I Hate This Memory… But I Tell It With Hope

A recent conversation dredged up an old memory.

I hate this memory. I tell it only to reveal how religious indoctrination twists the mind.

In the course of a recent a conversation with a fellow atheist friend, she uttered a simple phrase that sent me reeling… “Let ’em pray about it, I don’t care. What’s the harm in praying?

Immediately, a putrid, ugly memory came hurling at me like a 50 foot wave of toxic sludge… It was an instant visceral reaction.

sunsetIt’s 35 years ago. I’m walking to my car with my fiancé after having just dismissed from a mid-week church service at our charismatic, full-gospel church in rural Georgia. It’s hot and sticky. A slow summer evening cradles a lazy sun low above the pine trees.

Down the sidewalk at a distance comes a young woman, stumbling slowly towards us. We watch with caution as she approaches.

She’s a mess. Disheveled hair, smudged mascara, and very, very high.

“Are you okay?” I ask. She slurs an indecipherable something. “What happened?” I press further as I note a tiny bit of dried blood in the corner of her mouth as she gets closer.

I look around the parking lot for assistance, but we were the only people left. My fiancé asks, “Where are you going?” She tells us she’s headed home, just two blocks away.

We talk with her for a few minutes in an attempt to coax something intelligible from her lips. Where had she walked from? Who was she with? Does she have family that can pick her up? She gushes over every question, thanks us for our concern, tells us over and over how sweet we are, but no, there’s no one to call. She just wants to go home.

We assess the situation and after a minute or two, come to a conclusion. What this young woman needs is salvation. Yep. That’s what she needs. Jesus.

Not medical help.
Not a lift home.

Jesus.

crossSo we pray the Sinners Prayer right there on the sidewalk inviting her to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

She complies, of course, as her out-of-control, drug soaked brain sparks in a hundred frenetic directions at once. She cries. We tell her God loves her. She hugs us. We assure her that her sins are forgiven. She thanks us profusely for caring. We assure her that if she were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still died just for her. More tears. More hugs. More drug infused gushes of emotion.

Satisfied in her salvation, we send her on her way. She stumbles for two full blocks… alone. She weaves back and forth on the sidewalk as we whisper prayers in cadence until she fades into the dark. In the name of Jesus. Watch over her, Lord… Hallelujah. Praise God.

I struggle as I watch her. I second-guess myself. We can’t put her in our car. She’s on drugs and might be dangerous, I think. God is in control, I assure myself. I’m ruled by faith, not by fear, I mutter in prayer. I plead the blood of Jesus over her… God place an angel on her right and on her left…

Never saw the young woman again. Not in the local mini mart, not at the movies, not in church. Maybe she made it home… I hope so.

Rick Warren once said, “Living in the light of eternity changes your priorities.” And he’s absolutely right. But often times, in a dreadful, twisted sort of way.

prayAt the time, our actions made perfect sense to us. Her eternal well-being far outranked her physical well-being. She could die right there, out-of-her-mind high without Jesus and burn in hell for all eternity OR we could introduce her to Jesus before it’s too late. Save her soul. Set her free.

It never occurred to us that perhaps we could have done both: pray for her AND get her medical help. It was a toxic concoction of tunnel vision and indoctrination.

Religion can take a good brain and tie it in a knot.

Churches teach eternal promises based on nothing more than faith and hope. Faith and hope in eternity becomes the priority even over the obvious physical needs staring them in the face. It’s the choice between the eternal and the temporal… a choice that in reality, doesn’t even have to be made.

At 19 or 20, I was not the brightest bulb in the pack. I was both naive and idealistic. My involvement in the charismatic church – where we took God at his Word believing if we prayed, He would intervene – makes for a dangerous mix of immaturity and religiosity.

Somehow, in this encounter, I couldn’t trust God to keep me safe for the five minutes it would have taken to drive this girl home and yet I trusted Him completely to save us both for all eternity. In what world does this make any sense?

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I Had an Ah-Ha Moment Today

 

I had an ah ha moment today by way of Twitter, of all places.

In reading through the feed, I stumbled upon a name that sounded familiar. She’d posted this picture:

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.36.41 PM.pngShe’s Becky Fischer, the preacher behind the children’s ministry that ran the controversial Jesus Camp. You may have seen the documentary that came out in 2006. I saw it several years ago but decided to watch it again this afternoon. (I’ve included all 6 parts below).

Watching the film was a huge trigger for me, catapulting me right back into the world I lived in for so long. Our children’s church ministry at our Full-Gospel/Charismatic church was a virtual carbon copy of this woman’s ministry as seen in the film. The raising of the hands in worship, the speaking in tongues and tugging on the children’s emotions with the shame of sin… it’s all in there. And more.

I was in the Full-Gospel/Charismatic church for roughly 20 of my 40 years as a Christian. Eventually I settled back into the United Methodist Church. The core of the teachings, (Jesus born of a virgin, crucified, resurrected for the sin of human kind) is all the same. But the Full-Gospel/Charismatic church veers away from more traditional denominations by teaching that Christians should expect miracles and acts of God like healing, deliverance, and tongues, among other things.

As I watched the film again, I cringed. I winced. I hung my head in shame for the ways in which I’d made my contribution to this twisted way of thinking. Blogging about my personal experiences has taken on new significance for me from watching the film today. This is a truly toxic brand of Christianity.

The kids in the Jesus Camp documentary just break my heart. I encourage you to watch it because people like Becky Fischer are hard at work, indoctrinating kids with dangerous dogma and I for one, know the damage this kind of stuff can do to a person.

No matter what your background, this film is fascinating. It’s worth your time:

I want to know what you think! Post a comment after you’ve watched the documentary.

What do you think?

I Saw Her Posts And Grew Alarmed…

Last week I noted that a distant friend on Facebook was posting some alarming posts.

It was easy to see from Facebook alone that she’d been having a rough time. One day she was determined to begin fresh and new, the next day she was back down trying to make sense of the wrongs in life.

She’d been dealt a shitty hand. I met her thirty some years ago when she was only 15. She’d been thrown out of her house, (I never learned why), was a foster kid for awhile and eventually found an apartment. She held a job, paid the rent and went to High School. All on her own.

After graduation she moved out of town and then we moved out of town and before ya know it, three decades had passed. She’d become a nurse, had children, a few divorces and a number of other things to report when we reconnected on Facebook a couple years back. It was a sweet reconnection for me, as she still exuded a wonderful bright light like she did back when we first met. The bubbly sort that makes you feel good.

There was always something about her. Her smile put sunbeams to shame. In spite of all her obstacles, her smile was warm, her embrace – genuine. And no matter what, she held to a tenacious hope that things would get better if she just kept going on with God.

But there were obstacles. She worked in strip club for awhile. Her children are from different fathers. Money was always tighter than tight. And by the time we got caught up on Facebook, I learned she was living in what she called, “a shit hole of a trailer.” But she was still shining, still smiling, still praying, at least verbally. We made a promise through Facebook messages to get together at some point, but we left it open ended.

sad-505857_640.jpgHer posts of the last few months had been a rollercoaster of emotion. Last year she’d experienced a betrayal from her latest man. And she wasn’t shy about how devastated she was. She was uncomfortably transparent with her emotions on her timeline.

Cringeworthy. That’s what it was.

But then she’d rally. For awhile, she’d post unicorn and rainbow pictures with inspirational sayings, claiming, “I’m ready to be happy again.” Then after a few weeks of that, the bottom would fall out and she was back to sounding despondent.

Then last week I saw a long and rambling post of apology to her children. “I wasn’t a good mother,” she wrote. “I didn’t know how to be.” My heart sank. I immediately sent her a Facebook message of concern. I waited and watched for the rest of the evening. She didn’t respond.

As the evening wore on I notice that I was not the only one troubled by the post. “I’m worried about you. Are you okay?” one friend commented in response. “I just sent you a private message. Please respond,” posted another. There were lots of sad faces and hearts on her post, too.

I kept watching for a response to my private message. The next day I saw the “read” checkmark. “Whew” I thought. “At least she’s read it.” I knew she worked long shifts, so I thought maybe she planned to answer later when she had more time.

The following morning I checked in hoping she’d responded.  I noticed something she’d posted on her timeline at 4am: “My journey ends here.” And then another a few hours later that was simply the letter, “Y”.

My gut screamed alarm bells. I checked for a response to my private message. Nothing. I Googled the town she lived in to see if there were any police reports. Nothing.  I wrote another message, “Are you okay?!”

I tried to unearth a phone number. Struck out. Found her address and considered driving the five hours down there. But family and friends far closer than I (in miles and relationship) appeared to be reaching out on Facebook with posts of concern, so I waited, hoping to at least see the “read” notice to my latest message. I went to bed that evening convincing myself that she would be fine, that there were plenty of hands on deck.

The next morning I logged into Facebook to see the worst. RIP posts filled her timeline. “We’ll miss you,” “I cannot believe you’re gone,” “Find peace now, angel.” The outpouring took my breath away. So much overwhelming shock and sadness. Everyone was in disbelief.

In looking back at her timeline now, her posts are like a ping pong ball. All over the place between hope, despair, anger and resilience. What a horrible waste of such a beautiful person.