I don't get on here very often, in fact the last time was sometime in November. Whoops!
Anyway, since I have had some conversations with some of you, I thought I would share an update.
Still an atheist, although I call myself an apatheist - I don't really care if God exists or not.
In December, my wife left me and took my daughter with her. There are a lot of reasons why, but one of them is that the church world is all she's known since she was a pastor's wife and us losing all of our friends and connections - essentially our entire world - has taken a toll on her. We are separated but are about to start getting into talking about big issues and seeing if we can come back together.
I am a mailman during the day, and by night I was working at a grocery store, but in January I was able to quit that job and have been working part time for my friend Bart Campolo, who is the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati and the son of famous preacher and author Tony Campolo. I mainly produce and edit his podcast, run his social media, and update his website. His podcast is called Humanize Me, and I'm pretty proud of the work we've done on it. He has some really good conversations with people. You can find it here: https://bartcampolo.org/humanizeme
I'm doing a lot of "soul"-searching, lots of reading (working through all of the Ehrman books again), and spending time with my two cats and a bunny. Every other Sunday I help Bart put on a humanist community dinner in Cincinnati. It's been a great way to connect with people and I'm excited about the future.
Job hunting in the "real world" is way different than job hunting as a pastor.
From my first ministry at my home church to my last ministry, I have had six ministry positions. I believe that besides one of them, I was the first choice in each church search.
When you are looking for a ministry position, you usually start with sending your resume and perhaps a cover letter. Then, if the church likes what they see, usually either the senior minister or the head elder will call and do an introductory interview. Then if that works out, they will most likely bring you to the church. And then you will have some kind of another interview with staff or perhaps the leadership team, and then depending on what position you are applying for, you may have to lead worship for a Sunday morning, or teach and get to know students (those were the two positions I was a minister of: worship and students). Then there is usually a pretty long wait as the leadership talk about you, seemingly for months. And then they'll offer you the position and you move and start getting settled in.
It's totally different in the real world.
First, when you send in your resume and your cover letter, there's pretty much a guarantee that about 75 percent of the jobs you apply for will not even contact you back.
The cover letter is pretty tricky for a minister. How do you translate your experience as a pastor into experience in the business world?
I remember when I came back to the midwest after a brief stint in my home state, I applied for some position and the guy interviewing me told me that he went to church and so he framed the questions in such a way that I could answer them in the correct fashion but using my experience.
That was the only one.
When I decided to step away from ministry, I first started looking at non-profits. I wanted to stay in the area for my family, so I wasn't really looking anywhere else besides within an hour driving distance. There was one I was really interested in, and I thought I got it, but I got second place. Whomp whomp.
After rejection email after rejection email and scam after scam (you know, those that claim to be marketing positions or whatever and then you interview and you find out it's a pyramid scheme), I decided to apply for a part-time position working third shift at a grocery store (so I could also focus on getting a full-time career type job). Which I have. I have been working for three weeks, and it's not as bad as I thought it would be. The pay isn't great, but I listen to music and make sure the shelves in my department look good. Not really what I was doing a year ago, but at least it was helping out a little financially.
And then I also applied for a full-time post office position, and apparently I got that job (still waiting to hear from HR). So on one hand, I'm relieved because it looks like for now that my job search has ended. What a stressful time, you know? But on the other hand, what I'm doing is so different from what I have done for twenty odd years.
But I'm trying to keep a positive attitude about it. For one, I can do my work and when I clock out, I don't have to think about that job at all. I can focus on other things.
(Although now when I go to any store and I see a cluttered or messy shelf, it takes everything within me to not organize it.)
Secondly, I just follow orders. I follow rules. I don't have to come up with things, I don't have to lead other people (although I may eventually), I can just be me really. There's a freedom. Even though I'm not certainly not making as much, I don't have to worry about the church world anymore.
I've also had more conversations with regular people than I have in a really long time. But that's for another blog post. For now, let me end with the fact that ministers really don't understand for the most part how the real world works and I think for every single one, if they decide to leave ministry and do something else, there is a steep learning curve. I think my curve is over. Although I haven't started my full-time job and the lady interviewing me didn't really sell me on it (neither did other people who work or worked for the USPS). But I have a feeling I will be just fine.
For now, this is blog shall remain anonymous, because I haven't completely finished "outing" myself as of yet. However, once I do so, I will give more information about who I am; but for now, it will be rather generic.
My journey away from ministry and ultimately christianity has been a seven and a half year jaunt, however my walk away has really gained steam over the past three months.
I have tried to look back at my life in the past few months to figure out where the trajectory of my life changed. I became a christian in 1981, and my family started attending church in the early '80's, but I was not interested in pursuing ministry and I never thought I would become a minister. My goal was to be a ski instructor. I was also really interested in science, and I think if it weren't for a church program that I got myself into and excelled at, I would have been a scientist.
Alas, that's not what I ended up doing.
Growing up, I was always in the gifted and talented programs in school. I took the SAT test in eighth grade because my standardized test scores were so high. I think I would have been in the top 5 in my grade if my mind and life wasn't so wrapped around church.
In seventh grade, I got involved in a church program where you memorize a couple books of the bible and then compete against other teenagers around the state, christian college tournaments during the summer, and then a national tournament around the fourth of July.
This changed my goals, ambitions and dreams.
I ended up getting scholarships to christian colleges. I calculated once that at one christian college, I had racked up twenty three semesters of free tuition and room and board because of how well i did. And so, I went off to a christian college on the west coast.
To make a long story short, I felt called to student ministry while at college.
And that was my life - ministry - for over twenty years.
However, I never really felt like I fit in. The things that ministers were supposed to be excited about, what they felt called to do, I didn't. I was good at helping students change their lives around and become a more productive member of society. When I became a worship minister, I played the guitar pretty well and my voice was ok, and I wasn't like most worship ministers - I was flexible and easy-going. I served at large churches and small church plants. Even though I was successful, I still felt uneasy about aspects of my job. I know that most people have certain things about their jobs they don't like, but some of these things were foundational to ministry. Like pastoral calls. Counseling. Hours spent with god.
I had the opportunity to help plant a church in my home state. So I decided that was what god had called me to do. I packed a few things, left to do god's work, and my family stayed home to sell the house. We figured that it wouldn't take long to sell it and they would join me in a couple of months.
The house never sold.
They eventually came out after four months. We stayed with a relative. We sacrificed. I racked up credit card debt trying to help the church plant out. Then the economy fell. The housing market was screwed. The dream house we had built had to be given to someone else because our house didn't sell. My job moved from full-time to part-time.
So we moved back.
I was crushed.
While my family moved back a couple of months before me, I filled my free time reading books by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and the like. I didn't understand why after all that sacrifice, nothing good happened. Now, I was never one of those kind of people who thinks that if you claim a blessing, that you will receive it. But it hurt all the same. When I moved back, it took about four months to find another church. I was worship minister again. All was good.
But then about three years into it, things happened and for the next four years, there was quite a lot of turmoil in my personal life and in the life of the church.
In 2014, my brother died of a suicide. It rocked my world (more to that story in another post).
On the anniversary of my brother's death (2015), I was let go by the church. Well, I had the opportunity to resign and work for a few more months trying to find another ministry.
But I had those doubts creeping up in my head again.
In February of this year, with several churches looking at me, I went through a really tough thing that made me decide that I was done with ministry for good. (that will be later too)
So here I am, three months later. I have finally found a "real" job. Actually two jobs. In my next post I will talk about them and my struggle in finding a job.
But for now, I wanted to just briefly touch on my journey. I now believe that religion is bunk. It's a way to control. It's a way to try and make sense of the world - if you lived back in biblical times. We don't need those explanations any more. There are rational, naturalistic reasons for why we exist, how we got here, and more.
I still cling to the belief that there is something supernatural. I'm not to the point where I've given up on the fact that spirituality can be a meaningful activity in our lives.
However, I don't think any religion has figured it out. The religion I grew up in, christianity, has some positive things. However, when you look at what we know about it from the beginning; the inconsistencies, errors, fallacies, contradictions and history of the bible, who wrote it, etc.; the events in church history that are deplorable; the events in my own life; and actually reading books and articles by people who have survived religion and are thriving without it, you begin to realize it's all a lie.
It's been a hard road so far. I was a minister for half of my life!
Psychologists use the term "cognitive dissonance" to describe what I'm going through now. Wikipedia defines the term in this way:
cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
So trying to get rid of one belief system and worldview that I've held onto for so long is a difficult thing. There is a lot of mental stress. A lot of ups and downs. And when you no longer have a support structure, it makes it even more difficult.
Hopefully if you are experiencing the same thing - whether you were a minister, or whether you were a christian for a number of years - this blog will help you as you struggle through the decision and finding a "new normal" in your life.