Road Trip

Road Trip

My wife and I love to drive and so we do, clocking almost 160,000 km so far on our new vehicle that we purchased just over three years ago. During our vacation times we will often go for a drive that could easily turn into an all-day event, usually adding 700-1000 km by the time we pull back into our driveway at the end of the day. This type of behavior does draw some strange looks and comments from people, but the staff at the dealership where we bought our car seem to be enjoying our oddness, perhaps linked to the frequency in which we are in their service department getting ‘regular’ maintenance done.

However, it was my wife and I who were handing out the strange looks when we took to the road a few days ago for one of our ‘epic’ day road trips. We pointed the car east and began to drive with only a vague idea of where we wanted to go and with no real conviction that it would happen. All that was okay with us because if we made it, great, and if not, then great as well, because we would have made decisions in the moment that brought us joy, which is the whole point of a road trip in the first place.

Our first stop was a premature one just on the outskirts of the city as we hadn’t grabbed a bite to eat yet and wanted a coffee for the road. Pulling into a local coffee/sandwich shop we went inside. The restaurant was fairly empty, however the staffing levels indicated that they were expecting to get busy any moment. All eyes were on us as we made our way to the counter to place our order. Unaccustomed to how this store flowed, once the cashier took our order, he left to get our drinks, and being obscured by the various machines lining the counter-top, we had no idea where he had popped up again – let alone where to pick up our drinks. The cashier had wanted our name as we ordered – apparently so the sandwich clerk could call out our name when our order was ready. I declined, as I didn’t feel I was that close to any of them to offer up my name. Instead we opted to hover around the sandwich station until the order had been filled.

Dreary pop music blasted from the speakers above as we contemplated all but a moment as to whether we would sit down and enjoy our lunch before hitting the road once again. One look around the room gave us our answer as my stare was met by a few curious customers – those customers who were obviously regulars, staring at us who were obviously not. We hastily retreated to our car and ate our lunch in the safety of our Mazda before turning onto the road to continue our journey.

A few hours later we stopped at another coffee shop in the last town before the neighboring province. Using the bathroom we both commented to each other how there was no paper-towel, having been replaced with a 2-inch wide hot air unit that in this particular case did not blow hot air or even enough air to attempt to dry our hands. We both needed to retreat back to the bathroom stall to gather enough toilet paper to dry our hands. After settling on our second choice of snack and having our questions deflected to a dietary brochure rack behind us we quickly made our way back to our car to get out of this town and back onto the road. As my wife was settling into her seat her door shut gently but not completely. Before she had a chance to react an older woman had come up to the car – opened up her door and then shut it hard, commenting to the other older woman who was with her on the nice thing she had just done.

Feeling a bit violated and reflecting that this coffee shop was full of elderly white people only – including the staff, we picked up a bit of a weird vibe and decided to not only get back onto the road quickly but to add this stop and this community to our already long and exhaustive list of places and businesses that we will not be returning to. Such has been our experience with our drives as we stumble upon different businesses and communities. Given our experiences in such places we have compiled a long list of places to avoid while travelling. I can only suspect that we are not alone in this practice but perhaps it is this that adds to our oddity.

It was now coming up to dinner time as we were approaching the first larger city in the neighboring province. We both were getting quite hungry so we pulled up to a chain restaurant. We had eaten here before, in a previous drive, and although it was not a good experience there were other contributing circumstances as to why that might be the case. We therefore decided to give it another chance. thirty-five minutes later my wife opted to wait for me in the car while I waited to pay for our meal. Nope, even with the contributing circumstances not present this time, enough had still gone wrong to add this place to our list – with the city itself dangerously close to being added as well.

On a side note what has happened to the quality of food nowadays that it has to be buried under a tremendous amount of sauces and spices? It is a disturbing trend that is starting to freak me out a bit. But I digress.

At this point, given that we had already clocked a few uncomfortable experiences we opted to bail on our original goal and turn north instead to wind our way through a provincial park. It is a drive that is both scenic and offers a different driving experience to the prairie flat and straight roads, instead rolling hills, lots of corners, and forested land to look at. Situated in the middle of this provincial park is a resort, which as we drew closer to the location we were becoming more intrigued to check it out – having heard from a colleague about how awesome a place it is.

For being located smack-dab in the middle of the prairies this place on first glance was amazing. You drove into this place, off of the highway, shielded by forest all around until suddenly it opened up into a nice looking lake and a mini-tourist village full of quaint buildings, cabins, and shops. We drove around this village for a bit, taking it all in and wondering out loud to each other if this might be a place where we could rent a cabin and have all the children come out – perhaps for a family vacation or a place to spend Christmas together – that sort of thing.

The prairie culture when we first moved here reflected a people who did not take themselves too seriously, who reached out and helped their neighbor and who embraced a sense of community, welcoming to new people. That is, of course, until vacation time. To this end the people ferociously defend their secret turf, their hidden communities, their weekend getaways. Tired out from all of their ‘nice-ness’ throughout the week or even during the months in-between vacations they very quickly pack everything up and retreat to these places and a ‘no visitor’ sign is erected at its entrance gates.

Case in point was this resort destination. The websites that we could find on this place did not at all accurately reflect how scenically beautiful a place this was. Nothing talked about the quaint shops and storefronts that lined the touristy boulevard. I believe now that this was and is on purpose. When we inquired as to availability and price we were met with a long list of rules and conditions. It was as if the entire experience summed up one of my wife’s theories on friendship – the idea that a person can only manage a certain amount of friends and once full anyone new has to wait for an ‘opening’ to come up before a meaningful friendship can be had.

Such is the summary of this place, as long as there were no openings for new friends we were not really invited to be there. So, although the place was quaint and beautiful, we turned our car north once again and carried on.

About an hour or so later we arrived at the most northern town on our drive. Here we pulled in to use the washroom and got a bit of gas before turning back west to begin our drive home. We stopped again at another coffee shop, however the washroom facilities were less than ideal so I opted instead to take the car to the gas station next door in hopes that the service station bathroom was in better condition. I was right. We had entertained stopping here to take in a movie before heading back home, however still feeling a bit bummed about the most recent interaction we opted to hit the road instead, wondering if we could make it back home in time to watch a movie there.

An hour or so later we pulled into the first large city back in our province where I stopped to fill up the tank at the branded fuel station that we regularly use. My wife had opted out of using the bathroom back in that other city so I was to pick her up at a restaurant connected to the parking lot where I was fueling. As I pulled out of the gas station and began to drive through the parking lot to the restaurant I was cut off by two vehicles, with me needing to slam on my brakes to avoid them hitting me. Both of them seemed oblivious to the fact that I was there – content to drive like a maniac through a parking lot, cutting across parking stalls in some sort of secret race to the street exit. It was enough for me to want to find my wife and get back on the road once again – as fast as we could.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, although we had opted to not make any more stops – and that included the movie – just to head straight home. And I guess that summarizes our driving experience. As long as we can minimize our pit stops we can find immense joy and satisfaction in these day trips, however we far too often end up with either uncomfortable experiences or very bad experiences that detract from the overall experience. To that end we are thankful for our Mazda and the amazing fuel efficiency it has so we can mark an X on our map and drive through these communities in search of a new and different place, with the expectation of a different experience. Perhaps this is a reflection of the definition of insanity – at least in our prairie experiences.

The Quest For Friendship

The Quest For Friendship

My wife brought up the question once again, earlier this week. The question, of course, was about looking once again for a church. She had suggested that perhaps we could check out an Anglican church. This launched us into an interesting conversation not because she mentioned Anglican, we had already been to an Anglican church already as part of our ‘grand religious tour’, but around the idea of us ever attending a church again.

My desire to find a church comes out of a desire to get out and meet people – hopefully like-minded individuals (don’t we all) and perhaps – if things go well – we could develop some friendships with couples. So, succinctly stated, we are looking for friends. Perhaps, even more succinctly is that I am looking for a male friend. Once you take bars and night clubs out of the picture and on the other end of the social scale you take church out of the picture then what are you left with? I hate shopping so I have even eliminated the idea of meeting people in shopping centers and the idea of crowds conjures up so much anxiety that I am reminded at how comfortable I am with my isolation.

My other desire to find a church is to have a place to worship with other believers. To stand (or sit, depending on your preference) with other – again – like-minded individuals, singing praise and worship songs to God. I do this all the time – alone – but there is something beautiful about being able to do that together. But in the midst of this conversation our list of wants becomes over shadowed by our list of needs, such as;

Not to be shouted at from the pulpit

Not to have the preacher’s hermeneutic be self-serving, like it isn’t obvious the pastor is working his ‘sermon’ to build on his job-protection.

Not to have the pulpit used to sell merchandise or to lift up oneself in any way

Not to have the messages become political, or socially charged

Not to have God’s word cloaked in a violent language, calling on the people to act godly in a violent way

Not to have the worship look more like a concert then the invitation it ought to be to have all participants drawn to sing together – regardless of how badly our ability to sing is

Not to be a part of yet another building project

Not to have community prayer be the most justified form of social Christian gossiping there is

Not to be made to feel like shit because we inadvertently took ‘someone’s seat’

Not to be greeted by a pack of hungry wolves, seeing our potential as a donor, or an usher, or an elder, or serving in the Sunday School program, or the youth program, or building operations or any other ‘function’, or simply another warm body to fill the pew seats left by others who decided that they wanted to be treated as a person and not an opportunity

Let’s be clear about the fact that I am not looking for a perfect church – how horrible and frightening a thought that is – this side of eternity. I am, however, looking for a church and a church environment where I can get through the service and not find myself being offending multiple times. Yes, I know – this is obviously proof that I get offended easily and that this whole issue is my problem but really? Is it really my problem? Like, if I suddenly figured out how to stop being offended by the self-serving individuals drunk on positional power and not afraid to abuse it, or those just craving the spotlight, pushing Christ out the door in order to take the stage – that I would be okay with all of that? Um, no.

Regardless of whether my shit-o-meter is too sensitive or not does not diminish the fact that most of these churches are full of it nonetheless. And the church’s response seems to be that those offended by the stench – well it is their problem isn’t it. And that is what we are left with it would seem. A bunch of smiling folk sitting upright in their seats with a clothespin plugging their nostrils. My offence is obviously proof that I am not part of the kingdom, that I have no relationship with Christ, and that I am only left with the option to dine Cajun style. But, even if that was the case – where is the effort to reach out to me with the love of Christ? Right, I forgot, the reach is limited to only my potential and if I don’t conform behaviorally within a prescribed amount of time then the eternal damnation of my soul has been determined.

I’ll keep looking, if nothing else it continues to give me writing material.

 

The Hypocrisy of Ice-Cream

The Hypocrisy of Ice-Cream

‘Ding, ding, ding’ is the familiar chimes that accompany the nostalgic ice-cream cart that would be wheeled around by someone on a bicycle with a freezer attached to the front of it. The children playing in their front yards would run inside and hound their parents for spare change and then they would rush the street, surrounding the cyclist, and partaking in fudgsicles, popsicles, and other tasty cold treats. Over the years that approach was upgraded to the ice-cream van, driving ever so slowly down your street, with a simple musical tune repeating itself every thirty seconds. It was annoying enough to convince the parents to give their children some money just to make sure the van didn’t come back for awhile.

A simpler time – a carefree time. So, wasn’t I surprised when a few weeks ago I spotted one of these cyclists pushing their ice-cream cart around the neighborhood where I work. A smile appeared on my face as the ding, ding, ding, complimented the sounds of kids splashing around in the city’s only outdoor pool connected to the park across the street from my office. “Progress”, I thought to myself. A neighborhood, often plagued with bad press and even worse crime stats, saturated with Christian churches and outreach centers, complimented by handfuls of other social service agencies all working hard to make a difference in this place. It is a place where if you don’t know someone directly you have heard of them or you know someone who does know them. A small community within a larger city, struggling to find healing from decades of abuse, addiction, residential school horrors, and gangs.

So, although I wasn’t shocked by the news, I was still saddened to read about this ice-cream vendor being attacked in the middle of the day, in the middle of a street, in the middle of this neighborhood.

“And so this bright spot has now come to an end”, I thought to myself after reading the news. The company quickly put a statement out expressing their outrage at the fact that one of their ice-cream vendors were attacked. There was no way that this neighborhood would ever see another ice-cream vendor. What company would want to place their employees in such danger? Certainly not this particular ice-cream company – that’s for sure.

Two days ago I heard the same bell play its tune. I was outside one of our buildings supervising an outdoor play area that we were constructing for our daycare when down the street I spotted this same ice-cream vendor cycling his cart full of goodies up the street. He paused just in front of our building to talk to some people he knew who where there and that is when I noticed something different about him. He was now wearing a kevlar vest.

The ice-cream vendor was wearing a bullet-proof vest!

This was how the company responded to the attack on their employee, who by the way was attacked with clubs and threatened with a knife. I am not sure how this vest will protect him from the clubs. The employee seemed adjusted to it all, joking about it with his friends out front of our building where he stopped to chat just a moment earlier. After a few minutes of catching up he began cycling down the street, flicking his bell to the ‘ding, ding, ding’ hoping to draw the children out of hiding to purchase one of the tasty treats he was carrying with him.

I suppose there is enough silent commentary in this story to leave it there, however I can’t. You see, the contrast to this story is that a couple nights ago it was particularly hot and I was sitting inside my living room, enjoying the air-conditioning of my home. I was looking outside my window at the vehicles driving by, watching my neighbors out in their yards, looking at the flowers that my wife planted in our front yard – when all of a sudden I heard the simple song repeating itself every 30 seconds. Sure enough, a couple minutes later a full-sized van with multiple air-conditioning units mounted on its roof, complete with a side window where the driver could serve the children without ever needing to leave the comfort of his van – came rolling by.

This ice-cream van was from the exact company who had just equipped their bicycle employee with a kevlar vest. All this time they could have provided their employee with a van – equipped with air-conditioning, to drive around the neighborhood where I work – all in comfort and more importantly – safety. Why hadn’t they? Why was this brand new van driving around in my neighborhood when a cyclist putting his life out on the line is pushing an ice-cream cart around in the other neighborhood? The contrast disgusted me and I was reminded of the short-comings of help and resources greatly needed for this neighborhood where I work. That far too often the resources are only barely enough to demonstrate that the needs are taken seriously and action has been taken, yet in reality they fall so very short of what is really needed, and even more disturbingly, they don’t compare at all to resources being poured into other areas.

Enjoy your ice-cream.

Failing as a Christian

Failing as a Christian

In the course of my regular workday I have several conversations with people who self-identify as a Christian. These conversations may be with someone working through our addiction program who portrays a positive upbeat attitude, “You know, my father passed away three months ago, just before I entered the program, but he’s in a better place now and although he really wanted me to get sober a year ago, he was really happy that I showed up now.” They may also be with a contractor, “My trailer broke, costing me $13,000 to fix, another customer’s check bounced, a sub-contractor’s actual price came back at four times his quote, but worrying is a sin, and so I am a glass half-full type of guy and, well, you know, when God closes a door He opens a window…”

The list is extensive as these were simply two examples from today.

It is clear to me that I am failing as a Christian. That is, if I don’t follow their example. But, I don’t want to. You see, I am an emotional Christian. I lament in the same ways that Jeremiah would have lamented or Moses, or Job, or, dare I even say – Jesus. I look at the Psalms as an example of how to pour out my broken heart to Him, how to express my anger to Him, how to be emotional before Him. I don’t have to read very far in order to find these examples – they are contained in every book of the Bible. Actually, I don’t know about that but, wow, there are a lot of examples.

So, why is it that I feel at times that I am failing as a Christian? Could it be the chastising I get when I complain about the weather we are having? When I am in a bad mood and I don’t change how I am expressing myself fast enough? When I don’t tow the party line – when I ask too many questions? When I ask questions at the wrong time? How I hold myself? Okay, I digress – I obviously am still smarting over the first church experience in this city where I was determined to be unworthy of fellowship because of how I held myself. But, seriously folks, what does it matter what the hell I do or how I say it or perhaps even more importantly how I feel it?

Really.

Like I am the absolute representative of Jesus Christ and by my very actions millions of people will be damned because I didn’t act correctly or say the right thing at the right time. Let’s even bring it home more – Like I have the ability to determine the eternal fate of anyone in my vicinity – even in my family. Nope.

Can I be an influence? Yes. Every single one of us are to one degree or another. Can I be a bad influence? Yes, unfortunately. During those times that I should have said no to a sweet treat in an effort to get back to healthy eating, I may be a bad influence on those close to me who see me give in and tell themselves, “What the hell, why bother. He’s not successful so I’ll just have some myself.”

However, it is still their decision to take the sweet treat. It is not as if I stood there jamming it down their throats. But I am just as easily influenced by them and they are certainly not jamming anything down my throat. That’s just life.

So why oh why is the church filled with Christians bent on a mission to make sure that failing Christians like me get the speech right? They are so convinced that to express one’s emotions around anything – especially if it is ‘negative’ emotions – is such a sin that they take on these sin crusades to rid their four walls of anyone who dances along that line. I speak from experience here.

I get the parts of the Bible where it talks about our speech and our tongues (inability to tame them as an example) and our attitudes but you can’t just say that the lamenting examples in the Bible are exceptions to the rule. Perhaps – if anything – it is the other way around. We are, after all, emotional creatures, created by God to feel – heaven forbid, and to experience Him in eternal fellowship. We are not supposed to be a broken record of squishy goodness with painted smiles on our faces while we espouse the gratitudes of being a good Christian.

What did Elijah do when he was feeling stressed? And King David? Perhaps the closest example we have to a pasty, smiley good all the time Christian might be Paul but take another read and you can see it there. You can see the times that he would have lamented – that he would have languished and poured out his heart and perhaps even shared a bit of that with whomever might have been around at the time. We don’t have clear examples so we hypothesis that he never did. I believe that would be a wrong assumption and most definitely not helpful.

 

 

The Hidden Sin of Tithing

The Hidden Sin of Tithing

It’s a simple, mutual beneficial transaction, that takes place between an individual struggling to pay the bills and an organization struggling to build a bigger building. The one receives the ‘gift’ from the other, promises blessings as long as there is obedience, and then puts a call out in next week’s bulletin on how behind budget they are or how much more they need to get to the next phase of their building campaign. Both parties are struggling in their own right, in their own way, trying to get ahead, to feel like they are making progress, to improve one’s financial standing. Yet, oddly enough, the organization cannot exist without the individual, because it is a machine, that because of its design, must be fed, must continue to grow, must continue to churn out new and better and bigger. Ironically this machine is fed by the individual who created it in the first place. A slave to the organization, never free from one’s own crushing financial concerns because of some ritualistic obligation to feed the machine.

This, of course, is not how church is supposed to look like at all. Yet…

In all fairness this could possibly only be an Evangelical thing as I have looked at other faiths from the outside and nothing seems out of the ordinary there. People seem to give large amounts of money to those other organizations – quite willingly it would seem and yet they all seem relatively happy. But if I were to judge happiness based on what I see in the church parking lot then why the hell am I even offering any critique of the Evangelical church in the first place? According to the parking lot test, every denomination seems to be doing just fine.

So, sticking with my own experience I am torn with this idea of tithing in the traditional sense of it. First, the holy grail of all churches here in Canada is their CRA number. This magical number allows the organization to issue a tax receipt to anyone who donates financially to it. You take away the ability to issue a tax receipt and the transaction between the individual and the organization is no longer mutually beneficial. It would be curious to see just how many organizations would fold as a result of no longer having the ability to issue tax receipts. Not that I am opposed to such a radical idea! After all, my own paycheck comes in part through the donations of individuals to the organization I work for. Though there are many who donate to the organization who do not want or need a tax receipt, I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family if my paycheck was limited to just those individuals.

Therefore, it would seem that this mutually beneficial arrangement needs to continue. Absolutely. Much social work in Canada is done through local non-profit organizations, some religious and some not, but all having in common that registered number with the CRA – allowing the financial transaction to become a tax receipt. Take that away and we undermine a large social fabric of our society. No, I have no desire whatsoever to go after this aspect of the structure. Instead, my concern is over the embedded necessitation of tithing – the push from the pulpit on the ‘sinfulness’ of not tithing – the guilt trip of holding back any portion of the 100% of finances that the Lord gave you in the first place. Yes, most definitely this is where my concern lies.

When someone sends a letter to our organization or calls us asking to be removed from our mailing list (our primary way of soliciting funds) we do it. When someone contacts us to let us know that for years they have supported us financially but now things are really tight and they have to scale back or stop all together – that individual is given empathy, a big thanks for supporting us, and they are removed from any solicitation mail that we would send out. It wasn’t always this way. After all we rely on public donations to operate so the old mentality was to preach poverty and personify guilt so the donor would ultimately end up giving to us in spite of their personal situation. Oddly enough it has taken a few years to stop this from happening, in part because our mailings are planned six months in advance, and in part because that was the system, and it takes a lot of effort to make a change to the system. Fortunately, the Executive Director sees tremendous value in the idea of caring for our donors and regularly asks for updates on such situations to make sure that our people are doing what we have directed them to do – and that is to respect what the donor has asked for in the first place. No strings attached.

But I cringe in pain when I think of how a similar situation may unfold in one of our Evangelical churches. The pressure is on to grow grow grow and somehow in the midst of it all ‘donor’ care, or in this case, congregant care, doesn’t seem to carry the same amount of attention. Orphans and Widows be damned.

God’s Accounting

God’s Accounting

I saw a new red Dodge Charger today. It had a sports pack of options on it, wider tires, with extra trim. It growled as it quickly pulled into the right hand lane and zoomed past the rest of us pee-ons that opted to stay in the regular lanes of traffic. With windows tinted out, one could only assume whatever regional stereotype is associated with the car was driving it, ego maxing out to the red line, daring anyone to get into a pissing contest. Nothing about this scene was out of the ordinary, such things are seen everyday on streets around the world with different brands of vehicles representing the haves of a certain geographical area. However, there was something different about this scene. On the back window was a fancy font emblazoned sign that stated, “Lamb of God”.

Lamb of God.

You know I may not be a theologian but I am not aware of any hermeneutic that would put Jesus Christ in a shiny red Dodge Charger ripping through the streets of any city. And then it occurred to me that among the many pop-up Christian assemblies that adorn every street corner it would seem the prerequisite is to have the name of one’s personal kingdom logo’d on some high-end model vehicle.

Now it is not that I have something against the ‘name-it-and-claim-it’ prosperity gospel messengers – to each their own I say, as what I am talking about goes way beyond any TV evangelist. This isn’t about one corner of teaching. I am not drawing attention to the prosperity gospel message that seems to be structured similarly to something Bernie Madoff himself would contribute funds to. No, what I am talking about is built into the yearly budgets of most every church of every size and every Christian denomination.

In Canada, a pastor can receive something called a Clergy’s Allowance through the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), which basically allows the pastor to claim a living allowance equivalent to market value on rental rates. This ends up being a dollar for dollar reduction of their taxable income. So, if the market rent was $1,200 for a 2-bedroom home that could roughly translate into a $24,000/yr reduction of their taxable income. This is available for any registered church in the country, whether there are five people in attendance every Sunday or five thousand.

Then there is another fancy word thrown around the accounting office of churches and that is ‘honorarium’. Others may call it ‘pulpit supply’ or perhaps even a ‘gift’ but in the end it is where the pastor has the agreement that if they conduct weddings or funerals or preach a sermon at something outside of their own church that there is an ‘ahem’ attached to that offer of service. Interestingly enough, under CRA rules if a pastor receives one or more of these ‘ahem’s’ from the same place and it totals more than $500 in a calendar year then the other organization is obligated to put the pastor on their payroll. Consequently, the most common language used here is ‘gift’ as it tends to cut out a lot of unnecessary paperwork.

Depending on the size of the church there may be other ‘expectations’ added into the mix, such as regular attendance to conferences as an example. Often, if the pastor is married the spouse will attend, all at the expense of the church, yet it is overlooked that the spouse’s expenses being covered by the church is a taxable benefit provided to the pastor. Add in a book allowance, petty cash, and access to funds such as a benevolent fund, designed to allow the pastor to make discretionary purchases for people in need as an example, ideally anyway.

In the end, when you take a pastor’s base salary and add in these factors you end up with someone living tax free with a lot of potentially undisclosed financial benefits. To make it comparable to the congregant’s salary you should think about it this way: If a church strives to pay their pastor the median amount of everyone who attends their church, then when all of these additional benefits are added into the equation what that church actually has done has paid their pastor at least 30% more than the median salary earned in that church.

This now makes sense that I am seeing red Dodge Chargers roaring around town with ‘Lamb of God’ stickers on its back window and BMW’s with “Living Faith Ministries” written along the side of the vehicle – they need to have some way of writing off the burdened expense of their personal transportation.

All in the name of the Lord I suppose.

My Shameful Secret

My Shameful Secret

I have a confession, however I only feel safe enough to share it with you, through this venue of anonymity, where I am but a stranger, nameless to the world, protected by the laissez faire structure of the internet.

I haven’t been to church.

I mean, it has been months, maybe even longer.

I have even given up looking. Perhaps even caring.

But when asked the question, and strangely enough I am asked this question more than what would seem ‘normal’ I respond with, “I am ‘visiting’ churches”. It’s easier that way – to draw on a truth that once was but has long since faded away.

It’s not enough now though. The people want more. Thus my feeling compelled to confess. I avoid the others – or at least try to so I won’t have to share my confession with them.

Recently, through work I have started back up providing professional counseling to the residents in our addiction program. Part of that process was to become a member of a professional association. I applied and began working through the process of membership with a Christian professional association – given that the organization I work for is also Christian it made sense to do it that way. One of the first requirements was letter’s of reference. I needed to supply them with three letters, one being from a pastor.

I hate that. I mean I really, really, despise this way of thinking – that only a pastor – “your pastor” has both the authority and the ability to speak to your ‘spiritual state’ – your ‘spiritual well-being’.

I don’t have a pastor so I contacted the organization and explained that I had recently left a church and was ‘in the process of finding another one’ – and then I explained that our organization was a Christian organization and would our Executive Director be able to fill out the recommendation. They agreed.

A few weeks goes by and I get an email from the association letting me know that everything is good to go except for the letter of recommendation from the Executive Director. Apparently the board did not think that would suffice and so the question was asked again whether I could get a pastor to fill it out – or (and they were compromising in order to cut me a break here) could I get the leader of a home bible study group that I was attending to fill it out.

I was appalled. How could a professional counseling organization still subscribe to such antiquated modernistic ways of thinking? It is an absurd idea to think that if someone was attending a church of, say more than 50 people, that the pastor would even know who the hell you were, let alone have enough of a relationship with you in order to write a reference letter attesting to the quality of your relationship with Jesus Christ. But then their compromise was some leader of a home bible study group? Really? That just spoke to the privileged, those who have conformed behaviorally within the confines of the church, those who were wealthy enough to open up their home each week to a group of strangers in order to bestow their presuppositional wisdom unto them, or worse, create the venue so one being groomed for church leadership, by way of experiential authority, could come and speak ‘truth’ into our lives about such topics like marriage and relationships, when they have neither, or some infantile substitution for one or the other.

When that option was presented to me I was shocked. I actually felt my body pull back from my desk and computer screen like I was hit with a blast of wind. I probably let out a gasp at the same time.

And then I got angry. So I wrote a response outlining a few facts that they ought to know. I explained that our non-profit charitable organization was recognized as a religious order under the authority of the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) and therefore our Executive Director was classified as a pastor, just the same as a church. I explained that our organization fell under the umbrella of a very large internationally inner-city mission’s organization, which provided a covering for our organization. We also were a part of a professional Canadian Christian legal association that performed audits on us on a regular basis to make sure that we were above reproach in all that we did. I went on to explain that each year I needed to sign a lifestyle document, attesting to my adherence to our mission statement, statement of faith, and purpose of the mission – in essence making a yearly declaration that I continue to believe in Jesus and will live accordingly. I stressed that this document was conditional of my employment and to not sign this document in my position meant to not work for this organization. I then went on to explain that each week the executive team meets for a devotion and prayer time – and that we take turns leading this every week. I concluded with the statement that in so many ways I am more qualified then most pastors would be.

I then pushed ‘send’.

It would be a few days before I heard back from the administrator who told me, “That makes sense”, before confirming that they would send it along. It would be a few more weeks before I suddenly received an email with the “congratulations, you have been accepted” message scrawled on it.

I don’t know what I will say when I have to renew my membership next year and I still don’t have a church to call home. Will they ask again? Will they want some sort of update as to my spiritual health? Because they sure are not interested in learning about the health of the church, carte blanche coming with the title ‘pastor’ apparently.