My Story Pt IV

Those of you who have stuck with the long slog through my life are in luck: today is the 4th and final installment in this tale. And, the pay-off for all your hard work is a relatively happy ending. So, let’s get to it.

Yesterday, I ended with this tidbit:

“At the time, my oldest daughter was attending a Southern Baptist church with her mother and became very worried about my soul. To appease her (i .e., to shut her up), I decided to go to church one Sunday. I chose the local Methodist church, Knightdale UMC, thinking it be would familiar, safe and easy. Boy, was I wrong.”

How was I wrong? Well, it was familiar, I suppose. Having grown up in the Methodist church, the liturgy and order of the service was pretty much as I remembered it. That was helpful; things were a little tense and if too much had changed, I doubt I would’ve stayed. I certainly wouldn’t have gone back. But it wasn’t easy, the first sermon I’d heard in years was on a topic I’ve always struggled with: love God and love your neighbor. With my past, you can see why I might have problems with that. But, the words Pastor Jenny Wilson spoke that morning cut straight to the heart of me. I’ve always had a hard time with the idea of “thin places” or encounters with the Holy Spirit. Mostly, I don’t seem to have them. But, looking back, I had one that morning. Things were different after that. I began to pull out of the funk I’d been in and things seemed, if not brighter, then at least not quite as dark.

A few days later, I got a phone call from Jenny. At some point, I told a little about what I’d been through, ending with my conviction that I’d never blindly follow anyone ever again. Then, she said something that let me know I was in the right place: that the Methodist church doesn’t tell anyone to check their brain at the door. With those words, I knew I was home.

The next few years were spent reading and learning. After a while, I became involved with the youth group. It was there I met the next guide along my path: Sean Drummond. Sean, a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C.. had just come on board as Youth Director and we hit it off immediately. One Sunday night, he played a NOOMA video for the kids that I found very intriguing. The next day, I did a little research on Rob Bell and liked what I read very much. I was hooked on this “emergent” thing and wanted to know more. That’s when I started blogging.

It was during that search that I first ran into the phrase “Love Wins”. Bell used the term was in a sermon or article well in advance of his book with the same name, but if you google it, all you’ll find is the book. I loved the expression and immediately began a search to find out more. That led me to Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh and another mentor/guide, Hugh Hollowell. If Sean set me on this particular path, Hugh has helped me navigate it with (not so) gentle nudges and advice born of his experience with blogging and spirituality. I’m more grateful to all three of these friends (Jenny, Sean and Hugh) than I could ever express.

Considering my upbringing, it’s not really a surprise that, for most of my life, I was politically conservative. I was a hard-core Cold Warrior, seeing Russians behind every bush and believing that no amount spent on defense was too great if one would only acknowledge the threat posed by the godless Reds. I also thought any form of government assistance was a cynical ploy by the Democrats to keep poor people in thrall and voting for them. I used to say I was a Libertarian, but that’s not true; I was a Neo-con/Tea Partier way before it was cool.

That began to change as I learned more about what Jesus actually said and did during his time on Earth. It came to a head after my first bout with cancer. Before that, I thought any attempt at health-care reform was unneeded because the U. S. has “the best medical system in the world”. After prolonged exposure to that medical system, I realized just how ridiculous that idea was. I found that the U. S. health-care system works much like the U. S, justice system: it’s great…, if you’ve got money. If not, you’re pretty much fucked.

The more I learned, the more untenable my conservative beliefs became. Eventually, I gave them up and became a progressive. While there are people who doubt my progressive cred, if you look at where I came from, I’m a wild-eyed radical. Ask any of my friends who are still conservative and they’ll say I’m a damn communist.

In 2012, I left my beloved United Methodist Church because I could no longer be a part of an organization that told my youngest daughter that she was a second-class citizen simply because she loved differently. I had struggled with the UMC’s stance on homosexuality for years. For me, sexual orientation and gender issues have never been a big deal and I’ve always thought the fuss over them was ridiculous. People who are LGBT are made in the image of God just like me and asking to them to deny their orientation/gender is asking them to be something other than the way God made them.

The vehemence of the conservative response at the 2012 General Conference to changing the language in the Discipline was the final straw for me and I reluctantly gave up my membership. It was a little easier to do because I’d found a place that Olivia and I were welcomed with open arms: College Park Baptist Church. CPBC isn’t that kind of Baptist church though, they’re affiliated with the American Baptist USA, the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While the ABCUSA and the CBF have some regrettable ideas on the subject, the Alliance of Baptists are a different story. Besides, with the congregational model of the Baptist church, each church makes its own decision about such matters. CPBC is an open and affirming place.

So, that’s it. That’s the story of how I got where I am today. In the first post, I gave two reasons for telling you all this:

  1. I’m hoping it will help me deal with all the baggage from that time and
  2. it might help someone else do the same, if only by letting them know they’re not alone.

And, while that’s true, I had another reason I didn’t mention. It seems that most stories of church/spiritual abuse end with the person who was abused abstaining from anything religious, identifying as a “none” or an atheist (I think we’re agnostic, to some degree) and that doesn’t reflect my experience. I thought if I felt that way, there must be others who feel the same. If that’s you and you read this, know that you’re not alone and there is another way. It’s not easy, but it’s there. If you have questions, need to talk or just think I’m full of shit, drop me a line. I’ll be here.

2 thoughts on “My Story Pt IV

  1. Ed Reply

    I’m just wanting to clarify: in part 2, I believe, you said that the beatings began but then you said Williford never laid a hand on you. Can you elaborate?

    • JoelRieves Post authorReply

      My father did the actual beating. He was influenced by Williford.

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