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.