  I stopped standing, wishing, hoping, praying. I got a huge case of the “fuck-its”. Some well-meaning people would want me to “come to the front” when the call for prayer and healing came and I would gently oblige them, hoping deep down that maybe…just maybe I would experience the miracles like in the days of old. Just maybe, this time I would be totally and suddenly healed. At the same time I was conflicted and guarded, not wanting my hopes to raise up too high.

Follow along in my thought process leading up to my case of the “fuck-its”:

I have “stood in faith”.

I have done the “having done all to stand, stand” thing.

I have had numerous pastors, “special speakers”, evangelists, etc., etc., pray.

I have had numerous “words” from the same people regarding my healing.

I have walked to the front of church service after church service, stood up during many “special services”, “conventions” and “conferences” when people were challenged to take a “stand in faith” for their “miracle”… so … many … damn … times.

I have “declared”, “decreed” and done all the formulaic bullshit that I have been encouraged to do.

Am I healed of this ailment? No.

Here is the kicker in the whole thing: I still believe in God healing people. We have accounts of it in scripture. We see Jesus – who is supposed to be the exact representation of who the Father is – say, “I am willing, be healed.”, and hope rises inside us. I’ve had a few experiences in this area, but not many. Yet I can’t even get a fucking headache to go away in prayer much less Meniere’s disease. I remember one time I faked it regarding a headache, mainly because we prayed and prayed and prayed, time passed and nothing happened. It wasn’t an over the top, “OH MY GOD! I’M HEALED” faking, it was more of a, “Yeah, I feel better now, thanks.” faking. I was done.

You might be wondering if I am mad at God? No, not really. It is a bit frustrating to not understand what is going on, but then again, there is this great big universe out there that none of us have the full capacity to understand anyways, so there are things that I won’t understand.

What I am mad at is the whole circus in christian circles regarding healing, from evangelists promising miracles up to and including people choosing to put their children’s lives at risk because of their “faith”.

I am mad at any person who “guarantees” healing if someone “just stands in faith” or “gives to the man/woman of God” or has some simple X,Y,Z formula for healing.

I’m mad at all the “believers” who will just point a finger of blame back at people like me who haven’t received healing. They will say it’s our fault or that God “knew” that we would eventually falter so he didn’t heal us, or because we don’t tithe, or because we didn’t worship properly or enough, or we didn’t fast and pray long enough, etc. All of these things normally bring condemnation on the person who doesn’t get healed because they didn’t “truly” have faith or they didn’t “give enough” or they didn’t “commit” to the formula for healing. They just didn’t do enough, apparently, to get or merit God’s attention and miraculous power to heal. It’s as bad as child abuse, really.

I am mad at all the “healers” out there who say that they could go to any hospital in the world and start healing people, but “they have discerned” that the approach they wish to take isn’t “wise” and isn’t in “God’s will”.

I am mad at all the believers who will point to scriptures for “proof” that God doesn’t heal everyone because even Jesus didn’t heal all. No, Jesus didn’t perform miracles in certain areas because the people there wouldn’t receive him. They didn’t believe in him. We have believed and stood and we have gotten very little…

I am mad at all the believers who say that God will purposefully send sickness, disease, injury, etc., to teach us a lesson. Again, that sounds like child abuse. You would lock me up in prison and demand the harshest sentence if I broke my child’s leg on purpose or exposed them to dangerous bacteria in order to teach him or her a lesson! Yet, God can get a free pass on this?

People get sick, people get hurt and maimed, people die. And for those of us who pray and stand and trust God for a miracle, it shakes us to our very core that things didn’t turn out better. Right now, worldwide and in the very town you reside in, there are people suffering and dying. There are people standing in faith and trusting God for miracles, and they won’t get what they are after.

There are enough question that pop up on the subject of healing that it is enough to make one believe that God is no longer in the healing business, or doesn’t want to. Yet some of us, hold on to a fool’s hope that maybe this time…it will be different. I would venture to say that possibly, we see the miracles of Jesus performed as “illustrations of the sermon” so to speak. What I mean is, when someone “comes into the Kingdom” there is restoration. The blind see, the dead are raised, etc. I’ll spare the questions that start to raise even here.

Now, to close this up with maybe a bit of positive thought. I have definitely done what I can with what I have regarding this health issue in my life. By fighting it, by not giving up, it has made me a better person. Though I don’t know how to gauge my “spiritual” growth, I am definitely stronger mentally. You gain a lot of mental strength when you have to go through a violent spell of vertigo, throwing up until you can’t give anymore and then dry heaving for what seems like an eternity while fighting to breathe. I am definitely a healthier person because of this. I am definitely stronger physically too.

Well, I’ve said my piece. Take it for what it is.

Hopefully it has provoked some thought and questions in your own journey.

On Holiness

Yesterday, I published my review of John Eldredge’s The Utter Relief of Holiness.  I wrote about some positives of the book and a couple negatives, but I didn’t really touch on the “take-away” regarding holiness.

I want to do that now.

In the book, John shows a very appealing side to pursuing holiness, or maybe more correctly, makes an appealing case for embracing what the Father is trying to do in you.  That work he started at the cross, that work he continued in your regeneration and that work he will eventually finish in you as the Author and Finisher of your faith, a part of that is Holiness.  God wants to make you both whole and Holy, and from John’s point of view, you can’t get one without the other.

I want to focus on the two things that are appealing when it comes to Holiness.

First, as described in his book:  Holiness should be an utter relief.

As John says in the book, “What would life be like if I never even struggled with this again?”.  Think about that.  If you never struggled with raging anger again.  If you never felt that urge again to eat out of compulsion or for comfort, or to bring the bottle to your lips to “calm yourself”, or to look at porn or visit a strip club so you could get a “release”…  wouldn’t that be an utter relief? 

Wouldn’t having all the broken areas in your life restored, made whole and holy be an absolute relief? 

Wouldn’t that be a breath of the freshest, most life-giving air possible?

Yes, my friends.  Yes it would.

I have definitely experienced a taste of what this is like in my own personal struggle with porn and sexuality.  There was a time when I felt compelled to turn to myself and find my own ways of pleasure, instead of looking to the Father to complete me and help me turn my desire into good and solely for my wife.  There was a time when I struggled with looking at other women, I dreaded going to work every day knowing how some of my coworkers dressed (even in a “professional environment”) or how my customers might dress.  I avoided movies and everything out of fear that I would see a pair of naked breasts or some ass and then fall into sin once again.  I would be full of guilt and condemnation.

But something changed.

Through a few good men in my life, even through some of John Eldredge’s writings, I began to learn to turn to the Father in those instances.  And in my time with the Father, I began to learn that I am not my sin.  I came to a place where I realized I had a choice.  I am not a victim.  I can choose to go down one road or another.  I am not predestined to be a “porn addict” or whatever label people, mostly religious, would like to throw on me.  I have had much of what was broken in that area of my life come to restoration; wholeness.

Do I have temptation in this area?  A little.  But now, it is a different game altogether.  I don’t struggle with it.  I have a choice.  If I happen to see a pair of breasts on the big screen now, I don’t have to “lust” over it and I don’t freak out mentally when it happens.  I don’t have to let it affect me.  Should I then go watch porn or nc-17 movies just because?  No.  I’m just saying that the struggle is, for all intents and purposes, gone.  I do not feel the chains of bondage anymore.  As an example, the other night I watched the movie “We’re The Millers”, and in it Jennifer Aniston does a stripper routine for a Mexican drug lord in an auto-mech shop to “prove” she was a stripper and not a suburb-living mom.  Is she attractive?  Absolutely.  I personally think Jennifer Aniston is more attractive now than when she was back in her “Friends” days.  Seriously.  I didn’t watch a lot of that show when it was popular anyways, but since it has gone into syndication, you can’t escape that show, it’s everywhere, like Seinfeld.  Where am I going with this?  Well, the scene didn’t affect me like you think it might have.  No fantasies about her, nothing.  She looked good, yes.  But I didn’t take her anywhere in my mind or heart.  And I wasn’t afraid that I’d fall into sin, either. 

And that, my friends, is an utter relief.

This wholeness that I’ve experienced where I am now is a reason that I can’t stand to be a part of “accountability” groups online or at a church.  I was invited a couple of months ago to join one on Facebook, which I did for a little bit, just to see if I could be a help.  It’s just not for me anymore.  I was reminded quite clearly why, exactly, I don’t like “accountability” groups.  There is too much fear of falling into sin, too much self-condemnation, self-loathing and guilt, and honestly, too much religious bull-shitting going on.  Too much reliance on external guards as ways of keeping themselves out of sin, instead of manning up and taking responsibilities for their choices and looking to the Father for healing and guidance out of that pit. 

If I were to bring this up or if I were to bring up where I am and how the struggle doesn’t affect me, it’s not readily accepted.  How do I know?  I’ve been there before.

Moving on.

The take-away here:  God wants you whole and holy.  He wants to restore you, it can happen, it does happen and that is an absolute relief.

Second:  Holiness should be attractive.

The holiness that Jesus demonstrated to the masses was extremely attractive.  The crowds drew to him like flies to a light.  The only ones that his holiness actually repelled were the religious.

My friend Phil Drysdale, just put this up as his status update over in FB-land:

Consider the types of people that wanted to hang out with Jesus.
Sinners
Drunks
Gluttons…
Thieves
Prostitutes
Liars
Adulterers
Betrayers
Political Activists
Do those type of people want to hang out with you?

Think about it.

To the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus says to her, “I don’t condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  The religious wanted to crush her skull with stones!  Not Jesus.

Jesus hangs around the despised of society and they flock to him.  He isn’t even bothered.  Not once is he drawn into sin.  Yet nowadays, we have sermon after sermon after bloody sermon from the pulpit telling the congregation (but we know they are really targeting the young people) to “be careful who your friends are” or “be careful who you hang out with” because, after all, “bad company corrupts good character”…  

To the woman at the well, a woman quite who had been through a handful of marriages and currently living, as modern christians would call it, “in sin” with a man who isn’t her husband, Jesus isn’t even tempted.  And she is drawn to Him.

Women, this question is for you.  How safe would you feel around a strong and kind man, one who exercises meekness, maybe even a little bit attractive, but at the same time, you know this man has no alternative motives to bed you down, he has your best interests at heart and his only concern is helping you become to best you that you can be?  Now, reverse that, for you to be around a man, and no one question your motives? 

Isn’t that attractive?  ZAP!  Right?  Like a fly to a light!

Men, how would that feel to you?  To be able to be around a woman, even if she is available (and maybe she even has a “reputation”), and if people were to see you together, not a single man nor woman, not even your wife, who approached you would dare ask you, “What are you doing?”?  Because they knew, they knew, that you were good.  Or, for your wife to be around a man and their isn’t a trace of suspicion or even a thought that the man might be attracted or make a move on your wife.  How would that feel, to know such a man?  To be such a man?

John 4:27 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”

ZAP!  Right?

Well, I don’t know about you, but to me that kind of Holiness is extremely attractive.  It’s a lot better than the faux-holiness walking around now-a-days spouting off about what they don’t watch, don’t drink, don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t do, etc.

An attraction and a relief.

So, what do I think about holiness? 

Well, I definitely agree that God wants us whole and holy and that he purposes to make us that way.  Holiness should be a relief, it should be attractive.

Like others, I see Holiness as both a process and a way of being.  What I mean is this:  when you are saved, when you are regenerated in Christ.  You are made holy.  (I can feel the feathers ruffling at this…no we’re not Tom!  We’re bad!  Bad!  Bad!)  Your heart is recreated, you are a new creation in Christ.  As you progress in life, as you allow your Good Father, to lead you, instruct you, guide you and love you, heal you, and restore you – you begin to produce fruit.  Some of these fruit are touched on in Scripture, we know them as the “fruit of the Spirit”.  I personally believe that Holiness is among them.  Any fruit of the Spirit that is produced in your life is a Holy fruit.  It isn’t tainted if it is of the Spirit.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a fruit of the Spirit, now would it? 

One way we come to embrace what God is done, is being transformed by the renewing of our minds, thinking and believing differently than we had before.  Gee, that sounds like a familiar scripture.  Without the renewal of our mind, I believe the process of what God wants to accomplish in your life is hindered a bit.  

“Luke, you are going to find that many of the truths that we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view.”

A lot of things, practically all things – I’ve come to understand – that we hold onto regarding God are filtered by our point of view of Him, even when we “back it up with Scripture”.  Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t an absolute truth and that all things are relative.  What I am saying is that our point of view of the Truth and especially of who God is can, will and does impact how we perceive and respond to the Truth and to what God wants to accomplish in us.  Our point of view comes from what we have learned in life through schooling, experiences in life, joys, successes, failures, disappointments and heart breaks.  Like it or not, even if you are theologically trained, much of how you embrace God deep down on a personal level is going to be based on your own personal point of view of God.

An easy example:  viewing God as a good father, The Good Father.

Bare with me, I might draw a little bit of an exaggerated picture here, but the point remains.

Now, a lot of kids grow up with dead-beat dads, dads that weren’t there, dads who abandoned them, dads that were present but checked out, dads that abused them mentally, physically, etc.   You get the point.  When a man or woman who has had one of these fathers, comes to the Saving Grace in Jesus, a lot of them have a hard time coming to terms with God as The Good Father.  Jesus is good, kind of a cool older brother, the Holy Spirit is good, but God the Father…mmm, we’ll just stick with Jesus.

If you have a hard time viewing God as a Good Father, or even experiencing this, it will affect how you view christianity as a whole and every topic in it, including holiness.

Keeping with the Good Father example.  Someone who has not had the best father, might have an easier time believing that Jesus was God the Father’s whipping boy who stood between little old worthless you and the mean ogre-like God and took the beating that his younger brother couldn’t take.  Now, a lot of people will rise up and say, “But Tom, he did take the wrath that was meant for me!”   Wait a minute.  Why not look at this from the point of view of a loving Father?  Christ is the Father, after all.  What good father wouldn’t lay down his life and endure as much as he could to save the lives of his children? 

So it is with holiness.  If you believe that God “tolerates” you and that you need to “look busy” and make sure to stay the hell out-of-the-way of Big Daddy God’s Freight Train of Wrath …  you might have a hard time accepting that your Good Father wants to restore you, heal you, take you under his wing and show you the family business and give you a part to play in it.

I believe that the Cross demonstrated our value in the eyes of God our Father.

The Cross changed and corrected so much.

Can you see how certain things can mess with your beliefs and point of view?

What are your thoughts on holiness?

Telling it like it is: Part 2 – All pissed off and nowhere to go. -or- Old wounds still healing.

That’s a long title, huh? 

Figured I’d go out with a bang for the New Year!  So here we go!

You know, I’ve gotten along fairly well without going to a regular “church service”, it’s been a relief actually. 

Yeah, I said it.

It’s pretty nice sleeping in, it’s nice not having tensions rise as my wife and I strive to get ourselves and the little tribe of kids ready.  Seriously, I’m raising a small nation-state!  It’s nice not having to get ourselves fed and coffee’d up, get the kids fed, dressed and even re-dressed if there was an “accident” and then everyone out of the house so we can make it to church on time (while listening to church music on the way to church to make sure we are in the mood for church) and shake hands with people who sing our praises on how faithful we are and tell us how much they love us, yet when shit gets real, they really don’t give a flying fuck about us anyhow and won’t deliver on all that love they were pontificating and verbally vomiting on us in the first place.

Oh, wow, Tom…I appreciate your honesty, but, that was kind of…strong…

It was, wasn’t it?  I know I can be a bit abrasive at times.

I am disappointed…and kinda pissed.  In the light of recent “oh, wow” moments I have had (similar to Harpo’s “Aha” moments, but cooler…) and other reflections I’ve been making/having over the last few months or so, my anger or pissed-offedness is more akin to when someone pokes a healing, yet sensitive wound and like an idiot goes, Hey! Wha’ happened?”.  And then, calming yourself and mentally reminding yourself that it’s not their fault for pointing it out and touching the woundMaybe it is more akin to when you are minding your own business and you accidentally hit your wound as you are going through your day.   At that moment, you realize,  “Man, I know this thing is healing, I can see the wound healing, but it’s taking longer than I thought!”.  You’ve changed bandages, washed it, let it air out, applied medicine and bandaged it back up again.  But you haven’t been wounded like this before, so it takes a little longer of a process than, say, a scrape on your knee.  My healing wound has been bumped a few times in the last month or so.  So, call the above  a reaction to me getting bumped on my wound.  Below would be removing the bandages, so to speak, revealing a good part of the wound to you as I clean it and redress it.

It’s time anyway to change the bandages.  The New Year is upon us and I want to start it with a fresh wrapping, so to speak.

People wonder why I have forsaken the so-called church-family that I had, some have gone so far as saying that I am trying to “tear down” all that I once loved and stood for.  Some even going further and telling people who used to come to me for advice or to hang out with me that basically I’m no longer a good source for those things.  Seriously.

Church family?  What part of family did they really fulfill?

When I said something or shared something that seemed odd to my “family” or maybe it was opposite or against their viewpoint, did they come to me, try to contact me or try in any way to talk with me and understand where I was coming from?

Nope.

Did they accept that as part of a family, that I might have and will have differing views? 

Nope.

Did they call me or try to visit when I resigned from the one thing I loved doing at church more than anything?  After I stopped coming, did they call? 

Nope and nope.

Their silence spoke volumes to me.

The only contact made was accompanied with the tone of “why are you being divisive/attacking the church/destroying/dividing/etc. etc.”.  It was never to know my heart and mind.  They didn’t look at what I presented objectively, they just seemed to hold on for dear life to everything they knew and interpreted my actions as attacks.  A good friend said it best though:  The dog that barks the loudest is the one that got hit.  Or, as Han Solo once wisely said: “Must’ve hit pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid?”

Of all the people who went to the same church I did, the ones I respected, loved, thought were mighty in the Spirit, wise, loving, an example of Jesus, the prayer warriors, the one’s we called “family”, the one’s I defended when things were “hairy” at church, the ones that I would share some of my fears and concerns to…

Those people, when shit got real, were in actuality far from being family.

All the “talk” ended up being just that: talk.

Just a big, fat, sloppy sandwich of talk.

Talk is cheap, as the saying goes, but the damage done by cheap talk can be expensive.  Honestly?  It’s OK, now.  I know part of the injury came from my view of these people.  People so anointed of God could do no wrong or harm after all, right?  I trusted too much, especially since this was my second dysfunctional church experience.  I learned from the first one, but apparently not enough.

About a year ago, almost two month since we stopped going, we came across a group of people who used to go to the same church as us at the local mall.  We had just come out of the movie theater with the kids, they were doing some project or another for the church.  To be honest, I saw them long before they saw me.  I try to keep a certain level of situational awareness when I am out and about, it is the protector in me.  I told my wife and told her that we should go, I really didn’t want to see them.  They still hadn’t seen us up to this point, she wanted to go look at a few things at a few shops on the other side of where they were at.  So, we moved forward and eventually they became aware of us walking their way.  We got a generic smattering of,  “Hello, how are you?” and, “We miss you guys!” from the adult leaders present.  They missed us…a bold-faced, keeping up christian appearances lie, I could see it in their eyes.  They didn’t miss us.  My response to them?  “Thank you.”  I didn’t miss them.  I wasn’t going to lie and say I did.  I just said thank you and held my tongue back. 

I was tempted to imitate Doc Holiday…Forgive me if I don’t shake hands, but I refrained. 

More than likely, they were relieved of not having to deal with me.  I was a pain in the ass near the end, I’ll admit it.  I mean, come on, it’s kind of a pain in the ass when you can’t control someone and they refuse to just blindly do what you want them to.  It’s kind of a pain when someone won’t just go along with whatever you want to do and asks questions.  Especially if you believe that person is trying to tear the things down that you stand for or have had a hand in building.

The pastor called us…almost FOUR months after we had left.

Four months.

I was told that they still “felt” like God wanted us to stay there and that we belonged there, we “had a place” there.  I was told that they look at us like a son and daughter…  

Let me ask you something:  would you let your son or daughter go almost four months without talking to you?  Would you wait that long to reach out to them? 

If my oldest child was of age to move out of the house and we were having a handful of disagreements, I’d try to figure out where the disconnect was.  Hell, I try now to figure out where the disconnect is, being mindful of the fact that I can be a complete hard-headed ass sometimes.  If I came home one day and I found that my oldest child had packed up and moved out, would it be natural for me to just let it be and not try to speak with her?  To just go on without her, as if nothing had happened?  Everyone close to me would call me out on the carpet for that, I guarantee you!

You know who did come to our side to see what was on our hearts and minds, to see if we were O.K.?  

A pastor from a different church, and he wasn’t there so he could cannibalize me in to his fold either!  I had breakfast and coffee one morning with him; we shared our stories.  He listened and he shared some of the heart breaks that he had gone through in the past and I listened.  Man to man, we related.  He knew my passions and what I had done at my former church and encouraged me to find another home-church, get some rest and healing and “get back in there” and keep at it, at what I was passionate about, namely teaching and encouraging.

People that used to go to the same church as I did, but had left for various reasons (some similar reasons too) before we ever did have come along side us here and there to encourage us and listen.  They weren’t bitter, they didn’t throw down the place we were coming out of, they were loving, kind, open.   Neighbors and some friends came too.

A nice, precious handful.  To them, I am very grateful.

But nobody, nobody who had talked all that talk came.

A few younger men who I used to mentor and teach have come to me, miserable or not satisfied with life there at the church and yet they choose to stay…  I don’t get that.  I understand their reasoning, but at the same time I don’t.  I respect it nonetheless, they are men, it is their choice.  My door is always open to them, regardless.

You know what really sucks?  All the women that my wife thought were her friends at the old church…gone.

Every.  Single.  Woman. 

Not a single woman reached out to her.

It hurt her, and thus it enraged me.  My wife started noticing it after our son was born, about six months before we left.   He was hospitalized, she was operating on 2 – 3 hours of interrupted sleep, per night, handling the kids and house while I went off to work everyday.  Every single one of the women who professed their love for her and said they’d “be there”… she saw them never come.  For the sake of honesty, there were a few, “hey let us know if you need help” type of calls coming in a little too late.  And of course, there were others who I’m sure would’ve come but they were tied down with their own obligations, so there is grace for them, I assure you.  By that time, though, I was already in “fuck off” mode.  None of these women, with all of their “bless you’s” and “oh we love you’s” and other proclamations of love and affection came to my wife’s side to help her out.  Nobody tried to “rally the troops” and make an announcement at church or get on social media saying “Hey, Tom & his wife are really struggling right now and they need some help.”

So yeah, the old wounds are still healing.

We’re dressing our wounds, putting on medication, undressing the wound, cleaning it, letting it get some air, etc.

We move on.

From what I’ve shared before, we are meeting with other believers here and there.

I noticed that I get really nervous about going to anything remotely close to a church.  Kinda makes the wound ache.  Thankfully, I have a small handful, a small band who welcome us when we gather together in the name of Christ.  I have a few men that I look to, who I respect and can bounce ideas off without them thinking I am attacking them.  I’m starting to think more about gathering frequently with small groups of people.  Nothing too big, just in homes and as life flows.  The whole definition of church and life in Christ has changed.  

More love, more grace, more understanding, more signs of healing.

Being able to speak to other christian men as men without doing the church dance of appearing godly and not saying what is actually on our hearts and minds, that helps.

Beer helps too, I love a good beer or Mike’s Hard Lemonade for my wife.

A final thought:

When you work out and you don’t practice proper form, even though you may see gains, you can really mess yourself up.  Then, when you end up actually getting hurt, you really get hurt.  It takes awhile to recover.  You have to rest.  If you don’t correct the mistakes, you’ll end up injured again but worse this time.  Some people go years and years on incorrect form, and wonder why things aren’t working or why you aren’t getting the results you want, you end up trying to reinvent the wheel instead of going back to the beginning, to the basics and see where you went wrong.

This is a good description of the last 10+ years of my life in church-ianity.  There were a few things I was doing “right”, sort of.  But I was doing a whole hell of a lot with really, really bad form and continued to do for years.  So, when I got injured, I really got injured.  Now I am resting, recovering, and watching my form.  Focusing on quality instead of instant results.  Going back to the beginning.

I think it’s working.

So’s the beer.