Am I An Atheist Yet?

[Word count: 681. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

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We live in a society that forces you to take sides. One-drop rule says if you’re “part Black,” you’re ALL Black. Hypermasculinity says if a man wears a pink shirt, then he’s probably wearing women’s lingerie underneath. Similarly, there are extremist Christians that believe in all or nothing; if you’re not 100% with us, then you’re 100% against us.

[By the way… Jesus himself preached against this in Mark 9:38-39. When St. John told an outsider, “you can’t sit with us,” Jesus told him, “Chill. Whoever is not against us is for us.”]

People act like there’s a hard line between Christian and not, belief and doubt, like you’re either on one side or the other. I approached the question from one angle in a post called “Am I Still a Christian.” Now I approach it from the other: How indifferent do I have to be toward Christianity before I am effectively an atheist?

I talked to my mom recently and she asked, “Have you been praying?” I said, “Not really.” She laughed and said with a lighthearted finger wag, “Okayyyyy! When you don’t pray, you get what you get!” Only faintly amused, I told her that’s the same thing I get when I do pray which is why I stopped.

Speaking of stopping, it’s been a year since my last blog post and that one was pretty low on faith. The subject hasn’t been high on my interest list. I attend church largely to maintain relationships that began there, but nothing in me wants to go back. Relentless in her mission to shepherd me back to the foot of the cross, mother incessantly asks whether I’ve gone to church and when I’m going again. This is like someone asking, “Whatever happened to [ex-significant other] ? You should get back with them again!”

Why in the hell would I want to do that? I was in that relationship. It didn’t work at all. Neither of us were happy. So why would I want to repeat that experience twice? (However reluctantly, Mom understood the comparison.)

Do you want to be an atheist?

Of course not. I’m probably a bad Christian, but I wouldn’t make a much better atheist. Quiet as it’s kept, I still like God! I want to believe in a force that maintains some semblance of order in our chaotic world. And I specifically reject new atheism. That sect gets so obnoxious with shaming and ridiculing people of faith, that the practice ironically becomes a religion itself. If you go that far, you’re not dissimilar from the fundamental Christians who get so overzealous Jesus doesn’t even like them anymore.

If someone asks my religion now, I usually tell them Christian agnostic. If I were to believe anything, I’d like to believe in Jesus, but I don’t know. I want to believe, but honestly, I still have some doubts as to whether he’s real.

Well what do you want then?

Whenever I express my truest feelings about my faith (specifically the lack thereof), I feel my mother’s disappointment wrap around me like a shawl or a boa constrictor — I can’t tell which. Mother has, for over 30 years, centered her life around church activity, personal devotion, evangelism both domestic and abroad, intercession, fasting, studying the Bible, living the Bible, preaching it, spreading it. Granted, my mother’s faith has helped stabilize our immediate and extended families, but it has also consumed her focus. I see her devotion and I respect it. But that’s not what I want for my life.

At a climax in the movie Spanglish, the lead character asks her child, “Is what you want for yourself to become someone very different than me?” The answer is yes. What I want is to continue working to be a better person, but I don’t want Christianity to be the sole method to achieve it. And I don’t want to be termed an atheist because of it. I just want to be. And be at peace. And I want both these warring sides to take a break… and let me.

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Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

[Word count: 405. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Introduction

In Deuces, I stated reasons I left the church I co-founded after 8 years. A big part of that was due to bad experiences in music ministry. I either played piano or sang in a vocal ensemble. We’d perform 3-5 songs per service, to set an atmosphere for people to optimally receive the sermon preached. I loved it. I grew immensely, formed lifelong friendships, and gained confidence on stage and in myself overall. But there were serious side effects.

Music was my love. And because of everything I thought had to accompany my music, it became my burden. It just got stolen from me. I said, ‘What is this? How did this thing that I love so much so easily and so quickly become something I loathe and hate?” —Lauryn Hill

A friend told me “I hate you” sometimes just means “I used to love you.” It was too painful to talk about this stuff, but to get healthy, I have to. Some cuts don’t heal until you take the Band-Aid off. It’s too much to cover in one post, so I broke it into parts. This is an introduction to the series. Here’s a quick break down on the rest of the series:

Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

  • PART 1: The Miseducation of the Worship Leader

    Whatever worship is, I thought it was more powerful than it actually is. When I found out how mystical it wasn’t, I could not deal. I wish someone would have done a better job warning me worship wouldn’t protect me from life happening.

  • PART 2: Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It

    Music was one thing I was sure I was good at, so to hear that I wasn’t good enough was crushing. It left me unsure of “my calling,” and doubting whether I was good at anything.

  • PART 3: More Than You Know What To Do With

    Help. I don’t fit in with my church, but I don’t know how to get outside of it. What do I do now?

  • PART 4: Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong

    The act of worshipping in front of an audience blurred the lines between what was for God and what was for people.

  • PART 5: So You Think You Can Worship?

    The hokey-pokey dance of trying to understand what worship is and isn’t left me confused. I’m still not sure what it is right now.

More Than You Know What To Do With [3/5]

Overflowing water
[Word count: 566. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” —Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

What do you want to be when you grow up? A fireman? An astronaut? A police officer? How about a doctor? What if it’s none of the above? If you have no plans to become anything on the list, does that mean you’re doomed to be a couch-stuck grown-child still living at your parents’ house? This is what failures are made of. And this is the conflict I felt whenever someone recited that passage from Ephesians 4.

When you grow up in church, you’re conditioned to be exclusive for Jesus. If you’re talented in anything, it needs to benefit the church. “Don’t go out and use God’s gifts in The World. Be a blessing to the people of God with your gifts.” And that’s awesome when you can fill a specialized need for a niche that might otherwise go underserved. But what about when you’ve got a specific talent that your church doesn’t really need? Continue reading

Cast Away II: Life After Leaving Church

Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in Cast Away

[Word count: 1026. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

Since my blog entry Cast Away supposed Christianity without church, it’s become the third most viewed post on Junkyard Salvation. (These are #1 and #2.) On several occasions, people asked, “So how is that going?” It’s been 3 summers since I left the church I co-founded. So I thought I’d revisit the topic by answering some of the questions I posed.

Are you a Christian?

Yes?       …I say yes with a question mark because as usual, I am awash in doubt and second guessing the efficacy of faith. The realness of faith. I still don’t feel like I really “know.” And G.I. Joe says knowing is half the battle.

Do you go to church?

Usually not.     I sometimes visit small ministries (“fits in a living room” small). The bigger the church, the less I’m amused. They’re like kids. They’re cute when they’re small. But they get bigger, taller, and hairier, their voices deepen, and they think they know more than you about everything… at which point they must immediately be socked in the face.

Without the constant support of people who believe what you believe, have your beliefs changed?

My beliefs haven’t been changed… only revealed.     I’ve become more honest about them. The people who support those beliefs have changed though. New people—help I never expected—met me in the middle of the ocean. Some people from my old church never stopped supporting me on this journey. Others… never started. Continue reading

Joe’s Cafe — and Here We Go Again

[Part 1 — Word count: 372. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
[Part 2 — Word count: 333. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

1. Joe’s Café

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“We were unbreakable. We were like rock and roll.
—Janelle Monae

Breakfast from Joe’s Café just does something for me. Its tight crew of bright-faced, happy people prepare food like they know how special it is. The place is hard not to like. Light fixtures made out of colanders and cheese graters. Whimsical chalk-drawn menus. There’s love in the details.

The staff seems focused and confident as they move about in a small kitchen space openly visible from the dining area. It’s crowded, but the 7 or 8 of them are comfortable as they graze (but never bump) each other. The chaos is almost choreographed. Continue reading

Maya Angelou Taught Me Too

[Word count: 429. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

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“I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me with me. Black, White, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American, gay, straight, everybody. I say, ‘Come with me. I’m going on the stage. Come with me. I need you now.’ Long dead, you see? So, I don’t ever feel I have no help.

I’ve had rainbows in my clouds. And the thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you, may not call God the same name you call God, if they call God at all!  You see? And may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do. May not dance your dances. Or speak your language. But be a blessing… to somebody. That’s what I think.”

—Dr. Maya Angelou
(April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

Continue reading

Fast As You Can (or Why I Ate Everything)

[Word count: 565. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Welcome to January. ‘Tis the season for loose commitments to new resolutions, changes in federal and state laws, and Christian churches going on fasts. I’ve got no problem with the former, but this guy right here will have nothing to do with fasting.

When I was in music ministry, we would traditionally fast for 2-3 weeks at the start of every year. But we had options. We could maybe give up specific meals, or do the Daniel fast (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with limited seasonings and cooking processes), or the extreme option of drinking water only for a period of time. Some were lenient where others were extra diligent, but we all did something.

The following year, something different happened. After praying, the pastor felt the entire church needed to fast. As previous, the body at large was given options. Those in music ministry, however, were told that a Daniel fast was mandatory.

Mandatory? Objection, your honor. Continue reading

How Titties Almost Got Me Saved

[Word count: 578. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Titties

I don’t know why I went to church this morning. Usually, I wake up on a Sunday and I just know, “today is not the day.” But I decided to drop in on a small church near me. When I arrived, the music was great, but I wasn’t interested in the pastor’s pleasant banter, so I tuned out to engage friends on social media.

“You know how you automatically tune in
when someone mentions something you care about?
I’m waiting for that. It’s not happening.”

“If the Lord really wanted to speak to me today,
he would make the pastor
work the word ‘titties’ into his sermon.”

(Between this and the hilarious responses, I’m just trying not to disrupt the service with an out loud guffaw.)

“I swear if he does it,
I will walk down the middle aisle and
rededicate my life to the Lord TODAY.”

“If God can speak through an ass,
I don’t see why he can’t
deliver my soul through titties.” Continue reading

God Is Not My Mother

[Word count: 855. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

Actress Sandra Bullock with adopted son Louis. (Photo taken from People Magazine.)God is not my mother. The two are not the same. They’re different. They are different.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem some two-thousand odd years ago, not Bakersfield in the 1950’s. Most depictions show him as a white man with a mellow expression and Clairol-ad-worthy hair. Not a black woman with luxuriously extended eyelashes, high cheekbones, café au lait skin, and a shy, affable smile.

They are not one and the same. It took years of work to convince myself of this. And it seems the maintenance on this work is never done. Continue reading

The Darkest Night

[Word count: 721. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

“Skepticism is the beginning of faith.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

What if, some glad morning when this life is over, none of us fly away? What if the lights go out and our stories just end?

More than a few occasions in 2012 found me devolving into a non-violent, slow-motion panic—mostly over my God and his perceived absence. Enough flummoxed descriptions of my mounting crisis of faith and someone finally put a name to it: the Dark Night of the Soul, a temporary spiritual crisis marked by doubts about the afterlife. Reportedly, Mother Theresa was a notable sufferer, having spent nearly 50 years of her life in this state. Though technically correct, nothing that lasts 50 years should get to call itself “temporary.”

For someone outside Christianity, a more accessible term may be existential crisis. Whatever you call it, I’m just glad it’s identifiable. If someone recognized it, then it wasn’t some new mystery disease with no treatment, no cure. Someone lived to tell the story. Continue reading