My Religious Journey

Man, what an interesting and incredible and amazing ride this religion thing has been! I was raised United Methodist until I was 10 years old, and then I went back for the Confirmation process in my early teens. And then I didn’t think about religion too much for a few years until we moved across town and I met my new fundamentalist Christian neighbors. Bob and Roxann and I had many interesting religious conversations and I even went to church with them at least once, but for some reason religion just didn’t “stick” at that point in time. I wasn’t convinced and I wasn’t interested. But I was spiritually curious. This was the early 80’s, and I read a lot of the New Age stuff that was in the bookstores and popular at that time, and as teens sometimes are, I was interested in the darker side of spirituality. I looked into out of body experiences and astral travel and I had more than a passing interest in Satanism. I have never been a big KISS fan, but I do like the songs “Lick It Up” and “Heaven’s on Fire.”

I can remember as a teenager imagining that I was worshiping the devil when I listened to that music, lol… it’s funny to me now because I knew and still know basically nothing about modern Satanism, whether the theistic variety or not. LOL… although several years ago I met a theistic Satanist online named Diane Vera and she seemed like a nice person and she was very intelligent but… kooky, lol… She was convinced that Satan existed and was worthy of her worship because a dish that should have been dirty with dust was somehow magically clean… or something… Oooookayyy…. LOL

But anyway… I do remember not liking Jesus or Christmas too much, and it was a spiritual dislike… Hmm…

But then I totally got away from any sort of religion or spirituality for a few years, until I went to college and met Michael Allen Dizmang in drama class. I had ZERO acting talent, but our teacher Mr. Kinney found a very small part for me in the play “Candide.” I was a pirate or something. My job was to scratch my body and make pirate noises, lol… 😀

I was only in the drama class for one semester, but it involved a lot of partying, which I enjoyed enthusiastically, being the young party animal that I was. Between all of this partying and attending classes stoned and staying with friends so I could party instead of living at home under my mom’s roof, Mike was talking to me about Jesus. My initial response was to tell him to “get away from me with that Jesus shit!” But Mike kept at it and he didn’t just talk about his faith. He LIVED his faith and put it into action, giving me a coat when it was cold and making sure I was fed when I was hungry. We didn’t know it back in those days, but I was severely mentally ill with Type 2 bipolar disorder that was years away from proper diagnosis. I was not getting along with my mom at the time, and I had moved in with some fellow party animal friends so I could smoke pot all day, and my job at the time was delivering pizza for Domino’s, and the boss was cool and didn’t care if we smoked pot on the job! As long as we didn’t get too stoned to work, lol… Hey man… HA HA HA HA…. here’s your, uh, pizza HA HA HA HA… LOL…

Anyway, Mike finally got me out to his car to read some Bible verses, and when we read Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir and come alive in me, and I thought, “Hey, there might be something to this Jesus shit!” So, we prayed that day in his car. It was a Honda Accord, so we were all together in one Accord, lol… and I asked Jesus to be my Savior, and not long after that I attended a showing of the “Jesus Film” at a local Baptist church. That sealed the deal for me. I knew by the time the movie was over that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer! I prayed to receive Christ again just to be sure! 🙂 That was March 7, 1985. Yes, I still remember the date! 🙂

A few months later, it was off to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX for more college. And we still didn’t know that I was seriously mentally ill. Mom and her friend Richard dropped me off at ETBU and unloaded my stuff in my dorm room and left, and I found myself in a strange place, away from home for the first time in my life. I didn’t know a single soul there, and I felt ALONE. I laid down on my bare mattress and cried. And then I went looking for someone to talk to, and within a few minutes I was making new friends. I remember Steve and Chuck and Tommy, but the rest of their names are lost to the mists of time now. It wasn’t too long before my friends found out that I could sing really well, and I got to sing a Michael W. Smith song, “I Am Up”, I believe was the name of it, at the local skating rink’s “Christian Night.” My friends and I also frequently drove across the border to Louisiana to attend numerous Christian concerts. We saw Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart one night, and I got to shake Mylon’s hand backstage! I had gone back for prayer, but Mylon walked up and we shook hands and I said something like, “That was fun!” and he replied, “Yeah, it was!” or something like that. I bet I didn’t wash that hand for a week, lol…

Anyway… the good times at ETBU didn’t last. The mental illness I didn’t know I had at the time raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and smoking pot again… at a Christian school! Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with the powers that be, and I was expelled. Technically, it was an academic suspension since my grades sucked, but the real reason they kicked me out was the partying…

I had no way of knowing it or realizing it at the time back then, but the back and forth yo-yoing of beliefs had begun, and I would be stuck with that cycling for 15 years of my life, swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of doubt and unbelief and often severe substance abuse when I was depressed. I first started questioning my faith at ETBU, and I remember one of my friends using his wallet as an evangelism tool, lol…

When I got home from ETBU, I went into an inpatient hospital facility for alcohol abuse, but it didn’t work, primarily because they didn’t catch the mental illness and it remained untreated. And I kept drinking after I got out, and I thought AA meetings consisted of the longest hours in the history of the universe! Listening to older alcoholics tell “war stories” as they were called was usually boring as hell!

But anyway… I ended up finding a new church, the Shady Oaks Assembly of God, and there too my singing talent was soon discovered and so began several years of frequently singing solos at church. 🙂 I still remember Anna Jo Fortner shouting, “JEFF!!” after she heard me sing for the first time. She was impressed! 🙂

I have only vague memories of my time at Shady Oaks, but it was fun. At one meeting I attended, we got a laugh about God being able to handle the weight of our very obese pastor. I guess you had to be there, lol…
I soon followed the Fortner’s to their new church outside of Brazoria, TX, called Church on the Rock. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and that was place was fun! Yes, church was fun!  I was soon singing solos there and participating in the praise and worship choir, and I made many good friends. I have many very good memories of that church and of our pastor, Brother Watts. He trusted me enough to let me spend the night at his church on more than one occasion. I spent those nights seeking God and blasting Christian Rock music through the awesome sound system and just having fun, as young people know how to do! 🙂

I continued attending Church on the Rock even after I moved to Houston, TX though I often struggled to come up with the gas money. I made the move to Houston in 1988, and so began a seemingly endless stream of low-wage, dead-end jobs over the next few years. I got fired from Macy’s, where I worked an extremely boring job in the Men’s department, for disappearing from work and for poor job performance. But I thought it was a lot more fun to sneak out of the store and browse the nearby bookstore than it was to do my job. In early 1990, my mother hired me to work at her travel agency in Lake Jackson, TX. I entered the computer world for the first time there, and it wasn’t long before I knew enough to do at least some of the computer maintenance, and I also learned how to use now ancient versions of PageMaker and a program called Arts & Letters. So I did computer work and I did graphics design for her newspaper ads.

But back to religion… I found a new church – the Brazosport Christian Center. I made many new friends and I sang solos there too, though not as frequently as I had at Church on the Rock. In March of 1992, I sang Dallas Holm’s song, “Rise Again” at the Brazosport College Follies and won first place. I still have the video of that performance! I was SO very nervous, and I almost forgot the words toward the end of the song. I remembered the words just literally a second before it was time to sing them, and of course I credited God with the save! 🙂

After my time at the Christian Center, I entered a few years where I was still a believer, but I wasn’t nearly as religious as I had been in earlier years. I had many doubts about my faith and questions that I couldn’t find good answers for. And I was still dealing with a then undiagnosed mental illness. So… fast forward to 2000, and I got on the Net as it existed back then and went searching for information that was critical of the Bible or the Christian faith. I found a bunch of it, and my skeptical education began at sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. Let me back up for a minute and explain something. When I was 16 years old, a psychologist told my mother that I had a “free-floating anger” inside of me that could attach itself to anything. And as I read these skeptical atheist sites, that anger and rage attached itself to the fundamentalist Christian faith, and it didn’t let go for 16 years!! After I had absorbed quite an education from these sites, I decided to start my own. I purchased religionisbullshit.com and went to work! My friend Dave, who still runs www.exchristian.net suggested that I turn it into a blog, and the site took off and became popular! This was 2002, and blogs were new back then, and any site that was a blog was almost guaranteed to be popular… I was so ANGRY, and I look back on the posts I made to that site now and I can’t see how my site got any visitors, because in one form or another, my site was about ANGER and RAGE. I took the site offline in 2004 because I felt guilty about all of the anger I was expressing and about how I was portraying Christians on the site. I frequently used this pic to portray Christians as uneducated morons:

Christian

After I took that site offline I experienced one of many brief but intense swings back up into manic religious beliefs, but it didn’t last. It never does. But soon I was back to wanting to do an atheist site again, and I bought another domain name similar to the one I had had before and went to work and tried to regain my former popularity. Harsh reality didn’t take long to hit. It’s hard to build a successful site, and I got lucky with my first site since blogs were new back then. I tried several times over several years to build another successful site, but every effort failed miserably. And I know why now! It’s not because I didn’t have something of value to say. It’s because once again my sites were about ANGER and RAGE, and I delivered my message in probably the worst way possible to actually get it heard. People don’t generally like to read anger and rage, lol… If I hit a site that is angry in tone, I’ll click away too!

So… long story short, I spent several years as a very angry atheist, and I made my views known on Facebook too. I spent a long time there posting some very angry rants against belief in God and against the Bible and the Christian faith. And I deeply regret all of that now. My anger has cost me some dear friends over the last few years, and that includes my band directors from my junior high and high school years.

But my atheism wasn’t consistent. I mentioned earlier that I spent years swinging between devout religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief. I have also tried different forms of spirituality on for size over time, and one of the spiritual teachers I discovered was Eknath Easwaran (www.easwaran.org). He took the best from the world’s major religious traditions and created an 8-Point spiritual program that I still find very uplifting and very beneficial. I meditate frequently on the beautiful Prayer of St. Francis, and I have written a book on putting that prayer into practice in daily life.

So… now 15 years of fundamentalist Christian belief and 16 years of inconsistent but very angry atheism are over, and I am happy with the spirituality that I have embraced now, which is a blending of very liberal Christianity and Eastern religious thought, that being primarily the works of the above-mentioned Eknath Easwaran. Reading his work is like breath of fresh air. And I feel the same way about some passages from the Bible.

So that is where I’m at now… but I do have what I consider to be a miracle to report! That free-floating anger that I mentioned earlier that has plagued me for so many years is… GONE!! And it’s like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders and like a veil has been lifted from my eyes and this blind man can see again! I feel like I’ve been born again… again! Lol…

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