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it’s a long way down from here

August 1, 2010

I was eighteen, living in a small town in upstate New York, working at an old five and dime.  Times were hard, but we made do, for the most part.  Work was just something to pay the bills.  My life revolved around two things.  Church and writing.

I’m not sure that anything I wrote at the time could be considered good.  A lot of poetry, most of it either self-righteous religious tripe or self-loathing religious tripe, depending on my mood.  I was working on a novel that was…well I guess we could call it religious fantasy.

It was a martyr’s story, a heroine persecuted for her faith.

It represented what we were taught at our little mission church.  The devil was out to get us.  He lurked behind every friendly smile, every relationship that wasn’t grounded in and sanctioned by faith.  No one could be trusted.  Not even other Christians, because most of them were only pretending.  They were blasphemers and we had to protect ourselves.

At the same time, we were to reach out in faith and guide our lost brethren home.  And revel in our salvation, give thanks and glory to God that we were chosen and snatched out of the darkness of our former lives.

I was studying to become a minister myself, such as studying is needed for such things in organizations like that.  It doesn’t take much, and certainly doesn’t require a college degree.  We were pioneers, missionaries in a hostile world, answerable to God and not man.

There was only one problem.  The more I studied, the more I started to question.  The more I questioned, the more I studied.  I had notebooks filled with ideas and questions and frustration at not finding the answers.  When I went to our preacher for guidance, I was told that I needed to pray more or that I was being set upon by demons of doubt.

Our preacher had a way of making sense of things that made no sense, and as long as he was talking I was right there with him.  Then I would walk away and it would all fall apart.  On top of this, I was running the song service and I learned something in that little sound booth.

I learned the art of manipulation.  In fact, I was proud of my ability to take the congregation, no matter what mood they came in the door in, put them through a series of songs and deliver them in the exact mood the preacher wanted them in.  He wanted them worked up and on fire, I had a set of songs for that.  He wanted them vulnerable and ready to cry, I had a set for that too.  I even had and extended set for the mornings he came in and said he didn’t want to preach, just go straight to the altar call.

I was really rather proud of the way I could handle those days.  I would start them rocking, take them up and up on praise and hollering, then bring them down until I left them weeping and wailing and crying out in tongues and emotionally wrung out.

Give me an hour and our sound system, I could make that congregation sing and dance and praise the heavens.

The bible tells you that pride comes before the fall.  While I may not believe that the bible is the unfailing word of God anymore, I can tell you that it does get a few things right.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    August 1, 2010 6:53 pm

    You seemed to have missed most of the teachings in that little mission church. We were taught not to put our trust in man, we were supposed to trust in God. We (or some us us) learned that God doesn’t fail but people do, when we put everything we have into trusting mankind, we need to expect that at some point mankind will not meet our expectations.

    If you think about it realsitically, that pastor failed everyone who had blind faith in him. If it was that pastor who kept you going to church and who you put your faith in, then your faith was destroyed when he turned out to be a man first and a pastor last. That man who ran that little mission church was quite clearly not a truly ordained man of God. He still had his feet buried deep in the mud and filth that we can all find in the world today.

    Obviously you weren’t one of the few people who came away from that little mission church with your faith intact, could you possibly have ignored the teaching that was clearly given that people needed to place their faith in a much higher power and not in mere mortal man?

    I realize that there are many different faiths in our world today, the important thing about all of them is that everyone of them gives the followers something to believe in. The art of manipulation is not something to be proud of, hopefully you recognized that and have moved away from it. That little mission church closed it’s doors in 1984, all who were part of it have moved on.

    I, for one, learned a great deal from that little church-I can and did make it on my own, and I believe it is because I grew in that little church. I was hurt by the failure of that mission just like everyone else but I can’t dwell on what didn’t work because that was the failure of a person. I left there with my faith in a Higher Power intact, my faith in man took a beating but even that is part of who I am today.

  2. August 1, 2010 7:58 pm

    I agree that I learned a lot in that church. I think we all walked away with a lot of lessons, but for each of us they were something a little different. This very brief retelling is only a part of the story, to be sure. There’s a whole lot I haven’t gone into that will likely come up eventually.

    That’s part of why I started this blog, to be open about where I’ve been and what I’ve learned and to explore where I’m going. I hope that as I go on with the basics of my background it will open a dialog about the good and the bad and everything in between.

    I have moved on. In my mind, to a become a better person than I was then. I just didn’t figure I should jump in to the discussion without offering where I was coming from first.

    I realize that you and ended up in different places as a result of our experiences there and what followed. Thankfully, we didn’t lose each other along the way.

    I hope you continue reading as I go forward. There’s a lot to talk about. A lot to learn from it. And I think maybe that’s the whole point.

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