Has Anyone Seen My Faith?

 Eighteen years after losing his faith, J.R. Reed would really like to find it again.

I can’t stand when I misplace things. On a scale of 1-10 I give it a 12.  If it’s something important I move it up to the 15-20 range, depending on what it is.

I tell you this because about eighteen years ago I lost my faith in church. And God.

In His defense He was there but I probably wasn’t looking hard enough.  For a few years I made no attempts to look at all but I finally found Him again. I still haven’t found my faith in church and to be perfectly honest I don’t know if I’ll ever find that. To be even more honest, I don’t care if I never find it. I’ll explain why in a moment.

I was raised in church and from fifth grade through high school graduation I attended Christian school. I sang in the choir, was active in my church youth group and even attended college to become a pastor. I’ll pause a moment while you pick your jaw off the floor.

♦◊♦

I didn’t finish college because I was hired by a church in central California to be the youth pastor at a new church and to help run the drug and alcohol treatment home they operated. It’s at this point in my life that I began to lose my faith in church.

Less than a year after getting married I found myself working for a guy who was very open about his past. In time it would come to be clear that it wasn’t that “B” was open about his past as much as he was proud of his past.

In his “Past life” B was a GM for a national restaurant chain. B had a coke problem and decided to borrow embezzle many thousands of dollars from his employer. Eventually the company figured it out and B did time for his crime.

His story had all the elements required for someone to open their wallet—he was homeless, eating out of dumpsters and “Found the Lord” in prison. B was charming, charismatic and one day while eating lunch with him I found out that B was a huge douche.

“When they prosecuted me for stealing,” he said while wiping gravy off his beard. “They didn’t have the amount right. I really ripped them off for a whole lot more.”

“Oh,” I replied, completely shocked at the revelation.  “Uh…good for you?”

For the next year I spent several days a week in court representing the drug and alcohol rehab facility as well as interviewing potential residents at the county jail. My nights were spent leading Bible studies, putting together a youth program and working on sermons.

One of the first people I got assigned to the program was a skinny guy in his fifties named Charles. He and I spent a lot of time talking and one day he came up to me and said he had a question.

“You know that I’ve been living with the same woman for more than twenty years,” Charles began. “And I don’t want to keep doing the same wrong things over and over. Will you marry her and I?”

To say I was blown away would be a huge understatement.  A few short weeks later I presided over his wedding and eight months later I performed Charles’ memorial service after he relapsed and OD’d.

Like most people in similar situations I struggled with his death but as I sit here almost twenty years later the tears falling on my keyboard remind me that even though I’ve never told any of my friends about that experience I never really forgot about Charles.

Shortly after burying my friend I began doing math. Specifically I was putting two and two together and realizing that things weren’t adding up. It didn’t take me long to figure out that B was running a welfare and food stamp scam disguised as the Lord and I wanted no part of that.

♦◊♦

I quietly began looking for another church and was happy to find one in Southern California only an hour from where I grew up. The fresh start excited me and the fact that the pastor who started this church was a former criminal didn’t send up any red flags. Admittedly it wasn’t one of my brightest moments but in my defense I was so eager to get out of where I was that I wasn’t as choosy as I should have been.

My new boss, J, was a real piece of work and by lunch on my first day I knew I might be screwed. You see, J didn’t have an office at the church which meant that I had to be there 8:30-5:30 Monday through Friday.

J didn’t have an office at the church because, “I don’t want to be bothered by people coming in and talking to me.”

That’s not a typo. The senior pastor at the church he founded didn’t want to be bothered with people coming in to see him. Unfortunately this was only the beginning of my learning process.

Over the next six months I would listen to this man name names and talk about counseling sessions from the pulpit and one particular Sunday heard this at the beginning of his sermon.

“The XXX and XXX families have left the church and began attending elsewhere. They are NOT doing the will of God and are not to be associated with.”

What J didn’t tell the congregation was that these two families were pretty healthy tithers, which made me realize that “The will of God” really meant “I may have to cut back on my very comfortable life.”

One Monday night I was summoned to a deacons meeting. Apparently God told J that He had other plans for me and that I needed to be out of the apartment the church rented (as part of my salary) at the end of the month, which was in four days.

I was impressed with the timing of God’s decision especially after it came less than forty-eight hours after I questioned J about why the recently paid off deed to the church was in J’s name and J’s name alone.

God truly works in mysterious ways.

I’m telling you these stories not as a way to knock religion but rather to give you some understanding as to why I’ve lost my faith in church.

In the years since I’ve tried to attend several different churches but can’t seem to get past the ego trips, arrogance and sense of entitlement that many people in church have.  If I want to spend time with God then I will spend time with God.

If I want to spend time with phonies who care more about their image than knowing the name of the person sitting next to them, I’ll go to church. I’m simply fed up with the gossipers and those who hold their righteousness over the head of others so they can feel superior.

♦◊♦

As I said before, my problems are with church and not with God. My daughter turned fifteen this week and although she hasn’t been raised in church the same way I was she has a good relationship with God.

When we lived in Buffalo she attended a youth group and now that we are back in Southern California she continues to be an active member of her youth group and even attended church camp this past summer.

I’ve tried to become active in this church but the neurological problems I’m going through at the moment along with my past church experiences have my BS meter going off at the slightest thing so I’ve kind of kept a low profile around the building.

The first Sunday there I went in to the sanctuary early, found a seat and was minding my own business but had to get up after listening to three women talk a whole bunch of smack about someone else. I left my phone and bulletin on the seat so I would have it when I returned. I should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.

Entering the sanctuary I noticed that someone was in my seat so I politely told him that he was sitting on my bulletin and phone. The guy looked at me, rolled his eyes, reached under his ass, grabbed my phone, handed it to me and turned back around.

A normal person would have at the very least apologized but this guy was too busy playing on his phone to give a shit. After standing there for a moment waiting to see what he would do I walked out and went next door to 7-11 for a Slurpee.

I recently was approached by someone about a job opening at a church and for some reason this person thinks I should apply. They seem to think that I would be perfect for the job which seems strange considering I have serious self-esteem issues, typically don’t put my mouth on a seven-second delay from my brain and have a jaded view of church.

I’ve come to the realization that I really do need my faith back. I’m tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering what crappy thing will happen next. I want to believe in myself and, to a point, humanity but I don’t remember how to believe in either.

So I ask again, has anyone seen my faith?

I’d really like it back.

 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Super Villain or Not, Parenting Paranoia Ensues
The Garbage Man Explains Happiness
How To Not Suck At Dating

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About J.R. Reed

J.R is a full-time single dad attempting to raise a 14-year-old daughter without providing too many stories to relay to her future therapist. He is also the creator of the popular blog, Sex and the SIngle Dad. A former radio talk show host and color commentator, he’s also an off-the-hook cook, a bit of an argyle-loving dork and has a word in Urban Dictionary. J.R. has a serious guacamole addiction and a torta dealer named Danny.

Comments

  1. Like you, I believe in God but have no desire to have anything to do with the church for the reasons you name above and more. They preach love and goodwill towards all yet religion has been the reason for more bloodshed, torture, murder than anything else. Religion is not inclusive; it’s about “us” and “them”. I have a hard time believing that God likes that. I do not need to go to a particular building and associate with certain people to be in touch with God. He is everywhere and knows me and what’s in my heart every second of the day. You don’t need to go to church to find your faith J.R.; just walk outside and look at the beauty that is all around you.

  2. J.R. Reed says:

    Thanks Kat. I appreciate your thoughts. I do need to look around and see the good stuff. In fact. I’m going outside now. BRB.

  3. Church has been the place where I have experienced the most destruction, and yet also the most healing. The church of my younger years sounds much like the cultish places you describe: abusive, greedy pastor, people more concerned with feeling righteous than feeling any empathy for their hurting neighbour. The church I attend now is far from perfect, but through it I have met some of the most amazing people I know, and found a place to heal from the hurts of my past church.
    Like you have, I work with the youth group, I’m studying youth work and counselling at bible college, and I am SO AWARE, all the time, of all the flaws of the church. Seeing people hurt breaks my heart, seeing people live contrary to the ways Jesus taught breaks my heart, and sometimes the ‘church isn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect’ excuse just doesn’t cut it.

    But all of that crap is precisely why I stay in church (much apart from being at times giddily in love with God) though I’ve lost my faith in church and leaders over and again, though I’ve often felt bitter and cynical, I realise that my value can be in speaking justice when I notice injustice, in loving the new or unpopular person who doesn’t fit into the clique, in letting the outsider and the ‘ugly’ and the ‘sinning’ that God loves them even if they don’t ‘look like a Christian, in helping the youth build their identities on God rather than the church, in helping people know that it’s okay to step up and speak out if they don’t agree or don’t feel comfortable, in letting people know that it’s okay to have doubts and questions, because that’s where you can seek God and find the truth in amongst all the petty hierarchy and shallow talk.

    So disenchanted with the Sunday antics, but falling fiercely more in love and in deeper relationship with God as I continue to serve him where I feel is right. Not where I feel used or abused. Learning to say no in the context of church has done wonders.

    Thank you for your article, it makes me happy to know that people can find God outside of church, it often feels like a lonely journey, but I think that you can be all the more strong for it in the end if you choose to be. Rue the day that God can only be found in church! (I think I’ve found him mostly at the beach, on the bus, in my own home and within some amazing relationships with friends old and new)

  4. The church is not a building. The church is the body of Christ. If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the church. There is a difference between a local fellowship and the body of Christ. Not everyone who is a “church member” is a member of the body of Christ. The true church, God is still assembling. Those who have passed are in heaven with Him. The Bible says that many will say to Him “Lord, Lord….” but He will say “I never knew you.” These are he people who went to church, but had no relationship with Him.

    The book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit is the one who adds to the church. He also gifts people as He sees fit. The apostle Paul said that we are not to neglect the gathering together of the saints. We do this because this is where our spiritual gifts are exercised, and used to edify the saints, and reach out to the community for Christ.

    If you are a Christian, you are part of the church. God has not lost faith in the church. He calls it the “pillar and ground of truth,” and also says that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I have found that it is best to keep your eyes on God, and not on people, because people will always let us down.

  5. I have finally realized all churches have individuals that are gossipy, not thoughtful and you name it. Some are worse than others. I am so sorry for your experiences. I just heard a pastor say that he was thankful for his first assignment because your first experience can set the tone for your whole ministry. I was raised in church and too disliked the unchristian things I seen going on. Someone recently said something to me, ” You don’t expect to go to the hospital to see a bunch of healthy people, so don’t expect to go to church to see perfect people.” By God’s grace I am saved and he works on my faults everyday and it is hard to go to church and see people who you hold to a higher standard not do what we think is right but they have to account to God for that not me.

  6. Kent Burgess on fb. (Missouri, US) He is a good one to converse with. :)

  7. Hey, Kris! I like what you’ve written.
    People are not always …charitable.
    What I like about church (in my case UU) is it’s a nice community, & source of common ground. We’re working toward a common cause – whether it’s spiritual opening, a fostering of compassion, or sometimes, social justice.
    But sometimes especially if the leadership or structure isn’t sound there can be problems.
    Anyway, good luck! And in my experience faith while necessary can be acquired & isn’t (always?) a prerequisite for membership.

Speak Your Mind

*