Nate Cartel

Christ follower, husband, father, writer, artist, neighbor

The Joy and Sorrow of Divorce

15th of April, 2014

imagesIt has been over two months since I left the pastorate, longer since I began to question some of the more conservative theological pillars of evangelicalism.  For the first few weeks of my journey, I was ecstatic.  I was finally able to be open about who I had become.  The stress and strain of pastoring that had been crushing my soul was finally off of me.  I did not have to carry other people’s burdens in the way only a spiritual advisor can.  I did not have to counsel anyone.  It was like I had been born again.  I use that term very intentionally.

Save for the first few days of leaving, which were a blur, during the first month, I was happier than I had been in recent memory.  I had a spring to my step.  When people asked me how I was, (always in a sober tone I might add) I would reply jovially, “I’m great,” to their utter disbelief.  I would have to explain I really was great.  I was better than I had been in months.  I am not sure many of them believe me even now.  How could I be happier without the Jesus I had loved so much?  How could freedom mean I may possibly going to Hell?  How could forgoing my calling for merely a “job” give me more joy that faithfully following God’s commands?  I must have been deluded, or trying to delude myself and everyone else.  I needed to come back to the fold before I went full apostate- the direction I know I am going- lest I face a worse Hell than others.  Fear of hell is not really a fear when you doubt it exists, though, anymore than a fear of dragons would keep most modern-day people from venturing into caves.  Hell was not going to stop me on my journey for truth.

I had been warned my one of my behaviorist friends that me leaving the ministry and my theology behind would be far more like having a divorce than simply leaving a job.  I imagine when a divorce first happens, the party that initiates the proceedings is happy.  Happier than they had been in a while.  After all, if they were not unhappy, there would be no reason to leave.  I’ve also been told that after the initial excitement, the new reality of being divorced gives way to a deep sadness.  Not that they regret the decision, per se, just that they are sad, even as they are happy.  There are good memories along with the bad.  More than this, humans have an incredible ability to focus on the good once they get a little distance from a trauma.  They mourn the good, even as they rejoice to not have any more bad.  Not to mention what the other party goes through, the one who didn’t want the divorce or possibly never even saw it coming.  And let’s not forget about the children.

When my friend told me to view my departure as a divorce, I agreed with him.  I could see why he would give me that advice.  I was not simply moving to a different job, I was leaving a life behind, complete with social rules, old “family,” networks, and  behaviors.  I very rarely pray anymore, and never at length.  Leaving ministry for me, wasn’t a lateral move into a secular job market.  It was a death and a rebirth.  Last month, after multiple rejection letters from prospective employers, diminishing returns on time spent job searching, and the shear boredom than being unemployed is, my jubilation gave way to apathy.  I was still happier than I had been in a long time, but the adrenaline was gone.  New life patterns took over, and days became normal.  That isn’t a bad thing.  There would be something drastically wrong with me if I remained perpetually on cloud-nine and the dwindling savings account number and stress of paying bills didn’t affect me in some way.  For a person to be fully human, events have to affect them and have an effect on them.  It is software and robots who care nothing about the outside world.

Last week, for the first time since I left ministry, I mourned.  This also is not a bad thing.  I have been drawn continually away from evangelicalism, and some of it I will miss, I do miss.  There are hymns and prayers that move the soul, there is the “mission,” and the fellowship.  Late at night I put on one of my old worship music playlists and wept.  Not because I had repented of my unbelief, but because part of me wishes I could.  I have great memories of being part of a church, of being a pastor, even if I have a lot of bad ones as well.  It seems that the final stage of divorce is upon me, or was upon me, or I was just sad one night and longed for something that cannot be anymore.  To tell you the truth, there is still a lot of anger and pain and sorrow mixed into my feelings about the church, church planting, seminary, and everything else.  Just like in a divorce, I am happier now for leaving, but that doesn’t mean I am not sad at times.  And angry at others.  And all of them at still yet others.

The journey so far has been anything but simple, and I imagine it will get more difficult before it is done.  As the days pass into weeks, and the weeks pass into months, I find myself further and further away from what I staked my life upon for so long.  The old arguments simply are not holding up anymore.  A friend gave me a book called “Why I Believed,” by an ex-missionary.  He thought his story may resonate with me.  So far it has.  I had decided to stay away from angry atheists, and even not so angry ones for a while.  I have now begun indulging their arguments.  Some of them seem reasonable, and others less so, but that is sort of the point.  Hear everyone, let them have the platform, and chose whose world most coincides to reality.

I’m sure I will be sad again.  And I’m sure I will read articles and books that contradict some of the agnostics who I avoided in seminary and now intend to read.  And I’m sure that regardless of where I come out some will applaud and others will jeer and still others will be slightly indifferent.  And all of this seems far more like a divorce than even my friend could have known, complete with kids I no longer see.

 

Captain America Two! and being very ill

13th of April, 2014

imagesThis weekend has been nothing if not interesting.  Sarah and I celebrated her birthday, our ten year dating anniversary, we visited some friends on the other side of the state, I had a job interview at a bar (seriously), and we were fortunate enough to take four of our four kids to the doctor today for different illnesses.  That’s right we scored one hundred percent.  We deserve some sort of medal, by the way, for walking out of the doctors with four living breathing children.  A ten by eight room with a stethoscope, a bench, and a medical waste box is no place for a family of six whose median age is five.

Sarah’s guest post has been received well.  I expected as much.  When she has guest blogged in the past she has always surpassed my readership.  In real life, and in writing, she is far less guarded than me, not to mention her gentle character and not-as-arrogant personality.  I’m hoping to have her become a more regular part of this little waste of electrons in cyberspace.

As of this moment, I don’t have much to say.  I have a lot of ideas, from why Catholicism is more coherent than evangelicalism, to why agnosticism may be the most coherent of all.  It has been a humbling experience to go from the person in a church who always had all the answers to the person who has none.  Not that it is necessarily a bad thing.  One of the reasons I burned out was the constant expectation to know what to do.  During my tenure as a pastor there wasn’t one person who didn’t, at some point, expect me to save them.  I say that tongue in cheek, but it’s more true than most want to believe.  I had to convince those with similar crisis of faith they were wrong, help those with addictions to stay sober, and give general advice on everything from job interviews to how to grieve a death.  Pastors today are the shamans of yesterday.  We bridge the gap between the seen disorder of this world and the supposed unseen order of the heavenly realm.

I will be exploring that idea, and some others, family health permitting, later this week.

Tonight, I want to keep it light.  I’m in a great mood, even though our savings is about out.  I had a job interview last night and another coming this week.  It is sixty degrees out as I write, and I have a bike ride planned for this week.  More than all of this, Sarah asked to go see Captain America: Winter Soldier for her birthday date.  I love that women for many reasons, this being one of them.

As a movie, all I can say is Captain America 2 is “amaze-balls.”  I don’t use that term lightly.  For two and a half hours I sat on the end of my seat with a s**t eating grin on my face.  It was not only the best Marvel movie ever made, it was the best super hero movie ever made; that includes Batman: The Dark Night.  I have no critiques to offer, and those who do are stupid and you should punch them in the face when you meet them.  When the movie ended both Sarah and I thought about staying for the next showing, only we have kids who needed to eat, a babysitter who needed to go home, and we both are pretty sure stealing is wrong.  All minor issues to me at that moment, but Sarah felt more strongly about them, so we went home.  I plan to see the movie every day this week until our savings is zero.  I know it’s not the best plan, but sometimes the best plans get laid to waste, so I’m going with it.

And after CAWS, that is Captain America: Winter Soldier, for those of you who don’t do geek speak, there was Marvel Agents of Shield.  It certainly had a slow start, but complimented CAWS perfectly this week.  More than all this, my son asked to watch the Avengers again.  I could not ask for a better screen viewed weekend.

As the weeks go on from my leaving the ministry, things have become far more serious and more light.  Money is a constant issue, especially with our household food allergies, but on the other hand, I’ve remembered how to not take myself so seriously. There are things that have become clear as crystal and things that have become more cloudy.  I apologize for this disjointed blog post, but that may be a perfect analogy for where I am.  Disjointed.  CAWS gave a brief moment of escape, sanity, and purpose.  Everything else has seemed like it was shot on low definition for a tube TV.

 

My Wife’s Struggle

10th of April, 2014

imagesFor about two weeks now I have promised a series of guest blogs from my wife Sarah.  Tonight I finally make due on that promise.  She is not a writer like myself, we have been terribly ill, and she takes care of our kids all day, so writing these posts has been a labor of love.  Mostly labor, but she loves me a lot.  In tonight’s post she talks about what one of the hardest parts of my burnout has been for her.  In the future she hopes to post about what being a pastor’s wife was like, why she hopes I never become a pastor again, and how our relationship has been morphing and evolving during the past few years, and months.  Here is her post:

I have tried to write this blog about ten times now, and it never comes out quite right. What can I write that hasn’t been said?  What can I do that hasn’t been done? I guess the point of a blog is to look at the world and tell it where you are and what you see. Well where I am is heartbroken and what I see is heartbreak; and yet for me there is something bigger- a deep well of joy.

I read an article today about the schism in evangelicalism. I have watched with fear for the past couple of years as I saw it grow. The article went into many of reasons why this split has happened, and what needed to happen now; a lot of which I agreed with, but it ended with little hope for resolution. I believe this shift is part of what led to Nate’s burnout.

We as Christians have been taken along in the cultural shift my husband calls the Aprés Post (or after post modern).  Our culture seems to have become more tribal in nature. For example, take people’s responses to the movie Frozen (this is Nate’s post about it that has links to what I am about to say), they were upset about women being too weak in the movie, and upset the women were too rebellious (I think they missed the Little Mermaid, by the way). They even went so far as to accuse the movie of having a secret gay agenda. Every tribe seemed to interpret Frozen through their own cultural lens from the safety within their camp, myself included. In the past decade Christian denominations have become our tribe and the lines have been drawn more clearly.

How does this lead to heartbreak? This is not true of every Christian but many of us have started to care more for our tribe than our Christ. We have set a culture where honest questioning is “dangerous and prideful”, (these things that well-intentioned men told Nate via text as soon as they found out he had some doubts) rather than allowing people to come humbly to the Cross. I have been wondering if the image we self promote in the media and in our neighborhoods about what the defining characteristics of a Christian are today looks like Christ or something else?

As Nate has been publicly exploring his burnout, we have had many friends who have left the faith contact him. This has been especially painful for me, not because I don’t want them to talk, but because many of them had been my friends at some point too,  And then they suddenly they were not as interested in being friends with me when they left the church. I know for a fact that most of these people did not scale back our friendship into oblivion to be malicious. I think most did it, at least partially, out of fear. They were afraid of my reaction, but that makes it almost more painful.  As I hear the stories of those who left the faith simply looking for a kind word, or feeling like there was no way to share their doubts safely, or like Nate, lying to hide the doubts from others, or simply removing themselves from church and people’s lives, I’m struck by how hurt I am that I was put in a category of not being a safe person to talk to. I see evangelicals, including myself, looking for reason for another’s walking away or questioning their faith, or whatever, and chalking it up to simple reasons that fit neatly into our theological box, when the truth is usually so much deeper. I have yet to see doubts expressed by people without also seeing a deep soul-wound in the doubter; not to say it all comes down to the person being in pain and seeing things wrongly, but that there is always more to our questions than we think.  I believe without addressing those soul-wounds, no amount of theology can answer anything.

One of the hardest things in all of this for me has been that Nate hid it for so long. I felt betrayed, and that betrayal is still overwhelming at times. It was kept silent in the darkest hours of the night.  It led to increased debt.  Even when I was let in, I felt like I could not have my own feelings because my pain paled in comparison to his. I was not afforded the opportunity to journey together with Nate, or seek my own answers to his questions. When he asks questions now, it feels aggressive.  It feels like he already has his answer, and he wants me to quickly agree. I know that is not the case, he has said as much.  We have tried to talk through some of it, but when I don’t agree it’s painful.  At some point Nate and others made an assumption about my character, and decided that my reaction wasn’t something they could deal with. In his case, at least, I was somewhat unsafe. When he finally told me about where he was, I said he had to tell the elders immediately and leave ministry. I said if he didn’t, I would not attend Vita Nova with him and tell others myself.  I do wish there was a safe way for pastors to question, but I am not sure how that plays out yet.

I have another friend who simply left the evangelical church to find a home in the Catholic one.  All of a sudden they felt labeled as “dangerous” and “a project,” which is probably accurate, but why? I saw her fear as she told me.  She was practically begging that I not put her in the non-believer box and walk away from our friendship. That reaction didn’t occur to me for a second, but it did breaks my heart that she would expect and experience that from others, and that she had fear in telling me what church she was apart of. Why should we label those we love as dangerous when we can dig deeper ourselves. Nate has a pastor friend who has continually said to Nate that though he disagrees, he loves Nate and will keep loving him, regardless of where he comes out after all of this. This is the love of Christ, as I see it.

The thing I come back to over and over is if I and others want to be Christian we need to look like Christ. His harshest words were always for the religious elite. Those putting extra rules on the backs of the people. I want to be a person who washes feet. I want to be a person who is safe.  I want to love recklessly. I want to be able to have doubts and seek answers. I don’t know how this all plays out, but if God is in control then I have nothing to fear no matter the path we take. This situation has caused me to reevaluate what my faith looks like- to dig deep, as they say. I want to spend less time on theology and more time acting like God.

 

Defining Terms

4th of April, 2014

imagesOver the past few months I have been talking about my journey away from being a pastor.  Some of my posts have been about practical hardships that church planters and pastors face that are often unseen by others.  As of late, I have spoken more about my break with conservative reformed theology.  Needless to say, those are terms not everyone holds the same definition to, although I had forgotten this and was speaking freely assuming people understood what I meant.  Some have not.  So I intend to define my terms and explain a little why I have had what feels like a divorce from the theology I  once expounded from the pulpit.

When I first became a Christian I had no idea there were different camps of theology.  I imagine this is true of most people who convert later in life with very little church experience.  I could not have told you the difference between the Catholic, Lutheran or Baptist church.  Indeed, until I began seminary I thought most of Protestantism was pretty much identical, even if Catholics and Orthodox churches were slightly different.  I entered seminary ready to learn, be challenged, and have dialogue.

In college I studied physics, math, and political science.  I took a lot of comparative literature, philosophy and history classes in my free time.  I was well-educated, well read, taught to explore ideas and come to my own conclusions.  I finished my undergraduate degree taking graduate level classes where I thrived in the culture of conversation.  Even if a professor did not agree with a conclusion, they often presented the other side fairly and with almost equal time.  There were exceptions to this rule, my Marxist Economics class being one of them, but on the whole we read books that presented various opinions and ideologies and were trusted to find truth on our own.

That is what I expected seminary to be like.  I expected a Masters Level experience.  I expected lots of diverse reading, long conversations, and exploratory written assignments.  I don’t want this to be a post bashing my school.  My professors were wonderful people.  They made time for the students, entertained questions, and sacrificed  a ton to fly to Boston every weekend to teach the classes I took.  My over all experience of seminary as a whole was positive, I think.  I am slightly bitter and a little disappointed in it as well.  I can’t speak for all Mdiv programs, and I’m sure even with any given institution an individual experience varies widely depending on what electives one takes, which professors one is assigned, and a myriad of other factors, but intellectually my experience was lack luster, to say the least.  My first seminary class was easier to pass than anything I took at Umass- even the throw away gen eds.

When I say conservative reformed theology, I mean, for the most part, the driving systematic theology at my seminary.  As far as I know all of my professors were young earth creationists.  If there were other opinions, I didn’t hear them.  They certainly didn’t force their students to be likewise, but they didn’t give much air time to other perspectives.  In one of my systematic classes we watched multiple videos about how the science of evolution was wrong, citing specific examples of animals that simply “could not evolve.”  Many of these videos were put together by Ken Ham of the creationist institute I have referenced in the past.  When the teacher accidentally showed a pro-evolution video that explained scientifically how the exact example they were using to discount evolution,could have evolved, the teacher’s reply was, “That is a lot of steps.  I think it is easier to believe God just made it that way.”  To which the class burst into rapturous praise that the well laid out argument we just experienced was put in its proper place so succinctly.  Even though I was never reprimanded for agreeing with physics that the Universe is very, very old, there certainly was a culture that kept me from being more open about it.

By my last semester at seminary I had taken the pill, so to speak.  I stopped questioning what I was taught and simply took it in as the right way to interpret things.  Sure, I still had my own opinions, but they were being driven deeper and deeper down so that I would not stick out.  Most of them had to do with science, and I figured that was not a big deal, so why be the squeaky wheel.  When it came to other theologies, I simply believed what they told me to believe.  This meant that although I was now educated about other theological positions, it was in a cursory way that gave me just enough information to tear them down, never really considering the other side.  When I was taught that the Fall ruined mans ability to reason, I nodded.  When I was told that all of Orthodox Christianity has held this position, I concurred.  When I was told to read these mens blogs and books and stay away from these others, I did it.  I didn’t want to become a heretic after all.

As I have gotten some distance, spoken to lots of people, and began doing my own research, it turns out theology isn’t that cut and dry.  Some of the louder voices in the conservative evangelical circles I was a part of would have us believe that it is.  There exists an “in” and an “out,” often defined by them.  They are the vanguards of the faith, and of those who are out-of-bounds for orthodoxy.  My podcast stream was full of people who two decades ago would have been labeled fundamentalists, but they wear current clothes and read secular websites so that label doesn’t quite fit.  I had no idea they were the minority.  They were the only voices I heard.  I had become entrenched and didn’t even realize it.  Last week one of the people I read said CS Lewis is one of the most dangerous theologians you can read because he is not an innerrantist and is wrong on many things.  I would have been prone to agree with him six months ago, or at least become convinced.

I know that this post doesn’t exactly clear up much.  There are still words that are so fluid they make have lost all meaning.  But it is my attempt to help others understand what I mean.  I have come to believe there are many vibrant strands of faith that don’t rely on a systematic I was taught was the systematic.  While none of my professors would call someone who differs with them a heretic, and while they acknowledged that different churches hold different teachings, that is not the same things as allowing them to come to the table as an equal partner.  I had been told by many that this narrow stream of Christianity was Christianity.  Not so bluntly, not in so many words, but I was told nonetheless.  It turns out the tent if far bigger than I had ever imagined.

Tonight I am busy passively watching Harry Potter.  I have much more to say on this subject, but this post has become long enough.  I also am reticent to given names, institutes or blogs because as wrong as think these men are now, they were not malevolent.  My faith journey feels much like a divorce, as I said above, but that doesn’t mean I should trash my ex.  They believe fervently what they believe, and they have that right.  I also doth know where I will land in my journey.  For the past few months it has felt like I found paradise, but I know enough about humanity to know that often oasis turn to deserts overnight.

Finally, I know I was sort of flippant about the many messages I have received.  Some of that was planned, to be sure.  I have found I have very little patience with people I have never met trying to convince me in a Facebook message that I should stop this journey are run head fist back into the circles I just left.  One the other hand I have loved some of the interactions I have had with many others.  Awkward doesn’t always mean bad.  It just means that it is weird.  Weird is sometimes ok.  I want this blog to be a place of dialogue and interaction, so please continue to post, message me, a call.  Just don’t assume anything and definitely don’t tell me you have a word from the Lord.  I simply won’t believe you.

Sarah was supposed to post tonight, but after multiple messages and clarifying conversations I thought it best to write first.  Plus she is sick, because we were supposed to go an a date and see Captain America.  The only thing I believe about predestination at this point is that my family is always predestined to be sick when it is the worst time to be.  Everything else comes down to free will and advertising.

Awkward Moments

3rd of April, 2014

imagesOne of the harder things to navigate in the past few months since I left ministry has been the plethora of awkward moments I have had to endure.  I still value the friendships I have, and had, with members of my old church, so I am reluctant to speak to openly about my leave, lest I inadvertently hurt someone.  On the other hand I have reconnected with others who have left ministry, conservative evangelicalism, or the church altogether.  I have found value in talking with them as well.  More than this, I have begun to have job interviews.  The topic of my old job, as well as the circumstances of my departure is hard to avoid.  Lots of awkward moments.

Trying to explain to a secular non-profit how my eight years of church experience can be a boon to their organization has been nothing short of a “hot mess.”  Maybe even miraculous.  Add to this the desire to not speak badly about the church I started, and it is all sorts of “cray cray,” as I’m told the kids say these days.  Of course I don’t wish to return to Vita Nova, or any church as a minister for that matter, but I also don’t like speaking ill off my exes.  It doesn’t make you look any better to drag another through the mud.  More than this, as someone who used to be in the hiring position, if someone spoke poorly about their former job I refused to hire them on principle, not wanting them to speak poorly of me or my organization in the future.

All of that makes for some hard waters to navigate.  I want to be honest to future employers about where I am at and why I left, but on the other hand, I want them to understand my old church is strong and viable, partially because of my efforts.  In fact, I need them to see both sides of the issue because it is vital to the careers I am seeking.  It is not a hard thing to translate the skills I acquired being a pastor and church planter into “real world” abilities, but it is a supreme challenge to convince others this is the case.

Awkward moments don’t end at employment opportunities though.  Since I have been gone from the ministry I have been asked to speak at a few places about reformed theology.  By speak I mean preach.  Preach about what I have just left behind.  If I took those gigs, I don’t think it would go well in the end.  I have been offered a pastorate job down south.  I have had people ask me to give them biblical counseling.  I get more Christian spam than I can keep track of.  I’ve also had old Christian acquaintances ask me for advice dealing with specific theological problems.  Oh, and a ton of people I’ve never met are praying for me and telling me about Satan and the spiritual attacks I am under.  Every single one of these emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls have made for awkward moments.  Or strings of moments.

I’m trying to be grateful and graceful.  I appreciate that those who believe in prayer are praying for me.  Who wouldn’t be, really.  I don’t doubt their sincerity.  I’m glad organizations heard an old Podcast and thought, “Hey, that guy is pretty good, lets see if he would speak.”  I did work for years to craft my art of sermonizing and public speaking, so I hope I was good.  I get that people are looking for help, and I was where they used to go for it, so them asking is no skin off my back.  I am not mad at any of the requests I have received, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward.  Just like no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects a church planter to not be in ministry anymore; thought statistically they should.  I have taken time and care to answer every message I have gotten, albeit sometimes a few days later than I normally would have.

I suppose awkward moments happen to everyone.  I certainly had them before I left the ministry.  I am sure I will have them twenty years from now.  The only difference in the present is the closeness of them in temporal proximity to each other.  That, plus their content.  I figured I would have some awkward moments when I left the pastorate.  I never imagined I would have as many as I have.  I also thought they would be of a different flavor than what I have encountered.

Sarah has been working on a blog post about her experience with me leaving.  She now has five posts she is working on simultaneously.  Part of the reason she has so many projects without one completed yet is she has begun to experience and foresee the awkward conversations.  When you are not open to the world or simply don’t respond to those outside your immediate circles, you give no opportunity for awkwardness.  For two months she has shared privately with some and had help and support from others, but that is far different from opening up on a blog.  She has edited and re-edited herself for weeks.  She promises her post will be up tomorrow, even if Friday is a terrible time to post a blog.  I imagine she will have messages, texts and phone calls from people who think they understand but really don’t.

The most awkward conversations I have had have not been with those close to me or those who never knew me before tow months ago.  The most awkward conversations have been with those in the outer solar system of my life.  They have been the most intrusive, aggressive, and prying of anyone else.  When people who love you ask hard questions you know they care.  When those who don’t know you from Adam ask probing inquiries, they are generally wondering and trying to figure out something in their own life.  When those you knew for a few weeks poke and prod, they are looking for fodder, or gossip, or something else.  But never for your good.

What an awkward way to end a post.  I have another job interview tomorrow, and I’m sure it will be filled with some of the same awkward moments my last one was filled with.  C’est la vie, as the French say.  Bring on the awkwardness.  It’s far better than the isolation and despair I had been living in.

Nine Years Later

2nd of April, 2014

imagesToday was a pretty big day for me.  I had my first real job interview with Smith College.  I think it went well, although explaining to a liberal arts women’s school why you left ministry after attending a large state university to study physics and math may have warped space-time in my local Whole Foods parking lot for a few minutes.  Let that sentence sink in for a moment before you proceed.  Other than that, I may have a chance.  I hope I do.  It was also my nine-year wedding anniversary and my ten-year anniversary of meeting my wife.

Ten years ago this week I had just returned to church after years of being a college student.  And by college student I mean “college student.”  Classes were a minor inconvenience between parties.  Anyway, I was attending a Passover Seder sponsored by my new church, and sat randomly at a table.  I didn’t know anyone, but was encouraged by others who left the party scene to go to things that didn’t require alcohol and meet new people who were not playing beer pong.

Sarah had a lot of Jewish friends growing up and was asked to lead one of the seder tables.  Whether I sat at her table, or she sat at mine is a matter of perspective.  What I do know is that when she saw me she thought, “Maybe that’s my future husband,” and that I was surrounded my pretty women.  I didn’t do well around pretty women at that time.  I felt like a fourteen year old at the adult table.  Sarah looked like one.  (She looks young.)  Once we began talking she quickly dismissed the idea that I would ever be married to her.

Three days later I was asked to give my testimony at a Sunrise Easter service.  (For those of you who don’t know the lingo, a testimony is your story of becoming a Christian.)  I wore my best (only) suit and spoke nervously for a few minutes.  Shortly after service Sarah came up to me and said, “Two important things happened today day.  One, Jesus rose from the dead. Two, I was born.”  The then bounded off to find her mom and introduce us.  It turns out once in a while her birthday lands on Easter.  I was intrigued by her spunk, and she was head over heels for the way I dressed, plus how much I loved Jesus.

I’ll spare you the bloody, comical, and romantic details of our courtship for now, including our late night romp in through a broken fire hydrant.  Suffice it to say, after a year we were married.  It was a grand affair.  The only place big enough to hold our reception was the Mullins Center Concert Area.  I worked there at the time, as so got quite the “hook up.”  Our first dance was literally a spotlight dance my co-workers orchestrated from the various catwalks of the place.  It was all very classy, save for the fact that my friends snuck their own cheep beer into the green room to save a few bucks bypassing the bartenders.  Also, we had a fricken green room!

The reason I bring all this up is two-fold.  One, I love my wife and those old stories help me remember how much fun we have had and continue to have together.  Two, she never signed up for this.  By this I mean everything that has happened in the past six months.  When we were married I was a Bible believing evangelical.  I was becoming more conservative by the week.  I left my “liberal” political science education behind and embraced a new world view.  Sarah was encouraged by this.  Indeed, some of our late night theological discussions moved me closer to the circles I would eventually run in, even if I eventually went further than she.  Regardless of pet theology though, she thought she was marrying a man who was, and would be, an evangelical for life.

When I pledged myself to her, I had no malice.  The vows I took I believed.  The God we prayed to together was then the same god.  I certainly didn’t see me renouncing the pastorate and walking away from the ever increasingly conservative circles I thought for so long were theologically correct.  That is not to say all evangelicals are of the same stream, but some of my greater influences became conservative neo-fundamentalists. They make a better case in their systematic theology than others do.  I was convinced by their neat answers and immense knowledge.  Two months ago I woke her up in the middle of the night to tell her I needed to quit ministry and I thought I may be an atheist.  She never saw that coming.  An hour later she made me email the other pastors of Vita Nova to let them in on the secret I had been harboring for so long.  The rest is, as they say, history.

The first week after I came out, she was scared, confused, and had a ton of questions I did not have answers for.  We had come to believe that men were the spiritual leaders of the house, but now I was possibly apostate.  What does that mean for our kids lives, our finances, our marriage?  I didn’t know then, and am not sure I know now.  I’ve become more comfortable with grey hues, as of late.  Of course she didn’t want to talk theology.  She wanted to talk about our hearts.  She was scared.  She was hurt.  She felt betrayed.  All these feelings were right.  I did hurt her.  I did betray her.  I hid who I was becoming for so long.  I thought it was chivalrous, righteous even.  I was also scared to tell another living soul.  What would happen to me when I said I doubted the Bible was consistent and factually in error?  I did introduce uncertainty into our relationship that didn’t exist for ten years.  She would never have married me then if I held the views I have now, but she also loves me and has said she doesn’t regret a thing.  (Maybe a few things, but not marrying me.)

We have begun to redefine our relationship.  I imagine this happens not just to burned-out ex-pastors.  People change.  If we are not constantly learning to re-fall in love with our spouse we will find someone else to fall in love with.  That is true regardless of out world view.  I read a recent article that said most people have two to three marriages in a lifetime; some of us simply manage to remarry the same person a few times instead of getting divorced.  I think this is true.  Sarah is not the same women she was, and I am certainly not the same man.

As we have gotten some distance from the event singularity, some things have become more clear and others less.  In no way have we figured it out.  If we do, I will write a best-selling book.  We may not have it all worked through, but we are trying.  We are committed to each other.  We are moving forward as life will allow.

Getting a job interview was a huge first step towards fully redefining a new life.  As I move closer to a new career, new life, and new identity, I am sure there will be a lot of late night conversions with Sarah about where we go from here, what thriving looks like, and how life in general works.  It will be murky and shaky and tremendously adventurous.  We don’t have the play book we once had to go to for answers, but that may not be such a bad thing.  I chose her nine years ago today, and I still do today.

 

Sundays are Strange, Mondays Surreal

31st of March, 2014

imagesIt has been about two months since I left the pastorate. This has been a time of exploration, soul-searching, and rebuilding.  Some of my realizations are more serious than others.  It has been an interesting thing for me morphing this blog into something other than what it was.   I began it to pastor my flock from beyond the pulpit.  It has since become a safe place for me to open up and explore.  At times I’m think I should just delete everything I’ve written and start posting recipes and food pics.  I may disillusion some of my audience, but once they try my food, they could be won back.  Other times I think I need to truck ahead and continue the conversation I started a few weeks ago.  Sometimes I just have writers block and don’t know what I want to say at all.

This weekend I met with a few old friends.  It was a good time.  We talked about me leaving the pastorate, my spiritual journey, and how I’m faring.  We also talked about jobs and what I hope to do next.  I stayed out pretty late Saturday night talking.  I even managed to network some at the Lord Jeff (my go to place), talking with some university employees who tangentially knew me and some of the people with influence in the departments I was applying at.

Sunday I slept in.  My wife and kids still go to Vita Nova, and so leave around 10am.  I have been going to Starbucks and reading.  The weekend got me thinking about how strange my days are, as of late.  Six months ago I would have spent my Saturday nights holed up in my house, going over sermon notes, planning the Sunday gathering and going to bed early. Sunday I would have waked earlier than the other days of the week and set off to work.  I would have been there all day.  My adrenaline would have been sky-high by the time I returned home at eight pm.  Sunday night would be spent winding down and Monday morning would be a recovery day.  Being an introvert, Sundays took quite a bit out of me.  Mondays were my “no people” day.  I would get tea, do paperwork, and not speak to a soul if I could help it.  Now everything is the polar opposite.  Sundays I lounge around and Mondays I am ready to work, or find work, or do something.

Sundays have become very strange.  There is no day I feel more like a lost soul than Sundays.  This is something I am sure is unique to the pastorate.  When everyone else is having a collective day off, a sabbath, pastors are working.  When others are thinking about mowing their lawns or doing work around the house, pastors are meeting new people, having church folk over for lunch, and running programs no one else thinks about.  They are mentally rehashing Sunday Worship, making notes on how to improve it next  week, trying not to let the criticism they received crush them, and reliving the sermon point for point.  Maybe that was just me, but I’m prone to think it wasn’t.  Church planters are perfectionist and driven individuals.  We don’t rest very well.

For the past two months my week has been jumbled from the order I knew so well for so long.  It seems like an easy transition.  Make Sunday a rest day and Monday a work day.  It is no more than an inversion of order.  But it is not that easy.  This is not simply switching two days, but the fundamental reordering of ones week, month, and life.

I had planned to go more in-depth on that last point, but then reality happened.  My car broke down in the middle of the road on my way to get lunch.  For the better part of an hour I had motorists tell me I should move, that I was going to cause an accident, and beep when I didn’t drive at the green light.  Apparently bilking hazard lights mean nothing in my town.  On the up side, breaking down did afford me the opportunity to be lectured by a women who said that everyone in the elderly exercise class she was teaching were very upset that my car was just sitting there stalled in traffic.  Her advice was that I do something, which I hadn’t though of, so I was very appreciative about it.  I tried to ask her what I should do, but she only replied, “I don’t, know, but you should do something,” before she drove away looking at me like I was the devil himself.  It should also be noted my worst fear is not having things together and looking like a fool, so today was amaze.

Needless to say, the added stress of a broken car has changed my outlook momentarily.  What began as a metaphysical exploration about my days has turned into an all out panic about bills.  No one likes having to repair a car, but I have found statistically people without jobs dislike it more than the average person with a job.  People without money don’t have the time to entertain philosophy.  They are worried about paying the heating bill.  Until today I didn’t feel poor, even being jobless.  My church had given me a severance package and most of my credit cards are paid off.  We have enough money to coast for a little while longer.  Money hasn’t been an issue. Now it is.  We need a car, and we need it to run.  Tomorrow I will get the verdict on the repairs.  I know nothing about cars except to hope it is only a gasket.  Gaskets are something that repair shops invented to get more business, but they are cheaper than transmissions, so I’m ok with their invention for the time being, so long as I only have to replace one of them.

Sunday was strange.  They all have been. I have nowhere to be and nothing to do.  Mondays have been surreal though.  Everyone else is going to work and I’m simply trying to find a place to commute to.  Today was more surreal than the rest.

I have a job interview on Wednesday, which also happens to be my nine-year anniversary.  That date has worked out well in the past, and if past performance is the best indicator of future success, I may just have a job.  Of course the Pope died on our wedding day, so it wasn’t great for everyone.  I believe my car will be fixed by then, and I have a new suit to show off.  There’s nothing left to do now but wait.  Wait for the interview.  Wait for my car.  Wait for the bill.  I just really hope it’s only a gasket.

The Clothes Make the Man

28th of March, 2014

imagesFor the better part of the last decade I have been part of the new push in church planting.  One of the tenets of church planting today is to contextualize the gospel.  The first church planting conference i went to I saw men in blue jeans and black embroidered button down shirts.  They looked like the belonged in a club more than on a stage.  I was intrigued and sold.  They dressed like urban hipsters.  I always wanted to be an urban hipster.  I took to the new pastor uniform like a fish takes to water.  I live in a college town, so I could contextualize my preaching, partly, by dressing awesome.  There was a running joke in my sermons to stop coveting my clothes, because, well, if you weren’t coveting them, you should be.  Yes, they were that great.

In high school my mother thought I was the pinnacle of fashion, mostly because she bought all my clothes and refused to allow me to dress myself (seriously).  She was sure I would win best dressed in senior year superlatives because in her eyes, how could I not be the best dressed; she loved everything I wore, that is why she bought them, after all.  That remains a deep soul wound for me, by the way.  She still buys me clothes she thinks I will like.  Thankfully she cannot monitor my closet the way she once did.  Salvation Army hates me for all my donations, I am sure.  Since I have been married she has taken to giving Sarah clothes, too.  It is humorous to see what she thinks my wife will “simply love.”    It turns out that a thirty year old and seventy year old woman have quite different ideas of what is acceptable attire.  We get quite a few packages from the Home Shopping Channel, always known for their amazing lines and cutting edge fashion, not to mention completely reasonable prices.

By college I had figured out my “style,”  It was the late nineties, so I had a bead necklace like I was a surfer, wore lots of layers, and had tons of oversized khakis.  I was the bees knees, if the bees knees made terrible fashion decisions.  I also had a sweater vest… or ten.  Who can really remember such things.  I have never been happier social media didn’t exist when I was an undergrad than when I just wrote that last sentence.  Aside from my faulty memory, there is literally no proof I ever wore sweater vests.  I certainly never proudly wore ones with horizontal orange, brown, and red stripes.  Never.

College ended with me in detox for drug and alcohol abuse.  My fashion sense was better the older I got, but my ability to buy clothes was less, since it is hard to hold down a job when you do drugs every night.  Plus all money I had went to the next high.  That was ok, though.  I fell in with the “hippy click” and they care far less about what you wear than almost anyone I have ever met.  I even walked around barefoot for a few months, especially to classes.  College!  Plus, when your goal is to get as high as possible, and everyone you hang out with just wants to get equally as high, clothes are not something to worry about.

Once sober I met Sarah.  Soon we were dating, then engaged, then married.  Secretly, probably due to my mothers early control of my wardrobe, I always wanted to dress like a rock star, but I never had the courage to pull it off.  I was intimidated at “cool” stores.  I had been off the fashion wagon for longer than I had been on it.  I wanted to feel at home in Guess and Banana Republic, but couldn’t help but feel me and my sweater vests didn’t quite belong.  Luckily Sarah is awesome.  She took me by the hand and helped me explore the style I had inside all along.  (If this were a RomCom, this is where you would see a montage of me in dressing rooms, coming alive as I try on each new plaid dress shirt, by the way.  Also I get a new haircut.)

Through many influences I finally became comfortable in my own skin.  I learned what cuts looked good on me- all of them- and what colors brought out my eyes.  I became well dressed.  At this time I was working at the Mullins Center as the Operations Foreman.  This means a lot of things, but fashion wise it means a return to khakis when I worked, albeit better fitting ones.  It also meant I worked the events the arena had.  From basketball and hock games to concerts to the Care Bears Live.  I was supposed to wear a black polo that said “Special Ops” on the back, along with the aforementioned khakis.  Evert other department supervisor was allowed, nay, required to wear dress shirts.  I made the switch one day, and when I heard no protests, I was off and running.  I owned quite a bit of spectacular dress shirts, and I was going to show them off to everyone who walked through the doors of that arena.

Then I quit and joined ministry.  Oxford shirts seemed too formal for anything but preaching, and so slowly my wardrobe began to change.  When I planted Vita Nova ornamental Oxford shirts with embroidered eagles or paisley were at their peak.  I went all in.  A few years late the style changed, as I am told it is prone to do.  So did I.  I no longer felt I needed to dress the part. I was going to dress comfortably, affordably, and yet quite miraculously still remain the height of style.  ”Graphic Tee’s,” sweaters with that flip-up neck thing, jackets meant for inside, and New York Walking shoes graced my closet.

Two years ago I took the “full hipster plunge” and bought colored jeans, at my wife’s request.  I didn’t know if I was cool enough to pull them off, but it turns out as long as you act cool enough to pull of red jeans, you are cool enough to pull of red jeans.  Or no one is cool enough.  Either way, I own red jeans and I love them.  I also bought trendy boots and lace-less Chucks.  If I could have gotten away with fake glasses, I might have.

Ok, what does any of this have to do with anything?  Well, looking back at the jobs I’ve had, and how I dressed, I realize I dressed more of the job than I thought.  I could get away with red jeans at Vita Nova because we were the “hip church.”  I got to wear button downs and khakis at Mullins Center because that is what business men wear.  I am now in the process of redefining myself and changing careers after eight years in ministry.  My wardrobe has to change once again.  I doubt the places I am applying would entertain me long if I interviewed in torn jeans and a tee-shirt.

You may be thinking some of my clothes should be able to cross over.  I had to own a suit for wedding and funerals.  Certainly not all of my clothes wouldn’t fit a new work place.  That is partially true.  I do own a few suits and Oxford and Polo shirts.  I own dress shoes and a dress belt.  The wrench in all of this is that I also lost over 50 pounds in the past year.  I have gone from large shirts to small ones, from size 36 jeans to 32, and those are swimming on me.  My suits, which fit so snug the last time I wore, them make me look like a woebegone child or an incredible shrinking man.  Not a good look, either way.

So here I am, jobless and with clothes that served me where I was but not where I hope to go.  Thankfully I’m an Express Gold Member and they have pretty trendy dress clothes that will make me look like I work in some innovative startup in a New York office making important phone calls all day and living it up all evening, only to return to my deluxe penthouse apartment in the sky.  Only they are cheaper than what I am sure those guys really buy.  I mean I got a new suit, two dress shirts a tie and belt for under four hundred dollars.  It is style on a budget.

Clothes may not make the man, but they do declare to the world who he is and what kind of position he holds.  Most of my closet declares I was a church planter who tended toward urban hipster.  I now need to modify that to business professional who leans Manhattan chic.  I don’t want to spend the money, but I am more than excited to have new clothes.  Even more so since my mother won’t be buying any of them.

 

Venn Diagrams, Books, and Changing Relationships

25th of March, 2014

imagesLast week I came clean about some of my doubts concerning conservative evangelicalism as I lived and preached it, as well as my reasons for doing so; the main one being my wife was on the bill to blog about her struggles and experiences since I burned out.  For her to do so honestly, I needed to share where I really was.  She is still an evangelical.  She still attends my old church.  She does not have the same questions I do.  For her to share her pain, I needed to share my place.

Those two blog posts created a lot of buzz and controversy.  I have received notes of encouragement and rebuke from people I don’t have even a Facebook relationship with.  I knew that would be that case.  That is partly why I dreaded writing about where I am at spiritually.  Not that I have been keeping it secret, mind you, I was just keeping it safe, limiting my full disclosure to a few people closest to me.  All that is out, now, I suppose.

I had hoped to launch Sarah’s posts shortly after mine to give context to what she wrote and soften the edges of my own posts.  It would be more clear I was not looking for fame or “exposing” the church when seen through the lens of my wife’s posts.  Unfortunately it has been almost a week now, and her musings are still not up.  She does not write as fast as I do, plus we have four kids, plus all six of us had the stomach bug last week.  It goes without saying so she has had far less time to write than normal, which means essentially zero time to write, or do anything else, for that matter.

In the mean time, I have begun to feel an obligation to post.  The obligation is not simply to update people on where I am at, or increase my readership, but an obligation to myself, and those closest to me.  As an introvert I tend to figure things out best in written form. In fact, when confronted or questioned, I often close up and shot down.  This is not my own doing.  I simply take time to process, and verbal speech does not afford much time.  My wife and my best friends tend to be extroverted.  That means we often don’t communicate very well.  Recently they have wanted to ask a lot of questions.  I simply don’t have answers for them, especially in the moment.  Talking helps them work things through, it does not help me.   So I have been writing.  Sarah said my blog on my depression was one of the best things I could have done to help her understand what I was going through, and I imagine this won’t be much different.

One of the challenges I was told about when I was quietly asking about leaving ministry, but couldn’t really comprehend until I actually left the ministry and came out publicly with some of my doubts, is the relational cost of it all.  In one of my first posts on burn out I talked about how statistically, pastors who leave their church have very few relationships within it a few months out.  I commented then about how this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is possible the pastors who leave the position distance themselves from the congregation more than the congregation pushes them away.  It is probably a little of circle A and a little of circle B.  By two months out, most ex-pastors in my position have no relational contact with the church they left.  I am pleased to say that is not the case with me.  I am not hanging out with one hundred percent of those I used to, but I am also not isolated either.

That being said, this blog, and coming clean about where I am, has been relationally costly, and I imagine it will become more so in the future.  Part of the way I used to relate to those within my circles was through the common beliefs of modern reformed evangelicalism.  This is even more true for those I pastored.  They knew me through a certain theological grid, and I pastored them through said construct.  As I have left much of it behind, it leaves many wondering, including myself, where is the common ground we share?  How do we relate to each other now?  Clearly I am not the one they want spiritual guidance from anymore, nor am I one they can exactly give guidance to, either.  We are in a sort of relational limbo.  A grey area that is never covered in Church 101.  Some have not wanted to talk about their faith in front of me at all, which I am not asking of them.  I do not expect them to change simply because I am.  Others only want to talk about faith and doubts, which I don’t do all that well, as mentioned above.

The spheres I used to operate in I walked away from, and that means I partially walked away from some of the relationships in those spheres.  The roles our relationships were defined by now no longer exist.  I am not their pastor, or fellow church planter, or giver of advice.  I am not who I was, or who I publicly showed myself to be for so long, and that is a hard transition for relationships to make it through, at least it appears it can be on the surface.  I tend to think humans can be far more resilient if they want to be.

Today I went to my old office to collect the books I had left there.  For some reason I had been putting this off.  I think I knew it would be bitter-sweet.  I didn’t want to see the changes others had made to a place that used to be mine.  I didn’t want to face the pain that what I had built I left for another to grow.  I didn’t want the office to not be mine anymore, as much I never want it back.  I packed four boxes of books, and only was able to reclaim half of the ones I am taking with me.  I will return with more boxes to get the others.

It was an odd thing, packing up.  The order I had created, the shelves I placed each book upon to give me easy access to them, all undone in a few minutes.  That may be a metaphor.  If nothing else it is poetic, even if a slight bit sad.  In a few years at most, no one will know who I was at Vita Nova.  I may be a fleeting memory in a church history somewhere, but that will be all… maybe a cautionary tale.  The years I put in, the tears and sweat I released, the work I did, will all but be forgotten.  That may be a victory, others reassure me it is.  Any organization that needs its founder to stay alive is doomed to fail from the start.  That doesn’t change the fact that for years I thought I would see the people of the church until I died.  Now don’t see nearly as many as I once did.

Today the prevailing church plant model is start a church and stay until you retire.  You are supposed to plan to be there for forty years, more or less.  That surely adds to some of the pain of leaving mine after only six.  In the past, the church planting model was stay a few years, get it off the ground, and hand it off to another.  I am sure those men and women felt some of the same pain and sadness I have; of course they also had the joy and expectation that they would do it all over again.  As it is, I flamed out.  I was crushed by the church planting endeavor. I bought into a system I think is rigged to create unhealthy ideals and leaders.  (This is not a dig at the men who mentored my, for the record, more at the system as a whole.  They did everything they could to model a healthy life.)  I did not leave because I could, but because I had to.  That changes things, I am sure.

By the end of this week I hope to have Sarah’s guest posts begin to be made public on this blog.  Her situation is unique in so many ways.  She is wise beyond her years.  She also brings a perspective I think many should hear.  Often when a pastor leaves a church in a “blaze of glory,” (or is it fizzling out) be it for immoral behavior, or a crisis like mine, they are covered extensively, as is their church.  Their inner circle may be questioned and poked, but the family is never mentioned.  Wives and kids pay a heavy price for husbands to plant churches.  Heavier than most people know.  Sarah has certainly paid a heavier price than I.

When I started this post, I didn’t really know how to end it, but tonight I received a phone call that brings some closure.  The questions and concerns I have raised could be examined over a much greater breadth and depth than a blog post allows.  I didn’t set out to write a sad post, but it seems that is what I have done.  Let me end with something happy.  Not all death brings destruction.  Some brings rebirth.  Spring only comes after the winter.

After sitting in Starbucks for an eight straight week and filling out applications, receiving rejection letters, and doing it all again, I was starting to feel bored, to say the least.  Defeated, is probably truer to reality.  I have never been so long without a job or a goal.  Today I got a job interview.  It is not a job, but it is something.  As I write about death and sadness, my day was downcast and gloomy.  That all changed at 3:30 EST.  That one call remind me I am not done, and my story will continue, even if my books are in a different office.  Now to get the job and begin a new career.

 

I Am Not Brave (So Please Stop Saying I Am)

20th of March, 2014

imagesYesterday I posted about my doubts, going from a conservative evangelical to someone who honestly doesn’t have all the answers anymore and doesn’t feel the need to either.  That post has sparked a lot of emails, messages, and whatnot.  Many people have questioned my motivation for posting it.  Like I said in the post, I did not want to post it, necessarily.  I am still in process for figuring many things out.  The reason I wrote it at all was for my wife.  It was clear to me for her to be honest with others and begin the healing process with me, I needed to let the world know where I am exactly.

Many people have questioned the wisdom of sharing for various reasons.  I did not know exactly why I felt compelled to post what I did beyond wanting my wife to feel freedom, but now I do.  What I have found is that this is a conversation that takes place in the dark most of the time, or is crushed before it can begin.  Amid the myriad of reactions that post garnered, there have been two that have intrigued me the most.  They appear to be opposites, but are more related than they first appear.  I am been told I am brave for being so honest and have also been advised to keep my doubts less public.

Both these statements seem problematic to me.  They are indicative of a larger epidemic that I have hinted at since my first post about leaving the ministry.  Pastors are not allowed to question.  They are to toe the line and keep their doubts to themselves.  They are also to assure others their doubts are misguided or demonic.  (I admit this is more trite than is maybe fair.  Certainly there is nuances I am not exploring, but I think the basic sentiment is there.  Plus this is a blog, and is in no way meant to be fully comprehensive in my treatment of everything.)  Pastors feel this weight, even if we shouldn’t.  Statistics back up this paradigm.  Fifty-seven percent of pastors would quit if they could find work elsewhere.  I certainly felt that burden.  HOw do I share where I am and still have a job that feeds my family?  For a few months I thought silence was the best option.  Whether pastors bring this isolation upon themselves, assuming they can’t share like I did, or it is thrust upon them by denominations, congregations, and networks is probably a matter of perspective.  It is a strange thing to have your faith tied to your paycheck.

The thing is I am not brave.  It may have been cowardly to keep my doubts hidden for so long, but opening up about them is not brave.  Running into a burning building to save another is brave.  Throwing yourself over someone who is being bludgeoned to death by others is brave.  Sky diving is brave.  FIghting for women’s rights is brave.  Stating where you are spiritually is not brave.  Or rather it shouldn’t be.  The only reason the word “brave” would come to ones mind to describe a blog post is if we all knew pastors were not supposed to do it.  If there was some actually danger in it.  If it made you unsafe.  That is a problem.  Sure pastors are to be leaders of the church, but that doesn’t mean they are superhuman.

A pastor friend told me after they left the minister they realized how asymptotic the relationship between pastors and congregants really are.  Doubts are the perfect example, though not the only one.  Congregants are allowed to air all the doubts they want.  They get to ask for appointments to talk through their problems.  THey can say, “Pastor, I just don’t believe, even though I want to.”  On the other hand, if a pastor told the congregation he was unsure about some tenets of the faith, he would probably be told to figure it out quick (and come out on the right side) or he would not be employed very long.   I am not implying churches should let people lead them who disagree with the churches doctrine.  They certainly have the right, and need, to be lead by someone who has the same beliefs they do.  That is true of all organizations.  If the CEO of Coke only drank Pepsi, I am sure they would not have a job very long either.  That doesn’t mean that the relationship is reciprocal though.  It doesn’t mean that pastors don’t doubt.  It simply means they do it secretly.

This is not just a pastor problem though.  In the past twenty-four hours many people have told me how they have been struggling with the same things I have wrestled with.  Some of my friends who have left the faith said they are still not open about it, fearing the ramifications from family and friends.  Others are too scared to even say they simply left one denomination for another.  When they had tried to share their journey, others told them they should not mislead others, it was best not to be too open, and in their words, made them feel like it was not ok.  It seems that as much lip service as is given to checking into your doubts, no one seriously wants that. We want to know others are not struggling, life is clean, salvation is assured, and anything that rocks that boat is unwelcome.  I am glad I can share where I’m at, even if it is not palatable.  Maybe it will help others.  I know it is helping me.

The flip side of the brave coin is the reaction others I have talked to experienced, namely the warning to not doubt too loudly in public.  I have been told today I may shipwreck the faith of others, I am still influential, I need to think of those with a weaker faith, I may come out of this period realizing all this indulging of doubt was wrong, and why try to destroy the house I worked so hard to build, among other things.  Some of those may be valid, others less so.  I do not intend to answer them in this post.  The sentiment is the same as saying I am brave.  Pastors are not allowed to publicly doubt.  It is best, if they do doubt, to do so quietly and closeted.  To not ruffle feathers or hurt others.  The same is true of all Christians who do not come back to where others desire them to be.  It is fine to doubt, so long as you have a pleasing testimony afterward.  If you move from the Evangelical church toward the Orthodox church, though, be prepared to feel shunned.

I did the quite doubt thing.  It didn’t work.  It served to emphasize how isolated I was.  My faith was public for so long, I see no real reason to not let my lack thereof be public too.  More than this, if I am right about my beliefs, (and clearly everyone thinks they are right about their beliefs or they would not hold to them) isn’t it a disservice to others to not let them know?  Shouldn’t I bring them along on the journey with me?  If we were stranded in the middle of the ocean and I thought land was one way and others another, shouldn’t I let my thoughts be known so that we may not perish on the open seas?  Isn’t the pursuit of truth a lofty enough goal?  Is God not the author of truth?

I have opened up so publicly yesterday because I found it is necessary for my family, but it turns out its necessity goes well beyond that.  I had kept my new theology quite for weeks, sharing with only a select few for many reasons- some of them given above.  My intention is not to shipwreck others, nor to tear down what I’ve built up.  My intention is to simply put out where I am.  I wish someone had done the same for me.  It is strange to me that people can hold to the sovereignty of God on one hand, and simultaneously believe me publicly sharing my doubts could side track others on the other.  Is he that powerful or am I?

I think it is time to allow for sincere and honest questions from sincere and honest seekers, even of basic doctrines, or the doctrines we personally like the best, or any doctrine, for that matter.  It is time to change a culture that labels me “brave” for saying I am questioning everything I once believed.  It is time to change a culture that has people asking me how to share their doubts with others.  It is time to change a culture that makes people feel isolated and shunned because they disagree with a particular set of beliefs.

I have been overwhelmed with responses to my last blog.  My heart aches for those who could not be as “brave” as me.  I hope that these posts are not just cathartic for me, but for many others.

When I saw the movie Frozen (see my post on it here) about a week after I left ministry, I cried in the theater.  That is not behavior I’m known for.  I was Elsa.  For so long I had been keeping a secret, suspecting what would happen if people found out.  Elsa was wrong for hiding of course (as the movie clearly shows) but she did correctly predict how others would perceive her.  Her song “Let it Go” resonated with me, as it has with an entire generation.  Besides it being catchier than the common cold, Elsa was ready to embrace who she was.  Again, she didn’t embrace it correctly at first, and maybe I’m not either, but without her building a castle and almost killing her sister, she would never have been whole.

Without writers and directors I am unsure if I am still in an ice castle of my own making, or begging to reconstruct a life that is free, joy-filled, and authentic.  I hope it is the latter.  Regardless, I know Elsa should never have hidden who she was, her parents shouldn’t have told her to hide her powers, and only by embracing the parts of herself others feared and despised was she able to become the lovely queen she was destined to be.  When I posted last night I had a vague idea of the reasons behind it.  They have become a lot more clear today.