The Honest Faith Presents: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1

At an early age, I wanted to talk to God. Not just the simple everyday prayers of a child. I wanted God to have an audible conversation with me. Some of my earliest memories were of walking around the large playground area behind my church-school while waiting for my mother to get done with teacher meetings talking to my imaginary friend called “God”. I often still feel like that doe-eyed child trying to balance on the imaginary catwalks made of concrete and playground equipment in an attempt to not fall into the lava that covered the ground all the while just chatting to God about my day.

I grew up hearing stories about these amazing Bible characters that did amazing things and had conversations with the Creator of the Universe. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted my grand adventure to start from a missive given to me from the Almighty. I think my idealistic nature started at that point. Nobody told me that God doesn’t work like that anymore. Maybe God does, but it never happened to me. I never heard a still small voice speak my name in the dark and tell me that I was needed in an audible and tangible way. Instead, I have a lifetime of bumps and bruises that show a lifetime of trying to do what I thought was right. Maybe it was God’s path for me, or maybe I had delusions of grandeur.  

Everything that I am writing may sound cynical to a large extent. I admit there is a part of me that is feeling that way. But in all honesty, I still have a deep longing to hear the voice of the Divine telling me that I am doing the right thing. That despite all my imperfection, and failings I am chosen to be God’s champion. I know deep in my bones that it will never happen, but there is still that childlike part of me that dreams it could. Maybe it still will. I pray it does. Maybe it will finally quiet the cynical realist self that wars against my childlike dreamer self.

I have found that it has a lot to do with the two religious selves at war within me. On one hand, you have the black and white simplistic approach to the Gospel.  The biggest problem with that approach is that it’s close-minded to the very large gray areas of faith. The other self-being that broad vast ocean approach to the gospel. This being that we only know the surface of what there is to know about God, Jesus, and all that took place. The biggest problem with this viewpoint is that it’s hard to find meaning in anything. I really want to think of things as black and white or good and bad. But in this world, there can be no such certainty. One of the biggest truths that I hold to in youth ministry is there is no “right” way to fix things, instead, we just have to find the way that we fail the least “badly”.

I want to think of my time with the church as part of a bigger picture. At more than 7 billion people in this world, mine is only a very very small part of that much bigger picture. There was a wonderful line in a tv show I was watching recently that said that we each come along and add our own color to the painting that is life. I like to think of life like a mosaic. Mosaics are made up of much smaller pieces so often broken, but rejoined in a way that makes the whole much grander than the sum of its parts. This is the story of my mosaic tile. This is my bit of the whole.

In the Big Inning…

I was never any good at sports. I was usually the kid that was picked last in our PE games. Except when it came to our “illegal” games of tackle football, the other kids discovered at the age of 11 I weighed a lot more than everyone else so I couldn’t be taken down that easily. What I was truly good at was using my imagination. I used to dream up entire worlds and situations for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. My brother and I would build entire cities for them out of cardboard boxes. We even had plans to build a robot out of empty pop cans, much to my mother’s laundry room’s detriment. When things got difficult I would retreat into my imagination, daydreaming about something awesome that could happen.
Though, I was always a very worried person. I never knew there was anything other than that. I worried all the time. I worried that my family was safe, that people would be happy, that I would get good grades, that I would be “normal”, that people wouldn’t make fun of me today, or that I wouldn’t get it together. There is nobody to blame for that at all. It’s just how I was. I know my mother would try to blame herself for that, but she can’t. It isn’t her fault. Biology just works in odd ways. I would say that my life of worry helped me to be a much more empathetic person.
There were a lot of things in my life that I think would cause “normal” people to be worried as well. I’m a firm believer in the paranormal. I know that may throw a lot of you off considering that I tend to be rather skeptical too. The funny thing is Jesus believed in the paranormal as well, but that’s just saying. I bring this up because as a child I would hear things and see things that would probably land me in some serious psychotherapy if I still did. There were only a few times when it bothered me. I remember that there were a few times when I was a child that I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my room when I was home alone. That freaked me out. It leads to me needing to have something playing in the background for me to get to sleep for a good majority of my life from then on. I’m sure things like that would cause anyone to have a break, but honestly, I dealt with it. My mom was amazing and giving us kids serious coping skills and emotional strength without even realizing it. When I told her about these things there were only a few times she looked at me like I was strange, although maybe she still thinks I am. I remember that when I told people at church they would immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion; demons, evil spirits, and someone having done something to deserve this spiritual oppression. It wasn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, me actually being able to hear spirits on the other side, an imbalance of my neurotransmission chemicals, or any other number of things. One thing I can say for sure, though, it wasn’t demons. I didn’t encounter those until I was older, but that is a different story for a different blog post. (let me know if you want to hear that story)
The point is that I’ve run into mistreatment from the church from a very early age. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I know they did what they thought was best, it’s not their fault. Sometimes people need better training before they try to handle a situation.

My imagination was unusual to a lot of people, and in fact, if I were to show some of the journals that I had drawn and written in back then, many would still say that I was rather messed up. My sister’s big joke about taking abnormal psychology in her first year of college was to try and figure out was wrong with her two little brothers. I never did find out if she discovered something or not. I had written stories about a mad scientist who had invented the machine that would turn people into the opposite sex and then leave them that way to torment them. That’s just one of the many stories that I’m sure would make people wonder what was going on in my head.

This brings me back to my walks with God. I knew at the age of five that I wanted to be a preacher. I knew this because I knew God loved me. I loved God too. I mean we took daily walks after all. I imagined my life in the future. I pictured myself on a stage in front of vast multitudes of people telling them all about the amazing God who took away my sins. I had no idea what it meant to be a sinner at that age, but I knew that I was one because I lied sometimes.  I was going to be the next Billy Graham. I would often talk to God about this. I remember at one point in my childhood that I heard the passage about where every knee would bow and every tongue confess that God was God, I felt like I would be part of the reason for that. As I write those words I feel almost slimy and dirty for even thinking that.

Those visions of the future shaped how I went through life. I knew I was destined for something special. I knew I was going to change the world, so I was going to do everything I could to prepare myself for that. I memorized as much scripture as my attention, and patience at the time could handle. Thinking back, I probably could have done more, but I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of awesome things to distract a young man from a life of preparation toward becoming the next Johnathan Edwards.

My family wasn’t one who many would think much of. There were plenty of times when we were living below the poverty line. I remember there was one summer that all we ate was beans and rice. You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to make beans and rice. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with my faith upbringing, and my answer would be a lot. My father was a very proud man. He never wanted to ask for help when he needed it. He also knew the value of hard work. He instilled that in us very early on. Handouts were for other people, not us. We were going to work for what we had. My father worked hard to make sure we had the little we had. When he was between jobs he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. When he had a job he worked hard at that job and devoted a lot of his time and energy to those jobs. You could say a lot of things about that man, but one thing I admire the most about him is that he is not a quitter. I guess that is why I find it so hard to give up on anything.

When I was in middle school I met a best friend who shared in my delusions of grandeur.  In fact, when we met I was wearing a t-shirt, my favorite at the time, that boldly proclaimed; “Satan is a Poo-poo head”. I wonder what ever happened to that shirt. I remember wearing holes into it and it had a few bleach stains, but I digress. My friend was the first who really believed that I could become those things that I imagined too. In fact, he was going to join with me in changing the world. We came up with this dream of starting a traveling “big tent revival” thing that would go and stay in a place until everyone converted in that area. I still kind of wish things worked that way. I miss those kids, they had so much potential.

My friend and I were forces to be reckoned with.  I started taking guitar lessons, and I would go and teach him everything I learned that week. We joined the praise team at youth group. Eventually, we were the praise team. No really, I’m not kidding. We were so gung-ho about it that the rest of the people who were doing it with us decided that we were so annoying they were just going to let us run it. I remember one night that the pastor, who used to be at youth group every week, came in and heard the “Christian Rock” music we were listening to and attempting to learn to play. He immediately flew into a fury and told us to turn off the devil’s music; It was not to be played in the church. He called us into his office after that. I can remember sitting in his office looking him dead in the face and saying, “God made everything right?”

“Correct.” He said matter-of-factly.

“God saw what he made and said it was good, right?” I said a little too smart-assly.

“That’s right.”

“Well God created music, and this music is good, so It must be created by God.” Flawless logic from a fourteen-year-old jackass.

He got red in the face, and said, “Fine.” We never saw the pastor at youth group after that. That’s how I know that we were only put in charge because we were so annoying nobody wanted to work with us. We formed a band. We decided that our big tent revivals were going to be awesome concerts filled with Christian rock that glorified God. We called ourselves Overflow because our love for God overflowed. We wore matching cross dog tag necklaces. You didn’t mess with Overflow.

My last year in the deep south of Texas was where I began to receive my broken edges in this mosaic of delusion. I’m not saying that everything in life was hunky dory outside of this. No, I’m saying that this was the first time I started to doubt God. There are many reasons why this happened. My parents’ relationship was falling apart at this time. Now, I don’t blame them for me being messed up either. They did their best. They are human beings. They are probably also some of the only people who will ever read this. But I believed, falsely, that if I were to follow God closely and believe hard enough that all things would be good. I believed that “all things worked together for good for those who loved the Lord.” I didn’t know that in that particular passage it means over time, not all at once. My parents going through that time caused the biggest crack in my “holy armor”.

I started to go through most of the things that normal teens go through. I liked people in a like like way. I got mad at my friend when they ended up like liking him instead of me. I struggled with my self-identity. The only problem being that I knew what I was going to be. I had always known, but how could the next Michael Faraday struggle with things like looking at naughty pictures and really wanting to make babies with any girl who was even the slightest bit nice to me. I finally discovered what it was to be a sinner. How was it that Paul was able to put away those childish things? Was the thorn in his side, girls? It had to be. I wanted people to see that God was forgiving, but if you go too far, God wouldn’t forgive anymore. I kept trying to keep myself and others from going too far. But it was a lot of pressure. The pressure was too much to me at times. I often thought of suicide at the time, or as I worded it, “Just going to my eternal home”. The only problem, that was a sin, and probably was going too far. I was a teen, I did normal teen things just in my Jesus bubble.

I finally cracked one night. I couldn’t believe that my other best friend, God, wouldn’t make my life perfect. I was doing all I could to follow God after all. God must just be a mean bully in the sky. How dare God let me struggle with feelings! How dare God let that girl like like my friend and not me!  That’s it! I guess I wasn’t supposed to be born! I guess I’m just worthless! I’ll show you! You need me! Those knees won’t bow without me! You’ll see! I don’t care if it’s going too far… Needless to say, I didn’t follow through on those thoughts and feelings. Thankfully, though sometimes I do wonder what would have happened to the world if I did.

These are dark thoughts that constantly plague me. Even to this day, I wonder if my family and loved ones would have been better off without me. I look at my son and wonder if he’ll struggle through those same thoughts. I wonder if he’ll be better without me raising him. These are things that I often try to pack away, but they pop up in the worst way sometimes. I just wanted to mention this because I know so many of us in ministry struggle with mental illness. It’s a problem that we all need to face and take care of. If you are facing some of these same dark thoughts, don’t worry it’s normal. Don’t let them tear you down. Get help. It took me a long time to ask for help myself, but I did. It’s not always easy, but you need help. We all need help… Anyway, back to the story.

I went to a Jesus camp the summer after that. No, it wasn’t as bad as the one in that one documentary. But it was one of those, week long come to Jesus camps. To which I barely paid any attention to the preachers, and tried to figure out if I could maybe start a long distance relationship with that cute blond girl across the room. The funny thing is that I ended up marrying a cute blond that really is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. It would have blown poor teenage me’s mind! It was that week that I actually had a come to Jesus moment.  It was at the weepy “testimony” night. You know the ones. The ones where everyone confesses their undying and eternal love for everyone, even though they have only met you like a day or two before. That night I suddenly felt God talking to me again. It was through a friend’s admission of being “not normal”.  I suddenly realized I wasn’t the only one who felt not normal. I mean really, who actually feels normal? It was in that that I heard God saying, “I love you. You are my own. Things will be alright.” So that night I decided that yes I am going to do whatever it takes to follow this vision God gave me…

Doing whatever it takes.

Life moves a little quickly. You don’t realize it as a child because you haven’t experienced enough of it to realize how quickly it moves. I wish that I had listened to the immortal words of Ferris Bueller who so eloquently said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I look back at all of this, and even now at thirty-three, I feel like I got here way too quickly.  I don’t feel like an adult sometimes. Maybe that’s pretty evident to everyone else, but I know that I am. I don’t feel like acting my age, maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in Youth Ministry. I couldn’t wait to start my life back then. I think that impatience is what proves to be my undoing time and again.

Midway through high school, my parents’ relationship finally fell apart. My mother wanted to move us with my Grandmother, what seemed like a million miles away. I had made friends, though. I had a band! We actually put on an entire concert, complete with a failed guitar jump attempt on my part. Things were finally starting to look like I could pull off this crazy vision of mine. Oh well, there is always a time to go. It doesn’t always happen when we want it to. It also, most times, happens when you least expect it. I got mad at God again. Like it was really God’s fault that crappy stuff happens sometimes. This was the biggest gray area I’d experienced to this point. I couldn’t find the meaning in this suffering at all. This was in 1999. My grandmother lived in Colorado, and the horrid nightmare that was the Columbine shooting had just taken place. Everyone I knew told me to beware of guys in trench coats. The suffering didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t but now I know that God doesn’t cause the suffering. There is no meaning in it.
I can sum up my childhood and adolescent years with a statement that was told to me about my mom leaving my father and moving to a different state, “You will no longer be under God’s protection if you move.” Needless to say, I’ve worried about the validity of that statement for longer than I’d like to admit. Who says that to a 15-year-old? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not going to tell you who said that to me. But I want you to examine the impact of that statement on an impressionable mind.
We spend tons of money trying to tell teenagers to worry. We do it in the church as well. Worry about your spiritual life as well as all the worries of modern society. We are churning out anxious adults at an alarming rate. As was done with me, we are very much guilty of pushing children to be worried about “sin” and “falling short of the Glory of God”. These are very adult concepts. There is a ton of abstract in those concepts. Children are remarkably smart but the way their brain is structured up until they are of puberty age is set up to really only handle concrete information. We manufacture this worry as a demand for the supply of Grace that God has. The problem is that we know we are in need of love and acceptance from the time we are born. We know we need love and grace, it is embedded in our DNA. So learning this inspired me. It inspired my message from that point on. My message was going to be simple. There is nothing you can do to earn the Divine’s favor; there also is nothing you can do to lose it either. This was something that I had a hard time believing for myself as if I was the only one who was exempt from this rule, I have a weird relationship with pride.

I found a new view of God. It was a different side of God that I haven’t ever been introduced to. It was a side of God that loved unconditionally. This side of God didn’t have a “too far”. Whew, pressure off, well mostly. I found this image of God in people and places that I had been warned were not really Christian. I know you doubt what I just wrote, but it’s true. I was pulled aside about a month before we moved by the same pastor that I had thwarted on the whole Christian rock thing. He told me that, “those Methodists believe you can lose your salvation. They aren’t real Christians. You need to be careful!” The funny thing is that because of those long conversations I had with the pastors in the “non-Christian” Church really taught me what it meant to be a true God follower. It showed me that people were willing to put up with a nerdy teen, who felt like he knew it all. It showed me the tremendous patience and love that God has for all of us, even when we feel like we know it all.

It was because of the patience and love that the pastors, men, and people of that church had for me that I discovered what my vision really was meant for. It was meant to reach out to those who were like me. Those who felt the most vulnerable, and struggled the most with identity; those who needed the most patience and love: Teens.

There I went, set on this path to become a youth minister. I was going to do everything it took. I pushed, I annoyed, I learned, and I got distracted. Like I said I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s lots of awesome stuff to distract you from life. It was mainly video games. There really is only so much Unreal Tournament you can play until you have to get back to what you were doing. Eventually, I finished high school and went off to college. I decided to double major in youth ministries, and something that I thought would be an excellent complementary course of study, Theatre. I mean because aren’t all of us church folk just sort of acting in our own little plays anyway?

College really helped to reinforce my vision. I now was an educated jackass. I really took pleasure in showing people that they were wrong. In fact, I made it a point to stir the pot whenever I possibly could. Partly I did it just to show off how smart I was, but mostly it was to help break people of preconceived notions that I felt were dangerous to faith. I really wish I could smack my younger self and tell him it only helps to make people dig their heels in and think you are more of a jackass. It had taken a lot but I had broken free of a lot of unhealthy and dangerous ideas on God through the course of my schooling. I wanted to do the same for others. So, all my jackassery did come from a good place, it just was not a good way of going about changing people’s minds for the better. We’ll talk more about how this proved to be disastrous for me later.

I learned. I really enjoyed learning. I really enjoyed thinking about God. It was like my entire life I had only seen the surface, hence the birth of the new religious self. I used to liken it to the beach. If you go the beach and stand on the sand you have an appreciation for the beauty of the water, but it is only when you start to wade into it, do you fully begin to grasp the vastness of the ocean. All my life I had been told that only specially trained people could go wade in that water. Don’t worry about that stuff, we think about God so you don’t have to. My invisible friend became so much more real to me, and so much more complex through this process. I realized I would never fully understand God. Nobody ever has, nobody ever will; which is a wonderful thing because it means we will always have something to talk about.

My learning process expanded much beyond the formal education. I guess there are things that people can’t really teach you. You have to stumble through, sometimes very blindly, on your own. I know that it’s not supposed to happen as many times as it has happened to me. Maybe that’s the nature of my calling. Maybe it’s the nature of my idealism. Maybe I’m just as much a failure as all those people said. Whatever it is I hope that whoever happens upon this strange writing will not have to go through what I went through. It’s painful as hell and twists you into a neurotic paranoid mess.

My Informal Education

Learn by doing. It is an important mantra, but there is a huge difference between saying and doing. I had a lot of intern experiences. I was very eager to get at what I had envisioned myself doing for so long. My first forays into church work were rather short lived. Maybe that should have told me something. I worked a summer as an intern at my home church. I worked a few months as an intern at a church near my college. I even spent a summer working as a camp counselor. I even made sure to attend the National Youth Workers Convention every year. Each experience was different. Each experience taught me something new. Life is a learning experience. For what, I’m not sure. I like to think that it’s all meant for something someday. Like one day there will be a problem that all the cumulative knowledge gained from your life’s experience will solve. But that’s the simplistic religious self coming out.

One of the great things about going to the National Youth Workers Convention with your professor and classmates is that you get to meet some of the leading people in the field. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of big names in the Youth Ministry field. One of them my mom swears she knew in high school. One of the things I learned from that experience is that even those who have a small amount of fame thrust upon them can let it go to their head. I can tell you even some of the big names of my day are relative nobodies in the grand scheme of things, but they will still treat you like they are hot shit. That’s not all of them, though. There are some truly genuine people who can remain humble throughout. Mike Yaconelli was one of those truly genuine people. I remember meeting him at one of those conventions. He greeted us all with a smile and asked how the travel went. You could tell in his voice that he truly wanted to know, and wasn’t just making pleasantries. This was a man I was going to listen to. I’m sad to say that was one of the only chances I had to meet the man. I wish I had more of an opportunity to get to know what he was about because his teachings and writings are what I base a lot of my methods on. If you haven’t read “Messy Spirituality”, put down this writing go find it and read it. Trust me. My ramblings will still be here when you get back. Unless you are reading this during a Zombie apocalypse, then you are just going to have to put this in your bag for later. If I take nothing else away from those conventions, I want to remember meeting him and hearing him talk.

The summer I interned at my home church was an unusual one. This was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was interning with the middle school program. I lived down the street from the church so I often would walk or ride my bike over. I didn’t have an office there or anything so I would end up hanging out in the youth room. Often I would just work from home because that was where my computer was at. Can’t say that every day I worked the way I was supposed to as you can well imagine from my previous rants, I get distracted. There were a couple of things that I learned that summer: 1. Don’t try to hit on your fellow interns or volunteers it doesn’t end well. 2. I don’t know how to handle every situation (probably the biggest and most important lesson). 3. Just because I think something is fascinating, does not mean that everyone will think so too.

The church that I interned at near my college was a very short experience. I think it only lasted a month before they decided that they would rather have just the attractive female as the only intern. Oh well, every time I attended the youth programs or the church itself I felt lost. It was one of those mega churches that had a completely separate building for their youth ministries. They had a big stage, sound system, and even professional lighting! I realized pretty quickly that I did not consider that to be a church on any level. Maybe this was when the cynical part of my brain started to take hold of me, but if the whole thing is a production; where is the whole relationship aspect of our spiritual life come in? I mean there are some large youth ministries that do some very good work, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying it’s very hard to manage size and effective personal ministry. I learned very quickly that I can’t allow myself to get lost in the show of it all, even though it’s very tempting. This shattered some of my vision from childhood, but I was still determined. I wanted a large program, but not one large enough where people could easily get lost. I wouldn’t let people get lost.

Sometimes learning isn’t a completely painful process, sometimes it can be relatively painless. My summer as a camp counselor was a very good experience. The camp staff did a very good job of supporting each other. It was nice. Every time one of us ran into a difficult challenge that summer the others would come around them and help them to figure out how to best get through it. This was one of my experiences where I would say that made me want to start a commune up in the mountains somewhere. Of course, though, life isn’t clear cut like that. This is what gave me a vision of what the church is supposed to be like. Even though I had started off that summer as a jackass know-it-all, I was accepted and loved just as I was. If you don’t believe me you can ask the other staff that summer. They will tell you that the entire staff training week I kept trying to start theological arguments with all who were unlucky enough to make my acquaintance. It taught me that God’s love and patience run deep. I think that many left that place thinking poorly of me, but at least while I was there I was supported. I remember that the valley after that mountaintop experience was particularly dark. Luckily, it only lasted a short while before I started my first “real” ministry.
After 13 some odd years of working for the church and approximately 30 years of deep church living, I was finally released into the wild. There are a lot of bumps and bruises I would love to cover here, but that would take way too much space in an already long blog post. I discovered something looking back on my time as a deep church Christian. I found that the simple message of the Divine’s incredible love was a very unpopular one. I don’t want this to be finger pointing or indicating of any of the churches I’ve attended over the past 30 years. Some of them were better than others at being the gospel, others not so much. But the one thing that was constant was the priority of those places, numbers.
As much as they would like to deny that fact, it rang true across the boards. It’s not just Christian churches either, it’s everyone. They are so incredibly worried about butts in the seats and money in the coffers that they will do whatever it takes to stay afloat. As much as they preach about relying on the Divine to provide, they tend to do a pretty poor job of actually relying on the Divine rather than their own ingenuity. It doesn’t make business sense to do any of the things most of the Divine messengers throughout history taught us to do. So I can’t blame them. I don’t know how a true not-for-profit church would keep its doors open.
Maybe I’m cynical. I did get to experience first hand the dark underbelly of church politics. I experienced the financial stress all too often of those places because often the first thing to go when a church is in financial trouble are the children and youth staff and programming. This added more to my already fragile psyche. It’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did in ministry. It wasn’t just money either it was the little things that we did to carefully position and play political games that stressed me out. Like I said, it’s not pointing fingers, not all of the churches I attended or worked at are guilty of this. Some, possibly, may be. But they are doing the best that they can.
After I was set free, during this whole transition time, it made me really question what it was my faith meant. I have been trying to strip away all the worry, all the manufactured guilt, all the things that came packaged with my belief and homesickness (a reference to a Fredrick Buechner quote I love and use often I talk about it a lot in the Honest Faith Conversations podcast which is why we devoted the first episode to explaining it.) . I lost that idea of salvation I had before. I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to be “saved”. I wanted a Divine being to love me in spite of me. I wanted to break free from the self-created prison and be me. I didn’t want to live with the broken pieces of my life being broken anymore. I wanted to see the mosaic, the stained glass, the big picture for what it was. But, we’ll get there.

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The Honest Faith: The Unspoken Sin

While there are many unspoken sins in the church. There is one in particular that I feel runs unchecked in many religious organizations. Not just in many religious organizations, but in society as a whole. This is something that I have been hurt by very recently, and this post may be a bit self-indulgent and coming from a place of frustration. So maybe this post should be taken with a grain of salt, as almost all blog posts should. Today I’m talking about the unspoken sin of plagiarism.

Now I want to be clear, it’s a little hard to discern original thought on the internet these days. There is an odd phenomenon that similar ideas can pop up around the world at exactly the same time. With the advent of the internet, we are able to communicate ideas at almost light speed to people around the world. I’m not talking in particular about similar thought, I’m talking about the purposeful pulling of someone else’s intellectual property for your own gain sort of plagiarism. It can be knowing and unknowing. There are times when people write something long after they have read or watched something and believe it was an original idea of their own. That’s an easy mistake.

Something that I have noticed for a while now is that it is very rampant in the church. There are many priests, pastors, and lay ministers who take ideas from an internet article, book, movie, or a friend and pass it off as their own. Some may say, “well who does that hurt?” I’ve also noticed this in the outside world as well. There have been numerous accounts of where someone invented something or had an idea only to have someone take that thing and make large amounts of money off of it, and the originator doesn’t see a dime. My case in this point, Fidget Spinners. While the video I just linked to may be satire, the facts it presents are just that facts.

A friend of mine, Adam McLane, wrote a bit about this in an article he titled “The Dark Side of Ministry“. He defines what is done pretty well. So as not to participate in what I’m talking about today, I’m going to let that speak for itself. The thing is when I was new in ministry I was guilty of this too. I knew I was. This wasn’t just using media clips to illustrate a point, or to bring up questions; that’s not plagiarism. This was the blatant pulling of other people’s ideas without attribution. It was using my favorite preachers and author’s words and using them as my own without pointing to them as even inspiration for what they were doing. Now I know this is an easy thing to do. Nobody is going to write down the wording from a youth ministry lesson or a sermon and Google it later. I did this until someone pointed it out to me. Afterward, I worked very hard to make sure that I wrote my own original ideas and at least acknowledged where I got my un-original ideas from.

Again, you may be asking yourself, “Who is it hurting?” Well, that’s what I’m wanting to get at today. It hurts the artist. I never really considered myself an artist, after all, I have only been writing as a hobby and developing my own ministry resources as a career. That was until I started to re-wire the way my brain manufactured feelings. I started to see my writing as an art piece. Something that I pour a bit of myself into. I used to feel that way every time I sat down to write a lesson for youth group. I felt like I was creating. I felt like I was tapping into the Divine. Like the same energy that created the cosmos was filling me and using my fingers to type out some grand truth that it wanted to convey. I mean, yes, my delusions of grandeur did play a part in that thought process and construct. But honestly, I think that is what everyone feels when they begin to create something. That somehow this is bigger than they are. A friend told me after this recent event, “…this definitely sucks because you’ve been putting so much of your time and energy into developing it all.” I started working very hard at developing my writing and my art when I began my transition into “civilian” life. I know I’m still a minister in some ways, but I use the differentiation to show that I’m no longer bound to the traditional moorings of ministry. My art was what I did to occupy my time when I didn’t have a job. My art was a way to express me, to convey my thoughts and ideas to the world. To say that I still matter. I thought about ways to make money from it. I tried and failed. (Maybe. I don’t know does my page show advertisements aside from the one on the podcast page?)

This event was centered around a similar idea in someone else’s writing, and then the use of a ministry idea, that I did cite and reference when it began, that I developed into its own sort of thing. It was the latter that hurt me the most because I poured so much of myself into developing wording and ideas that wouldn’t be exclusive to any one thing but to be inclusive to all. I may have had missteps in not citing correctly or mentioning along the way, but I was learning. It was something that I spent a lot of time in developing. Something that, still to this day, I’m trying to figure out the next stage of evolution for. This hurt because I had spent so much time and energy into working on it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if that person had just said, “Hey, I’m working on something that I know you did before, can you help?” Even if the person was going back to the original concept, yet bringing my ideas to it. It is the ideas that took so much time and energy for me.

Like I said, there is some hurt that is going into my writing today. It’s almost inevitable that it happens when someone writes. We are human beings, we bring ourselves to whatever it is that we are doing. You cannot separate your humanity from your actions. It’s impossible. Like I made mention two weeks ago about the way we treat those in service. Like I made mention last week about how we develop these concepts and assumptions about people. We bring ourselves into everything we do. Maybe I’m just throwing an online tantrum. Maybe I’m getting all worked up over nothing, but that doesn’t assuage my hurt feelings.

With all that being said, I know that there is an underlying problem there. I know that this happens. I know that it’s easy to do because I did it once and try not to anymore. I know that we tend not to see the artist when we look at a piece of art. We forget that those who created are people too. I’ve been working very hard to try to attribute art, photos, and writing to their sources. Sometimes I don’t do it correctly. If you notice something that I did please let me know, I’ll try my best to remedy it and ask for your help as I probably don’t know. Maybe that’s the point of it all. Maybe we all need constructive feedback. We need others to lovingly remind us of when we hurt other people. We need to acknowledge that hurt and try to remedy the issue in the best way that we can. Maybe I’m just hurt, and I don’t know what to do about it other than write.

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The Honest Faith: Religion is for “Girly Men”

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions recently, obviously. This has been a lot larger than I make it out to be in my writings sometimes. I think about where the emotions come from. What are the root issues that have informed these emotions? Why does my brain react in the way that it does? How do I teach my son to be healthy emotionally? How do I deal with emotions in a way that is constructive and healthy myself? How have my emotions impacted my faith? I had been thinking on these topics when I was working on painting my son’s playroom this week.

I like to work out and do work listening to stories. I started listening to audiobooks, and have since started listening to all sorts of Podcasts, I even started my own. I was listing to NPR’s Invisibilia. They are doing a very interesting “concept album” this season and started with emotions. In it they interviewed Lisa Feldman Barrett, who had a somewhat new and very interesting take on emotions. She also builds upon some of the concepts brought up by David Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” This is a quote from that interview:

Your brain is organized in such a way as to [make] anticipatory guesses about what is going to happen next. And this is happening entirely outside of your awareness. You have past experiences, and those experiences become wired into your brain, and then your brain uses those past experiences to make guesses about the immediate future.

So, emotions aren’t happening to you. Your brain makes them as you need them. You are the architect of your own experience. It’s just that most of this is happening outside of your awareness.

This was paired with a story about a car accident in which a family lost a little girl and the trucker who was on the other side. They explored both sides of the story and the emotions of those involved. It was an accident that nobody was really to blame for. The trucker developed PTSD from the accident due to the “constructs” (The word Dr. Barrett used for emotional responses) that were instilled in him from an early age. One of these constructs resonated with me. This was a construct that basically informed him that “a man is always in control.” This is what caused him to believe that he was a killer and that he murdered the little girl by not being able to move the truck out of the way in time. He couldn’t have. This is something that in our society we teach little boys, and reinforce in them from an early age.

I remember growing up that I watched the men in our church and my life. I noticed and was taught, that men don’t show emotion. I was taught that men are supposed to be strong, silent, and take care of their family. This is a societal and gender specific construct that is reinforced from many different angles. The reason the trucker’s story resonated with me, is because I think that is a very similar, if not same, construct that informed my own PTSD and Anxiety. Now, I realize that many people would not view our experiences as similar. I can’t even imagine being in his shoes at the time. But my experiences with the church were very traumatic to me and my own life. This is particular to my situation especially, because I am a man. I am supposed to be in control. I am supposed to provide for my family. I am supposed to be the “bread winner”.

Have you ever noticed how damaging these gender specific, and western societal constructs can be in the context of the church? Think about it. We tell men they are supposed to be in control, but we also tell them to rely on God as God is in control of all things. We tell women to be nurturing and caring leaders, yet we also tell them that God said through the writings of St. Paul that women shouldn’t lead men. I could go on and on, but there is one, in particular, I want to focus on. Men are supposed to be strong, silent, and in control of their feelings. We tell boys that when they cry or when they feel sad that they are to “suck it up” or “be a man”. Yet we also have a few tenants of our religion that require us to be in touch with our emotion.

Have you ever noticed that in our stories about the God-man Jesus, there are very few emotions being expressed? There are two, in particular, that pop into my mind as I sit here and write. One of my favorite verses, in fact, pops into my mind, “Jesus wept.” There is also another story about anger and rage coming from Jesus. The gospel writers told about turning over tables and killing a fig tree because there were no figs. That’s right, God hates figs. Have you ever noticed that we just assume other people’s emotions? There are so many emotional constructs that we have developed in our lives that to sort through them all is a huge task. We assume the other has had the same experience we have and therefore when they display signs of a construct that was developed in our own experience we assume that is what they are “feeling”. I have a problem with assuming. I find it funny that I’m in a job where I have to rid myself of all assumptions in a moment by moment basis.

The (small c) church reinforces that assumptive construct for men. They label those men who are in touch with their feelings as girly, feminine, or an assumptive sexuality preference label. Which as soon as they do they immediately condemn them for that. I was a very emotional kid. I was quite in touch with my emotions and with trying to figure them out. This led to all kinds of assumptions from the adults of my church. Especially about me and my best friend as a teen. We both were more into music, into figuring out feelings, figuring out religion, and trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was. We spent all of our time together and called each other a lot, back in the day where you had landlines. In fact, I can remember my sister calling him my boyfriend quite often. He was my best friend and still is my oldest and closest friend to this day. But there were assumptions made about us without even talking to us. This, like most gossipy topics, spread through the church more than once. It was a bit detrimental to a teenaged boy who was trying to figure things out.

I think that the more we assume things about other people the more we shape the reality for them. How many times has the church shaped reality for those who have been abused or the abusers? How many times has the church shunned a sinner, a divorcee, a pregnant teen, a teen mom, and so on? We make assumptions about them and in turn create constructs that tell them things like, they are unloved, they will never be forgiven, god doesn’t care, and that they are horrible. This creeps in little by little and becomes the tyranical “truth” that it can take years to rewire that reality. The wierd thing about western culture is that we do not do well with conflicting ideas, yet we constantly create them for ourselves. We tell people with our words that we love them, yet our actions say something completely different.

Maybe the church has spent way too much time, energy, and money trying to prevent “sin” instead of making the world a better place. Maybe if we stopped trying to tell people what is good and moral in our own eyes, and started living the love we preach we’d see our reality is not the only one. The Reverend William Barber in an interview on The New Yorker Radio hour said it this way (Honestly, if you have 23 minutes to spare, go listen to it! It’s incredible.) “If your attention is not on dealing with the issues that hurt the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the left out, the least of these, the stranger, and all of those that are made to feel unacceptable; you don’t have white right-wing evangelicalism. You have heresy!… You have theological malpractice.” We, as a church, built these constructs that said, “No those people cannot come in.” But the huge contradiction was that they were the exact people we were sent to help. We make these constructs telling little boys to be tough and strong and take care of things, yet that’s not how life works. That’s not how relationships work. We tell little girls to be princesses, humble, quiet, and unassuming, but that’s not how life works. We want people to come into the doors of the church, yet we shut and lock the doors before they can get in.

Maybe religion is for those who make assumptions, and are assumed about. Maybe true religion, a real honest faith, happens outside the shrines we’ve built to our own false realities. Maybe what Jesus would look like today is not someone sitting in a pew, or preaching from a pulpit. Maybe Jesus would be out on the street, meeting anyone who happens to talk to him. Handing out food to the hungy. Visiting those in prison. Making sure people see and experience justice. Maybe Jesus has left the building. I don’t know, but these are the thoughts that I’ve had.

My life has been spent trying to fix what other people have thought about me. My life has been shaped by tyranical truth that was built on assumptions. It’s time to rewire my brain and realize that my truth, my reality is what I make of it. I want to make it a good one. I want to make it one where I am generous, kind, in touch with my feelings, fall down sometimes, can graciously accept grace, freely give grace to others, lift others up, and find that just because someone calls me “girly” doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

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The Honest Faith: The Loneliness of Caring

Preface: I know this does not apply to everyone. If it does not, that is wonderful! I hope and pray that the reality I lived is not that that common. If this does ring true for you, this post is for you. I invite you to share a comment or a message to show others this point I’m about to make.


I was in ministry a long time. Even before I was in professional ministry I had my mind and heart set on ministry. I’ve talked about this several times before. There was a newspaper article written about me when I was 14 years old about my desire to want to become a professional minister. I wrote a sermon and entered it into a competition. The headline of the article was, “This teen doesn’t need a sermon, He gives his own.” My tunnel vision toward this goal set me apart at an early age. The rest of the world who thought different of me be damned I was going to be a minister. I was going to change the world.

Last week I wrote about feeling abandoned after my ministry was over. I want to talk this week about the reality that I faced as a minister. Ministry is lonely. There is no way around it, it just is. There are ways to combat that for some, but most feel that weight on a very regular and daily basis. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you actually sat down for a real conversation with someone who cares for people professionally? I mean a real conversation, not one where you are conveying your feelings. One where you are listening to their feelings, actually conversing with them. Those moments where you see the real person beneath the thick armor that so many of us wear. This extends to more than just ministers, but to all who care for people.

Have you ever noticed the humanity of the person taking your order at Chipotle? If your Hotel clerk suddenly changed faces in front of you, would you notice? The chances are, no. There is a thing called change blindness which is commonly attributed to a lack of the human attention span. I see it more as a transactional encounter. When we go expecting to get something for ourselves we tend to only focus on what our own needs are. We don’t see the person in front of us, really. We are seeing, in our mind’s eye, what our goal is; getting food, getting a hotel room, or getting our own feelings met. I’m not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of this, I’m just saying this is something we all do. This extends to those who care for you emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc.

I’m not writing this for those are doing this, I’m writing this for the ones it is being done to. When I was in ministry I realized very quickly how lonely ministry was. The only people you ever really meet or talk to are members of the congregation you work for. You can’t really have a relationship with the members of the congregation, for a lot of different reasons. You can’t cross boundaries. You can’t really be open and honest because you don’t know who will be told next. You can’t play favorites. You must remain professional. You are also, by most, seen as their employee. They know as well as you do that their tithes help keep the church doors open and the staff paid. It is a very lonely position being a servant in a world full of bosses. It was worse when I was single.

For those of you who are single and in ministry positions, I’m sorry. It’s almost impossible to have a modern relationship as a single person in ministry. Most of the people you meet go to your church, so they are right out of the realm of possibility for a relationship for the potential fallout that may happen. Not only that, if you are a Millenial, chances are there are very few people your age that attend that church. So many resort to online dating. For those of you who have never experienced it, it is not fun. I’m sure it hasn’t aged well either. Most people in ministry know that you are more likely to live far away from family and friends as that is where the work is. It makes it much harder for a life outside.

We were told many times in college to have a life outside of the church. That is much easier said than done. Most in professional youth ministry have a shelf life of 18 months. If you are like me you have been at several different churches over the course of your career. Those churches aren’t close together either. Like I said before, you go where the work is. It’s hard to make a life or put down roots in a place you aren’t sure if you are going to be for long. You attempt to make friends, but you know full well in the deepest part of you that you may be leaving again. This leads to a deeper isolation. Especially, if you are an introvert like myself.

There are articles everywhere about why the church is a bad place for introverts. (here is a good one). Someone once told me that they didn’t believe introverts were a thing, and I just needed to get over my aversion to being with people. I don’t think they were quite accurate in their assessment. It is not that I was adverse to people, it was that I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone in the church. There have been many instances in my life before, during, and after ministry where I trusted the wrong people and made my feelings known. This very often is taken out of context and used against you in the worst way possible. It is very damaging. This causes many introverts to revert even further into themselves.

I don’t want this post to be a pity party for me. I want to speak truth to a reality that I faced and one, I pray, not many have and are facing as well. So this post is meant to reach out to those in ministry, who care for others, nurses, social workers, teachers, and other service industries. I want to tell you that I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. You can trust me. I mean really, who would I tell that matters? I don’t have any friends, :P. I know how lonely caring can be. I know that you feel empty a lot of the time. I know there isn’t much that fills you, especially after you have been beaten down.

It wasn’t until I was given permission from my therapist, (I know I talk about therapy a lot. But really it’s just so that you know it’s normal and okay to ask for help) that I realized that it is okay to take care of myself. I am a person, too. My thoughts, my feelings, and me myself matter, too. There was a phrase that came to mind recently that encapsulates this rather well for me. Like the airlines say, you must affix your own breathing apparatus before attempting to help others. You can only help someone else so much if you are unable to help yourself. I think I learned this way too late. This is something I’m struggling to find in my transition into the outside world. I still feel so much mistrust and aversion to being myself outside, but it’s okay. I will continue to tell myself that I matter. My thoughts and feelings matter, too.

So to you care-er of people, I say you matter. Your thoughts and feelings matter, too. No matter how out there your thoughts and feelings are, they matter. It is okay to share them with someone else. It is okay to cry sometimes. It is okay to be yourself. It is more than okay for you to take time for yourself. It is okay for you to take care of yourself. Your life does not have to be lived solely in the care of others. Life is meant to be lived. I know how hard it is to do that. I know how hard it is to let go of the mistrust and aversion when you have been damaged so badly. I know, because I’m going through it too. You are not alone. You matter.

You are not alone. You Matter

You are not alone. You matter

Affix your own breathing apparatus, before attempting to help someone else.

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