ex-pastor, ex-wife, ex-christian

I was a pastor’s wife. I lived a Christian life. I did the Christian things. I believed the Christian doctrine. I did it all. I believed it all. Now I am not a pastor’s wife. I do not lead a Christian life. I do not believe the Christian doctrine. This is my journey.

The first time I was saved was when I was 11. I visited my friend and she had a book called Danny Orlis and Linda’s New Mother. I started reading it while I was spending the night and she said I could take it home with me. The first time I read it I was rather huffy about it and declared to myself that I was Catholic and didn’t need to be “saved” like they were talking about. The second time I read it I decided I had better say the sinner’s prayer in the back of the book, just in case it was right.

When I was in high school I was very involved in the Youth Group at church. We played our guitars and sang for the Saturday and Sunday Mass. This was when the Catholic Charismatic movement was very much in the vogue and all of us in the youth group got born again and baptized in the Spirit.

From there it was one step further into “real” Christianity when I became born again, again, left behind Catholicism, and got involved in Calvary Chapel with Chuck Smith in Costa Mesa. It was the time of Jesus Freaks, Maranantha Music and real Bible Study. I realized how much I had been missing at the Catholic Church and delved in full force.

When I was 20 I got married and we moved to Oregon and found ourselves at a Foursquare Church. During the time we were there my husband “got the call” to go into the ministry and thus began the highly emotionally charged game "Figuring Out God's Will." He felt God calling him; he prayed about it, he sought counsel with the pastor of our own church.

Then he asked me what I thought because God could give me insight, too. What can a wife say in that situation? He already told me he felt God calling him; that God was telling him to uproot and go. Could I go against God? Could I say God was telling me something different? Could I say I didn't hear God at all?

Will it never end, I asked myself; the constant fight to know God's will? Why does He make it so hard? Why does everything have to be such a guessing game? Why is it set up so that we must second guess every decision? Why is every decision we make colored by what we felt God was saying before and did we get it right the first time or did we miss it altogether? Were we being punished for making a mistake? Why? It isn’t our fault God doesn't speak out loud and clear. It's not our fault He makes us put together a puzzle with half of the pieces missing.

But then maybe pastoring a church would be the answer. Surely if pastoring a church wasn't God's will, what was? Surely if God wanted us in the ministry, he would provide, right? In the end, we moved.

I was ready to go to Eugene if that's what the Lord wanted. Sometimes I got the impression that our pastor and the district pastor didn't think it was that good of an idea. But no matter, if it was God's will for us to go, then go we would. We would show them.

I loved being in Eugene. The church was big and vibrant. The people were so nice. Ministries Institute was hard work and fun. We were treated special because we were in Ministries Institute. We weren't outsiders for long; we were brought in with a welcoming arm.

My time in Eugene was well spent. I got the opportunity to learn and to teach. I took every opportunity to better myself. Because I was a wife I got to go to classes for free.

Those days in Eugene were some of the best days I had. God was a very strong presence in my life. Being a saved, born again Christian was my life. I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday nights. I went on retreats and getaways to learn more and to get spiritually revived. I went to the Ladies' Bible Study, I studied the bible on my own every day, I set yearly goals to read it all the way through, I prayed every day. I lived it all, I believed it all. We were there for a little over two years. Then we graduated. We were pastors and on our way to change the world.

We were in our first church a few months where my husband had the dual role of children's pastor and janitor. We were back in our original church where he first got the call to go into ministry. We were back with people who loved us. We were back with our friends. But he wanted more: more pastor, less janitor.

We traded places with the pastor in Joseph, Oregon. We took over his church of about 60 people. We were there nine months. The mill in town closed down and it looked like we were going to lose quite a few members. Lenny didn't even try to get a second job so we could stay there. He listened to the people who said get out of there, you will never make it, the people who were losing their jobs and who were disheartened and moving back to the populous side of Oregon.

And now, like I said, here we were in Hermiston. Here where God called us. After we left Joseph, Oregon we moved into the little house next to the VFW Hall in the city next to Hermiston. The district pastor wanted us to be a part of his church for awhile and start off small in Hermiston with a Bible Study. We did as he asked and we couldn’t complain. After all he got us free housing. All we had to do was clean the VFW Hall after every event. The pastors there had a decent sized church and we were glad to be a part of it.

We found a few families that were interested in starting a church. A couple had been in contact with the pastors to see about starting a church in Hermiston. One couple made contact with a few other interested families and we were on our way with the Bible Study. We met at their house until we were big enough to start the church.

I wish my husband had learned how to be a self-starter, how to be self-employed, how to build a business. Then we would have had better luck with the churches we pastored. That's something they didn't teach us in the Institute. They taught us that if God wanted your church to grow it would. And of course God wanted all of his churches to grow. But if yours wasn't growing...that must be God's will, too, or maybe, you weren't in God's will.

But only the pastors of big churches got any accolades. Only the pastors of the big churches got asked to speak at retreats and trainings. Only the pastors of big churches were asked their opinion of anything. Why? Because, if their churches were big, God must really like them. And if God liked them, so did the church leadership.

The truth is, as I have come to find out, pastors who build big churches are skilled in business building, they are skilled in marketing, and they are skilled in running big businesses. It is not God, it is their hard work. It is not God, it is their skill. It is not God; it is being in the right place at the right time. It is not God; it is their sweat equity and time. A "successful" pastor would be a success at any business he put his hand to.

It's no fun pastoring a small church; there is so much tension and pressure to grow up. When one family misses a service it could mean 25% of your congregation is gone.

It’s a lot of hard work to build a church. My husband worked full time at the furniture store delivering furniture. This cut into his time that he could have used to grow the church. There wasn’t much we could do about that. We had to eat and the church wasn’t big enough to support us. Some of our church members had told him he should just trust the Lord and devote himself to the church. Maybe they were right. It's hard to give 100% to the church if you are working. Some people thought he should just quit and let the church support him, give it the real test so to speak. It certainly would have been a time for growth for us and the church. Or maybe it would have been our demise.

It seemed my husband was never satisfied for long. Here we'd been in Hermiston for barely three years and he was ready to move on. Three years is barely enough time to get a business, any business, going and he was ready to move on to something else: something with less work, something with less personal responsibility.

I had too many responsibilities to just pick up and move on. I was committed to home schooling my kids and their friends. I was on the Aglow Board, I was the leader of out home school support group, and I was teaching a finance class for the kids at church. I certainly didn't feel like it was time to go.

Except for the church itself, my husband didn't have any commitments except that he was the token male on the Aglow Board and his answer to that was, “Oh well." I hated to think of letting people down. As much as I would have liked to be in a big church with our friend, I knew it would never happen. It was too good to be true. We certainly hadn't proved ourselves.

Besides, Hermiston was supposed to be where God for sure called us. Hermiston was where we would start our own church and do it our way and we wouldn't inherit anybody else's problems. Hermiston was where we would finally make it big having the support of the district and the division leaders. Here would be utopia. But here was my husband looking for a way out, again.

He was always looking for something better, always had an excuse to quit, always looking for the perfect job, unwilling to make things work where he was, unwilling to make the effort to excel, the grass was always greener somewhere else.

I had many questions about how involved God was in his job decisions.

He chose to be laid off at Rockwell instead of working swing shift because he heard God, he said. After much "prayer" (which I came to understand later, was figuring out what you wanted to do and coming up with enough compelling evidence to support your convictions to go for what was the easiest way out) he said God wanted him to refuse the offer. God didn't want him to tie up his evenings and keep him away from his ministry. His "ministry" was our youth group which consisted of our friends that we hung out with on a regular basis. We held a bible study and a prayer meeting with them that we were the leaders of, but it was nothing formal. Mostly we hung out and did things together, it was our group. That was the first time God told him to change jobs.

He got hired on at Intel as soon as we moved to Oregon. Praise the Lord, he provided a job right away. The plant wasn't even opened yet, so everyone was starting at the beginning as far as the training went. Lenny thought he got hired on as the Lead Man, that's what he had heard. But when they actually started the shifts, someone else was placed in that position. When he questioned it, he was told no promise was made to him. He had been told that they would consider him, but it was up to the shift supervisor as to who would be placed in that position. He quit over that, with no other job lined up. He quit even though it was God who gave him that job.

At Ricoh he said he was fired because the boss didn't like his drug-free attitude.

At the mobile home lot things didn't pan out for him. He couldn't make a sale and the one he did make fell through. He decided that sales weren’t for him.

He started looking for a mill job. In his mind a mill job would be the perfect job. He got hired and a few months later he got laid off.

When God gave him the truck washing job, he was so thankful. This job must really be the one from God because he was finally working for a Christian. All he did was complain the whole time.

Then there was the insurance job. He had decided to become an insurance agent to support us while he was in school and while his ministry got started. He had gotten his license before we left the Portland area and started up when we got to Eugene. This job was supposed to be the answer to all of our problems. But, no, it was too hard. He couldn't fit in school and work.

He got off to a slow start. A career like that takes self-discipline and courage to build. It is hard work to start any business and this one never got off the ground. It wasn't his fault though - the company he worked for wasn't supportive, they didn't help him, everybody else had it better, he didn't have the time to do all the work required, etc. Soon all our hopes of making a good living were dashed as we had to resort to food stamps and government cheese to survive. He finally got a "real job" working as a custodian for a cleaning company.

I was beginning to realize that the real answer to all of our problems would be for my husband to find a job and stick to it no matter what. And then somewhere between the truck washing job and the insurance job, he felt the call to go into ministry, to become a pastor. And I already told you how that went.

After we left Hermiston we became associate pastors at a church in the Seattle area. The pastor there was physically sick and played on it as well as spiritually abusive and very manipulative. I could write a book (and will, one of these days) on the whole experience, but it was because of this situation that I started the questioning process.

I still remember how I went through different levels of "coming out." It started because I went to counseling, and even though my counselor was a Christian, he taught me to question and to look at things in different ways.

I'm sure that's when it started, because up until then I believed, lock, stock and barrel. It was the questioning, the learning to think for myself, the introduction to NLP, the seeing I had control over my life.

Then it was Spong, starting with "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism." That was an eye opener. I could still believe without taking everything so literally. Reading Spong was like a breath of fresh air.

I remember telling my friend (also a pastor’s wife at the time) to read this book. Her husband saw it and demanded that she take it back to the store and to tell them she didn’t know what she was getting. She didn’t…she just hid it from him.

Then it was Scott Peck, he wasn’t a Christian (then) and yet what he said rang so true. When I saw him in person he said, “Sometimes divorce is the answer.” I felt like I’d been given the OK to consider it. My marriage and my religion were so tied up in each other, if it was okay to think that, then it was okay to think other thoughts outside the box.

When I finally made that break, the divorce, I never looked back. I never regretted my decision. I still don’t.

I still went to church after the divorce, but not to any fundamentalist bullshit church. I went to my friends’ (from NLP) church. They were real people. The church was small and unobtrusive, real people offering real solutions.

Then I discovered self-help beyond Christianity. Brian Tracy, he taught me to think for myself to an even further degree. He taught me that I am responsible for everything. He taught me about taking control of my life, not giving it away to someone or something else.

Peter McWilliams with Life 101 and Do It. Those books helped me along too. He said it didn’t matter what higher being we believed in, these books still worked, they still held truth. I am rereading Life 101 at the moment. It is still good.

Then I read The History of God and in doing so I discovered the history of man-made religion and I became disgruntled, felt like I had been sold a bill of goods. It was all man-made, a way to keep control over the masses, to lock people into a way of thinking to make their job easier. If you teach people how to think you can make them give you money.

There were many others along the way and they all helped to break me free of religion in a box.

I am no longer a religious person. I am a free thinker. I don’t believe in a fundamental Christianity, I don’t believe the Jesus-God connection, I don’t believe the Bible to be true – in fact, I believe it to be a bunch of stories, compiled over the ages and bound into one book. I find it contradictory and a weapon that can be used to make any point or prove any side.

I don’t like reading the bible or hearing it quoted from. It makes me cringe when I hear scriptures, I’ve heard them misused and abused so much. I can’t hear the beauty behind them. I can’t see the lesson, I can’t hear beyond the abuse. I don’t want to hear the old fables. It makes me feel sorry for those who believe it and stupid for having believed it. How could I have been so caught up in it all?

I can’t yet see Jesus apart from the bible banging religion. Maybe taken apart from all that there are good lessons and examples.

I don’t believe that God talks to man or tells him what to do. I don’t believe God listens to our prayers or has any connection with our day-to-day lives. I don’t believe in miracles, I don’t believe God has a purpose for my life, I don’t believe God comes down and rearranges things for us, I don’t believe God saves some people (from catastrophes and from hell) and not others, I don’t believe God can read my thoughts or direct my path.

I don’t believe in anything like that anymore – heaven or hell, spirits, eternal life. It was a slow and painstaking, gradual process. A lot of thought and reading went into each departure. It wasn’t a blind, unthinking decision.

I don’t want anything to do with Christianity. I am not a Christian, not even an “American Christian.” I live my life as an atheist.

It seems like once I started questioning, and I questioned the church, religion, my beliefs all at the same time, I couldn't stop. One question led to another, one doubt expressed led to many more, one belief shattered rocked the foundation and more came tumbling down, one "rule" found to be untrue gave way to more.

It was like I had a blanket, what I thought was a beautiful blanket, wrapped around me, protecting me from the elements. One day I noticed a loose thread and I picked and pulled at it and the blanket started unraveling. I tried to put it back, to weave it back in, but I couldn't leave it alone. I picked at it and worked at it and asked other people if they saw it and pretty soon, bit-by-bit, the blanket got smaller.

That's OK, I said, I still have this much left. So I cut off all the loose yarn and tucked in the loose end. But pretty soon the loose end worked itself out and started bugging me so I began the process again, pulling and unraveling until I got out the pieces that no longer worked for me. I cut off the excess and tucked in the loose ends for safekeeping.

Now my blanket was really small. I kept a hold of it like that for a while, but every time I'd take it out to use it that thread seemed to work itself out again. One day I couldn't stand it so I picked and pulled again, until the whole thing came apart.

I cut off a little thread and rolled it into a little ball. I kept it in my pocket for remembrance mostly. It couldn't be called a blanket anymore. It wasn’t worth anything, it couldn't be made into anything, it was just there. If anybody asked I could say I have a little bit of it left, the starting piece of yarn, the foundation. But really, it was just a piece of yarn, unraveled, no meaning.

I was afraid of what people will say if I threw it all away. I was afraid to admit to myself that I wanted to throw it all away. I called it god but with little letters. I didn't use it for anything; I never took it out of my pocket. If somebody questioned me I said I've still got it. I chose to hang on to that part for awhile. I chose to believe in god for a little longer. But certainly not the GOD of before, the GOD of rules and regulations, the nosy one, the all involved one, the one who makes men weak.

I chose to believe in a force outside of myself that kept things in motion from afar, one who set up the rules of the universe and lets us play them out. But then I saw that yarn hanging out of my pocket and I pulled out the last bit.

It is a wonderful place to be, free from the guilt and burdens of Christianity. I live my life fully and without question, enjoying the process of becoming who I am.