Finding God

The following is a story shared with me by reader, Steve Slocum. His story is similar to many of us: ostracism, family trauma, the reinvention of belief. And a long, hard path to healing. I am grateful for his willingness to share his story here.

Please allow me to allow Steve to introduce himself:

Steve Slocum is the author of “Why Do They Hate Us? Making Peace with the Muslim World” (To be released March, 2019, www.whydotheyhateus.org). He is the founder and executive director of Salaam a nonprofit with the mission of creating friendship and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. Steve is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences, and civic groups.

 

Steve’s story:

I started my freefall into the mystical universe of religion when I was seventeen years old. On campus at the University of Arizona for my freshman year as a mechanical engineering student, I was captivated by the street preachers and began attending daily Bible studies in the grassy area outside of the student union. Like a dry sponge, I soaked up the uncompromising teachings of Jesus about forsaking all to follow him and loving God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. I found in this radical church group both a satisfaction for the spiritual hunger which had been growing inside of me, and the approval that I had missed out on growing up. It was a bad combination. I fell deep.

I checked out from my family of origin and disappeared for two years into a small Bible school in the Midwest. In 1992, with a wife and three kids, I took my whole family to the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan to be missionaries to the Muslim world. The more extreme I became, the more approval I received from the church – and I craved the toxicity like a drug. At home, my marriage was terrible. We hated each other. But as a missionary, I got my first hit of Christian heroin. I was leading an exploding church movement of Muslim background believers. The Christian world took notice. I spoke at conferences, gave interviews, and was featured in a mission’s film. I was a rock star, mainlining on Christian fame.  I loved my life. There was just that nagging thing about my failing marriage.

Even though I was a true believer, I began imperceptibly taking my first steps away from the church. With Kazakhs coming to faith by the hundreds, I became concerned about imparting to them an Americanized faith – a faith tainted from its original purity. I began a fresh reading of the New Testament and performed a thorough sweep of my theology and practices. I wanted to eliminate anything skewed by my American culture.  As my quest continued, I wasn’t fully able to intellectually process my growing awareness of just how much of my understanding was based on the overlay of an American cultural grid on the New Testament passages. I just felt a growing uneasiness and a desire to set the Kazakh believers free to create their own practice.

My passion for allowing the Kazakhs to create their own expression within the context of their own culture led to disagreements with the missionary team leader, who was also the senior pastor of the church there. I ultimately decided that the disagreements were too major, and that I should leave the church and the ministry team. Within a week after telling the senior pastor about my decision, he openly shared specific details about my marital difficulties with the entire church – things that we had privately confided in him – and announced our excommunication. All members and coworkers were forbidden from visiting us. And none did.

At this time, my son was a high school student in the international school there. His teacher, also a member of the ministry team, was instructed by the senior pastor to bear down on my son in order to get him kicked out of the school. This did irreparable damage to his psyche. My son sank into a depression and never recovered. A few years after returning to the United States, he committed suicide.

My faith was coming apart like a rotating planet with the gravity turned off.  I started to realize that the concept of being “born again” was bogus. People who claim to exclusively possess the indwelling Holy Spirit act just the same as the people who don’t.  Myself, included. If we have God living in us, and others don’t, one would expect that we might be a little different, a LOT different.

I tried to hold onto my faith, but the final straw came when I chose to end my marriage. I found it strange that, though none of my Christian leaders and friends had lived a day in my shoes nor would stand before God to answer for me, they all knew that it was categorically sinful for me to end my failed marriage. I realized that they, and I, had been looking at the New Testament as a new Old Testament. Just a bunch of laws and rules. Nothing about the spirit of it.

Back home, I continued to go to church for the sake of my two daughters, but the fabric of the church had changed since we had left more than five years earlier. Now all the sermons seemed to be about the evils of homosexuality and abortion, the need to protect our families from our evil culture, and the need to vote Republican. And this was in 1999.

I left and never looked back.

With a still-forming understanding of God and the meaning of my life, a few things have become a little clearer. I believe now in maximizing my experience in this life, and finding God in her/his creation all around me. Some of the things that help me do that are nurturing the bonds of love in my family connections, deep friendships, and vulnerable communication. Realizing deep and lasting change in my own life and continual growth, absorbing natural beauty, and the arts with all my senses, and surfing.

 

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The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

The final, as-good-as-I-can-make-it version of my memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, just swooped through space to my publisher.

After weeks (months?) of editing, reading, proofing, re-reading, re-editing, re-proofing, I am STOKED to be done, at least for now. My dog will be so happy to have my attention again. I am so grateful to those of you who have hung around while I went down the writing rabbit hole. The picture is my proposed cover (yes, that’s me). What do you think?

Pre-orders will be available in early spring. If you want a personal notification when they are available, you are welcome to email me at ronnarussell23@gmail.com and I will put you on the list.

And now, it’s time for a very large glass of wine. Or three.

WHOOP! an announcement

Hey, Hey! I just signed a publishing contract. My memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, will be out on April 4, 2019. I am THRILLED, to say the least.

My heart is full of gratitude for this journey and for all of you who have read along and reached out. I have a hell of a lot of work to do between now and then, so if anyone wants to write a guest blog for me, shoot me a message.* There’s a free book in it for you!

This is the only known picture in existence of my happy dance:

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*I’m serious about the guest blog offer. I am open to posting deconversion stories of others.

Feeling Free

A couple of weeks ago I found myself free to do as I pleased for a few hours on a summer afternoon near a beach. What more could a person want? Souls savor stolen moments.

Signage at the top of the steep wooden staircase read:

Clothing optional

No gawking

No cameras

I already knew the beach was clothing optional, but it was breezy and cool, so I had no intention of stripping. Let other people freeze their naked butts off. The last time I had been to a clothing optional beach, a woman who appeared to be a supermodel stretched out beside me with a friendly smile, her perfect breasts pointing to the sky. I just couldn’t join her.

At the bottom of the steps, a string of brightly colored sarongs caught the wind like wanna-be kites reaching for the brilliant sky. Sand and water swept the horizon before me. I put my phone away, took off my shoes and began to walk, toes digging into the soft sand. Happy as the proverbial clam.

The days prior and the days ahead were busy and emotional. Long awaited visits with my adult children behind me and my long awaited second marriage just ahead, brain and body needed the off switch. Worries, plans, and body aches vanished with the first step.  By the tenth step, I was sweating, because the breeze had also vanished and the sun was flexing its muscles. As I wandered down to firmer sand by the waterline, I noticed several naked bodies.  They were tan everywhere. Some of these folks must be hard core beach nudies. Huh. Not a perfect physique in sight.

I walked as far as the beach allowed and doubled back looking for the right driftwood log to lean against, wondering what it would be like to be naked here. The perfect spot appeared, so I plunked down in the sand, squinting and cursing my lack of sunglasses and empty water bottle. Sweat ran down my back into my underwear as the sun blazed hotter. As I scanned the horizon, a middle aged man sauntered past, penis swinging and free, utterly unselfconscious. Huh.

I furtively slipped out of my clothes and spread out my sweatshirt to sit on, unwilling to get sand absolutely everywhere. I glanced around. No one was anywhere near me, no one to see or care, so I settled back to watch the clouds and waves. I noticed that the breeze wasn’t entirely gone; I could feel it gently caress my body in places that had never felt fresh air before. My skin felt grateful and cool.

As the rhythm of the waves lulled my senses and swept out my brain cobwebs, someone with clothes on walked by and glanced quickly away with an awkward jerk of his head. Wonder what his problem is I thought, having already forgotten I didn’t have any clothes on. Oh yeah, I’m naked, I smiled to myself and felt sorry for him in his heavy cotton tee shirt and cargo shorts.

How did I come to be comfortable in my own naked bag of skin in my fifties after a lifetime of excruciating self-loathing? I was taught shame as a fact, that my female body was an offense, dangerous if uncovered, an abomination if fat, a death sentence if used. I carried those judgements like chains, even in my defiance of them. I don’t care anymore. Those chains may have left a few scars, but somewhere along the way they dropped off.

I wonder at the weight we carry sometimes. We can change inner dialogue from defensiveness to openness; allow others to carry their own opinions, their judgements, their perspectives without hefting the load. We can show ourselves compassion, too.

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I would add, it is the mark of a free mind, as well.

I can’t wait to see if Facebook deems my knee and shoulder inappropriate.

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Just Relax

IMG_1459Just relax the voice inside my head barks.

 I am relaxed, I snap back.

I mean, I’m trying. It’s harder than you think, I whine to myself.

I held my breath, standing on the brink of something.

Shut out of something.

Stumbling in the dark, I scraped against a crack in the wall, saw a narrow band of light streaming through.

Oh, it’s here, my insides screamed.

Then beating sobbing fighting pushing pulling and punching my way out with a splintering crash.

I am breathing hard and am somewhat bloodied.

Now what? I ask the open air with fists still clenched.

I‘m here, he said.

What if I disappoint you? I wondered to myself, but only nodded as he gently unfolded my fingers.

A lucky thing to not have missed love when it arrived. To hold the beating heart in my open hand and stroke it’s soft down. It’s quite another to expose the untended corners of my own heart, to stop trying to figure out who and how to be and just be.

Can I let you in, all the way in, where the sour bits desiccate, the dark heart places that have never seen light?  Can I let you accept my failures?

Can I let you love me anyway?

He said one time, he said if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s been wonderful.

And my heart sank, because my head pounded with the need for a guarantee, but it turns out that’s not what love is. Love is not a contract or a deadline or an ultimatum or a deal or even a safety net. And then my heart rose because he loved me enough to not lie.

As it turns out, love is a whisper in the night, a how was your day?, a pat on the hip that means something more and listening without waiting for a turn. Love is making the effort, wanting to. Love is always turning toward.

And the ravishing.

It’s all here.

So, relax.  Just relax.

What’s Inappropriate, Again?

Fellow ex-Christian blogger Clay of Life After 40 shared an intriguing post today.  While his story is very different from my own, we have come to many of the same conclusions and followed somewhat similar paths.  (I previously shared his post called My Crazy Vasectomy Story).

I would like to pass on his current post:  Sex – Not an Appropriate Topic to give you the opportunity to follow along.

In case you’re wondering why anyone cares to write or read about sex, particularly from an ex-Christian perspective, I would sincerely say that I do not believe anyone escapes fundamentalism without sexual damage.  From childhood, normal sexual development is stunted and shamed.  Guilt, silence and fear are what sex is about, instead of pleasure and connection.  I think that is inappropriate.

While there are many bloggers and other writers who address the enormous difficulties LGBTQ people have coming out to Christian families, few speak directly to middle-aged vanilla-ish types who never learned to honor their own desires.

I am happy to be in good company.

Hey, I got a chapter published!

A few days ago I stuck my neck out and submitted a chapter for publication to the online magazine Feminine Collective. They said yes!

Fair warning, the content is erotic. Proceed with caution if you are squeamish about such things. If not, follow the link below to read it and erm….. you’re welcome.

Vlad