Guest Posts

My Life in an ACE School Part One

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A guest post series by Ian.

Introduction

I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.

This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.

As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.

This has been quite he journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years.  For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it may be quite an eye opener.

I hope you enjoy what I have written.

Understanding An ACE School

ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education. Donald Howard, a pastor in Texas, started ACE in 1970. It was developed as a way to evangelize children. ACE relies heavily on rote recall and short-term memorization to teach children. (See Jonny Scaramanga’s post on Donald Howard, A Very Fundamentalist Sex Scandal)

Let me explain how an ACE school operates. Students start the day out in an assembly, where we prayed, read scripture, recited pledges of allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag and the Bible. Afterwards, we heard school announcements. Then, children who passed tests the day before were called to the front and given blue “Congratulation Slips”; we would applaud them before they sat back down. After a final prayer, we would go to a Learning Center.

In the Learning Center were rows of desks, divided into “offices” by wooden dividers. In each office, students kept their school work and items needed to complete their daily work. We also had two flags, American and Christian, which we used to signal the Supervisors (American flag) and monitors (Christian flag) we need help. Supervisors were people who had taken a 5 day training course and were conversant in all things ACE. Monitors were usually parents who were volunteering as assistants. Monitors were only allowed to do things like give permission to use the bathroom, score your work, or give spelling tests. Supervisors answered harder questions and could authorize you to do special things. Students in higher grades were sometimes utilized as monitors, something I did quite a bit of in 9th grade.

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ACE Modesty Cartoon

Students had a star chart, on which were placed stars showing the work we completed. The work we did was contained in a PACE-Packet of Accelerated Christian Education. Each PACE was roughly 32 pages long and 12 in each subject were completed each year. Typically, we would do Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Word Building (spelling/vocabulary). As you got into higher grades, there were PACEs in literature, and home economics. For high school aged children, there were elective subjects in Old Testament Survey (studies, I don’t know why they called it survey), New Testament Survey, New Testament Church History, World History, American History, Soul Winning, Life of Christ, Accounting, etc. All of the courses had an overt fundamental Christian message, from the first math PACE, to your final typing test. Even as a Christian, I did not think that was a good thing.

Each PACE was divided into several sections. After a block of instruction and practice problems, there was a quiz called a “Check-up”. At the end of the PACE was a “Self Test”, which was to show you had mastered the information in the PACE. After completing the PACE, it was turned in to a Supervisor and a test was taken the next day.

Scoring the work was accomplished by going to a score station and using a red pen to mark your wrong answers. You then had to return to your office and correct the answer and re-score the work. You did this as many times as was necessary to get it right. I’ll bring up pen colors here. Blue or black was allowed for the students to use during the day. Red ink was only for scoring. Green ink was only for Supervisors and monitors. Even today, at over 40 years old, red and green ink pens still hold almost a mystical quality for me.

One of the most important things in our office was our goal card. Every day, we had to place the number of pages we planned to do in a square that was underneath the subject. We were required to do at least 5 pages in each subject each day, unless a supervisor allowed otherwise. After the goal in each subject was completed, we crossed it off. This was all done in pen, so there could be no cheating. Except for erasable ink, which was fairly new in the early 80’s. If your goals were not finished by the end of the day, you had to ask the teacher for a green “Homework Slip”. On this slip was written what needed to be done to complete the day’s goals, or if you needed to study for a test, memorize scripture verses, etc. Parents signed the slip and it was turned in the next day. The Supervisors performed a “goal check” each morning to ensure everyone was actually doing all of their work.

Any infractions of a rule resulted in a demerit being issued. These were kept logged in a binder. At the end of the day, a student with 3 demerits was given a yellow “Detention Slip”. This slip had to be signed by your parents and returned the next morning and detention was served that day. Three demerits was a 20 minute detention, four was 25, five was 30. Six demerits was automatic swats (spanking). Parents had already signed a slip that allowed the school to administer swats. Swats ranged from 3 to 5, depending in the severity of the infraction or number of demerits. In my own experience, Detention Slips ensured a spanking at home, as did swats. My parents didn’t follow the idea of double jeopardy; they felt if I was bad at school, I deserved the punishment at home. My parents backed the school 100% and did everything they could to make sure I obeyed and learned. As a consequence, I had a VERY good reason to behave at school.

Breaks consisted of a 5 minute break in the morning and afternoon and a 20 minute break for lunch. You had a chance to earn longer breaks by applying for one of three “Levels”. These levels were labeled differently in different schools but always corresponded to “A-C-E Levels”. “A” level would give you two 15 minute breaks and a 25 minute lunch. “C” level would give you two 20 minute breaks, a 25 minute lunch and the ability to score your work without asking for permission. “E” level allowed you freedom to do pretty much as you pleased as long as you completed all of your work. Applying for these levels consisted of completing at least 1.5 PACEs a week for A level, completing 2 PACEs a week along with scripture memorization and a monthly book report for C level, or completing 2 PACEs a week, scripture memorization, a book report every month, and a weekly Christian service for E level. These were something we all coveted, since it give us a bit of freedom.

All students wore a uniform to school. These were known as God and Country uniforms. For boys, it consisted of Navy blue slacks, a red dress shirt and a hideous God and Country necktie. For girls, it was a Navy blue jumper or skirt with a red shirt and a little God and Country neck scarf. Girls had to wear tights or flesh colored stockings, boys had to wear black or blue socks. Everyone wore polishable black shoes. The dress code changed over the years; first we could wear white or red shirts, then red, white or blue shirts. Grey slacks/jumpers were finally allowed. The schools also gave us a little leeway. I remember wearing a red turtleneck shirt for a while and another school let us wear blue or grey Docker or Dickie pants.

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Cartoon from an Accelerated Christian Education PACE. Most of the violence and abuse in Independent Baptist group homes can be traced back to Lester Roloff

Part of the indoctrination we received was that shorts were evil on either sex and pants on a woman was the greatest abomination you could imagine. Girls had to wear skirts, dresses or jumpers during the school day. These had to be loose fitting and extend below the knee. For outdoor events or gym times, girls wore a glorified pair of pants called coulattes. All of this was done to help boys avoid temptation and help girls not to become sluts and keep them from tempting us poor, helpless boys.

Another feature of ACE, and fundamentalism in general, is the application of the 6 Inch Rule. This is a rule that states, “All boys and girls must maintain a 6 inch distance from each other”. This rule is a variation of Jack Hyles’ Bible distance rule. He said for a boy and girl to keep a Bible between them, that way by the time they made it past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they would be too ashamed to do anything. I know, a stupid rule, but it was what we had to do.

The King James Version of the Bible was the only Bible we were allowed to use. There was no question or debate in this area, and there was no explanation as to why, either.

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Ace Virtueson

I have saved the best part of ACE for last- the cartoons featuring the cast of ACE. Front and center is Ace Virtueson (pronounced Ay-see), the perfect child who is as wise as any adult. Then there is Pudge Meekway, the fat kid. Hapford Humblen, the buck-toothed kid who had a learning disability. Racer, who was almost as good as Ace. Kristi Lovejoy, the female counterpart of Ace. The red headed McMercy sisters. Reginald Upright, another good kid. Then there were the two bad kids, Ronnie Vain and Susie; they were the two non-Christian kids who were always doing bad things. These kids all lived in Highland City and attended an ACE school. The principal was Mr. Friendson.

We can’t forget the subtle racism in ACE. There was another city, called Harmony, where the black kids lived and went to their ACE school. There weren’t too many comics with these kids. Two of these kids were J. Michael Kindhart and Booker. There were a couple of girls, too, but I forget their names. I don’t remember any other races being represented, but I could be wrong.

The kids in these cartoons had all kinds of problems that were solved with the help of wiser, older people or prayer. Some of the stories were blatant rip-offs of Bible stories, some were retellings of Sunday school morality stories. All of these cartoons were designed to fit in with the theme of the PACE you were working on, themes such as honesty, diligence, faithfulness, etc.

There was a code of conduct that had to be followed. Each student had to agree to attend church, have devotions, not go to movies, not listen to rock music, keep their hair appropriately cut (or long, if you were a girl), etc. This was to control our behavior in and out of school. These codes were never a problem for me, since my parents were always more conservative than any school I attended.

Once a year, all the ACE schools held a State Convention in which we would compete for medals and a chance to attend the National Convention. Basketball, track events, singing, art exhibits, preaching, public speaking, spelling bees, choir events, solo singing events, etc. These were all designed to get us ready to preach or enter the mission field. During the times I attended ACE schools, boys had to wear sweat pants and the girls had to wear culottes–for modesty’s sake–for sporting events.

So, this is a brief overview of an ACE school. I hope it will make my next installments a little easier to understand.

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part One

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What follows is part one of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).

Part 1: The Introduction where I talk about myself and Missionary Kids

Section 1

Regular and former church-goers might remember these people. They were part of your church but never physically there; opting, instead, to live on the other side of the world as missionaries. Every three or four years they would return and report to the congregation (either taking up a Sunday service or maybe doing the rounds to all the various weekly home groups). They often required someone to dust off an old slide projector so everyone could see their pictures (until the merciful advent of power point).

Maybe you enjoyed these reports, maybe you found them dull or, just maybe, you have no idea what I am talking about. Whatever your perspective please read on if you are interested in finding out more about Christian missionary work (with a specific focus on protestant and evangelical missions).

Before I continue it would be rude of me not to introduce myself. I was not a missionary but the child of missionaries. In 1983, just shy of my 3rd birthday, my parents left the socialist democracy of New Zealand to work as missionaries in the right-wing dictatorship of the Philippines. I and my younger came with them. I grew up immersed in the proselytizing wing of Christianity and, while I am now an unbeliever, for most of my life I was a committed believer. I am, and I always will be, a Missionary Kid (MK).

Hopefully that puts some of what I will discuss in perspective. I am planning on writing about that world; the “frontline” of Christianity (at least that is how the missionaries see it). Obviously this won’t be a “pro-mission” series of writings, but it not intended to be an exposé either; more a personal perspective. For my first entry I am going to introduce the idea of Third Culture Kids.

Section 2

Any discussion about MKs needs at least make mention of Third Culture Kids. The Wikipedia page provides some decent information if you want to read further but, for now, I am going to provide my own definition of a TCK and how it may have shaped some of my perspectives on life.

Firstly; what is a TCK? Well the best way to answer is to compare it to most people’s own experiences. For the majority of human beings their formative years are spent in the culture of their parents. They are formally educated in their country’s education system and their peers are the children of their parent’s peers. They share the same common history, enjoy the same cultural touchstones and learn the same values. The odds are high that you, reading this, fit into that category. If so then you were or are, depending on your age, a First Culture Kid. You were raised in the culture of your parents and, whether you realize it or not, have and affinity and implicit understanding of its traditions, taboos, and its sense of humor.

The next category is the Second Culture Kids. Unlike the First Culture Kids; these are children who spent their formative years in a culture different to their parents which they were expected to join. The most obvious example, and the only one I can think of, is the children of immigrants. While their perspective on life is shaped by the culture they were raised in their parents still retain the “old” attitudes and values. If you fit into this category you are likely to have experienced some unique conflicts with your parents over the “right way” of doing something. Often what your parent’s value may seem incongruous to what you believe is truly important out of life. This can be over the big issues like acceptable career paths and life-partners or over small issues like wearing jewelry or enjoying certain entertainments. You grow up in a culture different from that of your birth and, as a result, identify more with the new than the old.

That brings us to the group I belong to; TCKs. Like the Second Culture Kids we are raised in a culture different to our home or passport country (as we often call it). We are people who, despite being raised in a different country, are ultimately expected to return and integrate to our passport country’s culture. TCKs come from three main sources as the children of government workers, expatriate business people, or missionaries. It is the MKs that, on average, spend the most time in a single “host” country while the other categories of TCKs move around between more countries and spend less time overseas in total. As a result; MKs often have the hardest time integrating back into their passport country upon their return.

Section 3

While I did interact with other types of TCKs growing up (my parents were friends with some expatriate workers) the majority of people I grew up with in the Philippines were either Filipinos (of the same Christian denomination as my parents) or other MKs. In other words; while it could be said that I identified with both Filipino and a New Zealand culture it was still through the lens of Christian culture. This meant I was unaware about a lot of Filipino cultural practices – particularly their social gatherings. Like Christians in many other countries the Filipinos my parents worked with had replaced the more “worldly” activities available to them with Christian alternatives. They especially avoided things with alcohol and dancing.

When our family would return to New Zealand on a four-year cycle for a year before going back to the Philippines I had a very similar experience. The people I interacted with the most were family or church people. Again; it was a very Christian-heavy environment. There was, however, one key difference; I always attended the local public schools when I was back. I’ll talk about the specifics of my MK education at another point but the public schooling was interesting to me. Every time I started afresh the other kids always seemed so godless (which they were).

I didn’t stop me wanting to socialize. Not only did I manage to make friends each four-year cycle but I got the added bonus of feeling smug on the inside because of the things I, as a good Christian, refrained from doing. When I was younger not swearing was my main spiritual differentiator but, on subsequent returns to New Zealand, I graduated to avoiding smoking which lead to avoiding drinking, not having sex and deciding not to experiment with drugs. In that regard I was similar to many Christian kids who defined their religious practice by the things they didn’t do.

None of this builds a case for MKs having trouble re-integrating back into the passport country. But I was lucky. I am naturally extroverted and enjoy new experiences so every-time I came back I saw it as an adventure. I also had the good fortune of having long-standing friends from the church that commissioned my parents. At the age of 18 I returned to New Zealand to start University I had a group of friends already and quickly made new ones. I had Uni friends during the week and church friends during the weekend with a slight overlap as a couple of them went to both. For me, unlike many of my former MK classmates and my own siblings, re-integration was relatively easy.

Section 4

One final word on this topic; I said that I was lucky because of friendships I had to return to and the fact I could easily make new friends. One other aspect is the cultural integration. I wasn’t fully up with the nuances of Kiwi (a term New Zealanders call ourselves) culture but I could fake it until I was. I also was fortunate that I lived in the Philippines where a lot of the population read, speak and understand English. As a result a lot of entertainment (music, tv, film and books) came from North America and the UK – the same place a lot of popular entertainment in New Zealand comes from. When it came to the pop culture of my generation I had very few gaps.

There is a lot to be said for sharing these cultural touchstones. I know some MKs who grew up in remote areas (isolated tribal villages and the like) who found it hard to join in casual conversations when they returned. This was problematic because people in their late teens tend to talk about entertainment a lot and without the shared culture and history to draw upon pop culture can be a powerful way in. In my case I made friends with people who enjoyed similar movies, music, and video games.

Of course I still have moments, although not as often as I used to, where I’m with a group of people. Be it friends or colleagues it is inevitable that the topic will turn to an event reminder of a joke for which I have no point of reference. Many people experience this when moving to a new town or joining a new circle of friends – but try to imagine that on a completely cultural level. A level where you realize that this was something that everyone in the country probably knows. It is this reason that many TCPs seek out each other’s company and the company of immigrants. Regardless of whether or not we have a shared history we all understand the feeling of being a cultural outsider.

Traversing the culture gaps are further complicated by the fact that MKs look like the people of their passport country. Often certain allowances that are made for immigrants are not made for us when it comes to understanding slang words or making social faux pas. This affects MKs differently depending on their personality. While I am the type to laugh at my mistakes I have seen others who retreat very quickly from groups once they have done something they might deem humiliating. It probably doesn’t help that most of the MKs are returning home in their teens to either complete high school or because they have just graduated.

It isn’t all negative though. When I think about my childhood I realize I had an opportunity most people don’t have. I experienced two countries, two cultures and two ways of life which are very different from each other. My experiences were mostly positive and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I look at MKs I find that those who take the perspective of both cultures with them and are able to appreciate those unique experiences that those from either one wouldn’t have are the ones who do the best in life. This is regardless of whether they end up living in their host country, their passport country or somewhere else entirely.

I won’t elaborate further as this will start to bleed into some other topics I plan to write about. For those who have found this interesting so far: I am busy but will do my best to write more so if there are any questions that you have feel free to leave them in the comments and I will take them on board when writing future updates. I will give you an indication of some other ideas I already have like the “call” to missions, MK education, Mission agencies, the validity of mission work, and maybe even a look at the Open/Plymouth Brethren.

Help! My Fundamentalist In-Laws are Driving Me Crazy

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Guest Post by Lydia who blogs at On the Other Hand

In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.

Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.

Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.

Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:

– You’re ready to leave.

– You’re ok.

– They need to step in.

Visit on Neutral Territory.

By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.

Keep Visits Short and Sweet.

My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.

Have an Itinerary.

Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.

Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.

People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).

Make a List of “Safe” Topics

…and stick to them.

I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!

I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.

Choose Your Battles.

Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.

“The Bible says…”

“Come to church with me this weekend.”

“I want to teach your kids about God.”

“You’re going to hell!”

There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.

Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.

It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.

Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :

How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?

How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?

Readers, what would you recommend?

Dear Friend: Dave Tells His Story to A Friend

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I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Dear Friend,

You know about my dismissal from the church staff five years ago due to my “independence”. And you know that my daughters and their husbands shunned us after that happened  cut us off completely. And you know that those relationships continue to be painfully torn apart. And you know that I haven’t been to church in a couple of years. Well, here’s what you may not know. Here’s the rest of the story.

The end before the beginning: I have lost my faith. I have left the faith. I no longer believe in God as embraced within Biblical Christianity. However you define it. I’m done. I have left the building.

How did I get here? Is this just my response of anger and hurt to my perceived injustice of people behaving wrongly in the name of God? Are these just my own personal offenses? No. You are free to think that if you choose, but that is not what this is. This is no knee-jerk reaction. And I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly. It was a long, arduous, painful process.

From a recent article I read:

“A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday”.

That describes me, I think. It’s a quote from an interview with Psychologist Marlene Winell, who lists it as a symptom of what she calls Religious Trauma Syndrome. You can read the article here.

Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways:

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

That’s another paragraph that seems to describe my experience.

I was “all in”. I was never a pew-sitter. From my earliest beginnings in the winter of 1973/1974, I was all about serving Jesus with everything I had. I was 18.

I decided to forego college because I believed the return of Jesus was imminent and my time could be better served elsewhere. Besides, college was all about getting a job and making money and I was so not into that. So I ran coffee houses and street ministries. I spent my time trying to convert wino’s and street people instead of building a 401K. I worked at youth camps, went on mission trips. I handed out Bibles in Moscow’s Red Square and preached at public schools in Russia; helped build an orphanage in Belize.

I led worship and small groups. I served on staff at churches and preached sermons. I taught classes and Bible studies. I led prayer groups, like organizing a 24-7 prayer vigil for a deacon in our church. For three months after he was burned in an industrial accident, we believed and cried out for his healing. He left behind two young boys and a wife who herself died of cancer a few short years later. (but I digress)

I studied the Bible. For hours and hours and hours….and for years. I know it inside out. I studied Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, study guides, all of it. It was the Word of God to me. It was the source of life. Even when I didn’t live up to it; still it remained true. I prayed. For people; for healing; for life. Many hours spent in prayer over 38 years. I tithed. I gave my time and money and energy and the absolute best years of my life. And I gave my children. To the Lord. Willingly. And he took them.

Now none of this is meant as a diatribe against God, the old, “look what I have done/sacrificed for you, and what have you done for me”. No. That’s not what I’m saying. All this is meant to say: This was NOT a casual thing for me. It was everything. I was always passionate about what I did and I was always all in.

So when you get knocked down what do you do? You get back up and dust off and trudge forward. Except this time, after a couple of years of trudging on, I began to ask why. Why am I trudging forward? To what? For whom? As I contemplated these questions I realized something: I had never truly examined this faith that had been everything to me for my complete adult life. I had jumped in as a slightly disoriented young man lacking direction and motivation and found a cause to attach myself to. But I had never critically examined the claims that Christianity is built upon. I just accepted them. I was told the Bible was divinely inspired and is the authoritative Word of God and is complete and total in its instructions as to how to live and for whom to live and what life is all about. I bought it. I never, not once, compared Christianity to the myriad other religions that make similar claims to exclusive authority.

I found in Christianity a place to belong and something to give myself to. That was enough for me. And, oh yeah, I got to go to heaven when I died; so there was that as well. It had everything. And I gave it everything. Until I didn’t. Until I finally laid it all out on the table and examined it. I quit making excuses for the parts of the Bible that had always troubled me. I quit looking the other way. I decided if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own under the glaring light, then I was no longer going to minimize its inconsistencies and contradictions.

I won’t go into it here about what I found. It’s too much. It’s too ugly.

Once the Bible became a common collection of letters and books (written by ordinary men) to me, the rest of the dominoes fell rather quickly. And after all those years and all that effort and all that devotion and all that worship, I was done. It was over.

Video Link

I invite you to pause a moment and watch this video; or at least just listen to the song. I heard it recently. I stopped. I paused it and played it back over and over. I wept. And I wept and I wept. It captured perfectly my experience of losing my faith.

“Say something, I’m giving up on You”. That’s how I heard it. You. Jesus.

“I’ll be the one if You want me to; anywhere, I would have followed You”.

That was my cry to the Lord when I was sifting through all of this.

Say something…anything…please.

He didn’t. He wouldn’t. And I came to the painful conclusion…he can’t.

“I will swallow my pride; You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye”.

I’m not sure if many people understand how hard that is. To look up and say, I was wrong. For almost 40 years, for my whole adult life…I was wrong.

You might not understand, and you might not agree. I get that. But it is what it is. And no, it’s not something that will change. I’m not going to suddenly (or even gradually) believe in Jesus again. If you once believed in Santa as a child and no longer do, wouldn’t it take some remarkable evidences to cause you to believe again? You can’t make yourself believe something again just because you want to.

Trust me, after what it has cost me, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.

You may be disgusted or disappointed at my personal loss of faith. That’s OK, I understand how that may affect you. You may want to talk to me about it. I’d be glad to. You may grieve with me at my loss. I appreciate that. But please, don’t do this: don’t say something like, well it’s religion that has done this to you, and I hate religion too; I just love Jesus. No. Please no.

It was Jesus who said this:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

If Jesus indeed said that, we should want nothing to do with Him. Those verses sound pious and holy and simply dripping with devotion, but they are deadly in their application. (by the way, if he didn’t say those words, what are you doing? What is the Bible then, really?) Those verses sound very spiritual in terms of one’s relationship with Jesus, but until you have seen those words play out in your own family, you don’t really know what they mean. (by the way, this scripture was being quoted pertaining to me while I was still VERY much in the faith).

You can’t imagine-and I hope you never experience, the damage that this kind of thinking can cause. I have seen my family totally devastated. And I have settled into a life that is marked by a dull ache. Every now and then when I see pictures on FB, or get Christmas cards with grandchildren’s pictures, there is a sharp stab of a pain of a different kind. But mostly, it’s like a cloudy, cold day that settles on you like a wet blanket. I guess it will always be.

So no, I’m not angry at God. You can’t be upset with someone if you don’t think they exist. I’ve heard it said I am bitter. Maybe a bit toward certain people; but certainly not toward God. (again, he’s not there) I have regrets. Many regrets. I will live with them.

One last thing. This has not changed who I am at my core, I still love people and cry when I see them suffer; or when I see them treat each other with kindness; or pretty much any time. I am moved by loss and pain and grief. I enjoy life, the bits I can snag that are good. I value humanity more than I ever have. In fact, I have a heightened sense of the value of every person and no longer view them in terms of what side of the “aisle” they are on. I see folks as all the same and seek to do good as opportunity presents itself to show kindness or generosity or love. I am no less moral than I ever was.

Anyway, that’s the gist of it, If you’re getting this, I figured I owed it to you. Because you are or have been, a dear friend.

Dave

The Similarity Between Answered Prayer and the Gifts Santa Brings

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A guest post by Richard. He blogs at RichardMarlowe236.

I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian.  A church three times a week, the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, evolution is a lie type of Christian.  I have since deconverted and consider myself an atheist (I prefer the term free-thinker).  I plan to write a later post detailing my journey.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a family.  The family member is a fundamentalist Christian.  I had just revealed my loss of faith to her.  Needless to say she was surprised.  She seemed unable to fathom how anybody could deny the existence of God. So, the conversation turned to proof for God’s existence.  Her reasons for believing were personal experience, scriptural authority, creation, and answered prayer.  While the first three reasons played a part in her belief, answered prayer was the most convincing to her.  She never said this directly, but it was the primary emphasis of the discussion.  Her logic for answered prayer as proof of God is as follows:

  • She had a need or want for something.
  • She prayed to the Christian God for this something.
  • She received this something.
  • God is why she received it.
  • Therefore, God exists.

Answered prayer is a common “proof”  by theists for the existence of God.  Sometimes it can be difficult to convince believers that answered prayer may have a natural explanation or may be a coincidence.

Yet this logic is flawed.  I witnessed this exact same logic unfold before my eyes except it was not to prove God’s existence.  It was proof for Santa’s existence.  (I know, I know!  Atheists always equate belief in God with belief in Santa.  Please keep reading as I am just using a personal example to demonstrate the flaw in the above-mentioned logic.)

I have three young children.  The oldest two believe in Santa Claus.  Starting in November, they began picking out toys they wanted for Christmas.  They went to see Santa and asked him for those toys.  On Christmas morning they awoke to these toys under the tree.  Automatically they attributed this to Santa.  To them it was “proof” for his existence.  Their logic was as follows:

  • They had a want for something.
  • They requested (prayed) for Santa to receive this something.
  • They received this something.
  • Santa Claus is why they received it.
  • Therefore, Santa exists.

See any similarities to the answered prayer logic?  It is exactly the same.  Actually you could use this logic to prove almost any being’s existence.

This does not even take into consideration unanswered prayer.  When this is brought up, many believers will say sometimes God says “No.”  Basically it boils down to this:

If I pray to God for something there are two possible outcomes.

1.  It will come to pass.

Or

2.  It will not.

How would this be different if there was no God?  If you made it this far… Thanks for reading!

One Man’s Journey From There and Back Again

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A guest post by Wayne

I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.

My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.

Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.

To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him.  After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.

My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family.  Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.

The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that.  However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away.  I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve.  I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.

When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him.  The unthinkable then happened.  We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life.  What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will?  Did I love my wife more than him?  Was I really sincere in my walk with him?  Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.

However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist.  If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.

For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.

At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me.  Fear and uncertainty set in.  Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life?  What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly?  What about my friends at church?  After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown.  My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past.  I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.

With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task.  My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me.  My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on.  I have no hard feelings about my church.  There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated.  My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me.  However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.

I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind.  Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.

Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences.  As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates.  My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”.  That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.

“Colors of the Wind”

You think the only people who are people,
Are people who look and think like you,
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,
You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.

And we are all connected to each other,
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.

from Disney’s Poncahontas.

The Dogma that Followed Me Home

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Guest post by Cat Givens.

When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist Church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday eve. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.

We learned about heaven, and about hell. They preached a lot about hell.

I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: The person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind this god with the rest of the saved people. God would turn that person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they would be lead away, they would see me behind god and scream, “WHY? Oh Why didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away, to be cast into the eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?

In my teens, I was a bit of a rebel, and I’d run away when I got the chance, rather face the consequences at home for my actions.
When I was 14, almost 15, my parents were at their wits’ end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.

My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. Yes, they could help me, they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.

I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). There I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.

After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. But Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea.

Off to a girls’ home in Louisiana for me! New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I was to be there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager. At this girls’ home, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was a sin. I could not listen to any music besides gospel, as that was a sin. I could not talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mac Ford. He and his wife, Thelma founded the home, and they took in rebellious teens from all over the country and also took in the unwanted girls who would just be abandoned there. We were all to comply with every rule or get whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping or get hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught and then, after a sound whipping with the belt from Bro. Mac, she’d be handcuffed to her bed and a ‘trusted girl” would have the key. All meals were served her at her bed, and only was she uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro Mac determined she had repented, she was off the cuffs.

Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the devil could be in there, so only trust the bible. And trust Bro Mac.

Everyday after chores, we’d have chapel. There we would learn about hell and how the love of god brought us to this place and how we must repent our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school. A trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets, it was an ACE school….Accelerated Christian Education. After school it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed and we actually had to count the toilet paper and beg for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation and what Brother Mac called “breaking down the will” were the norm. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing southern Baptist cult and we were the subjects.

After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little southern Baptist obedient teenager who addressed my parents and all adults as “sir” and “mam”.

At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! At this school, we would only have chapel once a week, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week”. During the “emphasis” we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hell fire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in a prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!

Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the bible for myself, and it did not read the same on my own as with a preacher interpreting for me.

After graduation, I began to think more for myself.  I sought out a therapist who helped me let go of the guilt and confusion.  Gradually I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms, and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.

I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” back at the girl’s home. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again, as an adult without the expectation of a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.

What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher plead with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with god, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic ! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell to be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?

Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me and I was breathless! I contacted a woman who was raised similarly, and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. We discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, then I began to examine what had happened.

It was twenty plus years of dogmatic teachings took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like so many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. So I set to work, discussing with my therapist these reactions, and he encouraged me.  I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to the stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!

What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign, but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.

I wonder, has anything like this ever happened to you?

Things Are Not as They Seem: A Legacy of Immorality

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Guest post by Ian.

Since my wife and kids are still actively involved with this group, I am going to use pseudonyms instead of actual names. Other than name changes, this a true story, learned through observation and stories from the pulpit. I use terms like sin and immorality because I am holding this church up to the standards they claim to follow.

Once, there was a man named Charlie. From what I heard about him, Charlie was a good man, kind and hardworking. Charlie met a young girl named Beth sometime in the early 30’s. Charlie’s desire was to become a pastor and Beth seemed to be inclined to go along with this dream. Friendship blossomed, and at the ripe old age of 15, Beth became pregnant. Oops, Charlie and Beth weren’t married. This was easily fixable; so, off to the wedding altar they went. Charlie became a preacher who, from all accounts, was a well-loved and all around good guy. His grandkids, who I know well, loved going to see him. They never remember him being angry or saying a bad word against anyone. Charlie had several children, the oldest one named George.

George lived in Missouri most of his life. He grew up in church, learning all the things a pastor’s child should. As George grew older, he met a girl named Sue. As far as I know, George didn’t have any desire to become a pastor in his younger years. I do know that George attended a local college for some time. I also know that George and Sue fell in love, got married and had a son. Wait, actually, George and Sue had sex, Sue got pregnant and then George and Sue got married, because that will immediately fix the problem. George ended up joining the US Army and served a little over 20 years. He was awarded the Silver Star among other medals and retired a Sergeant Major.

George doesn’t talk much about his Army days. From the pulpit, he would tell us, as a cautionary tale,  that he did smoke and drink, though he doesn’t do these things now. He told how friends would try to get him to “commit sins”, but he was able to keep himself separate. Interestingly, George’s stories of personal commitment come from the time period when he had achieved rank, in the rowdy days of the 50’s and 60’s, I often question how an outspoken Christian was able to gain promotion. Back then, life in the military was much different from now.

While in the Army, George “surrendered” to the call to preach. Upon retirement, George returned to Alaska to pastor a church he had once attended. At this church, George raised his 4 children. By all accounts, the middle two did OK. The oldest got involved with drinking and partying and the youngest followed the same path. These children, along with other children that attended the church, became known throughout the community as partiers. At this time, although we weren’t attending the church, I was in a Christian school that had several of the church’s kids enrolled. My aunt hung out with one, in particular, who I personally knew as a party hound. This legacy of immorality seemed to flow through this church. Child abuse of all kinds happened there, many drunks were dealt with, as well as other stories best left for another day.

George’s oldest son eventually moved away. Stories of his problems floated around the community, continuing the legacy of immorality. George’s youngest daughter, Mary, continued the legacy close to home. Mary married a man who continually accused her of adultery. My feeling is that this is because Mary was quite promiscuous before marriage. Mary ended up getting a divorce from him. Mary spent time in at least one out-of- state alcohol rehab clinic and I think she went to a second one, but it was quietly dealt with; she was the pastor’s daughter after all.

Mary was caught red-handed, more than once, sleeping with a man she wasn’t married to. She was put out of the church several times for it, but was quickly restored to fellowship; mommy wasn’t about to be deprived of her daughter. These occurrences were quickly put to rest by sweeping them under the rug.

Finally, Mary got pregnant by Doug,who was another pastor’s son. Doug and Mary were married, which is a story unto itself. Doug and Mary finally divorced because Mary finally couldn’t keep up with Doug’s “worldly” lifestyle. Which is funny, because Mary did the same kinds of things Doug did, only now she couldn’t keep up with Doug’s worldly pace.

Mary finally married for a third time. After a time, Mary’s oldest daughter Paula married a guy and continued to go to church. During the church going, Paula and her husband started down their road into debauchery. I won’t name everything; suffice it to say drunkenness and sexual sins were part of their life. Paula and her husband split up, with the husband being the one who stayed in the good graces of their church.

The husband was welcomed into Paula’s mom’s house. He would stay the night so the kids could play with Grandpa and Grandma and the other kids. One night, Mary had a funny feeling something was wrong. Upon investigation, she discovered her second daughter, Julie was sleeping with Mary’s estranged husband and had been doing so for a while. ALL of the blame was put on the husband since Julie was just 18 and had obviously been seduced. Julie was quickly forgiven by the church and all was buried under the rug, once again. I don’t believe for one minute that the husband was innocent, but the pastor’s granddaughter was given a pass just like his children were.

So, this is the legacy of Charlie, a man of God. I have some suspicions that another of George’s daughters got caught up in the sex trap, but that story is never mentioned and questions are discouraged. At least two of George’s other grandchildren were sexually active before marriage and have had multiple marriages. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to one of George’s granddaughters. Before we were married, there was a lot of kissing and petting, but no intercourse. I will even admit to being the one who instigated things. I only say this to let everyone know that I am not perfect.

I write this because people speak of a spiritual legacy. This story tells of another kind of legacy. This is the legacy of problems being swept under the rug and never dealt with. This is 70+ years of the same kinds of problems in one family. And the reason nothing was done is because this was the pastor’s family. Both of the deacons in this church had similar things go on with their families.  Again, these “incidents” were quickly and discreetly dealt with. Criminal actions were quickly and quietly dealt with. One of these deacons was on the verge of going to jail for fraud and theft, but the charges disappeared and no mention was ever made of this again.

My father, along with several others, were marginalized and driven from this church because they dared to call these people to account for their actions. If people had been forced to confront their actions, maybe these problems would have been stopped in the first generation. Instead, multiple generations have been affected and the problems persist.

This is just one IFB/Sovereign Grace church. I’m not saying this is the only church that has had these problems. I know there are many others like this. This is just my experience with family and one church.

Evangelical Hypocrisy When it Comes to Science

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Guest post by Sarah.

Disclaimer: I can only speak of MY life experiences.

The fact that many Christians (& many other theists) are hypocrites is a well-known topic to people who have the left the faith. Maybe some still engrossed in the church feel twinges of hypocrisy mixed with guilt from time to time, but these are swept aside & buried to be dealt with another time (if at all; maybe I’m giving too much credit).

I was raised Baptist. Any of you who have read Bruce’s blog for any length of time can pretty much guess what the household was like: church services twice on Sunday & Wednesday night, revival/missionary meetings, vacation bible school <shudder>.  On top of God’s commandments: no cussing, premarital sex, drinking, drugs, no non-Christian friends, dresses only. Hellfire & brimstone. Oh…and no biology degree for you young lady!

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the following shows would be playing on TV: Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files, The First 48, DateLine Mystery. Any crime show was binge-watched until bed time. As long as there were no F words flying, it seemed to be perfectly suitable viewing. People being murdered isn’t entertainment in my book, but I lived there so I couldn’t say anything.

While many of these shows are interesting, I started noticing a pattern. My parents would say they liked seeing how they caught the bad guys. Guess how they did it? Three magic letters: DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

OK, I had and have a huge problem with this because of the underlying attitude of what I presume to be a largely Christian audience (according to ABC News, 83% of Americans are Christian).  Here’s what the underlying attitude is: science is only useful when it catches criminals or something else worthwhile. Generations of hard work by many different scientists have gone into the study of genetics. Entire textbooks have been written by biologists holding PhD’s in their respective fields. Researchers have found specific genes that cause certain diseases. Hell, there’s even a procedure called an amniocentesis that can help a pregnant woman find out if her baby will have Down Syndrome.

Great stuff right? Well, not really, as long as these wonderful geneticists/biologists keep their mouths shut about HOW MUCH they know. If they try to give a basic lesson on genetics & how entire genomes have been mapped, showing all life on Earth is connected….NO, STOP!! That’s not what God’s word says! MAYBE YOUR GREAT GRANDDADDY WAS AN APE BUT I WAS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GAWD

This has to be the biggest case of  hypocrisy/cognitive dissonance I know of. Remember that episode of the Simpsons where a supposed angel skeleton was found  and Lisa was the only skeptic? I haven’t watched that episode in a long time, but the bartender Moe was rioting with everyone else about how science sucks or whatever and a mammoth tusk falls on his back. He says “Oh! I’m paralyzed! I just hope medical science can cure me!”  Yes, that’s exactly what they think and feel but won’t admit it.

Here’s a thought experiment: Go to your refrigerator, open it and look for anything in the fridge that religion has given you. Nothing there right? Now look again in the fridge at what science has given you; for one, the fridge itself. Running water to the freezer for ice cubes, milk that has been pasteurized. Fruit & vegetables found in any grocery store when it’s not their growing season. Are you diabetic? Your insulin is there too.

Science has given humankind many thing,thinks like:

  • Air conditioning
  • Indoor plumbing
  •  Electricity
  • Cell phones/Computers
  • The internet
  • TV/Movies
  • Radio
  • Medicine of all kinds
  • Pain-free childbirth
  • Anesthesia/Surgery
  • Dentistry/Orthodontics
  • Cameras/Photography/Videography
  • Contact lenses/glasses/Laser Vision correction
  • Flea/Tick treatments for your dogs/cats.

Yes, it’s even benefited our pets. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now to be fair, it has been said that science has given us some bad things, like gas in both World Wars, the atomic bomb, etc. But was it science itself, or was its “use by humans” that was bad?

Where would we be without science? Still in the Dark Ages as peasants trying to scratch the lice off our heads while being told by the clergy we’re suffering and hungry because we’re sinners & God is angry with us

The IFB House on the Sand

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A guest post by Richard. He blogs at RichardMarlowe236.

In Matthew 7:23-27, Jesus compares a wise man to someone who builds his house on a rock.  Then he compares a foolish man to someone who builds his house upon the sand.  In the account he mentions the rain falling and wind blowing (a storm).  The wise man’s house survives while the foolish man’s did not.

It will probably not surprise anybody reading this blog that the leaders of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement fall into the foolish category!  As such they have built their house upon the sand. The storms have come and now the IFB house is crumbling. In this blog post I want to discuss some of the blocks that make up the IFB’s shaky foundation and the storms that are tearing the house down. The following may not be applicable to all IFB churches, but I think it represents the majority.

Fundamental Building Blocks

I. Saturday Soulwinning

Drive by most IFB churches on a Saturday morning and there will be cars in the driveway. Members pile in dressed semi-casual. Just dressy enough to be deemed professional, but not dressy enough to come off as “preachy”.

After a few refreshments and a short devotion, they hit the streets. They go two by two with pockets padded with gospel tracts and a pocket New Testament. Door by door they invite people to church and offer them eternal salvation. At 100 Anywhere St, they encounter John Doe (referred to as John hereafter). “Are you 100% sure you would go to heaven if you died?” is a question they inevitably ask. John says “No.”, but is willing to listen. They begin their one, two, three repeat after me routine. John says a prayer. The soulwinner declares John saved forever from the fiery torments of hell.

The soulwinner is happy! This is another number he or she can announce to the church. And numbers are what the IFB is all about!

II. Friendly Folks

After this prayer, the soulwinner convinces John that he needs to be baptized. The soulwinner suggests he come to church the next day to enjoy some promotion happening that Sunday. When he gets to church he is greeted by friendly smiling folks. They shake his hand, and offer to sit with him. The people seem genuinely happy to see him. The members make John feel really special. The church members introduce him to the pastor. While this is the first time they met, he knew already knew the pastor’s name because it was on the tract he received, the church sign, the church bus, and bulletin.

III. A Pure Passionate Pastor

The pastor is dressed in a dark suit with a nice white shirt, plain tie, and parted short hair. Let’s call him Pastor Joe. After the singing concludes, Pastor Joe goes to the pulpit to preach. He opens his Bible and reads one verse. Then he prays and tells everyone to close their Bibles and look at him. He never goes back to the Bible verse again. Pastor Joe preaches with intensity and conviction. The sermon is ended with an altar call. Then John gets baptized and joins the church.

IV. Bible Believers

John begins attending services regularly. Every service Pastor Joe puts a big emphasis on the Bible. He preaches what he does because that is what the Bible says not his opinion. The Bible he preaches from is not just any Bible, it is the King James Version. Pastor Joe makes a point to remind the congregation of the evils of all other translations. John feels as though he has found the truth. Who can argue with the Bible, right?

V. Strict Separation

John enquires from the other members as to why all the women wear skirts. John is given an Old Testament verse and then a New Testament verse about being separate from the world. Pastor Joe gives a long list of things that are not permitted. John gets a haircut and fresh shave. John begins to distance himself from family members that are deemed worldly by the church.

John is completely won over to the pastor, church, and it’s work. Everything is great. John works on a bus route, sings in the choir, and takes up the offering. He tells everyone he encounters about his church and pastor. This lasts for a while. It may even last years. Then things begin to change. The IFBer’s will say it is the work of the devil.

The truth of what’s happening is a storm is coming. The winds and rain begin to expose the cracks in the IFB’s weak foundation. Soon, John will realize that the truth of the IFB house.

The following are the storms that will knock the IFB house down.

1. Sales Strategies

John goes to Saturday Soulwinning. He even takes a class offered by the church to teach him how to “win a soul” to Christ. It does not take John long to realize that this “soulwinning” is nothing more than a sales pitch. Overcome objections as quickly as possible, give a few verses, and get down to the praying. The church needs numbers to post! It has nothing to do with conviction, repentance, or salvation. It’s about saying a prayer to be able to add a number to the chart. John sees the shallowness of the whole charade. They are no different from any other door to door salesman.

2. Fake Folks

As John gets closer and more acquainted with the members, he sees that they don’t live the way they portray. They say “Amen!” to preaching about wrong music. Then they listen to that music in their cars. The friendliness of the folks depends on his willingness to comply. There’s no room for individuality. The church demands John to give them all. Of course they disguise this as giving Jesus all. Family must be neglected for the ministry. John’s eyes are slowly starting to open.

3. Corruption and Cover Up

Another member of the church tells John that he suspects the pastor of embezzling money from the church funds. John rejects this out right. “My pastor could never do that.”, he thinks. This allegation does make John more inquisitive about the church finances. John notices inconsistencies in the financial spread sheets. John confronts the pastor. Pastor Joe is outraged at the mere mention of his immoral behavior. Joe throws John out of the office and claims the devil is just trying to hurt the ministry. “You cannot question the man of God!”, he shouts.

John convinces himself that the allegations are false even though more evidence of guilt is discovered. He observed the leaders of the church demonize the ones making the allegations and cover up the truth.

John searches the internet and finds that the IFB movement is known for the immorality of its leaders. He reads about Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Bob Gray from Jacksonville, FL.

John continues to attend the church although he has become more disillusioned with the IFB house he once loved.

4. Differing Doctrines

John believes that the IFB house has some problems. Even so, he feels they are the closest to the Bible. Then John runs into various people from many different denominations. Each one claims to follow the Bible exclusively. “How could this be so?” he wonders. He begins to study for himself.

John sees that even the IFB disagrees with itself. For instance…he studies the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. “Were the KJV translators inspired or just the original writers? Is the KJV the best translation or word for word perfect? What about other languages? Can a person be “saved” using another translation? If not, what about everyone before 1611?”. He is confronted with these issues and many more. He finds IFB pastors on both sides of the question.

John decides to ask Pastor Joe about some of the issues. Pastor Joe gives him his explanation. When John disagrees or asks more questions, he is met with resistance. John is called “divisive” and told just to believe Pastor Joe.

5. Silly Standards

Often John hears preaching about separation. As he starts to question more, he sees the hypocrisy of the standards and the logic used to support. Members tell him it is wrong to go to the movies. When asked, “Why?”. They respond, “God tells us to abstain from all appearance of evil. You go to the movies to see a family movie. Yet, there is an ‘R’ rated movie playing too. If someone sees you go in, they may assume you are going to the bad movie. As such you have not abstained from an appearance of evil.” John discovers that this same member has no problem going to a video store or owning a television. John thinks if the same logic is applied, these would also be an appearance of evil.

John encounters other IFB people who argue about whether men can have facial hair, the length of a man’s hair, whether preachers should wear colored dress shirts, and the list goes on. John realizes the silliness of all these debates. John wonders, “Doesn’t the world have bigger problems?”.

A short time later, the whole IFB house he was brought in to cane crashing down all around him. John survives, leaves the IFB, and lives happily ever after.

While this is just an example of one person and one church. I think it represents the IFB movement as a whole. The house is falling down and the IFB leadership can’t stand it. Let us all huff and puff until we blow the house all the way down!

Why Christianity Matters

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A guest post by Ian

Since telling everyone that I was no longer a Christian, I have been able to look at how Christianity affected my life; and, more importantly, why. Understanding why it was affecting me so drastically gives me a better understanding of how it was controlling me. In the end, Christianity is about control; control of our actions and our thoughts. This control is exerted by telling people that almost everything they do is a sin that keeps them from God. The good things that are done can only be done through the control of God, or they are selfish and, ultimately, a sin (the pride of life).

Christianity matters to people for many reasons. A few of the most prevalent reasons are fear of eternal torment, loss of community, and self-worth issues, in no particular order. There are countless other reasons and minor variations of these reasons. In the end, if a Christian is pressed hard enough, these are the three that will be the main reasons.

The first reason, fear of eternal torment, is a powerful motivator. People are told that, without the sacrifice of a murdered savior, they will die (like everyone else on earth) and will be tormented forever in a place of fire and brimstone. By looking at this idea honestly, you can see that this makes no sense. The basic premise for this idea is that an all-powerful God created the universe and perfect people to inhabit it. These mortal, insignificant people were able to do something so egregious that caused the all-powerful God to condemn them, and all of their offspring, to an eternity of torment, unless they believe in the aforementioned savior. Not just punishment for the two who broke the law, but a punishment, for all humans, that has spanned 6,000 years of Bible history and will continue on forever. Punishment that consists holding a dead person’s immortal soul into a place of fire and torment until a final judgment can be made. This judgment is a foregone conclusion, since a soul is unable to receive salvation or forgiveness from this all-powerful God. After the final judgment, everyone being held in this fiery place of torment will be cast into an eternal Lake of Fire. The fact that one person has suffered for 6,000 years and another person has suffered for a day before being thrown into this eternal fire has no bearing on anything. This is the work of a petty God, one who acts childish and holds a grudge.

This idea of eternal torment keeps people in church and pacified because it is such a fearful thing. The truth is that people don’t really want to do good to honor God, they want to do good to avoid eternal fire. This is not to say that some people don’t want to sometimes do good deeds for others, but the fear far outweighs the promise of a reward. Some people have called this fear irrational, since eternal fiery torment doesn’t exist; but if you are a Christian, this is a totally rational fear. (The eternal punishment idea never came from where Christianity claims its origins. The Christian idea of hell and eternal torment are easily traceable to Greek and Roman ideas of the afterlife, among other religions.) A rational person would be well advised to do everything they could to avoid such a punishment. The truth is that everyone dies and that is all there is. The fact that some evildoers in life get away with their crimes is remedied by having a place of eternal torment. The only way to escape this eternal torment is to be a Christian (of some sort).

Even Christians are affected by eternal torment. I have heard several people over the years say that they had doubts of their salvation. Usually this occurs late at night or when there is personal turmoil. Many people “get saved” more than once—I did this myself. In the back of our minds, there is no way to be 100% sure that you will miss out on eternal torment. We have been told that you can; but, until you die, there is no way to know for sure; so, people will cling to any chance they have of missing torment. And this is one of the reasons that it matters if you are a Christian.

The second reason Christianity matters to people is the community it forms. Many people are born into families that are Christian, or at least have roots in the church. Growing up in this environment means that most of the people you know are Christians and leaving Christianity means leaving family and friends behind.

Leaving behind everyone you love means two things. First, you separate yourself from them. You are no longer in close contact, or fellowship, with them. You miss out on many of the things you used to do together and you grow apart. Secondly, many types of Christians will shun you for leaving Christianity. In practice, this means you are worse than a regular unbeliever and deserve to be ignored by them. You are told, initially, that Christians are praying for you; but, when you are resistant to their prayers and pleadings, they treat you as though you are worse than a rapist or child molester. This is because you have once experienced the goodness of God but now trample it underfoot. They believe there is no redemption for you. They believe that for a person to renounce Christianity means you were never saved and you will be condemned to eternal torment.

Leaving behind all of you friends and being shunned is a strong motivation to keep people in Christianity. Being an ex-Christian opens a lot of doors and places you into unfamiliar territory. Leaving likeminded people and a pastor who tells you what to do and think means that you will have to make your own decisions, which is something many people don’t want to do. This community has been your stability, so leaving it is hard to do. You can feel as if your whole world is upside down. Many people stay, even when they aren’t particularly happy or satisfied with their situation, because they fear this shunning and loss of relationships.

Finally, self-worth issues keep people in Christianity. Christians are told that they are sinners and deserving of eternal torment. They are told that, without Jesus, all of their good deeds are nothing but filthy rags and there is “none righteous, no not one”. Being told these kinds of things for many years makes you believe that you have no self-worth outside of Christianity. No one wants to feel worthless, especially when eternity hangs in the balance.

Christians are told to be humble and to only “glory in the cross” of Jesus; the cross where a man was murdered because he was falsely accused of sedition, according to the New Testament. By keeping people enslaved to the idea of embracing low self-esteem, they feel that they are worthless. Their only value comes through Christianity and the affirmations of their pastor and church. When these affirmations are taken away, many Christians become depressed and feel that God has forsaken them. They then start a spiral into self-destruction, which they believe is because God is punishing them for not being true to Christianity. When these people “get right with God”, they were able to put away their “sins” because their self-worth was restored. This shows how insidious and powerful these self-worth ideas are.

Ultimately, these three reasons are intertwined. As I have shown, the overlap in these mindsets is a powerful tool for keeping people in bondage to Christianity. Understanding why Christianity matters to people is an important step in finally freeing yourself from its lingering grip. It will also help you understand why people are so upset when you finally announce your deconversion.

Right Wing Family Values and the World’s Greatest Freak Show

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Guest Post by Vyckie Garrison. You can find her blog at No Longer Quivering.

Do you remember when it first dawned on you that your relatives are all a bunch of crackpots and weirdos?  Seems like I was around 8 or 9 — my mother worked all night in the casinos and slept most of the day, leaving me alone to protect my naïve older sister from the depraved advances of Mom’s alcoholic boyfriends and worry about my big brother’s drug addiction. I couldn’t count on my grandparents to help — they were too preoccupied with their own divorce, dating, and remarriage dramas.

“Holy sugar,” I thought to myself, “these people are seriously messed up!”

That’s about the time the fantasies began.  My home, I imagined, was a three-ring circus — and my relatives were the freaks and the clowns.  In my daydreams, I was not really one of them.  No — surely, I was of aristocratic origin.  My REAL family were royalty in a faraway Kingdom and I was born a beloved Princess in a fancy castle with many servants and my own Fairy Godmother.  Somehow, I’d been separated from my blood kin as an infant — I was captured by gypsies and sold in a black market adoption — that’s how I ended up being raised by this group of crazies!

bates family

The Bates Family

ABC’s Primetime Nightline recently aired a segment featuring the Gil & Kelly Bates family — a conservative, Evangelical mega-family of twenty.  The Bates, who are close friends of JimBob & Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 and Counting” fame, hold to the extreme fundamentalist ideals of the growing “Quiverfull movement.”

During the one-hour special, Gil, Kelly, and their children explained the family’s lifestyle which, to all modern appearances, represents a throw back to the imaginary 60′s-style “Leave It to Beaver” family combined with strict, Victorian Era sexual mores and the atavistic gender roles of ancient goat-herders. The Bates eschew all forms of birth control and adhere to the marriage model of the biblical Patriarchs — with Gil as family leader and Kelly as submissive “help meet.”  Kelly and the girls adorn themselves in modest, hand-sewn dresses, while Gil and his clean-cut sons teach bible study and participate in local Tea Party politics. Aren’t they lovely?  Don’tcha wanna be just like them?

I sure did!  I left home at 15 and embarked on a quest to recreate my long-lost perfect, happy family — my REAL courtly family, where I truly belonged.  After a false start involving marriage at 16, a baby at 19, and divorce after seven years of abuse rivaling the most astonishing freak show acts Mom’s circus family had ever performed — I remarried, found a “bible-believing” church, and worked hard within the Quiverfull counterculture to implement the best of the best biblical family values into our home life.  I had six more children. I homebirthed, homeschooled, and home-churched. I submitted to my husband and joyfully sacrificed my time, energy and talents to build him up and help him to succeed.  I published a “pro-life, pro-family” Christian family newspaper to inform and encourage other Christians to defend “Traditional Family Values.”

In 2003, we were honored as Family of the Year at the Nebraska Family Council’s “Salt & Light” awards. I’d finally made it! I had built my own Magic Kingdom where my husband reigned as King and I was his Queen, the children were our loyal subjects and we could all live happily ever after …

Like the Bates family, we were the perfect picture of the “biblical family values” fantasy — an idealistic vision of big, happy families: devoted husband and wife surrounded by a passel of respectful, obedient children — we were all sweetness and smiles.  It is this mesmerizing dream world which energizes and motivates Tea Party Republicans like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann to work tirelessly to implement the “pro-family” theocratic agenda into every aspect of American society: not only in politics, but religion, family, media, education, business and entertainment.

Fundamentalist Christians are convinced that contemporary American society is the World’s Most Spectacular Display of hideously mutated, diseased and anomalous freaks.  ”Step right up folks!” the preacher yells, “and witness a grotesque parade of ho-mo-sex-uals, lesbians, Wiccans, radical feminists, godless liberals, secular humanists, and …” (congregation gasps!) “Muslim extremists!!”

Simultaneously fascinated and horrified, respectable religious parents scramble to shield their innocent children’s eyes and ears from the depravity and corruption of “The World.”  They homeschool and form special Chastity and Creation Science clubs designed to insulate and isolate their vulnerable young from the miscreants and most depraved elements of popular culture.

It’s completely understandable and normal for preteens to create imaginary worlds — their own private, safe hideout where they can dream of nobility, of rising above and doing so much better than the clowns running the Big Top’s Museum of Mutantstrosities.  The grown-ups watch in silent, knowing amusement as kids disavow their relatives as “psychos” and “bozos.”

But when otherwise responsible, Christian adults in recent years set out on a mission to create a radically distinct way of life based on “biblical family values,” the resultant countercultural movement known as “Quiverfull” has become an all-too-real Hall of Mirrors horror show.

In my own life, perpetual pregnancies destroyed my health, and my indiscriminate acquiescence to my husband’s every whim transformed him from a loving father into a tantrum-throwing tyrant. Burnout and disillusionment led to abuse, neglect, family disintegration and a particularly nasty divorce.

When the dust settled, I took a good look at myself in the mirror.  I could no longer deny the strong family resemblance — I saw my mother in my own face staring back at me.  After all those years of fighting and denial, I had to finally accept the fact that I really am one of them — I belong to these crazy people.  I, too, am a conspicuous oddity — a bizarre spectacle and an embarrassment to my own noble children.

Funny thing is … these days, I don’t mind so much being associated with my misfit clan of circus freaks.  Life experience has given me perspective and a deep appreciation for the inevitable realities and desperate circumstances which deformed and mutated Mom and the rest of us into shocking and extraordinary creatures worthy of society’s disquietude and awe.

Black market adoption fantasies and youthful idealism are important wayposts on the journey to adulthood.  Rebellion against blatant injustice, hypocrisy, moral compromise and the myriad of other common grown-up failure is a healthy manifestation of a kid’s personal power and strong moral agency.  Arrogant and annoying, yes — but in moments of truth we have to admit, the kid’s got a point.

Society sucks.  Bigotry, racism, inequity, corruption, greed, depravity, malevolence, and all manner of evil abound. Let’s just face the fact that in many ways, the contemporary American social and political scene has devolved to become the World’s Greatest Freak Show.

No wonder Tea Party Patriot families like the Bates and the Duggars escape into their own personal fantasy-land.

Ironically, with maturity comes humility — along with a profound sense of connection and belonging to that wacky bunch of buffoons who share our DNA.  We see our people with new eyes.  Sure, Grandma’s got a beard and Uncle Stan is a charlatan — Aunt Betty’s such a lunatic, she may as well have two heads.  But in the end, they’re all we’ve got.  That perfect, royal family whom we imagined searched frantically for us for years and never gave up hope that one day we would return to our true home?  They’re not real.  Cousin Roger is real — never mind that he doesn’t have a lick of sense and the only thing he’s good for is shoveling elephant shit — he’s the one who truly understands you, knows all about you, and loves you anyway.

Tea Party family values are the fundamentalists’ desperate attempt to deny their own imperfections, vulnerability, and their inescapable mortality.  Sure it hurts that they look down on us regular folk — those of us who make no pretense of actually having our acts together — they avoid being seen out in public with us, they disown us, and they shrink away in fear of catching our cooties.

But take heart — perhaps they’ll grow up.

I did.  Not saying I don’t still sometimes get all starry-eyed and visionary over the possibility of influencing our society for the better — I’ve got a bit of spunk left in me and I’m doing what I can to stick it to The Man.  But I no longer think of myself as qualitatively different or “other” than all the rest of my fellow human beings — my family.  My freakish, crazy, wonderfully imperfect people.

I don’t believe in God anymore, but I still have faith.  I have hope and I trust that collectively, we’re all gonna make it — we are learning from our mistakes and growing more compassionate.  Our shared experiences make us wiser and I have confidence that better times are just ahead.