A Long, Strange Trip, Part Five: The Post-Seminary Years (2008-2012)

The year after I finished seminary wasn’t an easy one. Unable to afford rent in Chicago, I had to move back in with my parents.

They were very graceful about this, and let me stay with them for quite a while; but this was the second time I had to move back since college, and I was a little disappointed about it. I had hoped I would be able to use my seminary degree to start a teaching ministry in Chicago, but this  didn’t happen.

I did get several opportunities to preach, mostly in the form of “pulpit supply” (filling in for pastors who were sick or on vacation). While this didn’t pay enough for me to make a living, I was glad to have the opportunity to share what I learned and hone my skills as a preacher.

In 2008 I started a Bible study and prayer group at my home church (St. John’s UCC in Jackson). Here I was able to share what I learned in seminary while also continuing to grow in a mutually encouraging atmosphere.

This group helped me grow in prayer, both silent meditation and the more charismatic type I had encountered in Pentecostal churches. It was a small group (usually 6-8 people), but a very friendly and supportive bunch. My skills in ministry grew quite a bit.

It was about this time that I met my friend Ronnie, a fellow musician who lived just down the street from me. We started playing music and going to Bible studies together, and before long I had a lifelong friend. We eventually started a band together, which we called Streaking in Tongues (we released our first album in 2015).

Later this same year (2008), I got a call from Tish, one of my best friends from high school (and the first girl I ever kissed). It had been more than 10 years since I had seen her, and it was really good to reconnect. Along with Ronnie, Tish  has remained one of my best friends.

During this time, my theology was influenced heavily by Christian anarchists – people who believe that God is the only legitimate authority, that human governments  contradict the will of God, and that it is our duty  to disobey any law that violates the teachings of Jesus.

Though I never completely bought into anarchist thought (I think that government, as flawed as it is, is still necessary to restrain evil in whatever ways it can), I really appreciate the ways these folks challenge mainstream “Christians” who support war and capital punishment, mix patriotism with the gospel, and look to the political system for salvation.

(This is one of my biggest beefs with Christianity as it is usually practiced in this country – it subverts the gospel by combining it with nationalistic politics. This happens so much that many people can’t tell the difference – and more than a few have turned away from Christ because of this. I can’t even imagine how much God must grieve!)

In the summer of 2009, I got a job as a worship leader at a small Baptist church near Jackson – a position I kept for the next three years. While I didn’t agree with all of the theology of this  church, I enjoyed my job – which involved playing piano, singing, and leading the praise band for Sunday worship.

A few months later, I started playing piano at the Saturday services at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Jackson. The people in both of these communities were very graceful and easy to work with – which is more than I can say about a lot of the places I have worked!

The next couple years were hard as hell. In the fall of 2009 I got severe pain in my pelvic floor, making it hurt every time I sat down. At first doctors thought it was a prostate infection; but antibiotics didn’t help. I took codeine for a while for the pain.

This helped quite a bit, especially at first; but it was only treating the symptoms. The underlying problem (chronic muscle tension in my lower back and pelvic area) wasn’t going away.

Eventually, after a lot of physical therapy, the tension eased a bit – but I still had to use a heating pad every time I sat down. This made it very hard for me to work, socialize, or even rest.

Things got even worse when I dislocated my jaw in 2010. By then I had been taking codeine for so long that it wasn’t helping much with the pain. I began seeing a new doctor, someone who specialized in treating chronic pain.

After determining that I wasn’t likely to get addicted to opiates, he took me off the codeine and put me on a stronger narcotic for the jaw pain.

The reduction in pain allowed me to keep my music ministry going and continue to look for other jobs; but the combination of physical pain, depression and anxiety really weighed on me. I didn’t have much hope during this time.

In 2012, I decided that I couldn’t work much longer at the Baptist church where I led worship. While I really enjoyed my job there, I couldn’t be a part of the leadership at a church that I disagreed with so strongly on core theological issues.

By this time, the church had become quite fundamentalist in doctrine. They began focusing less on evangelism and church growth, and more on “drawing a line in the sand.”

They taught that Jesus came only to save us from our sin – not to work for justice, heal the sick, or befriend the lonely. They also started to attack other churches that didn’t meet their standard of orthodoxy – particularly “liberals” who took a different stance than they did on abortion or gay marriage. Worst of all, they had become Calvinists.

While I have looked at Calvinist theology from many angles over the years, and many Calvinists are kind, well-meaning people, I simply can’t find anything good to say about the theology itself. At its core I’m afraid it’s nothing more than self-serving mental bullshit. It has little to do with the love of Jesus and a lot to do with fear.

If such statements offend you, you should consider the offense caused by the Calvinist concept of God – a God who creates humanity with a proclivity to sin (or at least a weakness that makes sin inevitable), has the power to save everyone but chooses to save only a few, and consigns the rest to everlasting punishment for a condition they didn’t choose and have no power to save themselves from.

To say that this is a God of love is pure nonsense! Would any of us say an earthly parent is good and loving if they acted like this? Such a person could be feared, but never loved; and I’m hardly exaggerating when I say I would rather go to hell than serve a God like that!

I quit my job at that church in the summer of 2012. I was now working only one day a week, playing piano at Immanuel. I was deeply depressed, lonely, insecure, heavily sedated, and sore; and I didn’t have any reason to believe this would ever change. But a couple months later I met a woman named Christina – and things were never the same after that.

 

(Coming Soon – Kissing Evangelicalism Goodbye (2012-2014))

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