Story of Recovery: Joel

I grew up with no religion for the most part. No talks about God, Jesus, Bible...Methodist by name only. Family loved nature and no one talked about what they believed. At thirteen my parents divorced and life broke all around me and my what seemed to be Walton-like family was over. And no one talked about it at all.

I wandered into touble immediately feeling like that's what kids from broken homes do. There weren't as many broken homes in the late '70s. By 17 I found myself failing school, strung out on drugs, cheating on my girlfriend and stealing from my mother. Overall not liking life or me.

My mother and younger sister had since found Jesus after Moms bouts with anger, some drinking...and she was genuinely changed and helped in her new found faith and community.

My bro and I couldn't stand it when we were told about this stuff and asked to participate....until for me...i was so desperate I went to talk with a youth pastor....who seemed cool. I also went to a psychologist on my Dads recommendation. And then to a youth group who seemed happy although not as cool as me I thought. The youth pastor showed me pictures of Christian rock artists who looked cool like other ones but their eyes were wide open and not red and they seemed happy. He told me BJ Thomas testimony of being a drug addict and being set free by Jesus as well as his own story.

This was ALL completely new stuff for me and it felt exciting. The basic story line I got was that there was a God who made me, who loved me, who knew all my crap and loved me anyway. Who also could give me strength and could help me to be the me I was designed to be. The psychologist helped a little to connect the dots with WHY I did what I did, but the Jesus people told me how I could get FREE from it all. I didn't bite at first, but when the youth pastor told me after a private counseling session with my dad present that he would pray for me about my drug addiction, and I'd better watch out cuz he prayed hard I kinda giggled with my dad at this idea of praying.

However, the next morning I woke up I had such a different feeling about me, and for the first time in months I did not get high. And this continued. Well I went to youth group and after about three times I met a kid a little older than I who had just gotten saved on new years eve and hadn't gotten high since and it was February. I couldn't believe it....and he was still happy. So I sat in a circle with a few people after the group ended on Feb 6th 1980 and balled my eyes out as I asked god to make me as white as snow even though my sins were crimson red. And to come into my heart and I would surrender my life to him.

This was the best day and days of my life I'd say and I was on fire. I got free from drugs alchohol, cursing, moved away from driven sexually toward honest... and I was really happy and no one who knew me in public High School would have said anything differently. I was learning to forgive. To ask for forgiveness. and you know the rest.

I was immediately added to a couple other poster kids for testimonies and invited into lead groups and speak and so on and this felt good...i felt needed, wanted, i felt accepted by god, clean, felt comradery of a group, felt a sense of mission and purpose and felt like a part of the family...and I knew who made all things!

This lead me to Oral Roberts University, where I felt called to be a missionary in my first year to tell tribes in remote Indonesia who had no written language...they were waiting....and dying everyday without the gospel. I then transferred to Zion Bible Institute which was a small Hyper fundamentalist bible college with only a student body that numbered in the 100's. It was all by faith. Tuition was a few hundred and we and all the teachers trusted God to provide. We had revival weeks, we had hard core people who prayed all night, and we didn street evangelism and prisons and kids homes on and on. And I loved it all.

however...something that begin to creep in and poison me over these two years of school was guilt. and i wasnt really doing anything wrong. it was that didn't do consistent quiet times guilt. didn't fast often enough. didn't have courage enough to suffer for christ by witnessing more boldly....and so on. and then i'd go on these times where I felt guilty for eating too much cuz I thought I might be being a glutten. so i'd skip meals for awhile....and occassionally i'd just bust out and find myself running to the pizza store and buy a pizza loaded with stuff or a steak sandwhich...and love it....and then feel guilty like I didn't have what it took. but then id repent and cry out to god, and have that great feeling of being forgiven again and new.

later i realized a sick pattern while in psychotherapy after 'falling' into sins....and that was a sort of addiction to being forgiven and feeling near to god which was always best after failing and then crying and on and on.....yuk!

I married my childhood sweetheart after two years of college and we lead groups at church and soon went to join YWAM for the next 5 years as short term missionaries. I led trips, led worship...and I liked that this flavor of christianity was "relationship focused" not rule focused. [but of course there were layers of all sorts of right wing political crap and same guilt trips snuck into the soul.

We left YWAM two children later after feeling too much in a christian huddle. too out of touch with those we were supposed to be good news to.

We returned to Long Island and for two years ran a maternity home for pregnant teenagers. This felt more like we were doing something .....not just preaching and teachihg....

we did enjoy the community we had left and although very poor and struggling "living on faith contributions" it had its good side too.

I always wrestled with the big free will and sovereignty....pacifism and just war....age of accountability, suicide....those that never heard the gospel. I never preached hell, nor was I told about it when I first signed up to get saved. But slowly it became more of an issue I couldn't keep as a foot note to my faith. I always preached the father heart of god. and i think this helped me and my kids to be less toxic than others who got more into the eternity stuff.

eventually i went back to a real job and we got a house and another child and entered into the real world. got hooked up deeply with our home church which i originally had joined. We did mens groups, womens groups, teen trips, worship leading, etc etc. and we were always put up front and our house was the 'cool' house for the kids.

Doubts and questions would arise occassionally through out the years, and I was / am an avid reader so there were any number of books which could help me through the discrepancies, and rough edges

The rapid unwinding of my faith and partnership with Christianity is connected to a few key events. First becoming a youth minister with my wife at our church......I loved it. I loved teaching, I loved being in front....I loved putting into the simplest ways, the love of God for the kids and always pushed the edges and talked about how terrible religioin was and how to aviod being Pharisee like. And that sins punishment was in the act itself....not God punishing you....Lying was just bad and its consequences usually unded up painful and not good for relationships....thats why God hated it....cuz it hurts us and others......

But when the kids began to ask questions about hell and heaven and other questions adults didn't allow themselves to ask as often, I began to become very uncomfortable. I knew what the answer I was supposed to give was, but I couldnt allow myself to tell a child that...I didn't visit the question much myself except when pressed by arguers and so on.... but this was hard to escape. And I began to look for alternative ways to communicate faith....l stumbled upon the Emerging Church Movement which was a great segway for me to ask all sorts of questions...and I used these new ideas with the kids...until I was pulled aside by church leaders and questioned about the contents of what I was teaching. I was accused of teaching a theology which was secular and based on relationships!!!!
Very quickly I began to ask all sorts of questions about God in the old look at stories I alwasy avoided, or had been given simple explanations which sufficed for the time. But nothing was holding water anymore. An emerging teacher said something which helped 'what we focus on determines what we miss' And so I focused on what I had missed.

What happened was a great distancing from the church leadership and me covertly working with kids on questions I had too. The emerging church seemed to not be about getting to heaven after you die, and also found ways to look at the bible as not being into that either.....It was about here included caring for the environment, social justice issues, reaching out to the other and listening to voices from other faiths.... I loved this and it carried me for some time. It gave ways to not take the bible literally and what seemed like intellectual answers to support this.

The next thing that pushed me farther was a trip to Turkey with the guy who became my best friend who was the one who got 'saved' a few months before me....we had similar journey the whole way This was a friendship evangelism trip. And for the first time I met with large masses of people who had no biblle background...musllims...and the ones I met were delightful. And I visited Ephesus and some other biblical places. I was in awe that what seemed to be such a great beginning to Christianity with a homeless rabbi telling people how to love their enemies and not get too stuck on it spread rapidly without force and now it was gone here where I was standing. It wasn't til I got home that I studied for the first time, church history and was horrified at what the church had been up to through the centuries....the crusades...the crap everywhere and I felt ashamed. And I looked at how Constantine made it all a state religion and what was good became toxific and horrible.... and then I began to look at the similarities with America and its supposed Christian foundations and so on....and the same story was there. It was terrible and I felt even dirtier. And ashamed. And then what we did to the First Nation peoples here and the 'withches' and the 'blacks'.... holy was too much. among the last times I spoke in church, these were the things I spoke about...

And then I thought also about the fact that supposedly all these Muslims if they did not accept Jesus would be going to hell to burn in eternal conscious torment. Again, I never preached this, and actually my church almost never mentioned hell. But the fact is, that it is what is in our creed or dogma or whatever, and if pushed to answer the question, I, we would quietly have to with a blush, mumble, "well yes, that is true, but we must trust that god is just and will give everyone a chance" This was not working. The small print of my beliefs....the foot notes as I called them....were becoming Titles in large print, because I was realizing that although, we might be able to hide them a bit, and gloss them over a bit, but 'the world' ''the unsaved'.....well that had always been in bold type for them....and that mattered to me....that sucked and I became even more ashamed.

After about a year of this I began meeting with likeminded people who were reading different Christian books. Ones which would have been considered 'liberal' and 'social gospel' by my people. I loved them cuz they felt connected to here and now and with people who needed help....and perhaps this is what God dreamed of....people loving eachother....and not all that stuff about heaven and hell and who the antichrist was and if god was going to prophesy thru me or fill my teeth with gold or whatever.... these felt good. And I wasn't embarrassed by this sort of gospel or God.

It led me and my friends to travel to southeast asia with an organization called who cares for children who have been rescued from child sex slavery and exploitation. And i visited and played with and jumproped with former child sex slaves on their way out of a true hell. They giggled at me and thier beautiful smiles werre saving me and humbling me.

I walked away with at least two big questions faith related with these kids. If they did not accept Jesus would they go to hell? and, if they were to ask me about God....where was God when....what would or could I say. I mean, for me I had already lost the idea of God in control of stuff and I would have said something like "Jesus/God was clinging to your feet in the dirt weeping the whole time, trying to inspire people to help and love....and I never imagined it would be like this...." well this helped me a bit to deal with those sorts of questions, it raises a bunch of other though I know....anyway, I kept thinking that the vast majority of my faith people would be forced to say things that were far worse if they were to be true to thier gospel story. I mean on a regular basis, people would say things like "god allowed" such and such to happen, so I could learn patience, or to drive the speed limit or to be still.... and that is barely tolerable but you can get by on that a little, but what would they say to her? What lesson? What reason? It's a mystery?!! Gods ways are higher??!! NO GOOD for me.

And when my support was dropped for trying to help these kids becasue it was not really Jesusy enough and this was the straw that broke the camels back. What could be more Jesusy than rescueing and loving on kids who were former slaves.

I will wind this terribly long story up quickly even though it is not over.....

My wife and I left the youth pastor position, and slowly stopped attending with no notice. I was tired of it all, and too tired to fight and argue and help others see the error of what we were believing and how harmful it was to kids, and other religions, and gays and .........oursleves. And the past 3-4 years have been incredibly invigorating and depressing all at once. My whole life was based on those days. I poured over scriptures and religious writings, I talked about them all the time, I lived them as sincerely as I could.....and it was all gone.

I don't know what I believe exactly and I am okay with that. My wife and children coincidently are going through the same metamorphosis on their own and together and so we love to talk about being free from, and we are a bit cynical and me mostly....talking about the how terrible it all was/is and how much damage it did to us and how much life we missed out on. Two of my kids have experienced panic attacks for a period of a couple years as they were deconverting. I am so happy they all got out and are in process.

When I think back at what attracted me it was 1. something someone bigger than me who knew me with all my shit and loved me anyway....liked me....this was so good to feel. 2. something i could call out to for strength and help...and it seemed to work for me...not with all things....other issues required lots of therapy and hard work 3. belonging to a group of people who shared music, affection, parenting and similar ideas and 4. a sense of mission and responsibility to the other. at the time it was sharing the gospel. it also included being unselfish and giving sacrificially....which can become a demon but it was also good.

I miss the community aspect the most. I still have mission and am very involved with the LOVE146. And feel great about loving all sorts of people and befriending gays, homeless, other religious people and non religious...without an agenda except to try to learn to love and learn from thier life stories.

Playing music with some people I never would have 'fellowshipped'with before has been quite cathartic. writing songs about and throughout my process has been my praying and groaning and extacy..... I love drinking responsibly, but it was hard to not be like a teenager. I love dancing with my wife and going to concerts. I love yoga. I love hearing other peoples connections with the spiritual without dogman or creed. I love investigating other ways people have tried to do life, make sense of it.....including ways of being spiritual....cuz i can't shake the sense that there is more to the eye....including quantum physics etc..... i feel more repsonsible to the earth and people and nations. and peace. i feel more like i belong to the world family. i feel more in charge. i don't feel like i did this to indulge, even though i sometimes do, I am learning to feel with my heart and body and mind and to honor all. to care for my body and my mind and not to be abusive which simply robs me and the web of people i am connected to and saps my creativity. I feel free.

but i also feel lonely at times. and nervous. and argumentative when i see religious stuff on tv or hear it talked about or I get an email from a person or relative trying to check up on me and see if Im still okay with god.

I have been blessed with online info and writings. With my wife and kids who journey with us. With an occassional visit to the Unitarians as I find them very inclusive and thoughtful on many fronts.

I am reconnecting with those I left in the name of Jesus.....some of whom I hurt deeply without knowing it. And I am losing friends and family who don't really get me now that I've gone this far and am not 'fellowshipping' and have questionable associations

Sorting through this all.....and thankful for the things I ran across here and in some of the videos.

For anyone interested....I have written more poetically and in detail about some of this journey in my rarely visited blog which I started in the middle of my unravelling with hopes of finding others to help me and to share with.....but sadly found almost no one except a few close friends.

Peace to all fellow journeyers. Peace and courage to live and to love.