Former pastor, ex-Christian, and super-villain

Sent in by Matt

It has been almost two years since I called myself a Christian. In my last days as a pastor I decided to take a break, I had grown tired of the stress of the church I assisted at, and the questions I had when I was younger in the faith were still unanswered. It was time to finally deal with them. I walked away, scared of what was ahead for me as all I "knew" was what god had called me to be, but not who I was or what I wanted to be.

One night it hit me. "It" was actually a bright balloon that hit my face during a wonderful concert. But as the balloon smacked me I was overcome with laughter and wore a smile -- something I hadn't had in some time. Not only was it okay that god didn't exist, but it was a beautiful thing because all my joys were now mine. No longer was happiness something given to me for being a good solider.

Recently I performed at a local "spoken word" event. It was only the second time I had been in front of a microphone since I was a pastor, but this time though my words were not soaked in an idea of righteousness. I spoke about what it was like to have been a pastor, and how it is to be a former pastor and a former Christian.

This is what I read:

A Heroes Lament

For a good number of years I spent my life on the road, this was not a Kerouac kind of thing, this was not listless…there was a clear-cut purpose to having my early 20’s spent that way.

My favorite trips were the later ones; once I had a little name recognition I traveled via the sky more than the roads. I did a tour via greyhound bus once- it was a disaster in more ways than I can explain, and on a bus from Long Island to Pittsburgh I sat next to a figure of a man who had just gotten out of jail, and as we all boarded the economy travel bus some kind of law officer handed this man his bags, who was predestined by ticket to sit next to me through the whole night, and said, “Your free now, you have a second chance.” I had no idea what this mans back story was, and I didn’t want to know. The whole trip I just sat in my seat and tried to black out by over thinking about how horrible of idea it was to do a speaking tour in a DO It Yourself/Punk Rock way.

The plane trip years were the best even though I always got off the plane with disheveled hair from trying to sleep while sitting up, and my legs were slow to move due to being stapled together to fit into a space smaller than the nook for my bags. Despite all that discomfort I always had a smile on my face because I knew what was awaiting me at baggage claim, my favorite moment of those days, the ego stroke to keep going.

My smile would be glued to my face as I met my ride to the church, college, or event. Then accompanied with a shake of nervousness in their voice I’d hear it, “Thank God you’re here,” Oh yeah this is a good ego stroke I’d think, “Were so honored to have you here,” he’d continue on and I’d wait for the money shot. “We know you have a great message for us.” There it was, what a hard stroke, they needed me!

Not many will admit this, but this is the exact moment any pastor knows their purpose. This is the moment of triumph, this is the touchdown dance in the end zone; this is watching the death star be nothing but sparkly bits in space while you roar off in the falcon. You see there is no way to not feel smug when you are greeted like this, people have their own pastors, but still they needed you. There pastor may have a private line to God he shares but still they need you, you’ve got wisdom that they can’t do without or apparently get on their own. It was these moments that sealed it in my head that I was a superhero (even if it was of the Christian persuasion).

I had no doubt in my mind in those days. Even if I tried not to separate myself from people it was the moments like this that just screamed out, “your different!” People treated me like a hero so I acted like it. And I get this question whenever it’s discovered I had such a religious past, “What was it like to be a pastor?” Simplest way to paint the picture is, you lived like a super hero. People called to you for help and you answered their calls, you didn’t wake up in the morning, you awoke to get a new mission.

However though that I saw myself in those days I’m not that anymore, I’m a vagabond now. Many of the same people who picked me up from air ports, bus stations, and let me crash on their floors after preaching or teaching won’t even look me in the eye anymore. In there eyes I’m nothing more than a Batman who sealed up the cave to go sell stocks, or a Spiderman who moved to the burbs after selling his suit on e-bay, or a Hellboy who got his wish and became a real boy. I’m sure most of those people, and even the people I so called saved couldn’t even pick me out of a line up today if given the chance.

“Come on up, pick the savior of your soul- the one who led you out of the valley of evil and brought you to the land of good,” the salesmen will pitch it. “If you can remember the face that went with your tears of joy you’ll get an i-pod attached to an LCD TV that with a touch of a button can get you more money back on your taxes.”

That amazing prize wouldn’t matter; cause I’ve been forgotten, and many of my achievements as well have passed away from peoples memories. I’ve become merged with the same shadows I’ve hidden in. I’m just a silhouette of the hero that I once was.

I didn’t save anyone though, not that tow truck dude on the side of the interstate on the way to Detroit, or any of the kids I prayed with outside of events while the snow rained down on us. I had good intentions that did help people in need, but in the end what are those?

“Beware of good intentions. There the pavement for the road to hell,” my mother used to always say that, many times as I was leaving for the day, like this was her biggest fear to protect me from. Intentions.

But you see it’s this ball fused in gravity, our blood, this soil, our chromosomes and even our hearts. Those are what are born in good intentions. Even a bear slaughtering a prey has the best of intentions in mind. Good intentions, that’s just a euphemism of our time for surviving on what you got in hand or heart. So it was six or seven years I lived my life with at least a hero complex on my shoulders. Some of those plane trips were just to tell one person that there life was going to be okay, which I hold no regrets for, I guess my only lament was believing all that hero shit I was given in the old term of righteousness.

But I do have to accept something, as much as I hate to. I’ve gone back and forth with this, biting my lip and crying, but this is how it is- there is nothing I can do. If I was a superhero to some people, then what does that make me now. I’ve had friends turn away from me simply because I believe what I did in those years was not me working out of a call from a divine voice, but just me working with what I had in my heart: to care about people and this world. Why is that so hard to believe, that good can be done by someone on their own.

No matter how much I try to explain and plead that I’m still the person of love I was before: in those fables, tales, and old literature I’ll always be:

The bane.

Living a Lie.

The Shit that went wrong.

In their righteous words I knew love and walked away.

I’m a super-villain now!


Anonymous said...

To paraphrase John Le Carre's dear old George Smiley "you are now a citizen of no man's land. I send you greetings."

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

I'm a former minister too. I just posted a couple of articles here. I can relate to the feelings you wrote about. It's amazing how people needed you and looked to you for comfort and answers, but in the end it was all about them.

These same people walk away from you as soon as you stop making them feel good.

I had to find new friends after I left the ministry. Sure, some people still talk to me, if I call them, but not a one will go out of his way to contact me.

Christianity is about as real as the tooth fairy. It does not change people's basic nature. It only white washes them.

Bill Jeffreys

Matt DeBenedictis said...

Thank you for the greetings Nadeen. Bill: It's so good to meet another former pastor, with friends I either have two responses, one is telling me I've lied to them all these years (like I was a non believer sabatoging their walk with god), or they just avoid talking about it and/or anything religious. The latter of course makes the friendship very awkward. One of the hardest things for me has been meeting people, being friends to people. As a pastor I found people came to me, befriended me, and well did all the friend wet work and I just enjoyed the benefits. Now I have to be me and put myself out in the real world, for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,

Here's my link so you can email me if you want to talk. We may have a lot in common to talk about. My daughter chose the address so please overlook the silliness of the address. :)


Anonymous said...

I totally understand. I was head of the Women's Teaching Minsitry at my church when I began to de-convert. I can't imagine what it is like for a former pastor. Now that I think about it, this is the first time I am actually glad women weren't allowed to be pastors at my old church :-).

bill said, "These same people walk away from you as soon as you stop making them feel good." That was so well put and so very sad and true.

It's a whole new world, and there are plenty of new friends to be had, but it's a difficult road at times. Thanks for your honesty and hang in there.

Tara said...

I've always been an atheist, so I can't claim to have felt what you felt - not exactly, at least.

However, I've recently gone through something similar.

For over a decade I was working my way through the local community becoming an up-and-coming young historian. I was known for the quality and quantity of my work. I was known as someone who would go out of her way to help someone with their research, their presentation, etc. - and I'd do it for free. I helped a community in their legal efforts to save a cemetery - I was their spokesperson, the one they turned to when no one else would listen to them.

But, I'm also an atheist (they didn't know, I didn't offer). I also suffer from some nasty mental illness (they didn't know, I didn't offer).

This past summer I finally snapped. After over a decade as a faithful wife in a very very cold marriage, I met someone who genuinely loved and appreciated me. I couldn't resist and I yielded to temptation. After 13 years suffering through my marriage, I feel like I *failed*. I felt that I should have been stronger, that I should have been able to accept that the man I chose to marry would never be able to show affection, appreciation, and I should have just been able to "buck up" and "deal with it". haha! Yeah, right.

Not only did I "fall", but it wasn't a secret. I told my husband, I told my friends, I told my family. I'm not the type of person to live with lies. I'm the type to put myself out on the table and people can either handle the truth about me or they can't.

Two friends stayed by my side (one who is very Christian, the other is an atheist). Neither made moral judgments against me because they knew what my marriage was like and, frankly, didn't blame me (even if I did).

The hardest part was my "social fall". Almost overnight, I went from an excellent student and "fresh pillar of the community" to rarely showing my face. I dropped out of school. I resigned as president of the local historical society. All of my projects fell by the wayside.

I left the area and moved to another state and to a town I HATE.

In a few months I'm going to move home, hold my head high, and try to salvage the parts of my old life that I treasured the most. The "limbo" I'm in now is time spent dealing with my failed marriage and with my mental illness. It's recovery time.

But returning home means finding new friends and social contacts. I'll get there, just as you are doing.

But it's very, very difficult. The people who turned their backs to you truly don't understand your journey. Those that stick by you - and the friends you gain during this time in your life - will be those who understand, who sympathize, and who appreciate what you've done for yourself and for others.

In the long run, those are really the ones you want to surround yourself with, aren't they?

Matt DeBenedictis said...

I don't do the whole myspace thing, you have a general e-mail. Mine is

Tara: I'm sorry for all you have been through. be strong, be yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hey matt is it's Jeremy, ex fellow pastor with the same church, I feel you though I am still a Chritsian & Pastor. I still see you as a freind and as someone who knows what he is talking about. I can see where you are coming from and honestly I nearly went where you are now but for some reason I have not. I hope your life is fufilling & I hope we will see each other again.

Plus every super villian has a freind who is a hero LOL!

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