Oh Jesus Christ…Where Art Thou? (He Wasn’t There…I Know That Now) Part Two

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A guest post by AmiMental

Please read Part One here.

Mom and Dad remained Pentecostal for a few years after I left home but Pastor Jesusjumper retired and my parents moved on.

Again.

So I guess the pastor was the point at that particular church.

Eventually my parents ran out of new churches to try.

But the vagaries of small-town godliness causes the leadership of those churches to change and change and change, and my folks finally went back to the church they’d attended when they first moved to their small town, First Christian. There had been at least four different pastors in the interim.

They were fairly happy there, my mom played the piano and organ for their worship services, and my dad helped with keeping books and was on the board.

They’ve always enjoyed being pillars of the church, my parents, and as a result, pastors are more than happy to take advantage of them.

Pastor Manna used to drive a bread delivery truck in our small town.

I guess he thought being paid to deliver the God message would be an easier job than delivering bread.

If you attended his church and they approved of you, you were asked to join the congregation after three  services. If you didn’t want to add your name to the church roster, then it was suggested that you might want to go to church somewhere else, as ‘God requires commitment and we believe it.’

They were pretty selective about their members.

A wealthy guy retired to their small town and had them flummoxed.

He was a very nice man, my mom said, and always put a twenty in the offering plate, but people just weren’t comfortable with the way he dressed for church.

He wore Hawaiian shirts. Board shorts and deck shoes. Had a graying ponytail. Worst of all, he wore a single earring.

Pastor Manna and a couple minions had a conference with him. They explained that he wasn’t showing the proper respect by dressing so casually.

He moved on.

Wouldn’t you?

So once a person decided to join the church, the next requirement was to fill out a “promise card”.

This was a serious contract with God.

The card asked how much money a household earned and gave a helpful little equation to let a person know how much of that he or she was expected to give to God.

It started at giving 10%, but there were some questions on there designed to determine whether a family could afford to give more.

I wish I’d thought to keep the copy I saw on Mom’s kitchen counter.

My parents were quite happy to fill out the card, and it was a point of pride for my dad to give more than the minimum.

And important to him that other people knew it.

Religion is such a spectacle, isn’t it?

Pastor Manna was big on tithing. If you didn’t give what you were supposed to, he called you into his office for a shaming.

Er, conference.

My brother Dick and his wife, Snatchie were having a hard time financially. They were very close to losing their property and their home and appealed to my dad for help.

My dad, who may be a little nutty in some ways, is always willing to help his family.

He maxed out his credit card to get them some cash. He also took the funds that were earmarked for his quarterly promise to Pastor Manna.. oh wait, I mean God.. and added it to the pot.

Dick and Snatchie were bailed out.

Pastor Manna called my parents into his office.

He was not a happy pastor. He told them that they’d made a promise to God and that they had LIED to him instead!!

That God was NOT happy with their disobedience, and he wanted to know how soon to expect the money they’d promised.

My parents didn’t tell him to get stuffed. They didn’t call him any names. They simply got up and walked out.

And after discussing it, they decided not to walk back in.

Of course everyone in town was curious. Mom was kind of excited about the whole thing, telling me on the phone that they were not going to be ‘unchristian’, so they’d merely told everyone that they had a “disagreement in doctrine” with Pastor Manna and had decided that God was going to use them somewhere else.

A few months later, I discussed the incident with Snatchie. I expressed my disgust with the pastor’s money-grubbing attitude and my anger over his treatment of my parents.

She turned to me and snapped, “Well Pastor Manna has been placed in authority over the church. That was BIBLICAL. He did no wrong.”

Considering that the money had been used to help her and my brother, I thought her attitude might have been a little different. Nope. Another demonstration of why Christianity and logic are mutually exclusive.

My dad was ‘called’ to the ministry about 10 years ago and took over (temporarily) for a pastor who needed some medical leave. Dad got some sort of internet certificate and started preaching.

The regular pastor was able to attend occasional services between medical treatments and one Sunday he stood and invited the congregation to rejoice with him because he was ‘completely free from all sin’.

That’s pretty funny coming from a guy who was the world’s second biggest asshole when I went to school with his kids, but hey, I suppose with God, all things are possible?

Pastor Sinfree and my father had a few disagreements, and Dad called it quits.

Dad wasn’t getting a salary or any type of monetary reward for his hard work. Add the distinct lack of appreciation into the equation… that’s probably why he decided that Pastor Sinfree could have his church back.

For awhile after that, my parents did a home church.

They gave that up a little over a year ago due to health reasons, and now attend church sporadically for those same health reasons.

I never have told them that I no longer believe in God.

I can think of no good reason to do so other than keeping it a secret offends my need to be straightforward with people. I don’t like dishonesty in myself or in others.

I have balanced that against what it would do to my mother if she found out.

And it’s not worth the anguish it would cause. It just isn’t. She would live the rest of her life in an utter panic over my immortal soul and it would significantly affect her health, I think. She’s in her late 70s and has lived her entire life as a Christian.

I can’t hurt my mom like that.

I’m out to some people, but I think the majority of people I encounter just assume that everyone is a Christian. Since I don’t have horns or a forked tail, I don’t fry cats or hurt small children and I’m just a regular person they assume I am a Christian.

Mostly, it never comes up as a conversational topic.

When the young people I work with bring up religion and want to know what I believe or have me settle an argument about God, I tell them that they’re called personal beliefs because that’s exactly what they are. Personal. And that each person has their own set, and that religious discussion is something that’s best left up to individual families.

I’ve finally decided after all these years that whatever elusive thing my parents and all their friends were looking for does not exist.
And that’s why they never found it.

Sort of sad when you think about it.

Notes

I didn’t use anyone’s real name.

Butthump, Oregon isn’t a real town, although I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of butthumping going on there.

Comments (21)

  1. Biblebeliever

    Tithing is a false teaching. I support his parents in walking out. The poor today often can’t afford church because they need groceries and to pay their rent. The churches are falling away and have become big business.

    http://galatiansfour.blogspot.com/2012/03/tithing-is-lie.html

    Separate Jesus from the rotten false church system. Remember Jesus overturned the tables of the money-lenders.

    Reply
    1. Len Koz

      Tithing isn’t false teaching, tithing is the point. How else can the parasites survive unless they get money handed to them by the true believers? As George Carlin said about your god, “He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now you talk about a good bulls**t story.”

      Reply
  2. mikespeir

    “I didn’t use anyone’s real name.”

    Goodness, I would hope those are real names! Great story, BTW.

    Reply
  3. Justin

    Butthump is totally a real town: I grew up there, and moved back when I was older. :-)

    Seriously, Ami, I share your statement in my experience: I started to realize that God had never answered a single prayer I prayed, no matter how sincere.

    I never heard a “calling”, or that “still small voice”; and I never had anything “put on my heart”. Nothing but silence. Total silence.

    Some smart guy said something about repeating the same actions over and over and expecting a different result. “I have decided” to stop being insane.

    Good story, good writing.

    Reply
  4. carmen

    Dear Ami,

    Yours is the second story I’ve read today about mothers who are, or would be, upset (and completely unable to accept) their daughters’ non-belief. Although your story used wry humour to deflect the seriousness of the message, I was left with the same emotion from both stories – overwhelming sadness, as you’ve indicated. As a mother I honestly cannot wrap my head around this; I find it mind-boggling.

    I agree with what you tell the young people in your life – that their beliefs are personal. I figure that what’s in MY head is just that – an individual ‘take’ on life. What’s sad to me (more and more) is that there’s a 2000 year-old book that was written by some men who had THEIR individual ideas and that SOMEHOW that book got adopted as a set of rules to live by (inspired by a cosmic boogeyman) – again, mind-boggling.

    Thanks for writing. I like your attitude!

    Reply
  5. Matt Martin

    “Dick and Snatchie” — priceless! :)

    Reply
  6. ami

    Thanks everyone. I had fun writing it all down, but it woke up some feelings I didn’t realize were still there, too. I tossed and turned all night thinking about some of the stuff I didn’t say. I left out so much… I’d have been writing for a solid month otherwise.

    As it was, my husband of 33 years kept saying, “NO SHIT?!?” as I read to him.
    And he knew quite a bit of it.

    Thanks for hosting the post(s), Bruce. Cathartic to write it. And my own blog probably would not have been the best place to post it.

    :)

    Reply
  7. brbr2424

    I saw how long the two posts were and thought I would just skim but I enjoyed every word. My mother recalls the minister sitting in her living room discussing arrearages with her father.This was during the heart of the depression. My grandfather found an easy solution to make the arrearages go away by cutting ties with the church. I suspect many people quit church when they have more pressing needs for the money and sadly, some don’t.

    I have a comment for Bruce. I live in Silicon Valley and a bunch of billboards have cropped up asking the question. “Not religious? Neither are we.” I was curious, so I went to the website. I thought maybe it would be an atheist meet up. It’s not. It’s a Christian church known as C3 that is “not religious.” They do know their market. We have the best and brightest here – many from other less religious countries. There are a lot of people with half million dollar salaries driving along 101 and seeing the billboards.

    Reply
  8. Heather

    Enjoyed this Ami. I feel the same about my parents. They are in early 70s and I feel no need to panic them and live out their last years worrying about me. I even bow my head and say amen when we eat there and that seems to be enough to convince them that the whispered athiest talk about me is no longer true. If it makes them feel better then so be it. I used to think about how I could logically explain to them that god is not real. Then I realized it would be rather cruel to basically say guess what your whole life was a fraud and now you will die. Hello, I was depressed and angry at 37 when I accepted it…so much life wasted with a god that doesn’t exist. So imagine if u figured it out at 71? They r happy so to each their own.

    Reply
    1. brbr2424

      I wonder if there are many people in their seventies who deconvert.

      Reply
  9. NeverAgainV

    thanks for writing this Ami. What a story! Religion just makes this crazy world & the
    people in it- even crazier!

    Reply
  10. Scott

    Thanks for your honesty and for faking it for your parents… I feel like I’m faking it for my wife and kids. I’ll let them make up their own minds. As for tithing. I had that one laid on me this week….. So much for free will offerings. Ha.

    Reply
  11. Renoliz

    Ami – Thank you for sharing your story. Love the names. I had a Pastor Butthead:)

    Reply
  12. mikespeir

    I meant to write, ” I would hope those AREN’T real names.” I erred. I do that sometimes, just to stay humble. ;-)

    Reply
  13. Alice

    That really was an enjoyable read. It is interesting that you say you never felt anything, that must have been very frustrating. When I was a Christian, I did feel things, all the time. Of course there were “dry spells” as they call them, but I distinctly had feelings of the “spirit.” It wasn’t until I took off my Christian, but not spiritual glasses that I found that those feelings were still there, it was just me all along.

    Once again, great posts :)

    Reply
  14. Kat

    Ami — great story. And I am 100% behind you on the faking it thing, at least for family. The last thing I would ever want to do is make my folks worry. They know I don’t go to church, but yes, I bow my head during “grace” and keep my face neutral whenever some Jesus talk comes out, though it rarely does, actually. Whatever makes them happy, is my feeling.

    Reply
  15. Ian

    I enjoyed this series. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    I felt the Holy Spirit move me while at church, usually while I was leading music. At home or on my own, I never felt the movement. Looking back, I see that the feeling was just being caught up in the feelings that music gives you. Even after I knew I wasn’t a Christian, I could feel emotion while leading music; now I understood what it really was. It is no different than listening to a good anthem rock song and getting swept up in the music. The funny thing about Holy Spirit movements© is that I made people feel them ( after my deconversion), and they would tell me that they could feel the Spirit working through the music service. What they didn’t know is that I was reading their faces and bodies and giving them what they wanted. It is pretty easy to do.

    What is amazing is that there are the same kinds of people in your churches that I had in mine. I can put names to everyone in your story. I even knew a bread truck driver, although he wasn’t a pastor.

    Reply
  16. Aram McLean

    A great story, both part one and two. I’m torn about being honest or not towards your parents. But as you say they’re in their 70′s so what would be the point? Still, a shame to miss out on ever having a real relationship. Of course obviously nothing you can do to change it. If they haven’t questioned by now, they likely never will.

    (Bruce truly is one of the rare ones!)

    Reply
  17. ami

    I appreciate all the comments and that people read the whole thing. :)
    I know it was a long story.

    I think it was Stephen King who said he was cursed/blessed with a sort of literary elephantiasis. I sometimes feel the same way. Why use 5 words when 20 is a lot more fun?

    I left out a ton of stuff. I left out the attempts by two different church elders at two different churches to get into my teenage pants. I left out the story of how one of them ended up in prison for molesting his daughter and his grandchildren.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    My mom asked me a few years ago, “I know you don’t go to church (drove her nuts that I didn’t raise my children in church) but you still believe, right?”

    Well. She didn’t ask me *what* I believe. Didn’t specify.
    You know how when you’re a kid and you make a promise but you cross your fingers behind your back so it doesn’t count?

    When my mom said, “You still believe,” in my head I said ‘I believe that there is no God’ but my words were, “Of course!”

    We hugged. I got in my car and drove the five hours it takes to get home.

    I love my parents. I won’t intentionally hurt them. So I lie to them instead.
    That makes it my problem instead of theirs.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      After I read your story, I thought, and people wonder why some of us need therapy? :)

      Reply
  18. Stephanie

    That was amazing…in a bad way. That took a lot of well, something, to confront someone about not giving enough money. Take money from the poor, how Christian. I thought Jesus was about giving to the poor. Whatever. Just greed.

    Reply

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