A Mustache for a Methodist

I guess you could say, I’m just a typical Methodist kid at heart. ~ Hugh Hefner

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

God grant that I may never live to be useless! ~ John Wesley

I suppose it was 2008 when I found myself being reintroduced to a 17-year-old I thought I’d finished off many, many years earlier. In the process of that introduction and the subsequent multiple reunions over a period of months brought about by a rather insistent (annoying?) therapist, I found myself being reconciled with that poor, beat-up kid. As it turns out, he’d traveled along on my rocky path through it all and, I realize now, helped keep me alive long enough to remember — and acknowledge — he had actually existed.

What, you’re likely asking yourself, does this have to do with mustaches and Methodists? Excellent question. Allow me to elaborate — eventually.

During the fall of 2008, I was working on reestablishing contact with the aforementioned 17-year-old after the realization I could never really be okay until we made peace. That December, a dear friend suggested that I read Wm. Paul Young’s book The Shack. I agreed because I respect this friend but still had serious doubts about a fiction that had Christian leanings. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’re probably aware that the church and I had parted ways, well, while I still remembered that 17-year-old clearly. Still, at this point in my life, the book pried something open again — wanted or not.

There I was — sitting with a young, admittedly angry guy who remembered an even younger boy who remembered a call. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to be reminded of that call. Years of alcohol had done little to cover it over, however. Rather, it had only helped anger and disappointment grow. Sadly, as so often happens, the anger and disappointment was turned inward. I am particularly efficient at inflicting emotional pain on myself. I’m still so good at it that I often have no idea I’m doing it. Let’s just say I’m back working on that now.

So it was that I showed up at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco in February 2009. I didn’t mean to show up, it just sort of happened. And I stuck around (one of my favorite new beginnings stories here: Women in Ministry). Seems the people there saw someone in me I didn’t think actually existed. I was intrigued, though, and decided I must be a better actor than I’d thought. Still, I kinda liked the person others saw. I’m almost convinced at this point that he does exist.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, yes. So a couple of months ago I decided I’d regrow my mustache. Up until the fall of 2008, I’d sported a mustache for most of the previous twenty-five or so years. I arrived on the doorstep of Lake Shore clean shaven — due to meetings with that 17-year-old and the younger boy and wondering what they might have looked like. You know how hard it is to see an 8-year-old looking back at you when you’re a 56-year-old man with a mustache staring in a mirror? The mustache had to go.

A necessary move to the Dallas area a few years ago required a move in churches, also. For over three years, I made that new home Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas. Last year, though, I found myself looking for a new church home closer to where I live in Richardson. You see, having returned to church back in 2009, I’ve found not having a church home is no longer an option for me.

Enter Arapaho United Methodist Church, Richardson, Texas.

Wait, I hear you saying — Methodist? Weren’t we talking about Baptists? Well, yes, we were and how good of you to be paying attention. I was doing what any red-blooded American would do these days — I used Google to search for churches in my area. What I saw on the website for Arapaho UMC intrigued me. Hey, when you’ve been gone from church for forty years, you tend to find yourself a little more open to locating the right place regardless what is says on the sign outside. It’s what I found on the inside that invited me to stay. It was about finding the right fit.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, did I get sidetracked again? Yes, I imagine so. This entire conversation began because it occurred to me that the Baptists in my post-40-year trek had never seen me with a mustache. I like to think about stuff that occurs to me, you see. It also occurred to me that I’ve very much reconciled with that 17-year-old and that he and I sort of prefer me with a mustache.

On February 15, 2015 I became Arapaho UMC’s newest member — complete with mustache. I told some of the people at Arapaho I’d taken so long to join because I hate to rush into things and, besides, some of them looked a little shady to me. Thankfully, they already know me well enough after eleven months to laugh along with me.

Mustaches and Methodists. Does one actually have anything to do with the other except that they both start with an M? I believe they do. It has a lot to do with giving myself permission to find exactly the place that feels right to me. That has a lot to do with God’s grace, I believe. I’ve met some wonderful people in the past few years and I will be eternally grateful to them for helping me see in myself again a kid who heard a call many years ago and for helping me gradually believe he still exists and is here to remind me of that call.

John Wesley (a Methodist without a mustache) said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Yeah, that’s it. That was the call. That is the call.

Mustache or not, Methodist or not, I invite you to pick up Wesley’s call to do all the good you can as long as you ever can.

Communion — A Parade of Amazing Grace

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. ~ M. F. K. Fisher

I was sitting in church in Waco on a recent Sunday with my step-mother, Charlene. It was the 10th anniversary of the pastor’s tenure at the church and I couldn’t resist making the trip back to be there for it. The pastor, Dorisanne Cooper, is a huge part of the reason I was able to stay when I showed up at church after so many years. I wanted to be there to celebrate with her and to see so many friends.

The first Sunday of each month is communion time both at Lake Shore and my current church, Royal Lane. Communion is usually done by intinction – the practice of dipping the bread into the cup and is generally near the end of the service. The members of the congregation who want to take part merge, row by row, into the center aisle to move forward to receive the sacrament, then return to their seats along the outer aisles of their side of the sanctuary. Since my step-mother and I usually sit together about three rows from the front when I visit, we’re among the first in line and the first to return to our seats.

I hadn’t been feeling well and was a little afraid of making the drive that morning. True to form, I was sick within thirty minutes of leaving home. Thankfully, the nausea subsided as I arrived in Waco and I knew then I’d make it through the day and be able to enjoy my visit. I’m not sure what I thought I would do if I hadn’t felt better by the time I arrived, but it was important to be there.

As usual, I enjoyed the service. I will always have a special place in my heart for Lake Shore because it’s where I learned I could be comfortable again in a worship setting. It’s where I learned just how important a worship setting is in my life, though it had not been a part of my life for a long time. It’s there I found a place in me that felt like home for the first time in many, many years. It’s the place where my mother had come to town to go with me to “my” church – something I’m sure she was afraid was never going to happen and something I had been absolutely certain would never happen. It had been in that place I began to understand there were men I could trust and that, in fact, there had been all along. This was the place that held so many positives for me it only took walking through the doors of the building to find a little peace. Here was the place where only three years earlier I’d used communion as my escape hatch in order to flee the building on that first Sunday.

Charlene and I moved slowly into the aisle that morning to take our places in the flow of souls inching toward the front. Ours was a short walk forward to take part in a ritual I feel certain means something a little different to each of the participants even while there for some of the same things. Back to our seats, settling in, I looked up to see the others as they moved reverently past.

That’s when it happened. Although I saw each of the people as individuals as they passed, it occurred to me that this was now a part of my family. I thought to myself, “I know these people.” Then, “These people know me.” That’s when I choked up a little. I’d spent most of a lifetime trying to make sure people didn’t really know me – the real me I thought I knew. But, here was a parade of people I’ve tried increasingly to allow to know me. I’m still not very good at it, but I realize now it’s a process. I realize now, also, it’s imperative that I get to know me before I can share me with anyone else very successfully. Maya Angelou said, “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.” Admittedly, I’m no longer a young cynic, but I know I was the one for many years who had gone from knowing nothing – or at least attempting to know nothing – to believing nothing. I had a doctor once say to me during an exam, “You are such a cynic!” I didn’t know what she meant. I think I do now. I wanted everything proven to me first before I was willing to take anything at all on faith. “Why don’t we try eliminating this from your routine,” she’d say. I, of course, wasn’t sure her suggestion would help anything – before ever attempting her suggestion. I didn’t want to make the effort if there wasn’t proof in place first to show me any action would have the desired results.

Here, walking very slowly past me, was the proof I suppose I’d required. Here were people who’d seen a little white-haired dude show up in church and merely accepted his presence among them. They had not required any proof up front. They had not asked for credentials before welcoming me. They required nothing before beginning to welcome me. It was I who couldn’t immediately accept the welcome. I had come to expect the inevitability of the ulterior motive because that was the truth I’d accepted as a part of my world for a long time. There seemed to be no such motive here and I found that hard to believe. Some days, I admit, I still do.

Today, I realize I don’t necessarily have to believe something before it can have a positive effect on me. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to believe that someone else believes – at least as a beginning. If I’m willing to accept the possibility of a premise before I can believe it for myself, I give myself the time to do my own investigation. I give myself the time to sit with a concept instead of rejecting it out of hand. This is new for me. I’ve gone from the possibility that I might be a beloved of God to knowing I am a beloved of God. The difference is in understanding I am beloved despite myself, not through anything I do on my part. That distinction is paramount and changed my world. In fact, it changes my world every day I’m willing to remember it.

So, there I sat, watching as part of my new world walked slowly past. I’d finally understood these people couldn’t do the growing up for me. What they could do, however, was exactly what they did. They allowed me the time to see myself through their eyes (standing in for God, I think) as I struggled to believe for myself. That’s a pretty fair definition of a saint, if you ask me.

As Dorothy Gale said in the Wizard of Oz, “It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…” The music swells, it’s time for the first big musical number. I seem to mention the Wizard of Oz a lot, don’t I? By the time I first saw the movie, I had already begun to withdraw into a world where some of the frightening things could be controlled if I could simply find the right wizard. I could relate to so many of the characters at one time or another – the cowardly lion, in particular. Those ruby slippers sure would have come in handy many times throughout my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any ruby slippers and I misinterpreted the scene where the wizard explains that we already have what we need within us. I took it to mean I had to do it all on my own.

I understand now that faith and the chance at a new life isn’t a place you can get to by a boat or a train. But it’s really not far, far way, either – though it may seem that way at times. Instead, it’s right where you are. For me, it required that I finally recognize the man hiding just behind the curtain. It required that I realize I was the one pulling all the levers, making all the sounds of thunder in my life. It was I who was ignoring the sounds of calm that existed around me. I was just going to have to open my hands in order to receive the grace that had always been there for the receiving. That’s not always an easy thing to do when you’ve spent a lifetime clutching desperately to the things you think will protect you.

My little parade of amazing grace was made up of people who, if I paid attention, were there to show me I could let go of the reins of my life. They were there to show me I didn’t have to control every aspect of my life in order for it to be a good life. I could rest a little as I worked on doing the things I need to do and recognize the things that aren’t up to me. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17:28] Playing God all those years simply left me as the star of my own very poorly written melodrama.

Communion is defined as “the act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings.” Here were people with whom I have shared. Many of them are more educated than I, many have more than I, some less. In the end, none of that matters. In the end, we all come together for a common reason. In the end, I’ve become a member of a larger family once again.

In the end, I can say, “I know these people.” This is my family and they are my little parade of amazing grace. And when you find it, there really is no place like home.

Guiding Back to Faith?

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
— Kahlil Gibran

Faith makes things possible, not easy.
— Author unknown

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have personally known several people who have returned to church or, at the very least, begun to take a second look at their faith (or lack thereof), after having talked to me – after getting to know me in the last few years. No, I’m not patting myself on the back – far from it, in fact. But does this make me a miracle worker, a shaman, an evangelist? Oh, my, no. You see, I know a lot of angry, hurting people in my present line of work as a recovering human being. Many feel God was robbed from them many years ago. Many are simply too angry to remember they are hurt people. Some are simply too frightened to even look back to see why they’re angry. I personally fell into all those categories. Each described me at one time or another. All of them describe me, to some extent, still.

And yet, when I returned to the “right” church, I found myself irresistibly drawn back to a faith I’d discarded many years before. That’s true, in part, because I discovered I’d never really discarded that faith. Instead, I’d tucked it so far down into the inner regions of my being I’d all but forgotten it was there. And I wasn’t going to rediscover any of that without an invitation to take another look.

But, what do I mean the “right” church? It certainly didn’t mean finding what I thought was a place where they believed the “right” things. To me it was arriving at a place, whether it was an accident or grace, whose whole atmosphere breathed welcome. Admittedly, it didn’t feel quite so much like that the first day I showed up, but that wasn’t the fault of the people there. The fault, if we can call it that, was my own lifetime of fear of intimacy. I’ve almost never lived alone in my life, but that didn’t prevent me from living with one arm held out to keep you from getting too close.

The right church, as it turned out, was a part of the tradition of my past. It was also somewhat different from that past tradition. I think that’s what made it okay, though, for me to stay. It seemed just different enough to allow me to stay long enough to allow my own needs to surface after a long hibernation. I finally allowed myself just a little room to remember that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]

I was allowed the room to remember that Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:29] That’s an inside job, you know. I was surrounded by people who appeared to genuinely like me, but it was up to me to put down the weight of the world. They couldn’t do it for me. When I finally simply stopped and surrendered, I was weeding a labyrinth. It was the place where I could think and the place where I was least likely to beat myself up for all the previous years of my life.

What did not bring me back into a faith community was someone annoyingly quoting scripture in my face that they probably didn’t even understand. No finger wagging, no instilling me with the fear of hell. Frankly, if you’d lived my life, hell looked a little like a resort.

If you’re keeping count, though, you may have noticed I’ve quoted two scriptures already. That’s not because I think God requires me to believe a, b, and c or, well, you’re out. No, it’s because those lines apply to me. They apply to my life in 2011.

But, do you know why some of those people took a second look at their faith (or lack thereof)? I believe it was sitting with me as I described how my life was changing. More importantly, allowing them to see in my eyes how my life was changing. Some of those hurting people had been doing the same thing I’d been doing for years. If you believe you’re not good enough, you’re unlikely to show up at yet another place where you’re made to feel guilty. I am completely capable of doing a much better job of that simply sitting at home. Why waste the gas?

I wasn’t sitting there trying to sell these people a bill of goods. These were my friends, after all. These were people who also had already had their own front-row seats in hell. These were people who already knew that it can’t just be about securing a place in heaven after you’re dead. The God I know requires substantially more of me than that. No, the question is what can we do for our neighbor right here, right now. A loving God also knows I’m going to screw that up on a fairly regular basis. That, however, doesn’t excuse my not trying.

So I ended up talking to people who were surprisingly willing to pry open their minds, even if just a bit. I saw some of the same reactions from them that I’d seen in myself. I saw a more relaxed face, a body not so closed. I saw a willingness to look around again – to see things they’d not allowed themselves to see in a very long time.

I’ve now had the privilege of two pastors who don’t simply open a Bible and read scripture after scripture, pounding it out in an awkward, literal sense. No, they have helped me see what these things meant to those people then. It’s only then that I’m able to see how it may relate to me now. It’s helped me see how I was able to create hell on earth for myself. It’s also rekindled a love of reading in me. I’m fascinated by the many ways the traditions of the church evolved. How different faith communities developed their own traditions and how, finally, many of those traditions were combined into the ever-interesting, ever-confusing book we call the New Testament.

When was it that mystery and awe ended up getting such a bad rap? We continue to discover smaller and smaller bits of matter, only to find out later that there are even smaller bits. In the meantime, we remain convinced that we can explain it all, given enough time. Somehow, I suppose, we think if we’re able to explain it all, we’ll also be able to control it. But control is a fleeting thing, with very little satisfaction connected to it. It’s also mostly a lie we tell ourselves in an effort to feel safe.

So, if you’re interested in sharing your faith, my suggestion would be to allow the one with whom you’re sharing see that faith in you. If others see that your only real interest in faith is having your ticket punched in order to get into heaven – that it is simply fear that you’d probably better stay on the safe side (you know, just in case it’s really literally true), they’ll most likely turn and walk away. Being Christ to one another means far more than dragging souls to Jesus. It means attempting to adopt the ways of Christ in order to bring into being a just world. It means reaching out a hand to help. It means inviting another to see the loving God you see yourself. It means looking around and realizing that you are surrounded by miracles every day and not a one of them really needs an explanation. Wonder and awe are their own rewards and they’re there for the receiving.

A Tale of Two Bruces

You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.
— W. C. Fields

Men are able to trust one another, knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect. — Stephen Leacock

I never trusted good-looking boys. — Frances McDormand

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. — Charles Spurgeon

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks. — Isaac Watts

Over a period of time, I’ve pretty much believed all these ideas about trust. The last one, however, turns out to have the most truth for me. When I arrived back at church, it was with a great deal of trepidation. The idea of exploring trust was something I’d only just begun. I didn’t know why I wanted to be there, though I was suddenly fascinated with the idea that church just might not be what I remembered. I found out Lake Shore had a website and I clicked my way through everything they had on the site. I came upon their labyrinth quite by accident.

What a beautiful place! The picture showed a gleaming pathway of crushed granite, neatly enclosed by a low wall. The whole thing was manicured and surrounded by a grassy field. I’d been introduced to labyrinths while living in New Mexico and found them peaceful. The caption said it was located behind the church and across the creek bed. Wow, I thought, I wonder where they’re hiding that? I’d been to the church, I’d seen behind the church, I had no idea there was a creek bed. I imagined, perhaps, you had to look a little more closely.

I decided I’d have to find this labyrinth. It looked like a peaceful place and I thought I might be able to quiet my mind a little there and try to sort out these new, strange feelings. Quieting my mind was something I’d not been able to do since somewhere in childhood.

I was living about six blocks away from the church, so it was easy to get there whenever I wanted. One afternoon, I drove past the church and on around the U the street makes. There was a large, open field, but still no labyrinth. It was February, so there wasn’t a lot of green around. As I approached the church from the other side, I found it. Well, I thought I’d found it. I saw a low wall. I saw a path leading up to an opening in the low wall. I saw nothing that looked like the picture on the website. Still, this had to be the place. I was running out of back-of-church. I stopped the car and walked up to the opening. There was a plaque there dedicating the labyrinth to Becky Henderson. Becky had been a member of Lake Shore before her death. Friends and family had built the labyrinth in her honor.

I’d found the green, though. In what had clearly been a labyrinth, there were weeds of every sort. You know the type. They insist on thriving despite freezing temperatures. I walked in and pushed my way through the weeds along the path. Instinctively, I began to weed for a moment. This sad looking place reminded me of my life, choked by too much pain, too much anger, too little trust.

I first walked into that labyrinth on Ash Wednesday, 2009. I stopped by just before the service. I’d barely made it back to church and here I was coming to an Ash Wednesday service no more than three weeks after first arriving. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to be there for every service, but I did. Again, the service was beautiful and frightening at the same time. I went home after the service and emailed the pastor of the church. I explained that I’d been in the labyrinth, that it sort of needed some care, and asked if she would mind if I did some weeding. Her reply was priceless. In part, she wrote, “As for the labyrinth, we would LOVE for you to weed anytime you’d like. We’re working on how best to tend to it but haven’t yet figured that out so if it’s therapeutic for you all the better! No expectations from us, just gratitude and a welcome to it!” This sounded very much like permission, so I began to weed.

One particularly cold, blustery, Saturday morning, I was in the labyrinth weeding. I was trying to get some of the taller weeds up and out so it would look a little more like I’d accomplished something. I suppose I’d started trying to repair my own life in that way – big stuff first, smaller stuff next. As it turns out, some of what I considered smaller stuff was really some of the biggest stuff. Anyway, after weeding for a while I looked up and noticed a man approaching the labyrinth. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted visitors. Already, this was my quiet place – my sacred place. Besides, he might be a church member. In fact, it was. Bruce Neatherlin (Bruce I), I later found out, was a long-time Lake Shore member. He had a gregarious manner and an inviting smile. Still, he was a man and I was still pretty unsure how I felt about men – and church men in particular. What if he wanted to talk about sports? I’d long since stopped pretending I enjoyed or even understood sports. Worse yet, he might want to talk about religion.

Bruce introduced himself and we ended up talking for quite a while about, well, I’m not sure I remember exactly what we talked about. I shared with him that I wasn’t particularly certain about this returning to church business, but was trying to sort that out. I even shared with him that Baptists were a favorite target of mine when discussing how religion had ruined the world. Nothing, it seemed, ruffled Bruce’s feathers. Finally, Bruce put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Ben, we’re Baptists – barely.” I wasn’t certain I knew what he meant, but I knew I suddenly felt comfortable. Here was a man who was confident enough in his own beliefs, confident enough in his own faith, to have fun with it. I remember far too much seriousness, far too much concentration of blasphemy. Religion was serious business, after all, and not something about which you were to have fun.

Bruce walked away and left me with a few new things to think about. These people weren’t supposed to be friendly. These people were supposed to be judgmental, stern, condemning. But, I’d seen none of that in the few Sundays I’d been in church. Was this some new approach to roping in new grist to the mill? I was trying to keep up my defenses, but these people continued to make that more and more difficult.

So, I continued to weed. My vertigo was getting ever worse, but I tried to weed each Saturday morning no matter how I felt or what the weather. After all, I felt bad most days. Why should this be any different? I continued to weed through March and into April. There was a ground cleanup day the first week of April that year. Church members were asked to come that Saturday morning to pick up, spruce up the grounds for Easter. I was at my usual post in the labyrinth, not terribly excited that I’d have company around me. I suppose that’s because it was still all about me. Here I was trying to sort out my life and my return to church and I really didn’t need to be interrupted by a bunch of people. That didn’t have to make sense, it was just the way my mind worked. I was there earlier than anyone else, so watched as people began to arrive in the parking lot.

At some point, a couple of people were sent over to the labyrinth to help me. One of those people was Bruce Evans (Bruce II) – and son, Chandler. Oh, my, just what I needed – some kid making noise and interrupting my train of thought. Besides, I knew the people coming over to help weren’t going to do it right. This was a delicate operation. One of the members had already suggested nuking the place with poison. Much faster than actual weeding, for certain, but not exactly safe for those who might want to walk a labyrinth. A typical male response, I thought to myself.

Bruce introduced himself and we talked a little as we weeded. We ended up talking about William P. Young’s The Shack. Seems I talked to just about everyone about The Shack. The book had so much to do with my showing up at church and, besides, I didn’t know what else to talk about with “churchies.” The book was, after all, sort of about religion. We had a pleasant conversation and Bruce indicated that he thought he needed to read The Shack. After a while, he and Chandler left me to continue my task. Once alone again, I went back over the parts I’d been “helped” with to clean it up better. They seemed like lovely people, but I just didn’t think they really knew how to take care of a labyrinth. Obviously, I had a few more things to work out.

Early on, I’d had a conversation with Dorisanne in her office, expressing my confusion over wanting to be in church. She suggested that perhaps we could get me to come to Wednesday night supper, maybe even Sunday School. Whoa! Good grief, I’d just gotten there. Now she wanted me to come more often? Wasn’t Sunday morning worship enough? However, I ended up coming to a Wednesday night supper, after all. I found it was a good way to get to know some of the other members. It was a start. I also found out that one of the Sunday School classes was going to be reading and discussing The Shack. I knew I wanted to be there.

I was an oddity in that classroom. I sat in the midst of people who’d been in Sunday School and church all their lives. While that had been true of my mother, I still couldn’t fathom that these people could have wanted to be there for all those years. Really, they didn’t seem to feel they had to be there, just that they wanted to be there. On the flip side, the class seemed as fascinated with me as I was with them. I had never been in a Sunday School class in my adult life. I didn’t know how to act and was quite nervous. Introductions all around, not one name did I remember by the end, with the exception of Bruce Evans.

The discussion of the book started. It was interesting to hear the various takes on the plot and characters. The book had naturally taken on a very different meaning for me than for the others. After all, they’d been in church all those years I wasn’t. I’m pretty sure they hadn’t tensed each time Jesus entered the plot. I was pretty okay with the representation of God and the Holy Spirit. It was Jesus who gave me the problem. I suppose the others in the class hadn’t been bashed over the head with Jesus by “concerned” Christians quite as thoroughly as I. Even so, the discussion was absolutely fascinating. Then, one of the women in the class read some biographical information about the author she’d found on the internet. I wasn’t aware the author had also been sexually abused as a child. Things started to fall into place. I began to see why I’d connected with the book and the author. I nervously shared a little of my own story with the class. They didn’t throw me out.

After the worship service that day, I was talking to Bruce (I). I told him I wasn’t sure I should have shared what I did in Sunday School. After all, I didn’t really know these people. Bruce put a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Ben. You’re in a safe place.” That just didn’t sound quite right to me. I was in church, after all. On the other hand, a part of me knew he was right, even though I wasn’t entirely certain how that could be.

Two Bruces. Two men who were to show me in very simple ways how to continue the road back to trust. I don’t think they knew it, but their quiet actions helped wake me up. I’d spent too much of my life blaming men, too much time frightened of men. Bruce (I) was older than me, Bruce (II) was younger. Two entirely different generations. And yet, they both obviously knew something I didn’t. They both allowed themselves to reach out and touch another in a completely honest, caring way without fear of seeming soft. By their actions, they both said “follow me” in a way that reassured me it was okay to stay, to look around me to see other men in whom I could trust, to begin to question a belief system that had kept me hiding in the dark for most of my life.

Trust is a process. I’d lost most of it somewhere along the way. I’d become too rigid to see any way to examine my own beliefs about, well, everything. And yet, here were two men who knew there really can be trust in the world. They would help open up the way to being able to see beyond my “truths”. My hope is that you’ve found your own two Bruces. Without trust, it seems, life is just a series of desperate lies we tell ourselves about how to remain safe from pain. With trust, I see that avoiding pain isn’t the issue. The real issue is finding a place where it can all be shared – the pain, yes, but also the joy.

Thanks be to God for my two Bruces.

On New Beginnings

Transformed people transform people. – Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

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It has been suggested to me by a number of people that I might, perhaps, want to start a blog. Okay, it was just one person, but I respect that person. Maybe he thought I might not fill his email box with my musings on, well, just about everything if I was occupied writing for a different venue. Besides, the idea sounded just crazy enough that it appealed to me. I’m not out to convince, attack, or convert anyone. The only thing that comes to mind as I share quotes that have touched me or comment on how they touched me, is that I need to challenge myself continually to think in broader terms. Perhaps you need to think in broader terms, also. There are no dues to pay, I won’t be begging you to dial 1-800-GVE-CASH because Daddy needs a new Mercedes, no guilt trips here of any kind. I don’t care to tell you what to believe. It seems to me, though, that too many people never question what they believe. They were told to believe A, B, C and that’s where it stops. When I stop questioning (as I did for a very long time), I’ve stopped growing. And, in my case, I slid backwards.

So, I should start at the beginning. Well, as close to the beginning as is possible. I hope this will help you understand where I came from, where I went, and where I’ve come. Bear with me if this introductory blog seems excessively long. If you prefer, you can nap through this part of it and wait for the next blog without all the background.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away from me (or at least about 223 miles from my current location), there lived a little, blondish boy. He was a boy full of contradictions. His mother was one of those people who, if the church doors were open, made sure we were there – rain or shine. And, that was overall a good thing, as I recall. Understand, however, that there’s a lot I don’t recall. That’s not just because I’m not as young as I used to be but because I made a very conscious effort to forget my life from birth to age eighteen. But, I digress – as I am wont to do. I don’t know when the abuse began, but I think it was no later than age three. Therein lies the contradiction. I was fifty-six years old before I was finally able to face these things in my past (with the help of others) and come to understand just how profoundly those events had colored my view of life. I tried to forget everything from my childhood – the good and the bad. Since the good things were tied so closely to the bad things, it all had to go. How else was I going to protect myself?

The little boy believed in a loving God. Even though other events made it increasingly difficult to hold on to that belief, it remained for a long time. Was I ever told in so many words that I was an abomination to God? Well, yes. But more than that, actions speak louder than words. And the actions were very, very loud around me growing up. As I got older, I retreated further and further inside my head. The walls I built during that time got higher and more dense until around age seventeen. At that point, I left the little boy behind and determined to be someone else. Alcohol helped me in that regard. I think the first time I got drunk was the first time in years I felt I could actually breathe. That was such a relief, my new goal in life was to be drunk as often as I could and that remained true for the next thirty-three years of my life.

For all intents and purposes, the boy who not only believed there was a God, but that God was loving and all about redemption, disappeared. In his place was an angry young man who felt that God had been stolen from him. The focus of my anger was organized religion and I moved into a time when I was more than willing to trash the religion of my youth, but also your religion if you dared mention it within earshot. That lasted until the age of fifty when I sobered up and well beyond.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been surrounded by loving people every day of my life and I will be forever grateful for that fact. But when you’ve been abused early in life and taught to be secretive, it becomes seemingly impossible to trust anyone around you. I couldn’t have survived till today without the people who stuck with me even while I kept them at arms-length and treated them with suspicion. After all, how could I really trust anyone who believed that I was worthy of any love at all? By the time I was an adult, I no longer needed anyone else to beat me down and tell me I just didn’t measure up. I’d taken over the job myself and was capable of telling myself all manner of bad things about me without any help. And I’d learned to be much harder on me than anyone else could possibly have been.

At age fifty, I sobered up. At age fifty-six, I went into therapy (once again) to try to deal with the abuse. I’d tried many times before but found that it was just too scary to even admit to myself what had happened back then. Each attempt ended in failure and I drank more than I had before. My final foray into therapy was prompted by circumstances which convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was now or never, terrified or not. It turned out to be the best decision of my life.

Several months into therapy, a very dear friend sent me a copy of the book, The Shack, by William P. Young. My friend suggested strongly that I read the book. I knew it talked about God, Jesus, faith, the loss of faith, etc. Consequently, I wanted to have nothing to do with it. But, I respect my friend too much not to have read it. I cried all the way through the book, pretending I didn’t know why. Still, reading the book prompted me about a month later to show up at my step-mother’s church to surprise her one Sunday. Her daughter had died of cancer a few weeks before and it occurred to me that she might appreciate my coming to surprise her. That first service was full of terrifying contradictions. I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of sadness and was comforted at the same time. In fact, I walked out of that first service before it was over. Even so, I found the next week that I wanted to return. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I decided I didn’t need to know right that minute why I wanted to return. I decided to follow my heart and let it play out however it would. I’ve been in church every week since. Still, I felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite. Another dear friend, however, said to me, “Ben, we’re all hypocrites.” And he was right. What I found was a place filled with loving people who, by their very presence, invited me to take a closer look. What I found was community.

In this blog, I will give credit where credit is due. In case you’re interested, I’ll mention the books I’m reading, the authors, and their publishers. I’ll also give credit to the amazing people I’ve known for many years and the people I’ve come to know in the past few years who have helped me come to grips with a painful past and begin a new journey in life.

So, if your thinker likes to think thoughts as mine does, please come along for the ride. When I ceased to be the center of the universe, it became much easier to be happy to wake up in the morning.