A Walk on the Dark Side: A Childhood Nightmare

By Mriana

Image via Soulfountain

(Names have been changed/withheld to protect the living)

In 1973 I was seven and riding back home with my parents after spending a long summer with my grandparents. I don’t remember much before then, except bits and pieces, but after that was living hell, which I have no knowledge as to why. The thing is, as a child, none of it was my fault, but rather the adults in my life and it had nothing to do with a god. It was all on the humans.

My parents did not go to church, unless we were with my mother’s relatives, even after all the times my mother and I left the abuser. Yet the bizarreness of Evangelicalism, along with insanity plagued my childhood.

Being of short parents, I was small enough to lie down in the back seat of a Vega to watch the blue sky pass by overhead. As I watched, I thought, “We’ve been to the moon and back, but neither God nor heaven is there.” Thus began a long journey of learning that the god of the adults was not my god, for my god was numinous and one that human words cannot describe, but only seen through neurological scans. Yet, it never was an actual deity, not a traditional deity at least.

My father, Damon we’ll call him, was an abusive in many ways, as well as an alcoholic, and sometimes those memories still bring me tears, especially when old tapes, as a former therapist called them, play in my mind. A horror that combined with my Evangelical mother and her relatives only a psychologist could help me overcome to some extent, yet it still affects my life greatly and it is a story that needs telling, because religion can be a source of misery. However, only humans can put an end to that source that causes misery.

While the physical and verbal abuse was bad enough, the sexual abuse left some long-term affects in my life, the spiritual part that was most difficult to overcome. Granted I made the mistake, as the pattern usually goes, of marrying men who were abusive in their own ways and I have had bouts of severe depression all my life, but there is nothing like trying to find one’s self as an adult and who you are after such life experiences.

The first time I tried to tell my mother about the sexual abuse so she could make it stop, she confronted Damon and the next thing I knew he called me into the dining room where the two of them were talking. He dropped his pants and made me show my mother what he made me to do him. I didn’t want to do it and overwhelming fear hit me as he grabbed my hand and forced me to show her.

My mother just turned and left the room without a word and thus began years of horror and my mother being “born-again” three times. Yet there was no invisible old man trying to save me and I was all alone, save my pets that I loved dearly. After such incidents happened without her in the room or he beat me black and blue with much name-calling, my pets would come to comfort me, and I would feel something numinous between us that I called God. Except this deity could not help me or do anything, except give me feelings of transcendence, which felt good after such things.

Then one day, my mother packed some of our things and took me to her aunt and uncle’s home to escape this man. So I thought.

The following Sunday, we went to my great uncle’s church. This uncle was the minister of this church and his hell-fire damnation altar call preaching scared me to death. He would scream for everyone to come to the altar and “be saved” in a loud booming voice that was stereotypical of such ministers and he did not stop until everyone, except me, was at his altar. I wanted to run out of his church, but knew I would be in trouble so I froze while my mother went to the altar to “be saved”, along with most of his congregation.

Afterwards, my minister great uncle asked why I did not go up to his altar and I told him that he scared me. His response was he did not scare me, but the devil and it was the devil who tried to fool me. “NO!” my little mind screamed, “You scared me, not some cartoon red-tail creature with a pitchfork that scared me.” I cried as I told him, “No, Uncle Richard! You scare me.” Again, he attempted to reassure me that he was a man of God who preached the word of God and knew when Satan was working on people, because God comforts us. I knew that was wrong. It was the adults who frightened me.

This uncle had an affair while in seminary with a woman he never married, even after she became pregnant. He knew the child of that relationship, but did not have much involvement with him. Of course, I never knew this until years later and have only seen his son very few times in my life. However, this uncle and all my mother’s relatives sent us back to the man I considered a dreadful daemon, but he was human and not some cartoon character.

Needless to say, the abuse continued, but the next time my mother took me and left to her relatives, she took Damon’s guns with us, because he had threatened her with a knife and she was scared he would kill us all. This time was a little different though, even though she was again “born-again” at my great uncle’s altar.

This time, Paul’s works concerning wives were preached to my mother by my great uncle and grandfather, who was by this time a sort of lay-minister in his church. I found out later that they told her a wife is suppose to be submissive to her husband no matter what, even if he was cruel to her and her children. This was God’s will.

As for me, an 11 or 12 year old, by this time, who was beyond the age of accountability, I was told that a child had to obey their parents no matter what, because God said so and it did not matter what my parents wanted, said, or did. I had to do it or be cursed while some bird pecked out my eyes and I was shown the words in the Bible, as well as told this is what God commanded of children. These were from the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12, Deut 27:16, and Prov. 30:17) and the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1-3). Nothing was mentioned about fathers not provoking their children and when I mentioned it a few years later, I was shut down with a “Children must obey their parents, because God said so” and was not to forget that. I was not allowed to forget any of that.

As for the verses quoted to my mother, I never really knew exactly until years later when she started telling me she had no choice and talked about how it was obeying God. Even then, I had to figure it all out myself, because it made no sense for a woman to submit to an abuser. What few people realized, even now, was that by this time my emotional and psychological age had been stunted and probably my mother’s too, yet I still had the ability to think and silently think I did. However, I did not learn this until I was an adult in therapy, so what terrified me at that age, might not have terrified others of the same age and my mother might not have been mentally in her thirties at the time all of this happened.

The other thing that was different, was that Damon came to my great uncle’s church and was “saved”, so it was no surprised we were once again sent back to live with him. No, he was not religious at all, but an evil man who continued to do what he always done, except this time, he would leave the Bible where he thought one of us would see it and read what he marked. It was a means of control of course. I saw one of the passages he marked and it was a text for wives. I don’t remember the text, but I remember it was about wives, yet he treated me as his concubine. Oh, I knew the word at that age; I just did not know exactly what it meant, except it had to do with sex that much I knew. The thing was, according to my mother’s relatives, it was God’s will that we return to my father and what I wanted did not matter.

So my mother and I were sent back with this man, guns and all again. I was not happy and wanted to die. It was around this time, I developed anorexia and like the adults who quoted scripture to me, I read the whole Bible as I was told and discovered two verses (1 Cor. 6:19 and 8:8-9). Food does not commend us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better or the worse. I used one or the other of these two verses against them when they wanted me to eat and they would insist I was taking the Bible out of context. I was? What made what I did any different from what they were doing?

By this time, the numinous feelings I felt with my pets and nature grew stronger. Such feelings caused me to feel enveloped by what I considered a deity, yet I knew it was not the same and the only thing this deity could do was make me feel good. I was even told what I felt was not God, but something else. I had my own world and it said I did not have to eat what they gave me. It was full control over my own self and the Bible allowed me to do this. IF the Bible was the word of God, then it said quite plainly that I did not have to eat. It was only “a stumbling block” to my own relationship with what I knew as God and I was stronger for it. I could go for days without food and I felt good for it. I was in full control of myself and no one could force me to eat.

Then one day, Damon attempted to force feed me, but I held my mouth tightly shut. He was stronger and after he managed to get a bite of food in my mouth, I spit food at his face. This was a big mistake for his fist drew back and I fell out of the chair upon impact. My mother remembers me climbing out of the curtains afterwards. He then said, “Get the f*** out of here and feed your animals!”

Oh, I fed them and then I ran into the woods, leaving them behind, but hoping I could somehow get my pets back eventually. My four foot eight, forty pound, 12 year old body ran as I tried to think where I should go and then I reached the highway and sat down to think some more. Night was coming and I still had no idea where I should go. I cried because I felt helpless and scared, and then the sheriff saw me and told me to get into the car. He was nice, so I thought, but even as I tried to plead for help, he took me back to the bastard. I didn’t want to go back to him. The one person I was told I could count on for help did not help me.

Like the good parents they pretended to be, they gladly accepted me home, but then, after my mother went to bed, came Damon’s apology. “Come here,” he said with the niceness of an asp, wanting me to sit on his lap. I dutifully went to him and sat on his lap, even though I knew what was coming. I did not want him to touch me and I pushed him away, but he forced his hand down there even so and then he forcefully grabbed my hand made me touch him. Eventually, when he had enough of me, he let me go and sent me to bed.

I cried and wondered where God was and why he never did anything to help me. He just allowed people to hurt me and sent no one to help me. How could such a thing be God’s will if he loved all the little children? I was alone and hell was a place on earth. It had to be, because life was so miserable, but why was I forced to live in hell? I knew of nothing I did wrong and according to my mother, teachers complained I was too good. If I was too good, why I was I being punished? Why would this be God’s will?

Sometime later, my mother became sick and had to have a hysterectomy, but before she did, she talked to Damon in my presence. I remember the day very well, because I was sitting on the couch when she tried to tell him she wanted another child before the surgery. He shouted, “Why do you need another goddamn f***in’ shitty kid. You have one goddamn f***in’ shitty kid right there.” His finger pointed at me and I felt panicked. I had no idea why he thought I was so bad. I tried to do as the adults told me and followed God’s law. What did I do wrong? I thought I was a good little girl. Which was it? I was too good according to teachers, a good girl according to my mother and grandparents, but to this man I was a “goddamn f***in’ shitty kid”. Did I displease him? Is that why I was in hell? I was lost and confused. Why did he say I was a “goddamn f***in’ shitty kid”?

Well, my mother did not have another child, but she did have a partial hysterectomy and while she was still recovering from the anaesthetic, she scared me. I thought she was going to die, but an aunt told me God was taking care of her and should not to worry, but pray instead. After a while, Damon took me home and I was alone with him for a few days until my mother came home from the hospital. I cooked, I cleaned, I did whatever any good child would do for her mother, but he still touched me in ways I dreaded greatly while she was gone and it was not as a father should. I somehow knew this much and hoped when my mother got better, she would take me away, this time for good, but as much as I tried, I could not avoid the man.

There was no god to take care of me and take me out this hell. There was no one to love and take care of me, no matter what I did to please people. I was still trapped with no way out and death seemed preferable. I tried to think of the least painful way to make it happen, so I took several aspirins, which I was allergic too. Who cared if it was a sin, I felt dead already. I had no idea how many I took, but my ears rung loudly and eventually I threw up, but that was it. I was still alive and in hell. A few days later, I took a swig of peroxide and went to bed, but to my disappointment, I woke up that next morning and was mad that I could not do anything right.

A light over the horizon?

In 1980, we all three moved to St. Louis and I started high school there, still a “Twiggy”, but very much alive and thinking of my next move, especially since we were in St. Louis.

I went to school one day and called the national runaway hotline from a payphone. I told my story, but to my disappointment, I could not stay there without parental consent. I could not believe it, I was that close to getting help, but I had to have my parents give me permission to run to shelter and maybe help? “No, not again,” I thought. For the first time in my life, I skipped class, on school grounds, right in front of the principal’s office, and for a good cause, so I thought. I did not get caught skipping class, but I did not get any help either.

I went home after school and told my mother what I did, in hopes she would let me go, but she asked for the number and left our home to call it in private, which I found out after she returned. No, she still did not let me go, but a few days later, an officer and a child service worker came to our home. I thought I would be rescued yet, but they asked if we wanted to press charges. Damon answered with a firm, “No” and my mother did nothing. She just sat silent as the two authorities left without helping me, and later she told me she had no choice. She did have a choice though, regardless of a damn book, but that book, which she believed was God’s inerrant word, was more important to her than I was. No one listened to me and the Bible/God was more important than I was and I vowed that if I ever had children, I would never allow any man to harm them.

Once again, I tried to think of something, anything that would take me out of this hell. I thought of rubbing alcohol, but ruled it out because it would cause me stomach pain and I did not want to die in pain. I wanted an end to the pain. Aspirin and peroxide did not work before, but I tried a bigger swig of peroxide again anyway and went to bed, only to wake up once more the next morning. The monster was right, I could not do anything right, not even die.

A few days later, my parents announced they were getting a divorce and he informed me that I would live with him part of the time and my mother part of the time. I screamed at him and told him I would not, only to be knocked down and told I would do as he said or else. Even so, I vowed I would not live with him and once again plead to my mother when were alone not to make me live with him.

He left not long after that and my mother finally told my grandfather all that man did to me and FINALLY, he and another uncle, who was my godfather, paid for an attorney to get me away from that man. The attorney spoke to me and according to my mother said, he called the man “lower than a snake’s belly”.

It was about this time my mother finally told me that the hotline told her, if she did not get me away from that man, they would. She supposedly would never see me again if that happened. Not sure how that got her to let go of her god and be a mother, but it did, except it was short lived.

Judgment day finally came, but it was not all good. My grandfather told me I would never have to see that man again, but that man was not getting any consequences. I told him I wanted to prosecute him for what he did.

To this day, his words ring in my ears as he told me, “We have you away from him now. That is enough. God will take care of him.”

What? I was livid. I shouted and cried, “God? What about man’s law? I want him in jail for what he did to me!”

My grandfather got an angry look on his face and said, “Anger is a sin!”

“A sin? That’s not what it says. It says, “Be angry and sin not”, I thought. Where was he getting this? Was not molesting your own daughter a sin? Was not killing one’s soul not a sin? Why is a man who committed a crime, according to humans, not committing a sin? I was confused. How could someone so evil and cruel go free without any consequences, yet I was supposed to pay for what he did to me? It made no sense.

The following Sunday my mother was “born again” at my great uncle’s altar again. It was the third and last time, but this one came with baptism at my mother’s request. She wanted me baptized also. Not only that, she wanted her uncle to baptize us.

My great uncle approached me with my mother and asked if I wanted to be baptized. I knew if I said, “No”, they would get upset and their hellfire preachy wrath would be upon me, but at the same time, I did not want to be dunked in a river. However, the two of them stood there, anxiously awaiting my answer. Not wanting to get into trouble, I said, “Yes”.

The day came and my great uncle said, “After you are baptized the world will be different for you.”

What? No! I like the bright beautiful blue sky and everything else that was so transcending about nature. I did not want anything to change. I had no idea what he told me after that, but it was nothing but preaching. That much I knew.

My mother was dunked first in the river and then it was my turn. I wanted to back out, even run, but I knew I could not. They would be mad if I did, so I walked into the water with my great uncle until it reached just above my waist. Then he put his hand over my mouth and nose as he dunked me and said a muffled, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

I came up and looked around and up at the sky. Everything was the same. Nothing was different! I was so happy, except…

I got swimmer’s ear.

After that, my mother wanted to go to church regularly, but said she knew I would rebel if she took me to an Evangelical church. In the end, she compromised with the Lutheran Church, ELCA. It was during this time that I purchased some Humanist information and was reading it in my room. I had no idea that she had entered my room nor did I realize she would react in such a manner as she did.

I was reading with great interest because the description of a humanist was totally me and then suddenly it was snatched out of my hands with my mother angrily shouting, “THAT’S NOT CHRISTIAN!” She walked out of my room with it and I never saw that piece of information again.

Years later, I did stumble onto something similar, but not without a lot of searching as to who I am. I even attended the Episcopal Church for a few years, after I left home, just to please my relatives and say I was attending church. I researched almost every religion, myth, and philosophy during that time and once I ran into Humanism again, I decided I was a humanist. The thing is, that journey of finding myself, getting therapy, and all as an adult was not without hearing those words “That’s not Christian” shouted at me from time to time as well as a modern day inquisition from my mother and various reminders of my mother’s bizarre beliefs. Add to that, the infamous, “I had no choice!” I don’t know which is worse- “I had no choice”, based on her stupid religious views or her screaming, “THAT’S NOT CHRISTIAN!” and getting the Inquisition.

The thing is, by this time I knew it was humans who made earth either heaven, hell, or both. There is no heaven up there or hell down there. It is all right here and as for a god, that’s all in our heads. “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” There are no greater words written so true than in the Humanist Manifesto II and IF there is a god, then it is not what my relatives attempted to drill into me as a child. The only people who saved me were humans, not some invisible being sitting the sky.

However, my grandfather believed in a heaven so much that, when he became depressed, he believed that his doctors were trying to keep him alive longer than God wanted and refused psychological help, because he believed those in psychology would steal his soul. Thing is, he never knew that his religious beliefs killed my soul and it had to be resuscitated by a psychologist, because he stopped taking his medications and a few days later, he died of heart failure. Even if he had lived, I doubt he would have listened to me.

The one thing I have learned is that religion kills on so many different levels and it is truly a source of misery. It does not save anyone, but only contributes to suffering and enables abusers.

Am I Christian? Maybe culturally, because I was raised to be one, but in actuality I believe it is all on us humans to relieve suffering and to improve our lives. Was I ever a Christian? I don’t know anymore, but what I do know is the god I knew as a child was not that of my relatives and after studying neuro-psychology, it was never actually a god, but rather feelings of transcendence that were, along with my pets, what kept me going in some respects. That feeling I get with nature, music, real compassion from other humans, and from my pets, I hope never leaves me, because it is a wonderful feeling, even if it is brain chemistry.

However, as much as those like Bishop Spong in the Episcopal Church showed me that not all Christians are the same, I cannot go back just please others. I have a lot of respect for them, especially those who put up with my rants concerning various things about religion, but I cannot stand human or animal sacrifices, along with other rites and the like. Human beings are not meant to be sacrifices to or for anything. No living being should be sacrificed for any reason, in any way, shape, or form. Life is too precious to sacrifice anyone and we should all be free to discover what makes us happy. Life is a gift and we should enjoy it while we are alive.

I do not believe for a moment that I am going to hell, because I have already been through hell and I do not expect any reward or punishment after I die. I do expect my sons to bury my ashes among roses after I die, for what greater memory could they have of me? Even here in the Bible Belt, I managed to shelter them from Evangelicalism and they never knew about it until they were in their mid-teens. They did not like what they saw and understand me better for it. One is a Buddhist and the other says he makes his own beliefs, but they know my life was filled with many thorns, yet I am glad for their love that was never compromised by sources of misery, even if I was not a perfect mother. Thing is, I look forward to one day watching them raise their children without religion or at least without corrupt religion.

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Each of us has a path in life

By Christian B

Hello, I have been with this website a long time now and I feel now is the time to introduce myself and my beliefs. My Name is Christian, I am from the United Kingdom and I am 27 years old. I am a Unitarian along with what I would consider my own 'unique' beliefs, and I believe that this is my 'path' in this lifetime.

Why do so many of us, including me, start off as Christians, then suddenly or over a course of many years find ourselves outgrowing it? Well, I believe that these events are 'predestined' and are part of our soul's development. Each of us is a individual soul with individual gifts, talents and needs. I personally believe in 'reincarnation' and that most of us here where Christians because of who we may have been in a 'past life' for many numerous reasons and in what I believe to be the spiritual realms, Our soul, or 'higher self' along with our 'guardian angels' and 'guides' chose Christianity as an 'aid' in our soul's progression. It is the same with people who have a belief in the Islamic God or the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism or the other religions created by man. Even the 'extremist' members of these religions I believe are also on the same path and in the 'next life' will progress further.

What do I believe about Jesus? Well, I believe he was the 'Son of God' but in the sense that we all are God's 'Sons and Daughters'. He most certainly was NOT God or even pretended to be despite what Orthodox Christians and even the Bible will claim. He was more of a spiritual teacher who had reached a state of 'divine consciousness' and could 'physically manifest' the image of God. He certainly didn't want a church or to be worshiped, but taught and talked of rather a Church within ourselves (Giving, Loving, Understanding, Charity, Forgiveness, Generosity etc.) (The kingdom of God resides in us all.) Sadly, I believe the Bible fails on this, only charting the last 2 years of his life prior to the crucifixion and the story of his 'Irrational' birth to Mary. I also Believe that even some, if not most of the stories of Jesus aren't authentic such as the resurrection. Sadly, there is no evidence to support such claims as this or walking on water (unless it was the dead sea which could have been much more saltier than it is at present).

The Bible is, in some ways, an inspiring historical text if looked at logically, intelligently and not taken literally. There are lessons to be learned from it such as the story of Adam and Eve. This story is an excellent example of not blaming others for your own actions.

However, Where I do draw the line with the Bible is the violence against women and children throughout the Old Testament and it's portrayal of a Jealous, Angry, Homophobic and Perverse God along with the many obvious contradictions so hard to ignore but yet so justified by many Christians.

What I want to say is that many of us whether or not, we see it at present, will have benefited from being a Christian. I certainly have as it has helped me become a more well adjusted and mature person despite the pain it has sometimes caused me (people in churches, legalism, lies and fundamentalism) and prior to Christianity, I was a heavy drinker where as now I enjoy a few beers in moderation.

Christianity, along with Islam I believe are on a very quick and dangerous path to self destruction and will become an 'underground' belief system that only a minority will follow as we advance into the 'new age'. It is only a matter of time.

Atheism? Agnosticism? well that too is a path, recently I have been thinking of all the great inventors and scientists who are or who were Atheists. Have they have not been Atheist or Agnostic, then I believe that the world would not be as 'highly developed' as it is now with our advances in medicine and technology. Some of us who have no belief in a deity has greatly benefited not just them, but the world too. I believe everything happens for a reason and has a purpose and we all have our own path to follow. Only we for ourselves can decide that. no one else can do this for us. What is proof to one person may not even be evidence to another. If you have any questions then please, feel free. Peace and love to you all.

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The Tempest

Science fiction often portrays real religions ...Image via Wikipedia

By Christian

I was a Non-Denominational Christian girl and as I got older, I was very involved in my church. I went out witnessing (trying to proselytize people and inviting people to my church) on Saturday mornings and I was thoroughly brainwashed by my church to think that all non-Christians would be in hell. I constantly attended altar calls to rededicate my life to god and to make sure that I would go to heaven. Well, this lasted until I went to college and was exposed to new ideas. I eventually knew that my beliefs were going to change and I started reading Carl Sagan. I started learning more about my first love which was science and how it actually worked. I was exposed to a world that was more wonderful than anything I experienced. I read other science publications--books, magazines, anything I could get my hands on--and digested the information. I eventually discovered the joy of reading Skeptical Inquirer; I decided to strengthen my natural skepticism.

I took a logic class and met a friend at the college who was an atheist. These last two factors caused my already crumbling faith to disappear. During the transition, I felt like I was in a storm and nothing was certain. Talk about a most uncomfortable feeling but I could only go with the changes. It was tough but my friend helped me through it all. He loaned my Dan Barker's Losing Faith in Faith and the scales fell off my eyes. While reading that book and talking to my friend, I started understanding atheism and learned it was not evil; it was just a lack of faith. I learned I could be ethical without being religious. I started coming out as an atheist as I knew that I didn't believe in the supernatural or any deities.

When I gave up my faith, it was like being released from a prison that I was assigned to without any guilt on my part. It was the greatest feeling and a change that I never regretted. My parents found out about my atheism and I was given the opportunity to return to Jesus. When I refused, they kicked me out of the house. I went to Amherst, New York, for my internship and went on to college. It was a bitter-sweet moment. On one hand I was finally free but I had no visible means of support save for friends that let me stay with them. Through it all I stuck to my principles and was an open, out-of-closet atheist; I'm still open about my atheism. My life has been an interesting journey but I would do it all over again.

February will be my ninth anniversary of my atheism and it is still the greatest decision I made. I am still reading about philosophy, science, humanism, etc. I look forward to turning 80 and still being a freethinker.

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My Story - Part 3. Prison, Chains and the Dragon

Private School KidImage by visual.dichotomy via Flickr

By Neal Stone

Funny how things work out sometimes. As I was getting ready to write this part I found my office (a local non-profit) was losing funding and we have to cut expenses. It was a three day weekend and I fell into a deep depression. Much better now though.

But what is funny is that the depression I felt I haven't felt in years. It was a deep rooted, not sure what to do type depression. The last time I felt this ways was when I was in church and not sure what to do with my life. I spent my whole church life this way. Of course now I am all sorted out and feeling better. Just got a shock at first when I got the news though it was expected. This is why the week delay in this posting.

After becoming a Christian and my parents “got right with God”, they decided I needed to leave public school and go to a private Christian school. I spent the 6th grade being picked on by bullies, falling behind on my work and piratically failing. It was a hard year for me and I barely got through it.

Then the next year came. During the summer the church (which met in the women's club at the time) decided they would start their own Christian school. In the late summer of '78 we took a test for a schooling program called A.C.E. It would be here I would descend into the prison of Christianity. I would be chained in strict belief systems (Catholics don't even come close) and somewhere in the darkness I would be pursued by an unknown foe, the dragon. The dragon would pursue me for years to come.

We began the 78/79 school year and I found myself in the 7th grade doing 4th grade math. My skills were way behind. However something happened this time around. Since the school program was designed to learn at your own pace I was able to not only do the work, but actually had good grades and didn't have to keep up with the rest of the class. I would fly through my work. I still think that this is a good way to learn.

But it wasn't all good. The school was very strict. One student had to take the bus to work and would always arrive ten minutes late. Even though he had a valid excuse, the attitude was “no excuses” and he would get a swat in the ass. Funny though that the pastor always had a valid excuse when he failed or made a mistake.

One guy named Howard, was the assistant principal and the youth leader. Part of the way through the year he and his family moved to Texas suddenly. Turned out he was involved with a couple of the teenage gals and not in a good way. I would find this out later and this would be one of the many lies and cover ups the church would have during my attendance.

We were required to be in church every Sunday. We weren't allowed to do much at all. No movies, dancing, TV worldly music and so on. Catholics had more fun than we did. Basically, eat, sleep, pray, read your Bible, and go to church. My parents did let me read The Hardy Boys. That was fun!

Since we didn't have a regular class room we were instead in one room K through 12th grade. There was little classroom instruction and we worked out of booklets called Paces.

On top of that the preachers kid (PK) would become popular and I would be withdrawn as usual. I soon became his stepping stone to being popular which would be a constant battle until I graduated 5 years later. To make things worse my brothers and sister would “rebel against God” and my family would always be treated bad as a result. I would try hard to fit in and belong, but to no avail.

We rented a campground for the first year. It was pretty cool really. One day the gals would go out in canoes and we weren't allowed in the area because they didn't believe in mixed swimming. But they weren't swimming, just canoing. We decided to hide in the trees off shore and watch. We got in major trouble and were given detentions. The detention slips were printed on mustard yellow paper and we soon discovered that if you pored bleach on them they turned a nice dark red. We had fun with that.

The school year dragged on and it finally came to awards night. Always the weekend after the last day of school.

As my parents walked in with me the pastor/principal would walk to my mom, smile and tell her he had a surprise for her. My parents took their seat and I would go sit with the class.

There was this collection of trophies and framed awards so it was pretty exciting. Stuff for Most Improved Student, Most Verses Memorized and so on.

It never fails, I always get to sit next to the most annoying kid who thinks he knows who all the awards are for. According to him I was slated to win them all that night. LOL

Finally the pastor got to a trophy for highest grade point average of the entire school. It was on a marble base and was silver with blue velvet on the front side panels with something (I forget what) on top also silver in color.

As I sat there the pastor bragged on how this student made a lot of progress and had the highest GPA of the ENTIRE school. There were kids in this school doing math 2 grades ahead of there actual grade so this wasn't an easy thing to pull off.

He finally called out the name on the trophy “Neal Stone”. It is important to note my mom had just gotten out of major surgery a few days before. She almost had to go back to the hospital. LOL My mom and step-dad both cried.

I sat there for a second then leaped out of my chair and over the empty chairs in front of me. I walked got the trophy and then sat there the rest of the night holding it so tight that I left fingerprints in the velvet on the front of the trophy. The finger prints are still there to this day. This would become one of my proudest moments as once again I felt I could do anything.

I am going to end here on this positive note. This is one of those moments I get teary eyed about.

Next – Part 4. Cults, Mind Control and Fear, Oh My!

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I'm in a state of confusion

JORDAN RIVER, WEST BANK - JANUARY 11: Evangeli...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeSent in by SFT

I took a deep breath, walked a short distance, turned around and realized my reality had fallen to bits...

I've been frequenting this site quite a lot lately, amazed and relieved that there are others out there. And reading some of your testimonies I realize that most if not all of you were "true" Christians, although I've found most Christians deny this fact and say otherwise.

I think right now I'm stuck in a transitioning process, still open minded to both sides.

There are still books to be read and thoughts to examine. However, I'm tired of trying to shove mashed potatoes through a small pin hole -- it's frustrating and brings great fatigue and confusion.

I realize all that I have based my belief on is unfounded and shows my great ignorance.

I grew up in a Christian home my whole life. I've attended a Baptist church ever since I was a small child. I even went to a Christian high-school. I was saved when I was about six years old -- I think, for fear of going to hell. Who wants to go there, right? But as I grew older my faith became real to me.


I started growing in a deeper relationship with God; I prayed; I read the Bible; I tried to be a good witness; I loved Jesus/God with all of my heart. I even went to Bible school, where I began to understand the Bible at a deeper level then I ever had before.

It was one of the best experiences of my life, other than them trying to pound and pound into me the insignificance of a female, reiterating the fact many times over. I almost left at one point because of that, yet still, I loved it. I came home, became involved in my church youth group and children's Sunday school.

I've always been a big questioner. I have always questioned a lot about the Bible, but I guess I excepted most answers I got, or brushed them off as things too great for me to understand. I know what I write next may not settle with some of you. You may not agree, and that is fine, but it's part of my journey that led me to where I am now. I began looking into the food I ate: all the wonderfully toxic things the food manufacturers puts in the overly processed crap they feed us. I began to understand the corruption of the food industry, the pharmaceutical companies, and eventually the government itself, and the world. I realized how ignorant the Christians I knew were, and not to start any nasty political debate, but it infuriated me to no end the blind loyalty of Christians to president "Christian" Bush. I have poured myself into much research... and well... the evidence seems to speaks for itself.

Other things that got to me was the great hypocrisy of Christians. It sickens me. And, is there no error to be seen in bribing a teenager to do their quiet time for money?! That is what my youth group does. Does it not say in the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil? I say my youth group because, unfortunately, I am still volunteering there. Ah, the hypocrite I am.

This whole experience is very recent for me and all I know and have grown up with are Christians. I stand to lose everything I have ever known, and though the truth is worth it, I just can't bring myself to make any rash decisions right now. My husband thinks I've gone a bit loony, but feels everyone should search for truth. My grandparents are sure to die of shock if/when they find out. My parents will cry and tell me they are praying for my return, and will call upon their fellow prayer warriors to join in. And my brother will probably never venture near me again.

The basis of my faith has mainly been built around my "experience" with God. I felt his presence and He answered my prayers, or so I thought. I felt the highs you can get from singing worship songs. After reading that it was nothing more than chemicals and stuff -- endorphins or something released in your body -- I was shocked and didn't want to believe it. But, it was true. I could get that same feeling from admiring the strength of the sun or from listening to other forms of music. I also realized God was my sugar pill. I would lay in bed, and if I thought I heard someone outside, I would become a little frightened (the little baby I am) and so I would pray for God's protection and would envision him holding me in his hands. And peace would set in. It suddenly dawned on me that it was me who gave myself the peace. It was all in my head. I was like a child with an imaginary friend.

This, among other things really got me thinking.

So anyway, the "experiential" part of my faith couldn't hold water. So, what of the bible and it's truth? Well I have many issues with it, and no longer can I push them away. God is love, but he kills, promotes rape, promotes polygamy, is sexist...etc... just the same stuff a lot of people get hung up on I guess. I always brushed it all away. "Who are you to question God?" I told myself. Well, if God made people to think and reason, it seems mighty cruel of him to make things so utterly confusing, so much so that a person thinking logically could rightfully deny His existence. Besides that point, It seems I would be trusting in man more than the God by believing the Bible. It was man who physically wrote it; man who copied it; man who decided upon which writings should go into the Bible. And it was no easy decision. Who says they were right?? Plus, the Bible is so confusing, everyone disagrees on what it means to say. Almost every single issue can be taken more than one way, it seems, thus the many denominations we see out there.

So if the Bible is truth, why isn't it clear? Why do we need a trained pastor who sorts it all out for us? And where is the Holy Spirit guiding the Christian in truth, if all Christians differ on their views?

I didn't realize Christians could fall away simply because they did some deep, realistic thinking. I always thought it was because they wanted to sin or because some trial in their life caused them to question God's love. I have desired a life where I could choose what I wanted to do apart from the Bible, and I have had many heartbreaking experiences, but neither of these caused my lack of faith. It was only courage to face what I didn't want to know, and a little critical thinking.

I gave up witnessing and trying to defend my faith even farther back. I realized the futility of it, and also, I had no facts, no evidence, no nothing to back things up. I couldn't answer important questions. I had no business trying to convince someone else of something that I couldn't really understand.

Before looking into my faith, I had researched and learned everything else up until this point in my life had been a lie (that's a whole long story that I will leave be) -- like the Matrix -- but I still had God, right? I didn't have the guts to look under the last rock, to explore the last corner. But, I had occasionally stumbled upon things, and they stuck in my head, nagging at me, 'till I had a whole pile of nagging little things overcoming me. I couldn't fit my reality into the Bible, but I didn't want to go to Hell!

And, I wanted there to be a wonderful heaven awaiting me!!!

But just because that is what I wanted didn't mean it existed, so I got up the courage to explore the forbidden areas of life. I struggled. I was depressed. I cried a little, but it didn't last long, maybe because subconsciously I had been conditioning myself for the truth (or what if it's because maybe I haven't fully cut myself off from my belief in life after death, so I still have a small bit of hope? But I thought I came to terms with that..oh..my goodness..there my mind goes).

My pastor has always told us not to look into things that would hinder our faith. I had listened obediently, scared that something would... Ha, no wonder he tells us that, for there my faith went -- flew right away, and now I am left wondering now what life is all about.

Sticking ones head in the sand leads only to great ignorance, if truth is truth then it will stand firm in all storms, no? So, at last, the final petal has fallen. It seems I have truly been re-born. Freedom from the stress of trying cover up or explain away things that don't make sense in light of the bible.

I know my story is a bunch of ramblings. Sorry for that. I know I don't make complete sense. I say I'm free from my past, but yet, I don't think I'm fully free from its grip. Once in a while I feel a sharp pain in my heart, and I want to run back. I struggle with wondering if it's just the 23 years of brainwashing that does this to me. Reading certain things, or hearing certain things, brings me back to that time I walked with Jesus. The mind is a powerful thing and I don't want it to get in the way of reason, but ah, that is what I reason with.

Does your desire become your reality? Do I feel a unique freedom without Christ and not want to go back, and so I will make my way right in my head? Or do I really know the truth, but am just struggling with letting it go for good because it has been my whole life.

I think... that I think...

There is perhaps some book out there that can make right what I have said doesn't make sense about the Bible. And so if evidence shows itself, I'm willing to open-mindedly look into it. But I doubt there is, and I don't see how I could ever go back to my ignorant ways. But there are some great wise people who have believed in Jesus, and it makes me wonder if they knew something I didn't.

Am I missing something or have I given up too easily?

Am I being biased because I like where I'm at, or do I?

I'm sorry for the lack of sense in my writing. Please don't judge my inconsistencies or ramblings. I'm in a state of confusion, and I simply cannot interpret my thoughts correctly, much less get them in writing. Maybe I'm just having withdrawal symptoms and do not know how to deal with them. I do know that I have hard times ahead. I hate fake people, and right now I am the epitome of the very thing I despise, although I'm not a very good faker, so I don't know how long I can do it.

No one knows but my husband. I freely told him because I knew he'd be OK with it, because he never had the same type of personal relationship I did with Christ -- a curse for me throughout our marriage, but now a blessing (lol). But as for everyone else...urgh, I don't even want to think about it. It will certainly be hell...

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It literally drove me insane

Hal Lindsey - The 1980's Countdown To ArmageddonImage by Bedtime Champ via FlickrSent in by Al

My Christian journey to hell began when I was 12 years old. Actually, it started when I was six or seven, when my mom made me attend Catholic Classes (CCD), but that's another story.

When I was 12, I had the misfortune of seeing the movie "The Late Great Planet Earth," by Hal Lindsay. Actually he didn't write it himself, he co-wrote it with some crazy woman. But anyway, before then I really didn't know a lot about the Bible. It was quite an introduction.

When I was a child I thought that God and Jesus were just powers that wanted me to be a decent person. In the Catholic tradition they make you feel like God is a big mystery that only the priesthood can understand, and that God is only good. If you do something "bad" then you have to feel a lot of guilt. This was well ingrained in me. When I saw the movie, my eyes were opened to what the "Biblical" God is really all about.

I remember watching that movie and feeling that my brain was being fried; all of the images and concepts: Prophecy, Final Judgment, Death and Destruction. These things weren't only God's will, but they were inevitable and unstoppable. Basically I felt helpless and hopeless, that I didn't have any future.

So a couple of years later I got involved in the "Born Again" movement. I read the Bible many times and went to many churches until I was 21. I forced myself believe all of it and prayed all the time.

It literally drove me insane, because while I was involved in it I knew it was bullshit, but I kept eating it up.

Finally, at the age of 24 I came to the ultimate conclusion that Judeo-Christianity is the most hideous form of mind control ever devised by the mind of man.

So now at the age of 43, I feel that my youth was wasted. I think about all the fun I lost out on, all the women I rejected, and the education I could have had. I think about all the worry, guilt and fear I've had to endure for 31 years. I'm really pissed and I'm still living in hell. I think a lot of people can relate to my story.

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I still haven't told everyone

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...Image via WikipediaSent in by Ryn Darknight

I am going to be honest. This is very difficult for me to write as I am a very private person and I want to protect my family--all of whom are Xians.

Several years ago I thought I would undertake a study of evolution to determine if it is true. I began to realize from my studies that it is true and that if modern humans are at the very least 50,000 years old then the Adam and Eve story must be false. I continued my studies and found evidence for disease existing in the world before humans ever got here and that completely undermined for me the story of the 'fall' of humankind. I felt a great sense of relief because I had always been troubled by what I thought to be true--that God had cursed the world because of the sin of Adam and Eve. It makes me angry with myself that I ever believed this.

I had read the Bible through a number of times, and I always had a sense of disparity in my mind over the 'God of love' as portrayed by Jesus and the vengeful, often unjust OT God that Jesus claimed to be. I had often argued about these things in Sunday school, but the behavior of Yahweh was excused. It was considered okay by many I knew for God to wipe out the 'evil' people. Unfortunately innocent babies and children and animals were numbered among the 'evil'.

Once I realized that modern humans have been around for tens of thousands of years, I realized that the exclusive claims of Xty could not be valid. If there is a loving God, he/she must never have had an exclusive religion in mind because there has never been one in the history of the human race. I came to the point where I could not believe that God would wait that long to enter human history and then damn people to hell if they didn't believe.

The funny thing about Xty is that it still uses the OT which in a lot of cases directly contradicts the teachings of the NT.

I can identify with many of you who have posted on this site over the anger that you feel. I have been a very angry person at times over this and other things within the church. But, I also look at this as a very freeing time in my life. Sometimes it has been lonely, but I'm looking forward to meeting new friends. And hopefully, in time, my family will understand my reasoning and not be sad about my decision. I still haven't told everyone yet for various reasons.

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Grandma's gift

EIN VERED, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 5: A worker gives...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeSent in by Darrin

From birth I was raised in the Pentecostal faith by my mother, and I never really had any doubts about the existence of "God" or the claims of the bible until my mid to late teens. I just assumed that if your mother and your family tell you something is real it must be true, because they wouldn't steer you in the wrong direction, right?

My mother divorced her second husband (great guy) when I was 15 and we moved back to the home that we had lived in before they were married. They agreed that my stepfather would make the house payment and provide her with a late model car of her choice. He was actually the most honest used car dealer you would ever want to meet.

Now, back to the story.

After we were in the house for a while, at some point, my mother developed a compulsive disorder with the thermostat and the lighting in the house. She would constantly check and lower the thermostat and spent most of her time watching television in the dark. Many a winters night, I had to sleep fully clothed, with a coat on and in a sleeping bag to stay warm. The summers were just as bad if not worse.

She never let me starve but my diet only consisted of cheap frozen pizzas and soup most of the time. Home cooked meals were a thing of the past as was house cleaning. In her defense, she did tell me that there was going to be a change in our lifestyles before the divorce -- she wasn't kidding.

I started complaining about the conditions we were living in and she would always tell me how tight money was. Knowing that she was employed full time and paying no rent or car payment I knew something was wrong here. I started snooping through the bills to see if there was an explanation to where all her money was going, indeed there was.

She was paying Jimmy Swaggart's heating bill. Check after check after check she had written this man, not to mention what she was also giving to the church she attended.
This was the point I started questioning my beliefs, and stopped attending the church. I ended up holding on to the beliefs I was taught but Mr. Swaggart and her local church cured me of organized religion.

Fast forward to my final awakening 25 years later.

My grandmother was in a car accident the day after X-MAS 07.
She clung to life and finally passed on Valentines day of 08.

I had long before this time given up on the Christian lifestyle but still considered myself a believer. My family members, many who are Christians and myself prayed like there was no tomorrow in hopes of "God" healing her. One night I even told "God" that if he would heal her and let us have her around for another 5 years, I would devote the rest of my life to him. You already know how that turned out.

After mourning her loss for some time I wanted answers as to why none of the families prayers were not answered. I was tired of hearing that it was "God's" will and that were are not meant to understand everything.

The Bible says numerous times ask and you shall receive. There are no stipulations or strings attached. During my research I came across a few atheist websites that made me really look at the whole Bible and not just the feel good parts that I grew up hearing on Sundays. It took me many years to actually wake up and think for myself, and I will never go back to letting my mind being enslaved. I look at it as Grandma's final gift to me.

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Unshackled at last

locked and chainedImage by Darwin Bell via FlickrSent in by Chris S

The process of de-conversion from Christianity for me as many of you may relate, was actually a very slow one. By slow, I mean roughly 15 years or so. I think that it may have happened sooner, but in hind-sight rationalized away or chose to ignore the things that were troubling me so. For years the thought of being labeled a “heretic” or “apostate”, brought guilt and quite frankly was afraid of hell. This site has really really helped me and am thankful for it! One of it's interesting distinctions is that we once were Christians. We had hopes, we had dreams, we loved Jesus, we walked the talk, we were “on-fire” at one time and know what that means. This site has helped me realize that I am not the only one facing de-conversion from a destructive religion, which even though may not be aware of it, enslaves minds and suppresses freedom to live happily without guilt and accusation.

I got “saved” at 16 in the Baptist church. Was totally on-fire for God. Lived and breathed Jesus every minute. Mission trips, leading fellow students to christ, church 3-4x/week, read the bible all the time. Felt the “call” to go into the ministry before graduating from high school and joined the military as a chaplain assistant to “lead fellow soldiers to Christ.” Started a radical discipleship group called the Navigators on post and continued to be a witnessing machine for Christ. Was involved in preaching and overseas evangelistic crusades regularly. Did this for several years while in the military and after I got out.

As I eluded to earlier, the process (de-conversion) was subtle. In some ways it was the “Christian culture/church” and also things I would read in the bible or learn about in theology. Too make an analogy, the process was more like getting stung by bees over time, until the poison took over. Early on one thing I struggled with, was that Christians were just annoying. I began to get irritated by their us-them attitude, like they were better than everyone else in the world. Slowly, I began going to church less without even realizing it, LOL. In time I got to where I just loathed “going to church”. I would just get mad at the way they would talk and act all spiritual and explain sensational “events” going on in their lives. On a theological level as I continued my studies in the bible, I began to objectively view the god portrayed within as a jerk. As an ex-evangelist I don't know how many times I scared people to Jesus. “If you hear his voice today, listen, because tomorrow may be too late and if you don't believe today and die in a car accident, you will spend an eternity in hell”. One verse/story in the bible has always bothered me...the parable of the talents. I always thought it was infinitely cruel and mean that if you don't serve and use your talent you will be cast into hell...now this is to a believer, much less one outside the faith. Never got over that. I could go on and on...and won't, we all have our own stories.

I'm probably more agnostic in my views now in all honesty. Heck, I still appreciate some of the things taught in the bible (i.e. The golden rule, good Samaritan, compassion, etc...). There is a lot of evil history in Christendom throughout the centuries, but do think some of the people within it are still honorable in what they may do, but you also see it in other religions too, such as soup kitchens, helping the poor, building hospitals and houses. Does God exist? I don't know. There are a lot of extraordinary claims he does, by people and what we read in the bible, but have reached a chapter in my life finally, where I am going to decide for myself. The culmination of this journey has been liberating! No more guilt, no more lies...just live, love and be happy. If after that and my final day comes and that's not good enough, then so be it.

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Road to Disbelief

Jesus is back !Image by joaquimb via FlickrSent in by exrelayman

I guess it is time for my testimony. I have commented here a few times. Here is a complete post.

This testimony is about how belief became unbelief. It will not be cluttered with elements of my life story or feelings (Life Story: concerto for mouth and tear ducts). It is, as best I can recall from a 40-some-year-old memory, in sequence.

1) Reading the Bible:

The very first chink in my belief was the supposed cry of Jesus on the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?" I did not immediately become an atheist, but the concept that Jesus, being divine, could either be abandoned or feel abandoned in this vital moment was troubling.

The next chink for me was the abrupt change in the Jews. How could the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, accompanied by hosannas and adoration, so quickly become (I paraphrase), "Crucify him, let his blood be upon us?" A subset of this problem was why did his enemies need Judas to identify him when he was so widely known?

Another chink was Jesus explaining his parables in private to his close apostles, withholding the correct meaning from the multitude lest they understand and repent and be saved. What in the world? A subset of this idea was Jesus lying at his trial, saying that his teachings were always open and to everyone.

I will give just a few more chinks from the New Testament in quick summary, as this is not argumentation but testimony: How could Jesus’ family have once thought he was crazy if angels had revealed to Mary (or Joseph) his divinity? How could Satan ever tempt God? How could all the kingdoms of a spherical world be viewed from any high place? What divine, godly nature is revealed by cursing a fig tree?

2) The clash of Bible and reality:

In my high school education, the scientific evidence as to the age of the earth, evolution, and unlikelihood of a global flood became problematical. Also where the wives of Cain and Seth came from.

3) The brutality of God:

Because one pair ate of the forbidden tree, everyone everywhere for all time bears the curse of a sinful nature? If we bear the curse of a sinful nature, how can it be said that we possess free will? Did all the animals have to be killed because man was sinful (flood story)? Can it be possible for a loving God to punish beings in Hell forever because of what they believed incorrectly in one lifetime? Did all the firstborn Egyptians have to die because of what 1 person (Pharaoh) did? (Didn’t the Bible writer know the name of this particular Pharaoh?)

4) The invisibility of all things scriptural:

The inability to sense or detect with any instruments God, Jesus, Satan, Heaven, Hell, Sin, Soul. The complete absence of anything happening when I prayed, even for the cures of others or for a strengthening of my faith in the face of doubts.

That’s basically it. Some 40 years later I learned much more via the Internet, but these realities were sufficient for me at the time to question and lose my faith. I tried to hold on to my belief. I sought support for my faith from ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’, but found the arguments therein mostly illogical and unconvincing. The Bible is supposed to be God’s book. Others should not have to explain what doesn’t make sense. It should make sense.

A final note: The truly most scholarly and well researched work that I am aware of for the inquiry into these matters. It is ‘The Origins of Christianity and the Bible’ by Andrew Benton and is available at Amazon. I have no connection of any kind with the author or publisher.

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Why I Retired From the Ministry

By Bruce

SONY DSC                     I am often questioned as to why I retired from the pastoral ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first Church at age 24. Since then I have pastored Churches in Ohio, Texas and Michigan with my last pastorate being in 2003. I have been married over 30 years and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.

Acquaintances, family and friends are often miffed as to why I just walked away from the ministry. Why retire, I am often asked. Surely there’s a Church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you how can you walk away from his calling?

Good questions and quite frankly I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is an attempt by me to shed some light on the “why” question.

Why did I retire from the ministry?

  • I retired because the word retire is a better word than quit. I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skin quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but truth be told I have just plain quit.
  • For health reasons. I have fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist work-a-holic. I worked myself into a physical collapse thinking all the while that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.
  • For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.
  • Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and through overhaul. I am not the Fundamentalist Baptist that started out in the ministry so many years ago. I have become progressive in my thinking and I identify with more liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was but neither am I the man I want to me. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently “it is normal in mid-age to revaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
  • Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…..It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating . Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out the ministry as a King James Only, every word is inerrant believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
  • Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughter-in-laws. They forced my to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you well know we as Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
  • Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course according to my Baptist beliefs Gandhi is burning in hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not”.
  • For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s (or men who spoke for God) standard. I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
  • For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more”……….but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t have to revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day to day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
  • Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face. Guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could but I can’t . Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years I can not move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994 but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the New Year titled “From Eternity to Here” . Several people I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be the cathartic I need to move my life forward.
  • I simply don’t want to be in the ministry any more. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste any more.

I could pastor a Church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of Churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit on the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps and my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes all so people could say “we have a pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing,salary and reimbursements, was 26,000.00. While everyone one else progressed economically my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never had the Church (any Church) on their own volition offer a raise to me. I had to ask, and most often plead and beg. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores and yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”

The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers. In retrospect I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the Church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the Church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if it was a Church outing.

I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty on that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice”. I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I did.

I will stop writing with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter.(JOB) I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and my family.

My big breakthrough is pretty simple……….I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit what others think about me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. :) I simply don’t care. Things matter to me……….but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs………I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.

Have you said WOW yet? I heard you! :) Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue they found out he had already move on to something else.

That’s me………always moving, until the heart stops beating.

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My Story - Part 2. The Miracle Child

Waiting (for the miracle)Image by Ekler via FlickrBy Neal Stone

By the time I started school it was evident I had a learning disability. My ability to just speak and say what was on my mind was a major challenge. Still fighting this a little to this day but much better than it was long ago.

I would be enrolled in school and would always need special attention. Not all the teachers were thrilled with that. When I was in the third grade the teacher hated me. She made me stay in on my breaks and lunches and do more school work, mostly math. To top it off she failed me and I had to retake third grade. I would develop mental learning blocks because of this, especially in math.

This doesn't make sense as if I decided I hated someone I would want to get rid of them, not spend another whole year with them!

Years later my mom would run into this teacher at the store and told her how well I was doing and that I graduated from high school which was one of the things they figured I would never do. This teacher hugged my mom and cried she was so happy for me. Even the worst person can change if they want to. I have since forgiven her.

Through out my early school career, I would have to friends I would always be in school with, Leslie and Jimmy and they both were in the same boat as me with Epilepsy. I would also hang out with Jimmy's family a lot as a child. His brothers also had the same disability.

I have had my share of being disliked, made fun of and treated bad by the other kids. No one knows how bad this hurts unless they have been there themselves. Being able to fit in and be liked have always been a battle for me. I so desired to fit in and be loved and welcomed by people. The good news is this is no longer a battle and people love me everywhere I go. It is because of my nature as a good guy and loving person stands out.

I would end up in special education classes. I would spend most of the time in a zombie like state and was totally non-responsive to the teachers or anyone else for that matter. I recall my mother talking to the teacher and hearing how I would never have a normal life and always need special care.

Here is a tip. If you feel a child is not going to have a normal life and not have a bright future, maybe you should not have him sitting right in front of you when you say this? MmmmmmKay!

However, there was one teacher who was different. She took me on as a challenge and did everything she could to break through and get me out of my shell and zombie prison. She worked for two years at this.

Writing this next part is tearing my eyes is pardon any typing errors.

After two years something happened. I suddenly snapped out of my zombie trance and started to interact. But that wasn't all, I also started to repeat everything back to this teacher that she had taught me over those two years. Someone had a video camera that day and I ended up making the news on TV and the newspaper. I was dubbed “The Miracle Child” and people were amazed at what happened. I would have more moments like this but this blog is getting long so will do those next.

Keep in mind this was the 70s, back then people with my disability had little hope and few options. Treatment was experimental and most ended up disabled for life.

During my 20s I would have a chance to meet this teacher while working an office job downtown. I got to thank her and show her that I was able to overcome many things because of her and start to live a normal life. I would also encounter Leslie and Jimmy as adults. They still had the mind of a 5 year old child and were still where they were when they were kids. Made the hair on my neck stand up to realize where I could have ended up.

As I got older my brothers and sister wanted to teach me to ride a bicycle. For years I wasn't allowed due to the danger of hitting my head and having a seizure. This was the 70s, helmets weren't popular then. I remember getting a new bike and being taught to ride. I was all over the place and you couldn't stop me. Never did bang my head. I did crack my nuts going over a jump. I think I would have rather had a seizure. LOL

Even though I still had the learning disability I did start to wake up a little. I started to play and interact. I was kind of a show off and smart-ass as a kid. Somethings you never grow out of. Part of my current job is tech support so the smart-ass comes in handy. I also developed a very creative imagination and did a lot of drawing too.

Still very creative and have fun with it. It goes great with being a smart-ass. LOL

I believe in miracles. To me a miracle is an unexplained amazing event of some kind. Doesn't mean it has a supernatural source. Most of my life miracles were caused by interaction of others who wanted to help me or me making the decision to act and change my life.

In 1977 just after Star Wars (the original and still my favorite) two men came to our door. A pastor and assistant pastor and they were starting a church in downtown Olympia where we lived. After talking to my step dad to be, they wanted to meet me. So my step dad to be, went to my bedroom where he thought I was playing and ended up finding me outside instead. I said hi and then went and played in my room. They wanted to talk to me so my future step dad went outside, not finding me came to my room. I still laugh at that.

They talked to me and “lead me to the Lord'. I still recall bawling as I prayed and never really understood why. After all, I was only 12 but my mind was closer to 5 or 6 years old. We started attending church that Sunday. It was here that I would slowly walk into a mental prison and would be held by the chains of religion and Christianity. The darkness would soon come and I would find my life taking a seriously wrong turn. The darkness closed around my life and I would be pursued by the soldiers of the prison and a nasty dragon who wanted my very soul.

Next – Part 3. Prison, Chains and the Dragon

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