Hey, How Ya Doin'?

sent in by Titus

My father is a Methodist preacher (55 years old), and, as objectively as possible, I think I'd have to say that he's one of the most forward-thinking preachers I know as he enjoys History and Psychology. In other words, as preachers and Christians in general go, he's very much in the minority. He's a chaplain at a state mental hospital and additionally he's done work at the local VA hospital, so he does a lot of work with people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. He also passed the state exam in 1989 for a funeral director's license, so he does bereavement counseling and also makes a few bucks on the side transporting bodies from hospitals to the funeral home. All in all, I think he's a good man, but more on that in a bit.

I turned 31 in December 2004, and I cannot recall a time when I did not go to church--or at least I always faced the prospect of going to church. As a child, I just took it in stride. Going to church was just something you did on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I loved it because I got to meet up with a bunch of good kids who were my own age.

I do recall that about the age of 6 or 7--about the time that kids really settle into the routine of going to school five days a week--the tone in Sunday School started to shift just a bit from being told "Bible Stories" to being exposed to slightly more complex ideas of Christianity. The girls my age, of course, gave "the right answer" more than the boys did ("God lives in heaven," "Jesus lives in heaven and in our hearts," etc.). Even at that age, it sounded to me just a little bit that the girls were being "coached" or "rehearsed" behind closed doors.

Every June, my Methodist denomination would have its annual week-long "Campmeeting" (they still do, as a matter of fact), and at the end of each 7:00 o'clock worship service, the old-timers would crowd around the altar and scream and shout and cry for twenty minutes. As I got older, I naturally thought that a relationship with God automatically induced an all-encompassing, cataclysmic emotional experience such as this. Try as I might, I never felt it. More importantly, I always felt in the back of my mind that I needed to be honest about not having this "crisis conversion" experience.

One day during the Campmeeting I attended when I was eight-going-on-nine (June 1982), the kids in my age group sat through one preacher's storytelling session (the usual "Jesus died for your sins," etc.). At the end of the thirty minutes, the preacher asked, "How many of you have accepted Jesus as your savior?" There were about 25 of us kids there, and of course everybody shot their hand into the air--except me. My aunt (now a retired second grade teacher as well as a Sunday School teacher and songleader) was in charge of the gorup, and I remember she looked at me cockeyed--as if to say, "Oh come on. Don't rock the boat. Don't stick out like a sore thumb." But I knew that I had not had a "crisis conversion" experience (meaning that I did not have "the warm fuzzies" on the inside 24/7), and I knew that if I said so, I'd be lying.

I could never quite comprehend the idea that I had to go to an altar in order to have a relationship with God. If God is everywhere all the time, I reasoned, why do *I* have to march 50 feet forward to an altar and have what appears to be a complete nervous breakdown in front of a crowd of people? Why can't God and I do business where I am? Why does establishing a relationship with God *have* to be so theatrical?

That said, I did have a conversion experience in 1988 at the age of 14. It didn't happen at an altar, but it did happen at the annual June Campmeeting. The preacher that year had preached a sermon on Hell using the story of the rich man and Lazarus as his text. Looking back on it, that was probably the first time I gave serious thought to my own mortality. That was the easy part.

The hard part--and one of the key characteristics that makes me bristle against Christianity--is that I felt the pressure to attain this vague, ill-defined ghost of an idea called "More." Christians put themselves under unrealistic, unattainable pressure to do more than they're already doing. The rallying cry, in my experience at least, is usally, "We need to read our Bible *more.* We need to go to church *more.* We need to pray *more.*" Whatever it is that Christians are doing, they feel the need to do it more.

And I tried to do "more" when I was a teenager. Guess what happened. Nothing. I felt in some ways that I was part of the "in" crowd, but I untimately never felt like I was (or was becoming) a morally and ethically better person. Again, my point of reference was that all-consuming emotional feeling associated with a "crisis conversion." But despite my efforts to do "more," not only did nothing happen with me, but nothing changed with the authority figures in church. The mantra never changed. "More" was always the slogan, even in face of the fact that I *was* trying to do more.

I need to backtrack at this point and mention another element of Christianity that has always rubbed me the wrong way: witnessing. When I was a kid, we'd have Christian Youth Conference (CYC for short) on Wednesday nights during the school year. It was sort of a mix of church and the Boy Scouts. I distinctly remember one night how the teacher asked me if I knew any kids at school that weren't attending church anywhere. I knew two brothers who rode the bus with me, one boy a year older than me and the younger brother being my age, so I mentioned them. The teacher told me that I needed (*needed,* mind you) to invite them to church. If I recall correctly, I think I tried to bring up the fact that the Bible is a bestseller and that there are only a few hundred preachers on television, so I really couldn't understand the teacher's working assumption that it was possible for people in our community to know absolutely *nothing* about God. I don't think I succeeded. Trying to convert other people has always struck me as being wrong. I always felt as if I was short-circuiting the other person's intelligence and free will. (True, Christianity is the topic of this site, but I think this line of thought could be applied to anything.)

In other words, it's always struck me that Christians are "needy" when it comes to people. Christians seem to think that being in the middle of a crowd of people lends legitimacy to Christian beliefs. To rephrase it yet again, not only do Christians not take "no" for an answer, but they don't even give "no" as an option. If a person doesn't have the option of saying "no," are they truly free?

I noticed that I was starting to change after I began college in 1992. It took me a little longer than usual to graduate, but I earned two degrees--one in History and one in English. I began to notice in '92 that people (Christian and otherwise) always asked me, "WHAT are you?" rather than "WHO are you?" Beginning with college, I have come to the conclusion (which, along with everything else, is subject to revision) that the function of conversion is to render the other person--the one *being* converted--as understandable and a non-threat. If I can get you to subscribe heart and soul to "Agenda X," then I no longer have the need to know you as a unique individual. If you and I both subscribe to "Agenda X," then all I really need to know the agenda--not you.

I used to be in charge of an ancient Indian mound museum. One day some Mormon missionaries new to the community came by to introduce themselves. Rather than making some pleasant small talk (thereby treating me as a college-educated human being), they immediately launched into their speil about Joseph Smith and Jesus appearing to the North Amerian Indians. They could have said anything in the world. They could have said, "Hmmm . . . interesting-looking place you've got here. What kind of museum is this, and can you give us a tour?" But no. They *had* to try to convert me to Mormonism. I just listened and nodded because I wanted to try to be more polite and professional to them than they were being to me, but (as always) such signals were misinterpreted.

That's basically where I am now on the whole with Christianity. I don't think most Christians in my father's church are as well-read as I am and probably don't want to be. I say this because on those occasions I do attend church, the only thing anybody says me to me anymore is "Hey, how ya doin'?" Then, regardless of my answer, they say, "Well that's great!" That's it. I have two B.A. degrees, working on a Master's in Library Science, I have 3 years working as a state employee, and this is the beginning, the middle, and the end of what anybody can think of to say to me. Then they turn around, walk off, and I know in my gut they say to themselves, "Hmmm . . . he acts like he's upset. He acts like he doesn't like people. I wonder why." In college, I tried to really engage people in church and get them to *think.* Evidently my efforts went over like a lead balloon.

As I say though, my dad is a bit of an exception to this rule. I bought "The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell" on DVD for him this past Christmas, and he loves it. Any preacher who likes Joseph Campbell can't be all bad. However, it does discourage me that he is continually flipping the TV to Trinity Broadcasting Network hoping against hope that the programming on there will improve, which of course *ain't* gunna happen.

Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes. Do I believe that belief in God and Jesus necessitates that I be a complete idiot? No. Wonder if I'll go to heaven when I die.

State: LA
Country: USA
Became a Christian: 14
Ceased being a Christian: Somewhere around 28-30
Labels before: Evangelical, Methodist, Born-Again
Labels now: I don't like labels--I see labels as being part of the problem.
Why I joined: My father is a preacher, so I was born into it.
Why I left: Read the narrative.

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