A Sign From Above

A Sign From Above

I jumped right into this new job with everything I had. Instinct took over and the familiarity of it all came rushing back. Yes, it was like a rush and I was living off of that adrenaline. I had to, for I would work until 1pm each day at my other job – quickly going home, grabbing a quick bite to eat before rushing out of the home and into the neighbouring city to the restaurant, where I would be until 10 or 11 that night. I would then make my way back home to do it all over again the next morning.

Being new to the prairies I was fascinated with the prairie sky. It is huge and captures over three quarters of what you are looking at when you look out at the horizon. It is quite the experience and serves well at humility – there is an insignificance to your presence when standing outside in the middle of a field staring out at the sky. In comparison to the majestic mountains of the most western province that soared high into the sky, they were intimidating, like a looming force standing over you – and that in itself was humbling, but after being there for awhile, one would get used to those same mountains – seeing them as more of a protector than an intimidator.

But, in the prairies there was nothing to personify. There was the ground and then there was the sky. You were alone in this vast land with the vastness of space covering you and one could not help but to have that eery feeling wash over them – that if I were to disappear suddenly right now – who would notice? My insignificance was what intimidated me in those moments, not the majestic natural surroundings. So, when the prairie summer storms came, they captured my imagination in the same way that a young child’s imagination may steer him after hearing a scary story.

A storm in the prairies plays out like a full piece orchestra in a large auditorium. The large sounds filling every corner of the auditorium, unsure of its source as the sound envelopes you, overtaking you, and immersing you in the experience of it all. Over the prairies the sky would darken, accented by shades of purple, orange, and green. The winds would begin to dance in hypnotic ways and the clouds would swirl above. Then darkness as the lights go down and a hush is heard throughout the audience. A flash of light in the distance, followed by a low rumbling boom. Another flash of light, closer now, more pronounced, more distinct, followed by an even louder boom and a crack. Then before you know it the crackling streaks of blinding white light connecting the sky to the ground appears all around you with a steady roar of the storm, the wind mixed with the booms and the cracks.

These storms are the norm every summer but this first summer there were several nights that I would be driving home that they would keep me company in the distance. However, on this one particular late evening the storm was over the city and it wasn’t going anywhere. I drove out into the blinding rain and wind, slowly making my way onto the highway back home. Then just a couple kilometres out of the city the rain stopped, leaving the intensity of the lightening to keep me company. It danced around me like devils taunting it’s victim, the loud booms frightening me as I gripped the wheel tighter.

And then – boom. Well, the boom came in the instant afterwards. The instant after the lightening strike hit my van, illuminating everything inside the van, outside of the van, leaving every hair on my body on end, a weird hum and frightful silence in that second. I lost my breath but was not hurt. My hands came off of the steering wheel – my foot off of the accelerator as I was at the storm’s mercy. I slowed down but after being released from its grip, being thrown back into the storm’s darkness I trembled and wept softly as I carefully continued on my journey home.

I survived that encounter. Our van, however, did not. The first ‘electrical ghost’ would show up a couple of months later and would continue to persist, forcing us to eventually get rid of the van.

But that drive, that night. It changed me. It helped me put some things into perspective. I was rethinking what I was doing with my life. Why was I working this additional job? Why wasn’t I just going full speed with my schooling? Life questions filled my mind over those next few weeks. Then the company let me know that surprisingly they had worked things out with the manager and now wanted to figure out a way to have us both co-manage the store. This brought back the ugly nightmare that was my life when I came back from time off when I had lost my son. When the company kept another manager on to help ‘assist me’. How ironic that I was now to be that manager.

Not bloody likely.

It all just seemed not worth it any longer. The storms and the being hit by lightening started me thinking down this path and now this co-managing rubbish was a blast from the past that I was not looking forward to. So I talked to the provincial director and quit. My efforts needed to be on school. I didn’t want to drag this part of the next chapter in my life. I wanted to graduate and move on to wherever I was going to move on to.

Come to think of it. I had no idea what that was. Where was moving on? What did that look like? What the hell was I doing and why hadn’t I thought about these things before taking this leap?

Summer Mix

Summer Mix

The first summer I was in the middle of the prairies trying to carve out a new chapter in my life and my family’s life I was also feeling the pressure to provide some sort of meaningful income for the family – not wanting to deplete all of our savings right away. My job with the provincial head office was part-time and I knew that I didn’t have any classes coming up for the summer so I saw an opportunity to put aside my studies for a bit, and focus back on working.

With my resume still fresh in hand I set out to look for work in this strange new place filled with strange new jobs. The first place that I noticed a hiring sign was just on the outskirts of the neighbouring city. On the property was a large building, which had a set of rail tracks leading to the back deck of the main building. Then there were several towers scattered about the lot and several large round inverted triangles of metal. That was the best way I could describe what these objects were. I have now come to know them by their correct prairie name; hopper cones.

However, back then I had no idea what this company did – it seemed like it was manufacturing of some sort and I saw it as another way of becoming familiar with all things prairies and farming. A learning experience perhaps and I was enthusiastic. Driving into the dirt parking lot I put my minivan into park and hopped out in my semi-business attire with my resume in hand, and walked up the front steps to this business. Stepping inside there were still no indications or clues as to what exactly this business did. Instead the walls were white and bare and there was a long counter with three men, two of them young (perhaps in their 20’s) and an older gentleman.

I approached the counter enthusiastically and got the attention of the one standing closest to me, however I did notice that I had caught the attention of the other two individuals who were looking at me with an intense curiosity.

“I would like to apply for the job”, I said.

“Here?” they replied.

“Yes. The sign outside says that you are looking to hire and I just moved here and I am looking for work.” Their “here” comment threw me off so I was stumbling around with my words.

“Okay”, they replied succinctly again, but this time trying to stifle their laughter.

“Thanks!” I enthusiastically responded before leaving a copy of my resume and retreating back to my mini-van.

“I think I better re-think my work strategy…” I muttered to myself. Clearly I was out of my depth in this new foreign place and I quite obviously stood out as some sort of tourist who had wandered away from their tour group. It was time to regroup and think this through a bit more carefully.

Although I did not want to ‘go there’ I found myself scouring the ads for restaurant jobs. It was what I knew, it was familiar, and not even the prairies could separate me from the culture that exists within this genre of work. And like a deja vu scenario, place after place I applied there was no response, until I reluctantly applied to the local fast food restaurant, which was the same brand that I had ceremoniously left a few years earlier to greener pasture in the golden city of the prairies.

Within a few days I found myself sitting down with the provincial director – in one of the locations in the same city that made the hopper cones – talking about my past experience with this brand. It started off like an oral exam as I walked him through all of the procedures, like I had memorized the company’s seven volumes of policy and procedure to everything chicken. I had, but it wasn’t something I liked to brag about.

He was obviously impressed so he turned his attention to the matter at hand. It was clear he was about to talk to me about a problem that he had been wrestling with for sometime and whatever was to happen next had nothing to do with the job that I had applied for.

“We have a problem,” he began, as if I was already on board with being part of the solution and all that was left was to discuss the logistics.

He then spent then next forty-five minutes providing background on the other location in the city or ‘the problem’ as he referred to it. In particular the problem being with the manager who worked there. The problem was compounded because although they wanted to terminate the manager, the manager had been with the company for a long time and, well, in the end they just didn’t want to pay the amount of money needed to let her go. But – this problem presented itself with a solution. A line had been drawn in the sand with the manager and as a result the manager was about to go on stress/medical leave for an indefinite amount of time. If I could be willing to come on board and help clean up the mess as the location’s new manager then they would try to figure out how to make that medical leave last indefinitely.

Casting aside their own selfish intentions here I began to speak to the provincial director about what I would need in order to take on this project for them. I wasn’t going to leave my other part-time job, which meant that I could only work afternoons at the restaurant with the exception of weekends. Then there was the financial compensation if I was going to take this on for them. The provincial director enthusiastically responded to my concerns, having been waiting for a conversation like this for some time. I was offered a good salary and the flexibility in my scheduling to make this happen. After ironing out those details I accepted their offer of employment and was to begin immediately.

I was now thinking that I had gotten myself much more than a summer job and was trying to figure out how I would make a full time job managing a restaurant work with my part-time job work with my full-time studies.

One thing at a time though. I had a restaurant to clean up and the company had a manager to fire.

Person of the Counsellor

Person of the Counsellor

It is an inevitable part of the journey – the unravelling or undoing of oneself. The school I attended was well aware of this part of a student’s journey. Many a student has come up against this wall and had opted to leave or simply not finish – just becoming a number but not a face alongside their colleagues, framed and placed on the graduation wall. In this particular place it was perhaps even more poignant as a common theme amongst my peers was ministry burn-out, or a turn in life where, like myself, a clean slate and new beginning was necessary. So here we were, all attempting to start over, but overlooking the part that requires oneself to look at ourselves in the mirror.

Person of the counsellor is a term used to describe how the counsellor’s own story is being invoked while working with the client. We were taught this skill first and in reflection it made the most amount of sense to do it that way. Before we even knew what to say in our therapeutic conversations – before we knew how to really care for the client in conversation – before all of that, we were taught how to look at ourselves in the mirror. What I saw scared me. I saw a fragmented man with a fragmented past, on the edge, hiding from the world and hiding from himself.

I tried to hide but the format of the degree would reveal my secrets. When practising counselling we were to sit in two chairs facing each other. Such a position seemed exposed and vulnerable to me and there was no way I could be that vulnerable without feeling safe first – and I most definitely did not feel safe. So I would drag a table in-between us and have the session with that prop. However, our professors had been down this road with their students for quite a long time and instead of focusing on my skills they focused on the prop, wondering why I would be so inclined to use the table in such a way.

I was triggered. Triggered by their probing questions, triggered by the environment, triggered by the liturgical elements of worship and routine that the school would do as part of regular campus life. I was triggered by my classmates and I was triggered by the content of the textbooks I was reading. I was becoming unglued and very quickly I was looking for an escape – a way out – a place to hide – to start over once again.

But I couldn’t any more. Not again. I had dragged my family through enough turmoil. They had sacrificed too much already. They didn’t have another move in them. I feared that to move one more time – to ask them to support me once again – well, I just didn’t think it was there and in the end if I went down that path I would find myself very much alone. And that was the scariest thought of all. So I sought help.

One of our professors ran a counselling centre in the school – on one aspect to provide counselling to the entire school and on the other aspect to provide counselling internship opportunities for the students in my degree. I opted to go to this centre and I requested that I would met with the professor. Those next few months were a painful journey for me as I began to work through a lot of the trauma and brokenness of my life. When I combined the professional counselling with the indirect counselling I would receive through the classwork / practice, and the textbooks / papers I began to see hope in the brokenness of my journey.

All along I had been experiencing my emotional self but without language to describe them. Consequently, without the language to describe what I was feeling I was becoming overwhelmed and that contributed to my fragmentation. I was now learning language to put to my emotional experiences and I was gaining confidence in expressing that language. I placed tremendous value on my emotional self, knowing that my fragmentation only helped to sustain me through some incredibly painful times in my life and although it resulted in my dissociation I actually saw that as a gift and not a problem. Consequently because of those initial ideas around fragmentation and dissociation, when the language was learned I began to write and focus my studies into this are of counselling. In the end my thesis research was focused on dissociation and fragmentation – a result of my own healing journey after a life-time of pain and suffering.

I had now found language and I was about to use it in an even more profound way then before.

Pastoral Counselling and Other Ills of Society

Pastoral Counselling and Other Ills of Society

As I journeyed through these learned halls, ducking into doorways and corners to avoid the self-righteous parades of those ‘Theology Majors’ I encountered another foe. Looking back I should have seen this foe coming as well but in the moment I was caught up in my own most amazing adventure, learning all of these new skills and dreaming about how I could apply them professionally with whatever my next chapter of life may bring. So lost in thought was I that it would take a partnering up in a skills-based “person of the counsellor” course to slap me silly as to this new horror on the horizon.

Let’s call it Pastoral Counselling.

It is horrendous enough that pastors take advantage of their positional authority to offer up counselling to the community and their congregation, convinced that simply because they read the Bible more than anyone else in their immediate circle of influence, they have divine knowledge into what is screwing you up. Or, even more scary, is that you didn’t think you were screwed up until the pastor counselling you told you.

This place of power that this type of pastor sits in, driven by a modernistic methodology that has the presupposition that only the learned ones understand absolute truth and therefore can form moralistic code for the congregation to follow – dishing out various forms of punishment for the ‘sinner’. It is gross abuse and damages the very person seeking to understand the love of God in some meaningful way, from wherever they find themselves in their life – hell be damned. It breaks my heart just thinking about, let alone write about it.

How much worse may it be if that same treat-the-pulpit-as-some-royal-throne bestower of Scripture actually learned some skills in counselling? How much worse? A lot. And he was my partner in this skills-based course.

We would ‘practice’ counselling each other – learning how to put into action the skills that we were learning. Except my partner could not help himself. You see, being a man of the cloth for as long as he was, entitled him to a certain place of knowledge – presumption is what I would call it – divine discernment I believe is what he would call it. Perhaps an example to describe how the situation would unfold.

Imagine you were going through a divorce. It had come to that place and the papers were before the courts and the only thing left now was to hate and despise each other for destroying each other’s lives. To try and make sense of all that is tumbling around in your world you seek out a counsellor. However this counsellor is a special counsellor. He is a pastoral counsellor who has taking training in counselling. The conversation starts off well enough – as it ought to – given all the training that this pastoral counsellor has just received in making sure that a therapeutic alliance has been built. You begin to relax and since you have been looking for some safe place in which to talk about your experience of this very painful divorce – you pour out your emotionally-laden story filled with contempt for your partner and contempt for yourself and contempt for life contributing to your misery.

And then he speaks.

He speaks calmly but passionately about his own experience but he doesn’t have experience at all in anything related to what you are going through. Nonetheless he continues on, speaking with some authority about someone, somewhere and you begin to pick up that this could just be a very elaborated ‘sermon illustration’ disguised as a first person monologue in his effort to establish authority over you in the most disgusting way imaginable in this situation – experience.

By establishing that he has had a similar experience then he feels that he has built the necessary bridge over to you and now the real work can begin. The subtle nuances and invitations follows, pointing out that since you are sitting in that chair and he is sitting in his counselling chair that perhaps by position alone he would be worth listening to – as if his words could miraculously raise you from your chair and place you – um, not in his chair as that is taken – some other chair, perhaps – somewhere else, far away from him – and not with as much authority as he has. You know, over there somewhere.

But before the miracle occurs, the therapeutic conversation needs to embrace his woven quilt of carefully trodden Scripture, designed to both inform and convict.

You see, the presupposition that was present at the beginning of this conversation was that he was right and you were not.

He is a pastor after all. Not just a counsellor.

As the horror ended and as a group of educated adults we moved onto the next course in our academic journey I was afraid. I looked around and there were more than one of these individuals present. We would all graduate and have the same membership card. Only theirs would be gold-embossed with a picture of a cross on it. And they were going to go out and do the exact same work as I was, talking to the exact same people as I was.

Heaven forbid.

Camp Life / Thug Life

Camp Life / Thug Life

My position as the provincial office manager for the camp ministry served as a unique opportunity for me to be introduced to the culture of this province. I would visit the different camps and consequently would spend hours travelling with the provincial director. I felt like I was on my own guided tour of this huge flat province, being taught everything there ever was to learn about agriculture and prairie living.

I would be passing by some obscure building or landmass and the provincial director would launch into some significant explanation of the item in question. Out of those random observations I became curious about his explanation, which would lend itself to further questions and further explanation. I even developed an appreciation for southern gospel music as a result of these trips. Turns out, the provincial director was a singer, lending his voice to a few quartets in his years.

This experience of travelling around the province really solidified the accuracy of the sitcom my family and I had been studying for several months prior to making this move out east. I would get to meet several parallel characters in the small hamlets and cities associated with the camps I would go visit. I took comfort in that it served as a way to connect me to this new province that I was calling home for the next foreseeable future.

I enjoyed this job and it served me well during my time at the school. I worked there for two years, until I was coming to the end of my studies and needed to focus on my year long internship, where I would be counselling full-time in order to finish the graduation requirements of my degree. The timing worked well as the provincial director was about to make a major life step as well, stepping down from his role and then heading down south to help set up an orphanage.

Because of my enjoyment of this work – ministry – I wanted to continue my involvement with this camp ministry so I transitioned out of my office role and onto the provincial board. This proved to be a very bad move on my part and if I would have spent even five more minutes thinking about it I would have realized that every time I participated with the leadership of a religious organization it all goes belly up. This was to be no different.

But I didn’t. So I did.

It was inevitable I suppose that the next year the national director, who was self-appointed from the national board when there was a bit of a shake-up in leadership – of which he was a part of shaking out the previous national director – decided to make some financial changes. I say inevitable because  the moment money and religion come together it is like a chemical reaction that results in nothing good. His arbitrary decisions were done without collaboration from the camps and new structures forced upon the camps. I found several of his actions intolerable and without ethic. So I did the inevitable thing. I resigned.

However, I opted to inform the board of my decision to resign, offering up my reasons why – citing my inability to follow the national leader because of his actions and consequently I disqualified myself from serving any longer.

And then that is when I was introduced for the first time to this other element of this prairie province. This niceness, cloaked with religious overtones and moralistic grandstanding. This grotesque ugliness that would now be part of my regular encounters with the church, speaking in a universal way now.

The most senior board member contacted me via email in response to my resignation. In it he referred to me as being quite sinful because of what I had said, comparing my quote “foul mouth” to that of “an Irish sailor”. I had not used any profanity in my email – this is what I assume this board member was referencing in his comparison so I was very perplexed with his response. He chastised me considerably and called on me to “repent and contact the national director in order to ask for his forgiveness for what I have done.”

I could only assume this board member was now referring to someone else. So I reread both my email and his and reread it again. I could not find the correlation but then it hit me.

Any criticism at all of the most esteemed and god-fearing – not to mention ‘god-appointed’ leader would be punishable by death. However, in this more civilized time, only the ripping of my clothes, pouring ash on my head, and pleading for forgiveness from this person whom I have every only met once was of course the only reasonable thing to do. That or the earth would open up and swallow both me and my family I would imagine.

And here I thought my resigning from my position – effective immediately – because I could no longer follow this ‘most-esteemed leader’ was the reasonable thing to do.

I was mistaken.

So I did the next reasonable thing that came to my mind. I replied to his email. I told him that my email was clear in that because of the national director’s actions – I could no longer follow him as the national leader, and given my position on the provincial board I thought that it was reasonable that I should immediately resign because of this new situation. I then questioned this board member’s comparison, concerned that his referencing all Irish sailors in such a judgemental way was surely not helpful nor accurate and I wondered whether he had met several Irish sailors who possessed such a foul mouth in which he now felt it necessary to offend all Irish sailors by judging them with the same statement.

And so it began.

Life in Academia

Life in Academia

Pretentious. Ostentatious. Conspicuous. Gaudy. Just a few of the descriptions aptly used to describe those fellow students who filled the hallways with their presence, who lavished freely their beautiful minds upon those blessed enough to be sitting close enough to them in class or who in anyway gave a fuck as to what they might say next. They spent their evenings in the library, often with one thick old Hebrew or Greek only commentary sitting next to them, looking just as smug as they were. They giggled around the professors like schoolgirls with a crush on their teachers in middle school. They would seek you out, having rehearsed the newest thousand dollar word in order to try out their theological speech prior to leveling up and moving on.

And I had all that figured out before noon on the first day.

My journey into academia came from the streets to over exaggerate the story for a moment. I was an outcast from an early age, moved out on my own at the age of 16, dropped out of highschool and worked full-time. I lived life or tried to live life as it may be, then ended up falling in love, getting married, had six children, and a couple of careers before deciding at a later age that perhaps going back to school would be a good thing to do. I was surprised that the assessment this school did on me qualified me for this privileged journey into a Masters Degree and my only job was to make sure I didn’t gloat to much about the privilege of it all. Turns out my gloating would not have gotten noticed in these learned hallways. Just not enough room for everyone’s over-sized egos.

I was there to learn some professional skills around counseling and therapy, given that it was in this specific direction I wanted to now focus my career aspirations. I was good at it as a lay-person, and now I felt it best to gain the accreditation for my skill and become part of a professional association with a covering and some accountability and an ethical code in which to care for the people I sit in conversation with. I know – how very noble of me. Yet, most of that was true. All of it could have been true until I started hanging out with my peers who were on the same academic journey and who had the same polished speeches as myself.

Now I wasn’t sure what my niche might be.

But, there wasn’t time for that in the moment because I was still on academic probation, which meant that I needed to do very well with these first ten courses in order for the school to grant me official access to the degree program. In the meantime there was the added responsibility of providing financially for my family and, well, um, participating with my family. My days were long – every single one of them during the course of my academic journey there. Work then class then the papers to write. In the end I did pass my academic probation, doing very well and with that pressure off I set my sights on completing my degree.

But there were still those ‘blessed ones’ to contend with. I was surprised at just how often the need was to compare penis sizes. “Hey, what mark did you get on that last paper? An ‘A’? Well that’s good but not as good as the A+ that I received. Oh, and did I tell you that I have joined a breakfast tutoring club with the professor? You should hear his jokes on Karl Barth – hilarious!”

I dreaded the theology classes or any other class other than the skills-based counseling and therapy theory ones. In those classes I was – for the moment – separated from those pretentious bastards who were trying the very core of my Christian value system. Little did I know that I would encounter yet a different academic foe within the confines of therapy theory. At the time I was naive at just how segmented the world of counseling could be. Weren’t we all here to learn how to help people? Perhaps, but apparently there were some incredibly strong opinions over what needed to be included in that 50-minute hour.

I think what surprised me the most early on was encountering those fellow classmates who were there because they ‘took a break from ministry’, or ‘stepped back for awhile’ or who were on ‘sabbatical’. In other words they were pastors who couldn’t put up with the crap any longer, came to despise the very people they were supposed to be caring for, were burnt out and saw it a good idea to head back to school and get their masters in counselling to somehow justify this unfortunate setback in their own personal ministry journey.

At least that was my interpretation of the situation, given my various interactions with each of them. That being said, you would have thought that being beat up a bit and tossed around in this thing called life would have helped their perspective but, alas, that was not to be and it was on this point that I dreaded some of these classes. Their over-arching approach to counseling was still from a modernistic, theological point-of-view. In other words because of their privileged position as pastor they understood the Bible and more specifically, absolute truth, and consequently they could now speak into your life with moral authority. The only thing they were here for was the skills to learn how to do that – perhaps in a nicer way – but more than that – they wanted the license to do so. To whip out your pastor card and your counselor card. Well, that was the cat’s meow.

And I just wanted to vomit at the sight of it all.

But…To Them I am a Somebody…

But…To Them I am a Somebody…

It wasn’t long, before I also became the treasurer of the village’s recreation committee, called upon to clean-up the mess of this organization. I had long been pigeon-holed as the one to clean up organizational messes and I had long identified myself well within that context. This was just the next thing I could find affirmation in and the next thing that I could use to stroke my ego. The oddness of this though is that it had become a cycle in my life. I was only a part of that committee long enough to clean up the mess of it before I found myself bored and wanted out. And an ugly side of me is when I am bored, my cynical anti-social tendencies get the best of me – resulting in burned bridges and other social messes that are best left un-messed in the first place. Consequently, somewhere along the way I had begun to try and learn the art of leaving on a high note. I barely accomplished that feat with my departure from this organization.

I wasn’t as fortunate when the time came to leave the provincial organization that I had just started a new job with. However, that is a couple of years away yet.

It didn’t take long to get into the swing of things from a family perspective. Actually, I was pleased to discover that given all of my years working in a noisy environment I found it soothing to spend my evenings sitting at my desk with a stack of books and textbooks on one side, my computer in front of me and my scribbled notes in a pile to the right. It was soothing to me because the house was so small and I was gone so long that the children would spend time with me or play by me and yet their noise and their interruptions did not drive me to a cubicle in the school’s library like most of my peers, but instead I could feel still connected to them without the sacrifice of falling behind in my studies.

Good thing as well, because, although we had saved quite a lot for this new chapter in our life and would be fine for quite awhile yet, that financial path was not going to sustain us to the end of my degree, so I needed to work – albeit part-time would be enough – but it still required time away from the home, on top of school and the consequent papers to write and content to get through in preparation for the next class. I was burning the candle at both ends, but somehow, because I could be beside my family for a good portion of that journey, it didn’t seem as much as a hardship for me.

But.

This strange new world presented a new type of dance for me that I struggled to become a part of. The church community was unlike any that I had yet encountered in my Christian walk and I found myself stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of it all. We didn’t know what church to attend and actually we had several to choose from, which was something new for us as well. We hadn’t lived before in what could easily be referred to as a ‘Bible belt’ and consequently had no idea what that might be like. In the moment it seemed great, that there would be viable choices for us and amazing micro-communities in which to connect and feel connected.

And so we searched.

There was the large church building just off of the city center 20 kilometers from the village where we lived. A large church building with perhaps just over a dozen people in attendance, eyes drooling as the eight of us walked in and took a seat in a pew. There was an old Baptist church on the hill heading to the city center where it was just my wife and I who attended that Sunday morning, packed into a pew filled with older folks, finding myself listening to a blatant racist pastor’s sermon. I wanted to stand up and call him out in my anger, but instead I opted to just get the hell out of there, stepping over a couple of little old ladies in the process.

We attended the large church on the hill, with those big views of a valley, overlooking the rest of the city – the very positioning of this brick and mortar suggesting superiority, knowledge, and moral authority. Actually, we hung out there for awhile, trying to make sense out of some of the relational dynamics that were present. This was a church with history. A lot of history and the families to back that up. To try and explain what I mean, my wife had explored a theory of friendship, which among other things, simply states that people have x-amount of friends in their lives and when all the slots are full there is no room for any more. “Sorry”, they would say with a ‘nice’ smile, “you are shit out of luck but if someone was to depart and a slot would open up, perhaps we will give you a call”.

Actually, understanding that aspect of friendship has really been quite helpful over the years. Not everyone was being dicks. It was simply that their friendship slots were all full.

But I digress.

We tried out another large church, closer to the outskirts of the city. Well, come to think of it – all of the churches were large, either in building size or in attendance or in both. This really was the Bible belt. This church on the outskirts was really quite uncomfortable as it was apparent that we had not gotten the memo on how to dress and act. My wife and our daughters were supposed to be in long dresses and to keep their mouths shut while in the sanctity of the building structure, while myself and my sons were supposed to be in suits, walking around like we understood absolute truth.

Being a feminist and an egalitarian, I thought it wise not to return.

This church thing was a bit more tricky here than I had anticipated. I had opted not to attend the church that was held in the school’s auditorium as it catered to the college students and my family and I felt out of place there – not to mention there was only so much school that one could take over the course of a week.

Hey, I am beginning to sound like a man making a lot of excuses to not go to church. The opposite was true, however, since we had left such a wonderful church experience back home we (I) was searching for its equivalent in this ocean of churches here.

Only I didn’t know what I was really looking for was the same privileged position I enjoyed in my church back home, where everyone knew my name, where we were the fan favorite, where we were being financially supported. I enjoyed the benefits of being a somebody and wanted the same thing here.

But.