Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Sunday Me (48)

Sunday Me

I fucking hate Sundays. One day out of every seven days of the week, four days of every month, 52 days every year for the past 32 years, a total of 1,662 days of my life that is a constant reminder of the pain of my childhood. Like Chuck Todd always says at the end of his show, "If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press." For me, "If it's Sunday, I am angry and in pain." It's been that way for the last 32 years, and I am sure it will be that way for the next. 

Dear reader, please indulge me as I start from the beginning and and try to describe, and perhaps process, why each week is so painful. 

My parents were both Christian God-loving people. We attended our local Assemblies of God church each Sunday morning and evening. Each Wednesday evening we were there. Holidays, like Christmas, Easter, and the 4th of July were of the utmost importance in our life. We were heavily involved in children's activities. My father and I were active in Royal Rangers (A Christian version of the Boy Scouts) and my mother and sister in Prims (also a Christian version of the Girl Scouts). 

During those times we were happy and proud to be a part of our Assemblies of God church. Our Pastor, James Miller, spoke passionately about the Bible and masterfully taught the principles found inside. To my recollection, he was well respected in the church and in our small town of Longmont, Colorado.   

Everything was normal, happy, safe, comfortable, and predictable. Sunday mornings were spent in the children's wing of the church.  We sang songs like "Jesus Loves Me," or "This Little Light of Mine. We even sang my mother's favorite, "This is the Day the Lord Hath Made." I remember fondly that as a child she would wake me up singing that song and usher me down stairs where breakfast was made. 

After a few songs, we would split up by age and learn a Bible story, like how a tax collector named Zaccheaus climbed a tree to get a better look at Jesus through the crowd. Or, how Noah built a giant boat and rescued his family before the flood came. After that, we would do a craft based on the story we had just learned. By then the adult church was over and it was time to go home. Slacks, shirt, clip-on tie, muddy black shoes. Routine, safe, and all encompassing.

Sunday nights were spent in adult church. My father, mother, sister, and I would sit together and sing songs from a hymnal and then listen to our beloved Pastor Miller teach from the Bible. At the time I found this incredibly boring and I would try and stay quiet while picking out shapes in the rock wall behind the platform. Other times I was not successful in being quiet and my father would take me outside and discipline me. I didn't understand everything, but I knew the message was important and that I should want to understand what was going on.

Sunday nights were also for prayer and baptisms.  I was baptized on a Sunday night, because as I understood it, baptism was the next step after giving your life to Jesus. It was a truly special experience. The entire church watched as the Pastor dunked me into a pool of water. It was described as an outward demonstration of the choice I had made a few Sunday mornings earlier. I was ten years old. When I emerged from the water I truly felt like the church and God had accepted me.  God would hear my prayers.

Throughout the year if a member of the church became sick, or were experiencing hardship of some kind, the church would take time to gather around that person and pray for them. After my father became ill with pancreatic cancer, the elders of the church called him to the front so that they could pray. Dozens of men and women surrounded him and began praying. I heard shouts of "BE HEALED IN JESUS NAME!" intermingled with the mumblings of prayer. I also prayed fervently, wishing nothing more than for the same healing everyone expected for my father.  Unfortunately, a few months later, Pastor Miller and all the elders and members of the church attended my father's funeral. I was handed a carefully folded American flag commemorating his service in the Air Force. I didn't understand why the prayers didn't work when God had accepted me. I must have done something wrong or disappointed Him in some way.

Wednesdays were my favorite.  As the church expanded during the early 1980's, they began purchasing homes in the surrounding neighborhood.  The boys group I was part of, The Royal Rangers, would gather in these homes and we would learn about knot tying, gun and knife safety, how to camp and survive in the wilderness. We also had a Bible story or a memory verse that we had to memorize by next week. I continued to go because I felt connected to my dad and I thought I would be closer to God.

During the summer months we would go camping somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, or on the plains east of town. There were several campouts during the summer,  The longest of which was a 5 day "Pow-Wow" where all of the Royal Ranger Outposts from all of the Assemblies of God churches in Colorado would gather for competitions like fire starting, relay races, compass courses and first aid during the day. Then at night, we would gather around a huge bonfire. The leaders would dress up in frontiersman style clothing and tell stories of how the west was won, and at the same time relating it to a biblical principle. It was during those nights I was the happiest. I loved watching the sparks rise from the wood pile and flames jump up to meet the starry sky above.  I never felt more connected to my church, my God, my friends, and myself than in those moments. 

I'll never forget, there was one night before the bonfire began when I asked the leaders if they would pray for my father because he was at home, too sick to be there.  I knew all of the leaders respected my father because of his involvement in the Royal Rangers over the last 10 years. They called me down to the front where the fire was about to be lit. Almost 100 men and boys gathered around me and prayed that my dad would recover, and they would see him the next year. After they finished praying, I knew God had healed him and I would go home the next day and see him happy and healthy like before.  

It was September that year that my father died. God failed to answer my prayers, or was it that I had failed my father because I didn't pray hard enough. Perhaps it was neither of those things. I was just eleven years old. 

We continued going to church every Sunday, and every Wednesday after dad died. After all, that's what you do on Sundays. In the weeks following the funeral, I was bombarded with messages of condolence and encouragement from the church members trying to help ease the suffering of a little boy. 

"You are the man of the house now," they would say

"The Bible says to take care of the widow. That's your job now Joel."  

"Are you going to go out and get a job and take care of your mom?"  they would joke. It wasn't a joke to me. I took those gibes seriously. 

I was confused, and depressed. What was I going to do now? The minimum age for employment was 16. I was too young for a job. I tried mowing lawns, but that was only a few dollars a week. As my mother told me over and over, she needed at least ten dollars an hour to survive. The money I earned wasn't going to cut it. My mother didn't help me realize that I was just a boy and that I didn't need to be a man.  She never told me it was okay to grieve. She never let me just be a kid. She looked to me to fill the shoes of a man that was a legend to all of us, perfect in every way. I was expected to fill her emotional void, to be her new friend and companion.

After services on Sunday, my mother would tell me that since she was a widow, that the church was supposed to take care of her. She worried that since the church wasn't fulfilling God's direction according to the book of Exodus, Deuteronomy and First Timothy, it fell upon me to take care of her. I was going to have to become her substitute husband, minus the intimacy. It was a role that I begrudgingly acquiesced to fulfilling. 

For years we continued going to church on Sundays. Each week I would put on my church clothes--slacks, shirt, black shoes and a leather tie. We went to Village Inn or ate roast beef afterwards.  And then our beloved Pastor Miller unexpectedly died. He was the anchor of the church community, providing a safe haven and spiritual leadership for us. He was kind and truly loved his flock. For months afterward, the church struggled to find its way until they agreed upon someone who had years before been the youth pastor and was later moved to Indiana to lead a church there.

The first Sunday evening as pastor, AFB began teaching about loyalty and being united with church leadership. I remember watching him pace the aisles looking at each and every person in attendance. He walked and talked that evening for a very long time, until he came to where I was sitting with my family. He called me over to him. I stood up and walked to where he was standing.  I really wasn't sure what was happening because I wasn't listening to a word he was saying. I had tuned out a long time ago. I was 15 years old at the time. 

I snapped to attention as he placed his hand on me and began to pray over me. He prayed that I would forgive God for taking my father away from me. I didn't even know how he knew about my father because he wasn't a part of the church when it happened. It perplexed me. I wasn't mad at God at all. I had moved on. I missed my father to be sure. I thought maybe the spirit of God had told him.  I was in awe that the new man of God would take the time to single me out and give me a word straight from God. I was 15 years old and more concerned about dating girls than getting a word from God. It struck me as odd that God would reopen a closed wound.

Sundays and Wednesdays, week after week, month after month, year after year. Slacks, shirt, black shoes, leather tie, Village Inn or roast beef.  It was during this leadership transition that I grew into my mid and late teenage years, and I began to hate going to church. I began to hate and distrust anything Christian. My mother and I would drive to church together. She would go and find a seat ,and I would slip out an opposite door and walk to the park across the street where my friend was waiting.  We would smoke cigarettes and talk about how stupid church was. Even though she was dating my best friend, I really loved our friendship and secretly hoped that she would fall in love with me instead of him. 

On the way home each week, my mother would openly worry that I needed a male role model. She thought that she couldn't raise a boy, and that I needed a man to raise me or else I would become effeminate, or worse, a homosexual. She wanted me to go to heaven, and according to First Corinthians 6, I wouldn't inherit the Kingdom of God if I were gay. We would pray together in the car that God would bring me a male role model. I didn't know what I needed, but I had no reason not to trust my mother.  All I knew was that the church had become devoid of the safety and security that cradled my childhood.

After I graduated High School I felt aimless. I didn't know what I wanted to do. So, I took a year off from school and worked at the local gas station full time. I still went to church. It was just what we did on Sundays. Slacks, shirt, black shoes, leather tie, Village Inn or roast beef afterwards. Another dear friend worked at Village Inn and I enjoyed seeing her there whenever I could.

In 1990, my mother had found her dream job working as an executive assistant in a large church outside of Columbus, Ohio. She decided that she was moving there, and I was going with her. I hoped that the change of scenery would help me get over my aimlessness. Maybe I would choose a career path and begin enjoying going to church again. I would begin trusting Christians again. I would quit smoking and become the man my mother wanted me to be. 

We packed the house in Longmont and drove the 1500 miles to our new home in Groveport, Ohio. 

The Ohio church was huge. It was bigger than I had ever seen, with bright television lights everywhere, loud music, and thousands of people in attendance each week. It was something I had never experienced before. Our quiet Assemblies of God church was nothing like this.  It was a well orchestrated event that let emotions be on display, and God was the star. The level of professional production and strict adherence to unspoken rules was like watching a Hollywood movie. The truly spiritual and elite people of the church were clearly identified and held in the highest regard.  They were to be respected and held up as the standard that the rest of us were meant to live up to.

It was still stupid, only louder. I missed my friend that I could smoke with. I missed my friend that worked at the Village Inn. I missed my best friend that I grew up with since we were babies. He was getting married to the girl I hung out with in the park across the street. Sunday after Sunday, slacks, shirt, black shoes, polyester tie, Perkins or roast beef afterwards. Time passed and I began to forget my childhood friends. I began to forget my childhood. All I had remaining was church on Sunday, slacks, shirt, black shoes, Perkins or roast beef afterward. 

I started going to community college after a failed attempt at breaking into the radio industry. Three years in community college taught me that I was no good at math and it was time to try something else. I decided to try Bible College. All of the men I knew and respected in my life were Christian God-loving men. My mother told me that my father wanted me to go to Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, but World Harvest Bible College was good enough. She thought he would approve.  Even though the college was just formed a few years before, it was fully accredited. Years later we found out that It was not accredited in any way. 

The amnesia was complete, I began enjoying going to church again, I had quit smoking, I began trusting Christians, and Sundays were becoming less of a chore. Slacks, shirt, black shoes, silk tie, Olive Garden or roast beef afterwards. 

In the next three years, I learned everything I could about the Bible. I loved going to school everyday. I read and studied its pages from cover to cover. I read and studied everything I could. It was a treasured time in my life that I do not regret. I wanted to be part of the elite, the spiritual leader that my mother and the ghost of my father would be proud of.  I wanted to be a pastor, to lead people to the Jesus I was now falling in love with. But, I didn't really like people.

One day after classes, I began studying about communion. First Corrinthians 11:17. I was sitting at the kitchen table, my Bible and my class notes in front of me, something happened that I could not explain. I began to feel aroused. Out of absolutely nowhere, my penis became fully erect so much that I couldn't ignore it. Afterwards, I felt shame and disgust with myself. Masturbation was something I had struggled controlling. I had thought it was a sinful practice and everytime I needed to repent and resolve to never touch myself again. I felt that I had disgusted God and that He would never anoint or bless my ministry if I did that again. I believed that I would never be a pastor, never be like the men I listened to preach the gospel. I so desperately wanted to be like them; they were my male role models. Rod Parsley, Tom Bender, Oral Roberts, Lester Sumrall, even AFB. I emulated them. I wanted to be them. If I masturbated, then I would fail at what God had destined me to be.  I believed that the people I was destined to help would never know Jesus, and be cast into hell forever because I didn't have the willpower to stop cumming into my hand.

After that day, Sundays became difficult, no matter how hard I tried to cover up my anxiety, rage and uncontrolled sexual desire. It was always there. I tried to keep my eyes on the ground so that I did not show my lascivious gaze. I couldn't control where my eyes looked if I raised my head. I would be always searching for a glimpse of something so that I could rush home and sin into a sock. Slacks, shirt, black shoes, silk tie, blood intermixed with cum in hand, shame and dry roast beef afterwards. 

I couldn't stop, and I felt like a failure. I would repent on Monday, only to do it again a few hours later. I could never wait until next Sunday. What was it about Sundays that made me feel so horrible? What was it about Sundays that made me feel so dirty, shameful, sexual, out of control, concupiscent, orgasmic and angry.  Even back then, while going to Bible school, learning to preach and minister the gospel, I wanted to skip Sunday and go right into Monday because of the pain and confusion I felt. 

I thought that after I graduated I would get better.  I thought that after I became ordained, I would get better. In 1995 I graduated from Bible College and was ordained to minister. That didn't help. I was still out of control and God was not answering my prayers. I tried my best to cover up my shame with piety and service. If I could serve the church more, perhaps I could be a better person. 

I became a leader in the church. I visited people in the hospital and prayed over them. I stood at the platform and prayed for people every Sunday. I taught the Bible on Sunday nights to the boys who were a part of the Royal Rangers. Nothing was helping. I was helping others and I was sinking deeper into desperation. 

Searching for answers while reading the Bible one day, a scripture began rolling into my head that would ultimately cure me of my problem. Mathew 5:30 "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." 

I began thinking that if I cut off my penis and gouged out my eyes that I would be worthy of God and He would finally bless me and the ministry I was trying to develop. I had seen God bless others in my class. I was sad and disappointed that God was not blessing me. I began thinking that if I followed the directions given by the words of Jesus, if I could just gain the courage to remove the sinful body parts, God would finally love me and bless me. 

That only made it worse,  I didn't have the courage to remove a body part (thankfully).  I needed to find another way. If I could just grit my teeth and pray more, serve more, wear a more expensive suit, God would love me enough to help with my sinful addiction. Suit, silk tie, cordovan shoes, Bob Evans or roast beef afterwards. 

I married my wife just before Camp Meeting. it was love at first sight. I knew she was the one when while, on our first date, driving from Columbus to Millersburg Ohio, she quietly looked out the window at the trees going by. She didn't talk at me.  She was just okay being in my presence. When we did talk, it was insightful and fun. She laughed at my jokes. She didn't know my struggle. 

We decided that we were being led by God to plant a church in Las Vegas, Nevada. After we moved there, we found a home church, and I began praying about starting a church. We were going to call it "Judah Triumphant Tabernacle." It lasted three weeks. I failed God, or God failed me. I wasn't sure which. If only I liked people more, if only I wasn't so sinful, if only that strip club didn't exist that tempted me so much, if only porn wasn't so awesome. 

Sunday after Sunday. year after year, the same struggle. We had moved back to Colorado and then back to Colorado Springs.  We became youth pastors at a small Assemblies of God church east of town. I thought now God was going to heal me. He was blessing my ministry. I was teaching every week. I was respected and loved by the people I pastored.  Eyes down, FUCK! it's not working! Don't look! I can't control my eyes. Any other day of the week, I was fine. It was Sunday specifically that I couldn't control my gaze. We attended that church for several years, for two years we were pastors. Suit, silk tie, brown shoes, tuna salad sandwiches or baked chicken afterwards. The instability I felt was becoming more and more noticeable. I was trying my hardest to keep everything together. 

Shortly after we adopted our first daughter, I lost my job.  It was one that I really enjoyed and to this day I consider the people I worked with, friends. I had a history of losing a job, and then losing months at a time staring at a computer endlessly searching for porn on the internet. I was determined that I was not going to do that this time, so I sought prayer and counseling from the associate pastor. Once again, God failed to answer my prayer, or I failed to have enough willpower. I am not sure which. 

Some time later, we left that church and began attending another independent church nearby. The AG pastor saw that I was spiralling, but I needed to keep prying eyes at bay.  I was becoming unstable and angry to the point that my wife was wanting to leave me. Please read Emotional Hostage. I was determined to find the solution to this pattern of behavior and sought help from the pastor of our new church. Although as described in this blog and countless stories illustrated here, Sundays have always been difficult. I haven't shared these struggles because they have been centered around my religious upbringing. I have wanted to keep most of that part separate. I am realizing now that perhaps the two are not separate but a part of the same trauma. 

The countless Sundays in this story after AFB returned to Longmont were all the same.  Anger, hatred, confusion, lust out of control.

 As Chuck Todd would say, "If it's Sunday, it's fight with your wife."

"If it's Sunday, it's out of control anxiety."

"If it's Sunday, it's obsess about porn."

"If it's Sunday, it's masturbate until its raw and bleeding."

"If it's Sunday, it's rage and make everyone feel small."

"If it's Sunday, it's self loathing and depression."

"If it's Sunday, it's wish it were over and I was dead."

To this very Sunday, the feelings of rage, confusion, and anxiety affect my core being. It affects my family. My children walk on eggshells around me on Sunday. My wife is unhappy. Yet, I try to reclaim the day and do something fun with the family. I am not always successful and I regret my behavior very much. I just don't know what to do. We haven't gone to church in years.  I don't even feel safe when on the rare occasion my family tries to attend. I have banned all talk of church or religious tradition in my home, unless I am trying to prove a point to an online "Christian" than no longer demonstrates Christian values. Everything God related repulses me. My family comply with my wishes, but nothing, not even this, stops Sunday from coming.

It all started on a Sunday, when AFB picked me out of a crowd because I was vulnerable and alone. I was destroyed on that Sunday.  I am forever a new person because of Sunday. I need to destroy Sunday. It's not who I am or who I want to be. The Sunday me. 


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