I am part of something exciting today. I am the communications director and an adviser and consultant for Ryan Bell's Life After God project. Before I tell you more about that, I want to tell you a story.
In the night, one of the regular fares during good weather is weddings. People come from all over for a wedding and they need rides to and from the reception, church, casino, etc. One of my little tricks was "rescue runs". Wedding receptions. 2 families, a lot of people from the past and alcohol. It is a recipe for people to want to get the hell out of there. I would read the paper for wedding announcements so I knew who was getting married, when and where. It would give me a place to cruise past slowly in the hopes of a flag in between fares or on a slow night.
One night I had my rescue run driving by the Jacob Henry Mansion. A woman in a black evening gown waving at me. You could see the tear stained mascara. Jackpot! Rescue run.
When I asked her where she wanted to go, she told me she needed to go to the hotel get a few things, and go directly to the airport and take the next plane she could get out of this "shithole".
"So," I said as we were on our way. "Wedding not go well? Are you all right?"
"Wedding went fine, I guess," she said,"But there's only so much black sheep bullshit I can tolerate."
"Why are you the black sheep?" I asked.
"I don't believe in god. I'm not religious anymore."
"Anymore?" I asked, "So you used to be?"
"Yeah, pastor's kid."
"Oh shit!" I said, she chuckled.
We talked a little more about her anger and her hurt and her family. She also decided the airport would be extreme and she will just go to the hotel and sleep off her anger and hurt and take her scheduled flight in the morning. As we got close to the hotel, she asked me a question.
"Usually when people find out I don't believe, they want to know why. You asked a lot of questions, cab driver. How come you did not ask that one?"
"Doesn't matter to me I suppose."
"What do you believe?" She asked.
"Same space you are in. But I was never a pastor's kid. I was the pastor."
"Oh shit!" she said. I chuckled.
I dropped her off at the hotel, she paid her fare and tipped well and I was on my way back to a slow night hoping to catch another flag anywhere I could.
The part that got me about her is how she mostly lives her life just fine. Her marriage, her kids, her job, her hobbies. It is not like she gets up and goes to the atheist dentist to have her atheist root canal done and pay for it with her atheist debit card. This is not her defining character trait. For her United Methodist family, it is. She had also told me that her father is likely a pantheist at best and does not agree with his church on a great many things, but has resigned himself that it is what it is and being on the front lines of conviction and change is a younger man's game. He just is riding out to preserve a good retirement from a job and a church he can no longer stand to be party to. He was one of the few people who did not give her a hard time for her deconstruction as a younger woman. Without him, she never would have made it through the storm of disbelief. It would have been too painful and lonely to face alone. Her mother and siblings, including the younger brother who just got married today, all she is is this one thing.
They even made sure she was seated at the minister's table so she could be changed. The minister did have "the talk" with her and that was the catalyst to her leaving. She (the minister) could not seem to understand that this woman, raised in the church with a minister for a father, did have a grasp of the bible and theology. The offense was too much.
The path of deconstruction is a painful one for many. It is a lonely period. Sometimes there is anger, confusion, social alienation and even job loss or divorce. You are re-calibrating your entire life and you are sometimes stuck in the middle . I have found many faith traditions and atheist communities to either being non sympathetic to the struggle or ill equipped to handle the very real struggle someone goes through in the in between space. Sometimes, it feels that they are so caught up in their agenda of like minded thought, that you are a pawn and a demographic as opposed to a human being in an intellectual and emotionally vulnerable space.
I went through the darkness of the night and into a new dawn in my life. In this new dawn I have been freed from the many of the ties that bind me, but I have not had much to do. A lot of what I have been doing is rebuilding my life and trying to rise rung by rung out of the hole of poverty that I am in. My self esteem is improved and my comfort level with self is improved.
As of today, Aug 31, 2015, a new project has launched that I have been working with some wonderful people in the last few months. It is called "Life After God". The web site for it is here. One common problem that I have wanted to avoid is the impulse to lead the charge. In my life I have been encountering many former ministers who are now post theists. So many of them want to start another group, start another blog, write another book. Not me. That blog is already out there. That book is written. That ego in me has died. I was looking for spaces to join and take part in. When I was a minister, avarice and wanting to lead every charge was problematic (as well as common in my former profession). I want to have a voice in the public square, but I feel I can do that more effectively as being part of a team doing good work.
Ryan Bell started his journey as a 7th Day Adventist minister who decided to live a Year Without God. I will be honest, when I first heard of him, I thought it was an egotistical stunt. I did not like a man I had not met and was very vocal about it on the internet. Then I met him online through a mutual friend and I got to know him. He is one of the most humble, kind and authentic people I have ever met. As I watched him go through his process, I was impressed by his strength of character as interview after interview, celebrity encounter after celebrity encounter, he never changed. He never stopped being nice, he never put aside "normal people" to be a "star fucker".
Ryan and I were having a conversation one night through messenger and we had both agreed that he would very much like me to be on his team to forge this Life After God idea. I was proud to say yes. As we got deeper into the development it became clear that I was joining forces with not only him, but a man who has been a mentor and friend, Jeff Straka. Jeff was, like me, a facilitator for an Emergent Village Cohort. His still meets even though they are no longer connected to the EV. He is not only an activist for positive Atheism and Skeptical thought, but a well educated one. Then I learned the other person on this team. Gretta freaking Vosper! From the Life After God website, this is a little about Gretta.
"Gretta Vosper has been in the spotlight since founding the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity in 2004. In addition to being the minister of the West Hill Church in the United Church of Canada, she is the author of two books. Her first book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important that What We Believe (HarperCollins), quickly became a national bestseller. Met with both acclaim and vitriol by those inside and outside the church, With or Without God challenges the clergy’s silence on contemporary scholarship, arguing that people need to know the Bible is not the authoritative word of God for all time. Her second book, Amen; What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief (HarperCollins), was published in April 2012.
Gretta serves on the Board of Directors of both the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and The Clergy Project. She holds a position as a member of the Board of Governors of Centennial College and is also a Director on the Board of the Ecumenical Community of Chautauqua, an organization that works to provide affordable accommodations at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York."
I am just a guy with an undergrad. I am not a theologian, a scientist, a philosopher. I am a man who can drive a cab well and has questionable grammar and prone to epic rants online. I feel like I am Han Solo and I have been invited to join the Jedi Council. What the hell do I know?
So what the fuck is this project and why do I believe in it?
Part of it is an opportunity for people to connect with Ryan. People who have been touched by his story. But it is so much more. It is there to help people in that in between space with coaching, small groups and resources. It also exists to aid organizations in similar wheelhouses to ours find their path and sustainability.
If I were to describe this further, all I would be doing is repeating the information on the website.
Peer support matters. Saying me too and being understood in dark and lonely spaces is comfort. In this space, there are some amazing people, and me. I hope we get to meet you and help you through the struggle.
There are many people out there who we have encountered that say they wish there was a group like ours when they went through their transition period. Part of my role as communication director will be to find those people. This is both easy and challenging. The easy part is this. Ryan and I were talking recently and we realized that there are NASA Scientists at fancy dinner parties and temp agency workers living in motels at the donuts shop in the same space philosophically and emotionally. They come in every demographic. I am up to the challenge because I feel this matters.
I need to state what this is not. We are not proselytizing for post theism. We are welcoming people to a space to speak aloud about the "forbidden" thoughts they are having without recrimination or recruitment. They no longer have to go through this process alone. Whatever conclusions they come to are theirs. We don't control or manipulate the dialogue, we help as needed and offer an oasis from the bullshit tug of war game that so many are caught in the middle of.
I know people. I know struggle. I know passion. I know loneliness. I know a good story and the importance of that story being validated.
And I cannot sell myself short. I was, in my life, the vice president of sales and marketing for two tech companies and I even ran my own successful consulting firm. I was also, on and off, in some form of vocational ministry for 15 years of my life. It is an honor to be part of this company.
Please, feel free to look at the web site. If you relate to the struggle, you do not have to be alone anymore, contact us.
One thing that I have tried to get across in my writings is that we are more alike than we are different and we need each other. We do not need institutions or governments or churches with a certain vibe, we need each other.
You will notice in short time a change in my demeanor online. When I first left my faith tradition, I was scared and I was angry. Scared to tell people who I was and angry (as well as hurt) for the lack of unconditional love and acceptance from so many in my world. This direction is something that needs as much positive energy as I can muster. I am not an anti-theist. That said, I will still challenge the institutions that threaten the rights of my glbt child and human rights in general. We may have to share the public square together, but that does not mean I have to accept harmful behavior. But for now, it is time to focus more on what I can do and be part of that is helpful and useful to others. I once heard Dr Maya Angelou speak on anger. She said, "You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it."
This is my dance and my march and I am doing it with good company.