Crossroads

crossroads

I find myself at another crossroad in my life. I used to think there was only one crossroad where the pivotal choice would make or break a life. While I see the gravity of that choice, I no longer think there is only one point on the path—I think there are several. I am at such a place in my life as I write this and my brain is completely rattled because of the stress and anxiety slicing my veins with their claws and pressing my head to pop like a bubble. I have been laid off from my previous position, and the loss of my employment had nothing to do with my attitude or how I conducted myself in the office; but I’m “not a good fit.” If any phrase could become a motto in my life due to frequency, “not a good fit” would be it; and it’s something I have heard since high school before I am directed to a menial task beneath my abilities and intelligence. After years of living like this, I became sick to my stomach by those incessant syllables. The implication is I am not to be more than assumed due to my stature because people who are 6”8 are not well read or academics. No, people who are 6”8 should play sports like basketball or football depending on their girth, and if they do nothing athletic then they have wasted their lives. They are fit for warehouse work or manual labor. I am not implying anything negative about warehouse work or manual labor, but telling me I am nothing more than a laborer because of my size—regardless of education—is an insult. I’ve been facing that insult when I’ve gone into interviews or rejected by temp agencies. I found myself at a low point when Spherion told me I needed all my work experience from high school. To them all the hard work I put in to earn my humanities degree in literature and religion were irrelevant.

I don’t know what Spherion is like in the rest of the country, but in Indianapolis, Spherion is the bottom of the barrel—an agency to go to when you have exhausted all other options and you need to have fancy things like shelter and food. When they rejected me and told me I was a “hard sell,” the weight pulled my head to the ground and everything went dark. What do you do when all your efforts are pushed aside and ignored? I returned to school because life had been on a constant negative cycle of one meaningless job after another, and I needed a change. The wake-up call came when my father died, and I watched him die as he lived: on his terms. His life was a hard life, but it was a life of his own choosing, and his departure alerted me to the patterns of my own life. My life went lower as my fiancé slandered me and cheated on me, convincing our church that I should be shown the door. As I went lower, I decided the best way to change the direction of my life revolved around finishing my education; and I enrolled in a local community college. After two years of the community college, I transferred to a private liberal arts college in central Illinois where I spent three years under the tutelage of three great scholars in literature, religion, and philosophy. I spent many pots of coffee and late hours researching for my academic projects while meeting with my academic adviser and meeting deadlines. I had been expected to do well under my workload, and I did by ending my academic career with a GPA of 3.415—almost a full point of being on the Dean’s List for the third time in that institution.

I met my wife while at school, and we were married a week after graduation. A week after our wedding we packed up our things into a rental and drove across the country to Portland, OR where my wife had friends–one of whom said we would quickly find work and an apartment . An arrangement had been made where we would stay at one of the friend’s house while we hustled for a place of our own and the income to pay the bills. Portland’s transit system is exceptional with buses and modern street cars running every fifteen minutes making a car unnecessary to get around town. Things began to dissipate in a little over a week when the three roommates of my wife’s friend were behaving with passive aggression towards us. To our knowledge we had done nothing to them, respected their space, and stayed out of their way while we took care of our errands. We asked one of the roommates, who was friendly towards us, if we had unknowingly slighted them. She shook her head and told us we had done nothing, but my wife’s friend did not tell them we were coming. Not only did she not tell them, but she had a habit of never communicating to her roommates, dropping things on them at the last minute, and expected them to be on board. That made sense to us, and I had empathy for the roommates’ situation because I would be just as hostile if I had a roommate who let people I didn’t know into my space for an indefinite period. Within a few days, my wife’s friend behaved the same way towards us, and kicked us out of the house. Fortunately, my father in law had bought us a used 2000 Dodge Minivan so we were able to pack our things, and go across the river into Vancouver, WA and stay at a motel for a week to figure out what to do next.

We decided to venture out of Portland to Eugene, and try our luck in a different town; but nothing happened there as it did in Portland. I became flummoxed, but my wife reminded me that we didn’t have to stay in Oregon. We had a little money from our wedding gift so we went back to Vancouver, packed up our things, returned the key, and left Oregon. We decided to go east with no destination in mind other than putting down roots in an area complementing our personalities. We drove through Northern California into Reno, NV because my wife had an uncle there who helped us on our trip by letting us use his points for hotels. We decided to stop by his place and thank him as we passed through, but he became belligerent, accusing us of looking for another handout. We were both dejected, and as we sat in a Del Taco looking up good deals on hotel rooms—which we found for $27—we decided to go to Lincoln, NE because the city advertised plentiful employment and affordable housing.

We stayed there for a year because of our lease, but I was fed up with Lincoln after three months. There are good jobs if you have a medical or financial background, but otherwise it’s NelNet lead by a Tea Party CEO who demonizes the poor as he chokes them out of their homes to expand his little pond. Most of the people there are bullies who are not used to people standing up to them. I come from a tougher background than many of these people, and in my neighborhood when somebody picks a fight you push back and prepare for anything. When I pushed back in Lincoln, the agitators were horrified and ran. The complacency of the culture infuriated me when people would complain but do nothing. Shrugged shoulders and a “what can you do?” attitude followed by more complaints. There were some good parts of Lincoln, though, like The Coffee House two blocks south of the University of Nebraska campus, Cultiva Coffee & Espresso, Meadowlark Coffeehouse, A Novel Idea Used Bookstore, and The Co-op; but these were not enough to stay, and when our lease expired we were on our way to Indianapolis. My wife’s job allowed her to transfer to the Indianapolis office, and a friend helped me find a position at his company in the help desk department. My employment lasted six months before I had been let go.

The patterns were repeating, but this time I have a person in my life who is directly affected by whatever I choose or by whatever happens. Needless to say, I was dejected, but she suggested I find an alternate means to make income. I had been trying the mainstream way of securing work and a paycheck, and I would have the job for a short amount of time before being terminated. I had to sit down and think about the strengths I had and how I needed to capitalize on them. I am a writer, and I am also well read. I’ve had blogs before, but I would write about wherever I happened to be, on religion, or on literature; but, the theme was never consistent. Blogs are a good tool to network and get noticed when used properly, and I decided to take the first few steps to have my writing noticed while I work on one novel and one piece of creative nonfiction. This blog will be used for my discussions of literature and reviewing books—current or past. Maintaining a professional blog such as this requires work and dedication—some sites I’ve researched called for posting three to five times a week with fifteen hundred to two thousand words at a time. The work sounds daunting, but, if you made it this far, you can see I will have no trouble keeping up on my site. Maybe this will turn into something, maybe not, but what I do know is that I need to own who I am and what I do–come what may.

The Futility of Resistance

Borg

I went to the dentist yesterday. I am in the beginning stages of gum disease, and I have seven cavities spread out on both sides of my mouth—top and bottom. The dentist told me he could break up the procedures into two or four parts, but he declined to do four because he thought it would be too much for me. I opted for two procedures so we could finish them sooner, and before the insurance runs out on us. The upside for us is Ronnie signed up for a card where a little bit of money would be taken out of her paycheck to put towards this card that functions as a debit card for medical bills. Thankfully, what we have on the card is just enough to take care of my deep cleanings and fillings.

The procedure took two and a half hours and would begin with a deep cleaning. Before the dentist could start the cleaning the main dentist came in and gave me three shots of anesthesia. I have had my tongue pierced and stretched it out  to a 2g, and thought I could handle a needle going into my gums. The pain felt eternal , my body became tense, and my eyes watered.  After a few minutes the numbness took over and the dentist had me keep my mouth propped open as she went in with what sounded like a drill and a tube to suck up all the bone dust flying in and out of my mouth. Consciously, I was unbothered and quite peaceful, but from the neck down my body was tense while my hands shook. There was something obviously going on so I closed my eyes and met my fear in the cacophony of the dentist’s vibrating instruments.

As I faced my fear, I recalled the mantra I read and heard in Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear
Fear is the mind killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing

Only I will remain

 

I know it sounds funny to do that while going through dental work, but the mantra has helped me before and, along with the Jesus Prayer, enables me to face my fears and go through them. Occasionally, the dentist would stop to ask if I was doing alright. I couldn’t speak so I gave her a thumbs up, and after an hour the dentist stopped and propped up my chair. I thought the whole procedure was finished. Nope. What I went through was the deep cleaning to prepare me for the drills, clamps, and fillings.

I think what triggered that fear is how both rooms were set up. I was set on a long chair with little trays and tables on each side of me with drills, vacuums, and scrapers. I had a bib hooked around my neck, and above me was a moving lamp that could move up and down, and it’s brightness strained my eyes wringing out the very last drop of sight I had. My jaw was open constantly and wide to the point I thought the strain would cause a dislocation. Clamps were placed around my teeth while drills went deep into my throat getting the second to last tooth on the bottom part of my jaw. Early on in the procedure, I asked my dentist if she ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and/or the franchise’s movies. She shook her head, and I went on to explain about The Borg, their parasitic existence fed by assimilating different beings, and how they would do it on an operating table. Once the victim was laid down the tiny, whirring machines would remove parts of the body to be replaced by cybernetics, and the entire body was conformed to the image of The Borg. Any trace of individuality dissipated, and the cybernetic being was a only a pale shadow of its former self. Rationally, I understand that it’s not the same, but when I had skin grafting surgery at Community North in early 2009, the operating table bore a suspicious resemblance to The Borg’s operating table. My body remembers that fear and trembled accordingly.

It’s funny how the mind can move past traumatic events, but the body will stay rooted in that fight or flight energy until it can finally wash away and rest. At least that is how it has been for me. Having my teeth drilled and repaired with fillings caused my body to shake increasing the dentist’s difficulty in cleaning and fixing my teeth, but I stayed vigilant. I remained in my breath, I stayed with the fear my body held, I recited the fear mantra from Dune, and I recited the Jesus Prayer while staying with my body. Prayer and meditation are not meant as an escape from fear, but they gave me the tools to face fear and let it dissipate in the passing.

My body holds on to things from the past. When I am touched a certain way my body flinches, my hands tighten, and I swing. At what? There is no planned destination. My body sends signals to my brain, my brain releases a chemical, and the memories of my father’s beating or my great aunt’s and great grandmother’s biting derision cascade before my mind’s eye, and that is all I see.  I live out those painful scenarios like a waking dream, but I am conscious of my size, strength, and education. In that moment my life becomes a smoky shadow. I fight back, and when I come too I have increased my brokenness and I have destroyed another relationship.

I know the right thing to do, but I am powerless against my own body as it seizes me and dredges up old memories. This has happened in the last month as I sat down to write my story for the church. All those demons woke up just like my body woke up in the dentist’s chair. I am aware enough of what is happening, but I exist as a spectator when those memories consume me. I feel like St. Paul when he scribbles in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (NRSV)?” Praying is all I can do in those moments seeking rescue from myself and old memories, but I’ve also opted to start attending a twelve step program for anyone with any kind of addiction or hang ups. It was either that or go to a Zen Monastery in Northern California. Ronnie’s idea. She love me and doesn’t want me to go, but she knows I need to heal. Before I knew of the program, I was making plans to go out after we moved. I think this a better option. I’m around three people I know, and two of them have already gone through the program.

Before I started the program, I knew I had taken the first steps towards recovery when I began to live out the challenge a writer friend posited to me. I started living my life as if I had never gone through the trauma of Church and Christianity, and I noticed how much of my hatred and condescension were attached to my wounds. I slip, but there was noticeable progress and I felt my body unclenching just as I unclenched in the dentist chair and sat  with my pain as part of my body was repaired. And I can speak with hope, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25, NRSV)!”

Surrender

dharma bum

As I write this, I am sitting in the pastor’s office of my church while he leads a chapel service. The office is quite comforting to me with its dark green carpeting, cushy chairs and a love seat that are a darker shade of green than the floor, wooden table where this computer sits, the pastor’s wooden desk, and the soft, ambient glow of lamps surrounding the rows of bookshelves like halos. Before the pastor left for chapel, he put on some Coltrane for me and offered me some pleasantly strong coffee made by one of the gentlemen who works in the office next to the pastor. If I were a pastor this is how I would be keep an office—a little sanctuary where there would be nothing but Coltrane, Davis, Parker, and Sun Ra pointing me to God’s resting place.

Given my previous entries on this post why am I sitting in a church let alone in the pastor’s office writing and drinking coffee?

It’s been a rough couple weeks for me since I was approached to tell my story to the church. Being a writer who sits at the feet of Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, and Ann Lamott and takes their advice to write so honestly the reader can see my bare bones, I will—on many occasions—wake up those sleeping demons. Writing, editing, and rehearsing my story, I had to face the honest truth about my hatred of Christianity, The Church, and my father. Those demons put me in a right state, and I became unbearable to everyone around me as I relived everything. Once everything was out on paper, I could look over my journey and decide where I am. One of the truths I came across is that I am burned out with Christianity, and have been for many years. I didn’t go to church or read the bible because Christianity felt true, I went to church and read the bible because Christianity felt expected. Conditioned might be a better word. Jesus wasn’t salvation, he was a force of habit.

But that doesn’t answer the question why I’m sitting here in a church does it? No.

I had been going to this church off and on because I’ve a friend of twenty something years who is an associate pastor of the church. I respect the work he does in the church’s neighborhood and bringing a real healing from Jesus without the pie in the sky in the sweet by and by. Not saying the latter isn’t a thing in the message, but people who are suffering want to know about their pound on the ground in the here and now. I also listened to some of the stories people in the church would get up and tell, and I began to notice there were people like me.

Yeah, they’re from the hood, but they’re also burned out with the Christianity that had been put upon them and the Jesus they were shown was a clean cut, affluent jerk who suffered and died so wealthy suburbanites could have a new Bentley. The Jesus I see at this church is the Jesus I read in the Gospels. He eats with the poor, he brings wine to a party after people have already had too much to drink, and he doesn’t dismiss marginalized groups of people like women and Samaritans. To understand Jesus as God in the flesh is to see a god who sits and blesses the lowest of us.

I’ve also been going to the Sunday School class lead by one of the people in the church who lived a rough life before coming to Jesus, and he makes it clear that his class is about being real in how we feel, in how we talk, and how we can hope. It’s not uncommon to hear it said, “Man, this week really fucking sucked. I don’t see how God is working in this shit.” We also read scripture, give each other support, and pray for each other before we head off to service. I don’t know about you, but I’ve only been to one other church in the continental United States with that same level of authenticity, and that is Federated Church in Carlinville, IL.  The spiritual path isn’t about perfection, but about authenticity. The doctrines and dogmas are irrelevant, but it’s authenticity that draws people in to listen.

What turned me around to returning to following Jesus is how the pastor addressed the violence in Charlotteville, VA that claimed the life of a young teacher who was there to protest the rally of Nazis and White Nationalists. Before the congregation and to any who would listen online, he said:

In Charlottesville, Virginia a crowd gathered with torches in response to the city taking down a Confederate monument. 
Hoods and hats of KKK, Alt Right, White Supremacy and other terror groups claimed their American right to assemble. A crowd with torches that were lit aflame, ignited with the hate that burns in their rhetoric, ideology, and their hearts. This hate is not a misunderstanding. This crowd was not remembering history, or fighting for rights. This crowd operated out of fear which gave birth to hate. This hate is not a limited source found in a few, but it has delved into the heart of our nation. It is a spirit that is grounded in fear, rooted is darkness, watered with lies. It is a hate that seethes from the teeth like a rabid dog overtaken by a sickness that will claim its life.
It is not new. This hate has been growing and spreading like a weed. It has been in our words, in our policies, and in our justice systems, in our elections, in our leaders, in our orthodoxy, and our prayers. We thought these words meant very little, but it turns out they gave birth to a world in which hate is claimed a right. Over a half century ago we changed some laws but we never changed ourselves. And true to hate it has blinded us so that we don’t even see it until it picks up a torch. By any other faith, by any other race, by any other countryman this would be claimed an act of terror. Terror that is not bred from oversees in foreign lands and foreign faiths, but a terror that is bred in our own hearts.
It is a Spirit that has a name that echoes back from ancient times, it a spirit labeled within the scriptures so clearly, it is the Spirit of evil. This spirit of evil opposes community, opposes justice, opposes good, opposes hope, opposes forgiveness, opposes love, it opposes the God that made us and loves us.
This act of evil is nothing but a broken branch destined to burn. There is no life in it, no hope, no fruit. The people here on the west side must oppose such hate. We must not let a word, a thought, or a bias enter our own hearts. We must silence it, overcome it, and rise above it.
And yet we do not respond with hate, for that only gives the evil what evil wants. We don’t clench our fist, we don’t shake our head, we don’t scream at politicians or blame political parties. We also don’t look to more laws, or more policies. We now look to God, we now pray, we n
ow confess, and we now ask forgiveness.
God help us recognize and overcome such evil.
God forgive us our hate, our racism, and our willingness to wear the spirit of evil and hate.
Forgive us when we have acted with hate.
Heal us of hate, and pull us closer to each other in unity and diversity.

 

When I heard this from the pulpit, I was shocked. Never in my dealings with churches have I ever seen a pastor speak against the racism that is systemic and blatant in our culture. After he spoke, he told everyone to greet each other. I went up to him, “You are my friend who is a pastor, but after you said that you have become my pastor.” He hugged me, and after service, I spent an hour talking to a mother and daughter who were just as burned out as me with faith because of their background in The Catholic Church, but found their souls revived coming to this church. The expression of an authentic faith bringing a tangible message to the people in the neighborhood. When I found others in the community with a similar background and weariness, I listened to them

The following Monday, the pastor was faced with a person who comes to the church who has assaulted him before because the pastor believes in radical hospitality and will show the same love and acceptance to the Muslim as he would to an unbeliever. That was a few months ago. Monday he came into the church under false pretenses and told the pastor how it’s a scientific fact that white people are superior to any race. He told him to leave the church and to never return unless he had truly repented of his hatred. I messaged him and told him that while I’m not saying he should be happy doing that to the guy, I was happy that the right people are getting excommunicated from the church. Some 1 Corinthians 5. Then my friend, the associate pastor, went live on facebook condemning racism and hatred in The Church and how tired he was of hateful people hijacking his faith. Many of the people in the church who have been quiet started to speak up and share the same sentiments as the senior pastor and the associate pastor.

I have been around too many negative examples of Christian practice and because of that consistent negative exposure I developed the opinion that Christianity was a hateful religion. However, based on the criteria of what a Christian is, I was correct to reject those hateful examples. Where I erred, though, was broad brushing all of Christianity into the hateful box I had been given. I had been overwhelmed in the last few days with several examples of authentic Christianity that I could not ignore or brush under the rug with my cynicism. I was seeing real faith. I was seeing a faith worth listening to and a faith worth living. That’s the kind of person I want to be. The kind of person who is honest about their own brokenness, doubts, and hang ups, but still clinging to the grace of Jesus who heals others as he is healing me. This is why I surrendered myself, and this is why I have returned to following Jesus. I don’t know where this will take me, but I know I am in a good place.

Living “What if?”

Bodhidharma

I met with a writer friend this past Friday to discuss my story idea I have based upon my negative experiences with Christianity. There is a church I attend where the pastor wants the congregation to hear what I have to say, and to put it online. I thought it a good idea, but I told the pastor that what I have to say is an indictment against Christianity and The Church. He agreed, but the story needs to be heard anyway because he wants to see The Church start behaving like The Church.

I sat down to write out the story, but looking at distinct points in my religious journey and religious experience and keeping the story brief. That brevity turned into eighteen pages. If I were to include every detail of the events, I could have a short non-fiction piece resembling the structure of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I think this a worthy piece, and I think this piece needs to be read by Christians and others from different faith expressions because negative religious experiences are not limited to Christianity. Unfortunately, where there are people there exists the potential of violence. Religion is not the cause, but it becomes a deadly tool in the wrong hands.

My friend is established in the local writing community enjoying  some well-earned success after twenty years of paying his dues. We were friends before I took seriously my ability to write, and the fact that he wants to help me improve my craft is something for which I am grateful.

We met for coffee on the Northwest side, and I told him my idea. He is privy to my last painful experience because he knows the people involved and he could speak into where I am. He told me about his writing which deals with his own experiences with race as a black man in Indianapolis, IN and in all of the United States. He has two types of stories that he writes. The one type is magical realism like Toni Morrison’s Beloved where he writes about violence from gangs and cops, poverty, and racism and how he navigates through all that social chaos. The other type is in his science fiction where he writes in his hopes for what society could be without the color distinction.

The color distinction he speaks of is found in the language when he refers to himself as a “black man” or a “person of color.” Both these descriptions are based off a white context where anything different is defined by the dominant group. When he writes his science fiction there is no dominant culture defining another culture. The people have distinct features that are not confined to race.  As he finished describing his stories, he leans over at me, eyeball to eyeball, “That’s how you define yourself. You define yourself based upon the abuse and oppression you have received from Christianity and The Church. I want to see something different in your writing. I’m going to ask you a question, but I don’t want you to answer it here. I want you to answer it in your writing. What would Ron look like today had he not be exposed to churches? What would he look like if Christianity had not been forced upon him?”

I’ve been answering that question in my head since Friday, but I’ve also added another question to the mix. What kind of person would Ron be had his parents stayed in Irvington and not moved in with his great grandmother and youngest great aunt?

I know my additional question creates a two part exploration into the nature of my personality and my outlook on my life, but they are worth considering. Had I not been exposed to The Church or been immersed into Christianity, I would still believe in God and would be a wandering mystic. Why is that? I had an intense mystical experience when I was four I still carry with me to this day.

I was in the backyard playing near the little swing set my father had put together. It was a late fall day with the brown leaves shaking and clapping with the emptying trees, and I was spinning and dancing with my arms out like wings catching the wind. Against the brick of the house, I “saw” God, and I sang with a beat set to laughter, “I love God. I love God.” God had stepped in and played with a little boy while his parents were inside relaxing in the living room.

I would have wandered the continental United States living out of my rucksack and whatever vehicle I had while praying and living simply. I think I would have eventually believed in Jesus because I like the Jesus I read in the Gospels. Jesus as God in the flesh came down the same way God came down to me as a small boy, and played with others as God played with me. It’s a fanciful idea, but it’s an idea rooted in love instead of fear because a certain point on the checklist had been forgotten. Wherever I would go I would speak of that love in my actions and smiles. There is no anxiety with people, and I can be free with my kind acts and kind words.

As I thought about all these possible things, I started to live my present life accordingly. I began to relax and there was no anger. I did not realize how much anger and resentment had spilled into other areas of my psyche, and how much hatred and judgment came out of me towards other people. I certainly do not blame Christianity or The Church for that struggle. I had years of abuse heaped upon me, and my body has stored those hateful memories. By releasing my attachment to that old life, and embracing a life that could be and can be, I could feel those destructive memories wash away from my body.

I’m going to explore these ways further. This piece is a bit of an introduction to start my journey into actual healing and a different direction in my writing. I think I am a decent person overall who enjoys people and wants the best for everyone. Because of the abuses I’ve experienced, I put on a protective angry shell with the appearance of thickness. My compassion is filtered through my desire for justice and vengeance. When I see a religious bully come at me or people near me, I slip on my intellectual brass knuckles  with each point emphasizing a different piece of scholarship. Remove the defenses, and what do I have? A person who cares about others and wants to work towards a better world for everyone. That’s the Ron, I’m going to explore and become with each new decision.

Deus Volt

download

I have not posted on this blog in the last couple weeks partly because I had been working on a story that I would be presenting at a local storytelling group. It was a blast. Ronnie said I killed it, and a new friend who is also a writer told me I did so well. I’ve posted a link below should you want to watch and listen. The length of time is thirteen minutes and some change.

 

The morning after I told this story, I told Bobby—the leader of our Sunday School class—and he said I needed to talk to the pastor about telling my story to the church. Not the story posted above, but my religious story. The pastor encourages all the people in the congregation to get up and tell their stories because he believes that God works and speaks differently to each individual while remaining the same. He also views the bible as a collection of individual stories and how God moved upon these people, and while we look to their example, we do not confine our life story to that ancient story. It’s like some modern religious Jews. The Hebrew Canon is still open because times and locations change, and the prevailing question is “How is this ancient story expressed in my modern story?” Good question, and one many Christians foolishly ignored when they closed the canon in the mid fourth century.

In between the class and service, I went up to the pastor and told him what Bobby had suggested, and he was for telling my story. The next day, I sat down and started to write beginning with my first exposure to church at the age of nine. I had told this story several times, but I decided to write with unflinching honesty, and when I did that I awoke the hive of demons that laid dormant in my brain. The shrieks and howls, and the clouded perception became maddening. I kept writing until every last scream was exhausted by a lacerated throat, but a realization occurred.

In my writings and in my conversations, I have foul words for my experiences with the church of various denominational branches, and I also have foul words for Christianity and the church. What I discovered is the church had become a scapegoat. The hatred I have for the church and for Christianity is really a hatred I have for my father. Something was unresolved. I thought I had all the hard conversations with my father and we had come to a moment of complete reconciliation and forgiveness on both sides. I even went so far as to tell him, “Because of you I associate violence and brutality with Christianity.” It killed me inside to tell him this because the man who received those words was no longer the man who bruised me and broke my bones in the name of God and St. Paul. But I needed to say it. I didn’t want him to die without my having a chance to be completely honest with him.

That’s why I never addressed the hatred I’ve had since I was a boy. As I became older, I went out on the road to wander, and I met various kinds of people. I met fathers who did not care one whit about the moral integrity and personal development of their children, but ran around on their wives and drinking their paychecks. I started to see my father as a man, and, because I knew a little of the abuse he endured as a child and how he worked on his anger, I felt my hatred was misguided and therefore unnecessary. I didn’t put it aside or repress it, but I let the anger dissipate. I thought I was finished with hatred, but my body and my brain were not. As I felt my brain rattle and my shoulders tighten, I decided to pursue my hatred for the church with complete transparency. I would not pull any punches with myself, and I would let whatever happen, happen.

I blamed the church for my father. Before we went my father was a peaceable man who liked to spend time with work friends at a local bar or with my godparents during camping trips. After church happened, I saw my father transform into a snarling monster. While raging and spitting he would beat me with his bible(figuratively) while citing chapter and verse justifying the bruises on my body and crooked fingers. The people at church knew what was happening at home. They even witnessed my beatings and told me, like my father, I had it coming because I was such a bad kid. Jesus was on their side condoning my treatment. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties when my pop got all confessional about the rape and beatings he experienced from his uncle and father in Jesus’ name that I realized I wasn’t a bad kid. The church wasn’t to blame for my dad, though they did exacerbate the situation, but the monster had been created by my father’s father doing unspeakable things to him in Jesus’ name. That kind of religious exposure leaves a mark. My father believed and came to faith on his own, but I am cold and indifferent to the idea God and Jesus.

After writing about my father and becoming honest about my hatred towards him, I realized I didn’t have that much anger towards Christianity or the church. Granted, I still have my points of contention, and I still think Christianity, as a religion is bullshit, but the hatred is no longer there. Without those distracting unresolved emotions, I can look at God and Jesus with improved objectivity. At the moment of this writing, I am still indifferent to Jesus. If he were sit down next to me at this table in my apartment and ask me, “Who do you say that I am?” I would shrug, “The fuck, if I know.” It’s not that I don’t want to believe, but my negative experiences of Christianity and the church have been rather consistent with the few exceptions I have met and befriended on my way. But those exceptions are not enough for me to even desire to believe. Those exceptions, however, are enough for me to listen to what they have to say. That’s why I go to this church. That’s why I have a friendship with the associate pastor, and beginning a new friendship with the Senior Pastor and Bobby. They practice and own their faith, and I will listen to Christians like that.

I finished the rough draft, and I sent it to the pastor. I asked him if he could meet for coffee the next day because I needed to talk to him about my story. He agreed to it and we met at Thirsty Scholar downtown. I told him that I was brief in my sketches, but that brevity produced eighteen pages and if I went into more detail, I would have enough for a short book. I also told him the story he wants me to tell, and the story I am writing, is an indictment against Christianity and the church. He agreed, but he still wants me to tell it. “Your story will make people uncomfortable, but your story needs to be heard.” This caught me off guard. Every other pastor I have met would dismiss me as bitter and patronize me with, “Well no one is perfect. That’s why we have grace.” Right, but understanding your own imperfections and using grace is not a license to behave like an entitled asshole. Will my story inspire a change? I hope so, but that is not my goal. Neither do I want people to come up to me and make apologies on behalf of the church. The whole point of my story is if you’re a Christian and you skillfully apply 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you’ (NRSV).”  I presume that Christians holding other Christians accountable there will be fewer people like me who are burned out with hostility, or, worse yet, indifference  The point of my story is to inspire Christians to own their faith and take their faith seriously.

Black Coffee Howl


One of the few hardcore bands I like is ASD from Indianapolis, and the guy who does vocals, Shawn, is a friend. One thing I like about ASD is they have not embraced that chest pounding, hyper-masculinity that is so prevalent in recent hardcore bands. That posturing overcompensates for insecurities and takes away whatever the band has to say. The other thing I like about ASD is they are rooted in The Blues. Strip away the technology and listen to the chord progression you will see what I mean.

ASD, when Shawn started, came from a song he wrote, “All Seasons Die”, and that remained until last year when Shawn chaged it to All Suckas Die. The direction of the band has not changed, but with each song, Shawn is digging deeper. The new album has not yet dropped, but ASD released a new song last week, “Running These Streets.”

When I listened to this song, I became excited. The way this song is mixed the bass speaks goes beyond that place the vocals are unable to touch. The drums and bass take the words to another level. I do speak with some bias because Shawn is my friend, but that is not why I like the music. Shawn and I came up in similar neighborhoods on the east side, and like many people on the east side, we had to learn how to navigate through some tough situations.

When I first took Ronnie through my neighborhood and the streets I used to walk she looked at the condition of the road, buildings, and people. She was nervous. “Is this a bad neighborhood?” I shook my head,   “No, this is a tough neighborhood.” She cocked her head, “What’s the difference?”

“People here focus all their energies on surviving moment to moment. No one has time to go after other people. In the truest sense of the word they’re beat. However, if you bother them they will unleash all their desperate rage upon you. If you mind your own business here and show respect, people leave you alone.” Now there are areas on the east side where people will gut you for the few dollars in your pocket, but that’s not where I grew up, and neither did Shawn.

Shawn pulls from that life, and, though he is agnostic, he also pulls from that faith. Not faith in divine intervention, but faith that things will be as they will be while he puts in the work. He believes life is simultaneously difficult and beautiful, and that’s what he roars into the void of beats and guitar riffs. This is the essence of The Blues. Naming that which eats at your soul and bring you to tears, singing it out, and after that release there is freedom. ASD joins in chorus with The Psalmist, with Jesus on the cross, and Allen Ginsberg’s “Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani!” howling for the hope in resurrection. ASD has restored my faith in hardcore and returned to the music’s foundation in The Blues.

Barroom Sketches 7/13/17


Like any morning before work, Ronnie drops me off at the bar three hours before I have to open, and then she goes to work. This time I have is one of complete solitude where I can play the Sun Ra Channel on Pandora and get in some writing. I get myself situated on the comfy red lounge chairs and tap away on my phone while bathed in the natural light of morning. I go for two and a half hours, come to a stopping point, put up my things, and begin the process of opening the bar. All opening entails is putting down the chairs and stools, counting out the money, and waiting until ten. At ten, I unlock the door, put out the specials board on the sidewalk, and flip on the open sign.


Thursday mornings are slow with only a couple people trickling in every now and then to buy cigars while on break from work, or on their way to the liquor store next door. There are retired regulars that come in during the day, but they don’t usually come in until Friday, and there are a few who will come in to work while taking in a cigar. So it’s dead. As I write this the time is 11:24 a.m., we’ve been open since 10:00 a.m., and only two people have come in—and they came in at 10:45. I enjoy the solitude far more than some would consider healthy, but I can get in a lot of writing and some reading. Some of my most productive moments in the week are Thursdays and Fridays before work, and sometimes my whole shift on Thursdays.

The bar where I work, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is located in Avon, IN and is one of the most affluent west side suburbs in Indianapolis. The affluence of Avon is rivaled by the northern burbs of Noblesville, Westfield, Carmel, Fishers, and Geist. The striking differences between the northern burbs and Avon is a drawl in the accent and Reagan worship that is synonymous with Jesus worship—there is even a Ronald Reagan Parkway running north and south through Avon.
As with any affluent burb there is a culture of entitlement. Not everyone in Avon is like this, but in a bar selling cigars, and is also a cigar lounge, some of the people waltzing in throughout the day are deluded by their own privilege. If their balls are not properly fondled in the name of Jesus and Donald Trump they will throw a tantrum. This morning the first customer, a stocky man in shorts and a gray beard in his fifties, informed me that we had better have a certain style of Arturo Fuente cigars. He pursed his lips and glared at me to intimidate me into placating him. I was having none of it. I looked him in the eye, and with a stern voice, I replied, “If we have them they arrived Tuesday. I don’t place the orders.” He sniffed and disappeared into the humidor. This guy was behaving like an asshole and a spoiled brat, and I hoped he would quickly find what he what he was looking for. He did. Prayers answered! He came out with twelve cigars totaling $109.42
Think about that for a moment. This guy, who is in his fifties, was about to lose his shit and make a scene like a child over burning his money—literally—on a specific style of cigar. I don’t make any judgments on how people spend their money. Regardless of our socioeconomic statuses we all enjoy a little frivolity, but frivolity is not the same as a necessity, and getting angry over something that won’t nurture your body and mind is a tad ludicrous—and I will offer a string of well worded judgments. I grew up on next to nothing, and had it not been for my great grandmother we all would have gone hungry living on the street. So fuck him and fuck his money. But I was outwardly civil to the man child because I wanted him out of the bar as quickly as possible.
Later on, at 5:00, my coworker, who relieves me at the end of my shift has an issue with being on time, was late. I called her, and after four rings, she picks up, “I’m on my way.” Click. I have to leave as soon as Ronnie gets here because we live on the other side of Indy, and traffic on the west end of 465 is always a cluster fuck. We’re still packing, and, on the days I have to work, the alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning. So we have little time to decompress before we have to go to bed. One of the regulars said I should look into Uber. I told him I don’t have that kind of money to spend, but he insisted the cost is next to nothing. So I researched Uber rates in Indy and the surrounding burbs. Uber would cost me anywhere between $15 and $60 depending on the travel plan, and there is the additional charge by the minute .15-.50 per minute. If there were no traffic issues it would take thirty-five minutes to get to my apartment. On a good day, there would be an additional 5.25 – 17.50 charge increasing the price range between $20 and almost $80. But I get off work Thursday and Friday at 5:00, and when Ronnie picks me up we have an hour drive because of traffic. If I took an Uber, depending on the plan, I would have an additional $9.00 to $30.00 travel cost–a one way trip that could cost me $90. The regular who insisted on the cheapness of Uber lives in the six figure income bracket and takes Uber around Avon–where he lives. He knows I live on the Southeast side, and still tells me it’s cost effective to use Uber. What kind of disposable income does he think I have? Not everyone has the extra income to be driven around like a Feudal lord overlooking his serfs.

To be completely fair, I am giving only a sampling of a specific demographic in Avon that comes through the bar when I’m here. The experiences are mixed and I would say about thirty percent of the people I interact with outside of the regulars can pass for decent people. The other seventy percent, I meet with a firm tone to remind them I am not from the burbs, and no amount of privilege gives them the right to treat people poorly so they should behave with courtesy. But overall, I do have a relaxing time here, and I do enjoy the regulars and the camaraderie they have for one another–and the kindness they show me. 

Hermeneutical Bopping


One morning, on her way to class, my sister in law noticed a car in the parking lot with a bumper sticker,”Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve been through it.” She took the picture and sent it to me because the message reminded her of me and my story. I also think it a true statement that can be applied across the board beyond any denominational ties. Personally, I’ve friends who, when life became too real with divorce and the death of a parent, lost themselves in a prepackaged, conservative Christianity. The illusion of a black and white life and a relgion that comes with a check list is quite comforting like heroin. The salty, asprin drip in the back of the throat and vomiting are ignored while the body is doused in warm butter and slipped into a floating nirvana–until the devastating come down. But that is of no concern. The pushers are available with their get-your-most-out-of-God-in-thirty-days plan, and life can float by with narcotic ease–but for the right price. I’ve sympathy and empathy for these people, I really do. In my adolesence and early adulthood my life was completely unstable, and I dived head first into that empty concrete pool.
After a few years of wandering and breaking my teeth on the frontier, the black and white religion did not offer any satisfactory answers for me. I wanted something different.


In “Miles Ahead,” Mile Davis is sitting at his piano talking to a writer from Rolling Stone about his music. The genius of Davis is realized when he describes listening to and analyzing Stravinski. Once Davis learned the composer’s rules, he broke them, and that breaking brought us such albums as “Sketches of Spain,” “Boplicity,” and “The Complete Birth of Cool.” Davis’ opinion of Stravinski wasn’t lessened as he explored his own music. Stravinski was a teacher, and like all teacher/student relationships they must end so the student can leave and grow in applying the knowledge.

This is the nature of hymns, and Jazz and Blues. 


I am a sucker for those old hymns especially the ones written by Charles Wesley. I can hear the joy he has in his faith, and I can feel his love for God. Because the music is easy to sing, I am of the opinion Wesley wrote his hymns in such a way that he wanted everyone to participate regardless of their singing abilities. But the hymns are structured and liturgical, and they are an expression of his story and how he relates to God. Relying on another’s spiritual experience will not give life to your own spirituality.

Because of the individual expression, Jazz and Blues came out of the plantations. African-Americans were never treated with dignity or even as human in our culture, and their voice cries out to God through horns, keys, guitars, beats, and wails seeking justice. Jazz became the hearts unspeakable, broken groans. The Jazz that could be spoken became Gospel music, and out of Gospel music Blues branched out to explore the deeper pain and be free through its expression.

Hymns are in church dictating an already commodified spirituality. One size fits all. That works for an hour or two inside the church walls, but breaks with the struggles of Monday morning. God, faith, and belief cannot be contained in a dogmatic formula. The formulas do serve a purpose. Hymns inside church introduce us to God, but Jazz and Blues is us running out the church doors to catch up with God.

Once Charles Wesley taught me everything he could, I found John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. Then I found Victor Wooten, Chris Potter, Herbie Hancock, and Sun Ra & His Arkestra. These guys haven’t caught God, but they have touched those divine heals. Except for Sun Ra. While everyone else is covered in God’s dust and shadow, Sun Ra is playing poker with God over a fifth of a 14yr Oban. Their spiritual teaching isn’t safe, but dangerous, smokey, and bloody. But that is the difference between hymns and Jazz, between religion and spirituality, between the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus was beaten and killed, rose again with his scars intact. My friends, out of fear, hid in religion–hid in the illusion of safety. But there is no resurrection in safety, and there is no growth. Like Jazz, resurrection has no resolution, and keeps pushing the limits to break the barriers and find the arms of God.