by Stan Bennett

by Stan Bennett

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Haven't Got a Prayer

I haven’t prayed for years.

Oh, I’ve said the obligatory words. I still say them before the meal for the sake of my wife who doesn’t really know I’ve let go of my faith.  I say them at church, and I think of it as voicing the feelings and desires of the group. I say them in front of the troubled souls to whom I minister, on order to voice their desires and assuage their fears. 

For a while I was merely mad at god and I didn’t want to speak to him/her/it, because I thought he was trying to hurt me. 

I had a bad depressive episode several years ago where I felt my mind slipping away from myself, even as I begged for god's help. I thought demons had come to oppress me so I tried even harder for a while.  I lay prone on the floor of the church building before the cross. I even tried to speak in tongues, which was kind of pitiful and you would have felt sorry even as you laughed at me. I also begged for a miracle of healing and asked people to anoint me and lay hands on me.

And then I lost myself. I stayed a few days in the hospital. Afterward, for the better part of a year, I lied and told everyone I felt better even though I still fought suicidal impulses. 

I got a little better. I stayed a minister, hoping one day my spiritual life would return. But I didn’t trust god anymore. I had handed him my essence and he beat me to a pulp. I’ll mouth the words, but my thoughts are my own.

Still, I really thought the faith would come back to me one day if I stayed faithful and did good and right things. But the faith has slipped away even as I claimed more and more the ownership of my thoughts. And I realized that god was a product of our cultural mindset.  We invented him. 

And I dis-invented him. 

The prayers of others annoy me now. I hear someone begging for mercy like I once did and I have to shut it out.  I roll my eyes at the scolding sermons within the prayers: “Lord, help those whose faith wavers to stop doubting and truly see your good works.”

The ones that make me throw up are the “Prayer Warriors.” The ones who “stand in the gap” for the spiritual safety of their weakling spiritual sibs. The ones who boldly state that they “bind satan in the name of the lord.” The ones who think they get extra credit for screwing up their faces and ratcheting up their voices when they pray for the sick, the lost, and the democrats. 

Was it the lord’s will to become mentally ill? Some would have me think so.  I prefer to think of it as being part of the mass hysteria we find in religious communities. I got well when I took control of my own mind.

More accurately, I got better. I still have some more healing to undergo. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

God and the Children

Perhaps I'll use this to start a series of articles on the things I won't preach anymore.

There’s a story of Jesus raising a little girl from the dead. She was the daughter of the temple official who made his living as a religious servant of the people, similar to me. When they arrived at the man’s home they heard the wailers—people who made their mourning good and loud to express the collective sadness of the community. They told the man his daughter was dead and not to bother the teacher anymore. 

I’m still touched by Jesus’ reassurance to the man: “Don’t worry. Just believe.” He chased out the wailers and created a quiet moment in the house.  He uttered the sounds, “Talitha Koum” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, rise up.” And she did. And the father was given back his child.

The disciple Peter was there to see this event. A few years later, he performed the same miracle for someone else’s daughter, saying similar words. 

These two stories strongly resemble those of Elijah and Elisha, two Old Testament prophets who each raised someone’s child from the dead.  We’re supposed to note the connectedness of these stories.

They’re powerful. What parent can’t resonate with stories of persons losing their children and then getting them back?

That’s why I don’t use them in my preaching anymore. Too many of my people have lost their children. The rest of us harbor a terror that one day we might lose our children, too.  And unlike the stories, our children aren’t given back to us.  There’s no reassurance we can take from this story. If I said that one day, Jesus will raise all of our children from the dead—well that’s a cruel, crazy promise. 

I actually made the promise to people in the past. I'm so sorry.

The text I’m supposed to preach about this week tells the story of how God told Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham intends to obey, however God stays his hand just as he is about to stab the boy. 

I hate this story. I hate how people compare it with God actually following through with the sacrifice of his son. What kind of a heavenly father figure does this? And why would I want to worship such a god? 

If God Almighty commanded in his most frightening voice to kill one of my children, I’d shout back that he could stuff it. 

It makes me angry and sad and sorry.  This god that I’ve taught about for so many years, that I’ve defended and explained—I almost wish he really did exist so I could express my contempt for him. 

But I’m left with the people who invented this god--these crazy, cruel, grief-stricken, fearful people. I’m angry with many of them, but somehow I still see them as victims who need someone to care for them. 

But it can't be me much longer. I'm going to quit my job as a religious official and direct more attention on my own children while they and I are still alive.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Be Friends With the Pastor

There’s a lady in my church who became friends with the woman who was the pastor before me. In fact, they are still friends, and that’s okay by me. 

But it’s not okay with some of the other members who still sort of resent her for it.  Nobody quite articulates why—perhaps they think she monopolized the pastor, or maybe gained special favor. Who knows?

The woman who decided to be my friend in this church has taken some criticism, too. Some have told her she shouldn’t get too close to the minister—there needs to be some professional distance. Then some started some ugly rumors about her and me, so we have put a little distance between us. She has paid a price to be my friend.

Another pastor told me how he befriended a family in his church, but another more powerful family in the community wanted the minister gone. His friends said, “We love you but we have to live with these people. Our livelihoods are affected by them.” And the minister had to go away.   

These are not isolated stories. It happens in most churches in most communities, I think.

I used to be angry that no one would stand up for what or who was right—the strength was on the side of those who had the money and the political power, and often the family ties. I’ve become more resigned that friendship with a pastor has its risks.

I really do understand, but is it any wonder why pastors self destruct with no friends, no place to feel safe, no place to belong?And is it any wonder that they act inappropriately, perhaps crossing forbidden boundaries? Mind you, I'm not excusing the wounds pastors have inflicted on the innocent but it doesn't surprise me that it happens all the time.

If you aren't a son of a bitch when you become a pastor, the job can make you one. 

All jobs have their difficulties--I know that. But usually, the people you work with don’t pick on your family, and usually you get to have at least some friends in the community.

I am so ready to get out of this.

Perhaps when I do, I’ll become secret friends with the pastor of a church nearby. He can come to my house to drink and curse. And I’ll listen to his frustrations and perhaps gradually tell him my story and show him there’s a way out. 

But first I have to get out myself.