But Where From Here? A Re-Introduction to the Holy Apostate
“I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins.”
—Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Hello, my name is Ryan.
I am an Aquarius. Level 3 Wizard. Half-Ambidextrous.
I am on the second half of 38. Never Married. Never plan to.
I cheat on the crossword. I am not horrible at pinball. Kirk is my favorite captain. The weeping willow is my favorite tree.
When I was younger, I did not dream about being a rockstar. I did, however, dream of being a televangelist.
Could’ve been a contender too, I think.
I imagine now I’d have a wife with a fondness for leopard print.
A son with a “problem” that absolutely does not get discussed.
In high school, for fun, I would watch hours of videos on apologetics and biblical archeology. C.S. Lewis was my hero. I would watch A&E’s Ancient Secrets of the Bible because I enjoyed catching them when they misquoted a verse or took something way out of context. I did not hear a non-creationist account of evolution until I was in my late 20s.
I was a problematic pregnancy. The doctors didn’t expect me to live. Every year on my birthday, my mom tells me I am her miracle baby.
But I was a frail baby.
A childhood in beds and waiting rooms.
I would escape into myself.
Daydreams about daydreaming.
The Bible was read to me as a baby. Then it was presented as picture books, flannelgraphs, cartoons, radio dramas.
I was a Jr. Bible Quiz champion. I've seen all the movies.
To this day, I own seven different Bible translations. I have read the Bible more than I have read any other book. A close second would likely be the Harry Potter series.
Prayer, too, was everywhere.
My mom prayed for me when as a baby I was covered in hives and couldn’t breathe. Or when I didn't grow or gain any weight for close to a year. Or 8 years ago when a doctor looked at me and said magic words like "chronic," "degenerative," "spinal fusion," and "support group." Or even just a few days ago when sweating and sick, withdrawing from antidepressants.
And on Sunday nights and Tent Revivals, perfumed, jeweled hands would press against my forehead and shoulders. Fervent voices reminded God that by his stripes I am healed.
(But I never was).
I would pray when scared or worried
(and I was scared a lot).
Sunday School teachers said Jesus was my best friend. And I could talk to him just like he was my best friend from school
(and I needed friends).
So I prayed a lot. Little prayers throughout the day. Prayer meetings. Prayer breakfasts. I went to See You at the Pole even though I was homeschooled. I would get up before dawn to pray. I would skip meals to pray. At one point in my life, it was a regular practice to pray at least three hours a day.
When I lost my faith. I didn’t just lose my faith. I lost my best friend. I lost the only person I felt I could be really open with. I lost the assurance that things were going to be okay. I lost confidence that I was born for a reason and that all my sickness and sadness and suffering would someday be redeemed for the good.
The entire world as I knew it ceased to exist.
It was very Truman Show-esque.
It was trauma (just that alone was trauma). But there were other traumas too. All the "problems" that absolutely don't get discussed.
I said more than I was intending to about my childhood.
Have I mentioned the pinball thing, yet?
I’m not terrible.
The first week of December, 2017 was a week that I discovered that I had been laid off and that my rent was about to be more than doubled. The same week my dad had a cancer scare and I was hospitalized because of an unknown erratic heartbeat.
Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. (Psalms 144:4)
I needed change.
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
I was desperate to take life into my own hands.
So I moved into my old Subaru and hit the road. A year long road trip through the ruins of the world of my childhood.
Megachurches, small groups, Christian rock shows. I re-read the old books, listened to my old music, had deep conversations with Christians, Pagans, Atheists, and conspiracy theorists.
It was fun. Until it wasn’t.
And then it really wasn’t.
People ask me why I lost my faith.
That’s a hard sort of question to answer.
I do know it wasn’t a rational choice.
It’s not like my mind was blown after seeing Richard Dawkins on CNN or whatever it was I used to think of Atheists.
For me, it was an experience that we can shorthand now as mental illness.
Though that’s a bit euphemistic, isn't it? So broad an ocean it could be either deep or shallow.
Vomiting blood, as an example, still technically counts as an illness, but merely saying illness doesn’t quite do it justice.
Do you know what I mean?
For now though, we will say that I stopped believing in God because my brain made me see and think and feel a lot of uncomfortable and uncontrollable and probably untrue things and God—no matter how much I prayed, or was prayed for—did nothing to stop that.
My friends—like the friends of Job—told me it was my fault. Maybe it was.
No, wait. I’m sorry.
That’s not when I stopped believing in God.
Let me rephrase.
I never stopped believing in God.
I just stopped believing that God cared about me.
At church, we celebrate the victories.
The healings, the breakthroughs, the miracles.
The praise reports are not followed by lamentations.
The rest of us keep waiting by the pool of Bethesda.
It's not that it hasn't happened. It just hasn't happened yet.
In faith. I believe it. Lord, help my unbelief.
Revisiting old wounds has a way of doing that.
Familiar songs, familiar smells, familiar sorts of people.
Trauma is a time machine. It transports you back against your will.
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26)
It sounds silly to say that going back to church caused me to have a nervous breakdown.
maybe saying that going to over 70 churches over the course of a year,
sometimes as many as three a day,
while also spending 90% of my time alone,
with sometimes no assurance of where I’d sleep or when I’d eat,
while my untreated anxiety disorder crept up behind me,
and I was left unpacking all these big questions about what I believe about God,
the problem of human suffering,
the state of the world,
and all of that,
the weight of so much beauty and tragedy and uncertainty and creativity
all of it together
Maybe that caused me to have a nervous breakdown.
Or maybe it was aliens. Who knows?
Either way, my brain just sort of shut down.
That was in October of 2018.
I don’t have a lot of memories after that.
I stayed alive somehow.
Entirely through the help of a few intuitive friends.
I was hospitalized in a psych ward for a week. Twice.
Have been zombified in a psychotropic fog since January.
Vaguely remember committing to several creative projects without following up on any of them.
Same goes for countless texts and phone calls and appointments to hang out.
Gained some weight. Grew out my hair.
Somehow ended up in Tulsa,
and have co-founded a secular humanist monastery,
where I sit now,
on the front porch,
with good music,
and an old dog,
feeling the withdrawals of my old meds,
the side effects of the new ones,
Feeling the surge of joy that comes from being able to write more than a paragraph for the first time in months.
I have $1.68 to my name,
A part-time job,
Glasses crookedly superglued together,
And a house full of books, music, laughter and comfortable chairs.
I have a million ideas and a ton of impatience.
I am learning to be fine with where I am now.
(But I hope I don't stay here long. I feel I've been stuck here for years).
I started this blog because I wanted to re-explore the biggest questions that I had when I was a Christian. I tried to write everything in language that my seventeen year old self would understand. I wanted to see if I missed something somewhere. A vital clue that would get me back into purpose and meaning and blessed assurance.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
And this blog is probably still all of that.
There is so much still to unpack, unlearn, unleash.
But I want to move forward. Create something new. I mean, really build it up brick by brick, nail by nail.
It will be a mess. It won't always make sense.
You, dear reader, are invited along regardless. Tell me your story. Help me build a new narrative.
Bring a hammer.
And all your questions.
And some weed if you have any.
Leave your answers at the door.
Like. Comment. Share. Repeat.
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