Monday, September 24, 2012

#262 - Not Bitterness

A little listening music:

Although you weren’t asking, I would say the four most commonly used words I heard growing up, would be ‘bitter’, ‘rebellion’, ‘’reprobate’, and ‘backslide.’ The word I hear most often about myself (as in “out-of-church-Glen”) is ‘bitter’. I don’t think that’s a secret. Clearly I’m pretty jaded. My posts aren’t exactly filled with memories of puppy dogs and rainbows. Perhaps unexpectedly, I am 100% completely ok with this label.

So why would someone like be ok with this label? Well for one, it’s accurate. But there’s also more to it than that.

Let me explain:

I had a very, very shallow outlook as a young’n. I saw people on the fringes of my church growing up that carried the ‘rebel’ label. I saw people come around occasionally that had long since left church, and they carried the ‘backslider’ label.
But the word thrown around more freely than any other was ‘bitter’. At the time I bought right in. Someone has a negative opinion of the church/doctrine/pastor? They’re bitter. Someone doesn’t agree with the way something was handled? Bitter. They left our church? OUR church?! They’re so bitter I almost blew blood vessels from wincing too hard.

See, growing up that was the only logic I knew. There was no such thing as hurt, offense, mishandling, abuse, strife or anything else. Just bitter.

**Before I say the following I would like to say this: all of this is in the past. My family has made peace with our past and holds no grudges or ill will, nor do we believe any is held towards us. It’s all gravy baby.**

I was born and raised in one church. My dad was born and raised in that same church and his father before him came into it at a young age, and raised his family in it. Mom started going when she married dad.

Who cares right? Well, you know that guy at your church that pretty much does everything? He has the keys to the place, he’s on the board, runs the sound, he sets up for events, decorates for the holidays, buys the supplies for communion, and so on? That, and more, was my dad. My mom was active as well. After a while he had some disagreements with the church leadership. Not doctrinal disagreements, just political. So my dad decided to leave the church he grew up in, and up until that point, raised me in as well. To be 100% honest I still don’t know what his final reason was, because my parents have a rule: they never talk bad about the ministry, even to me. When they left I decided to stay at the church and stick it out, because they didn’t want to influence me or talk bad or anything like that, so I had no reason to leave. They were model Christians and left the church for another as quietly and politely as possible. However after leaving they received the same description as everyone else who has ever left any Pentecostal church: “they were prayed out because they were blocking revival and very…” wait for it….wait for it…..”bitter.” Yep, they got the red ‘B’ on their frocks.

Not that being called bitter is even a shocking thing these days. We who write for SAL get called bitter so often that Joel actually confused his own first name as Bitter once. It’s weird though. Weird that Joel gets called bitter. Because he’s not bitter. I am bitter about some things and have no problem saying as much. But Joel’s not. (I'd like to posit that I am ruled by emotion and Joel is ruled by intellect. I let things get to me and become bitter. Joel's concerns are based in logic and study. That's the dichotomy between us here.)

Bitter or not, it’s always amusing to see just how the word is thrown around. See, if we post about a touchy topic the word is dropped instantly.


Gotta love the “Therefore” in there. As if the commenter is doing some sound analytical logicizing in the same mold as Bertrand Russell. There was another guy who was throwing it around almost antagonistically, saying things like "ok bitter kidders," etc. Most of the time the word bitter is thrown around on the site it’s used as an escape. Rather than confront an issue head on, it’s easier to commit an Ad Hominem attack and discredit the person discussing an issue as if labeling someone bitter proves the issue false. Rather than deal with any uncomfortable issue at all it’s easier to label any dissenters to be bitter and act like that proves something. Lee Stoneking once said that if I talk to you and bring up anything questionable then you should just punch me in the face because I’m just so darn bitter.

Why is this word the answer to every question?

Now, as stated prior, I own up to the accusation. I like to use ‘jaded’ instead of ‘bitter’, because one sounds pretty and the other doesn’t. I don’t need to rehash or recap my life in Pentecost to any avid readers of SAL, but in case you’re really curious and have 20 minutes to kill, then you could go read my post on Value, and get a pretty good idea what I’m all about. And after you read it, perhaps you’ll see why I’m jaded/bitter.

Now, without getting into all the various stories of finger pointing and blaming I’d like to address the way Apostolics use “bitter.” 
Are there bitter people out there who can’t be pleased no matter what, who do nothing but find fault in whatever environment they’re in and who will continually buck whatever leadership is above them? Yes, absolutely. I am not, in any way whatsoever, excusing them or saying they don’t exist, because those kinds of bitter people do exist.

What I am saying is that disagreeing with your pastor does not mean you’re bitter. Expressing hurt does not equal expressing bitterness. Even if we think someone’s hurt is unjustified and overly dramatic. Complicated church drama is not necessarily full bitter people trying to get revenge. The word and concept of bitterness does not exist to absolve religious leaders of responsibility for the things they say and do. It is possible, and even acceptable, for ministers to be wrong sometimes. It’s fairly common in Christian counseling, as there is a pandemic of bad advice being given by people offering counsel without being credentialed to do so. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad pastor. It just means you made a mistake.

Where I see this word used the most is in cases of hurt people. They can’t be hurt because that means someone in leadership hurt them, and since we would never deliberately hurt someone and since the Holy Ghost prevents us from ever doing it inadvertently then we must conclude that the person wasn’t really hurt, thus they’re bitter and we remain innocent, if not even the victim here.

Hurt people rarely become bitter until their questions, concerns, and bad experiences are mishandled, ignored or worse; downplayed and condescended. Wounds heal, but only when cared for. When they go unattended to is when they rot, and decay, and begin to stink. It's then that the wounds become our identity, and the gangreen called 'bitterness' sets in. 

Bitterness becomes not just the scapegoat, but also a script-flipper. It takes your hurt, pain, and angst, and then dwarf’s it. Your problems now become mitigated, and those who may have caused them label themselves the true victims. You’re no longer someone who’s been hurt and deserves an apology, because you’ve become someone ‘attacking the ministry’. Vicious circle right?

In summation, there are people improperly labeled bitter, there are people who are going to be bitter no matter what, and there are people who are hurt, abused or maligned who wind up bitter. Simply slapping that label on something does not vindicate the church and/or its leadership. Instead of saying “they’re just bitter,” try “why are they bitter,” and “what brought this person to this point," and "can we rectify this situation?" Try to root out these issues and address them instead of attacking those who experience them with acerbic epithets and accusations. Admitting a problem and working toward a solution does not damage the church or the leadership, only denying the problem does.


We shoot our wounded, and we should stop. We need to abandon the self-aggrandizing sermonizing. Remember, please, that, as the great John Kennedy said, “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."

You’re a mortal. I am a mortal. We're a part of humanity whether we like it or not. You and I will make mistakes. Lots of them. It’s ok to make them as long as we own up to them. It takes a special kind of ego to look at the hurt, the wounded and the maimed and say “You brought it on yourself.” A common thread that's ran through all my posts lately is the lack of connection with humanity within the Apostolic movement. There's not humanity and then us. We're a part of it too. Dismissing other peoples hurt and angst robs them of some of the very things which makes them human. Their problems don't matter, thus they don't matter. Close the Strong’s, put down The Herald and repeat after me: “I am a human being and I am capable of being wrong.”

Good night, and good luck.

**There will be a post coming soon about the Good People in church that we still love, we respect, and we miss, and those people tend to buck the trends described in this post, so be looking for that.**

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#261- Special Edition: Putting Dem Liberals In Their Place, Bless God!

(Edit: Since the initial posting, I have learned two things related to the post: 
1) The Michigan District Resolution included below was in fact a passed resolution. The original post described it as a proposed resolution.
2) Michigan is not the only district with such a resolution. The Massachusetts/Rhode Island District has a very similar resolution as well as the great possibility that there could be others in other districts. If you know of a district that has such a resolution either proposed or passed, feel free to drop me a line via e-mail or twitter). 

Warning: This post travels. Important non-SAL written, UPC produced document at the end. And since the post travels, why not a little travel music to accompany the journey?

As illogical as it may seem, I still believe that the UPCI still has a chance to be an open, honest and just religious organization.

I even wish dearly the UPCI would demonstrate the love and openness that I think is part of the organization's very core. I believe that core of love and sincerity is still alive in some ministers and churches. And because of them, I think we still have a chance. 

The Weirdness

And then you catch wind about a proposed passed resolution from the UPCI's Michigan District ministers meeting just last week. But let's rewind...

Now if there is a political-body that I have a stronger personal attachment to than the UPCI as a whole, it is the Michigan District of it. Michigan is where I have lived my entire life and reside to this day. Most of what I know or love about the UPCI comes from this state. I was a camp counselor at the Michigan District Senior High Camp for three straight years. I can remember being absolutely giddy about Michigan Holiday Youth Conventions year in and year out. 

It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Michigan District, I would never have given the Apostolic Doctrine a chance past the age of 19. 

The Leadership in Michigan used to be top notch as well. Promoted an atmosphere of good, clean, Christian fun and unity. The politics were once a marginal issue, which was comforting. Outside of three local grumpy pastors who seemed to have a personal agenda against me and the blog (unwittingly providing much of the inspiration for what has been written on the blog), most of the other youth or adult leaders here in Michigan had been genuinely cool, calm and a pleasure to be around, whether they disagreed with me about the blog or not.  If there were disagreements, I usually wasn't aware of them.

In the past couple years, things got weird however. The youth president of Michigan seemed to have a strange habit of mentioning me and a couple of my close friends by name in district youth meetings. We were referenced as the guys who sit with our arms crossed in the back pews of youth services, making harsh judgments on the service.

The whole scenario was news to my friends and I. We didn't even know the youth president personally and to the best of our knowledge, he had no idea who we were. He never talked to us about what we were thinking. He just told people what we thought. He put words in our mouth and let everyone at these meetings know what he thought we were saying. He let our dear friends know in these meetings how we, The Enemy, exist. And we had names. And we were out to criticize whatever church services we found ourselves in.

How do you even handle this stuff? If you were me? You either get hurt or laugh right?  Personally, I chose to laugh most of the time...thinking he can't possibly be serious.

The dude even tried giving us one of those "I'm the Alpha-Male here" death grip hand-shakes that had us giggling like "He is serious!!!"

We were hoping that he was the only one in our dear district that thought this way about us...

We were wrong...

Soon, I saw some of my minister friends kindly shown the way out of the UPC. Their departure however was more of the voluntary variety that was aided by suggestion from a few of the higher-up ministers. .

As for those of us remaining, relationships got awkward. Friends became former friends. Just the kind of former friends who start getting all quiet as you walk up to converse. Handshakes got slightly awkward. Stares were many. And fewer and fewer could look me in the eyes and say "Hey brother" and actually mean it in love. 

Thankfully, there are still a few friends considered "conservative" remaining in Michigan who talk to me like I am a human being when I see them. I am greatly thankful for them. While I see them less and less, I love that I can talk with them without the slightest bit of self-conscious anxiety that they are labeling me as a liberal before they label me as Joel Riley, old friend.

The rest tend to make me feel like a Red Communist trying to take over their blessed and sacred Truth. Which is weird because it's not like I'm an alien here. I grew up in Michigan going to the same youth rallies that everyone else went to. Plus I just got my Master's from UGST for goodness sake. That means I could walk my way into ordination if I ever became motivated enough. I once wrote a 30 page paper proposing a working ontology for Oneness Pentecostalism because I thought it could be beneficial for the movement. I say this with so much regret, because my point is not to brag, but to say that when things got weird here in Michigan, I was very much at home with the movement I was allegedly attacking.

Not to mention people who knew about this blog and worked in UPCI headquarters treated me way better than the people in Michigan.

In Hazelwood/Florissant, MO, many UPCI higher-ups would tell me they disagreed with me about some of my views but they never let that get in the way of our friendship. They never stopped treating me like a human being. I think I had one awkward encounter in my numerous trips to St. Louis where someone tried sort of rebuking me to my face for the blog, but the other conservatives in attendance begged me not to mind him. 

The people who had more at risk being my friend in Hazelwood, MO than people in Michigan were still very much my friend. If I was to guess why, it was because the people in St. Louis really believed in the UPCI message, and if the message is True, it's going to stand whether people agree or not. Plus they were willing to listen to my beliefs instead of assuming that I was full of some "Death to Standards" kind of rhetoric. I think they ultimately saw that I cared deeply about the organization but that we just disagreed on how to properly "care" for the UPCI. 

They saw that I am convicted about a Oneness Christology. They saw that I adore Pentecostalism. They saw that I was and still am a Oneness Pentecostal through and through and yes that gets a lot of liberals mad...

Yet for over a year now, I have stopped attending Michigan District Events because I literally would get nervous and shy at these places, in light of the new kind of "Anti-Liberal Inquisition" going on around the state. If there is one thing I hate, it's having to be self-conscious about what people are thinking about me... especially what old friends are thinking about me. And at District gatherings most of the people who would talk to me were doing so to be polite, which isn't that hard to detect when you used to be friends with them. Some of them would have this weird stare that says "I'm watching you buddy," and it was hard for me not to laugh. 

But this isn't some self-pity story, because if you knew me personally, you would know that I laugh at the thought of being a victim in this whole mess. I chose to start this blog. I chose to say the things I said. I didn't anticipate how big of an impact they would have with some of the people I knew, but it wasn't like I was feeling bad for myself. Even when "closet-liberals" come to me from time to time for advice, I will not be the one to say "Oh you poor thing." 

As for those I have met who have a problem with me or the rumored "liberal emergents"...
I have come to see that outside of Stoneking or Mooney, the most paranoid and anti-liberal preachers are the kind whose ministry did not plan out like they wanted. These are the guys who notice that people don't take their ministry as seriously as they think they deserve. The kind of preacher who isn't getting the preaching invites he thinks he is owed. The biggest witch-hunters are the ones who suffer an inferiority complex like whoa. Basically, the ones with the loudest bark also having the smallest bite. Preachers that wouldn't recognize the Good Samaritan if he saved their own life since the Good Samaritan wouldn't be dressed like an Apostolic. In other words, the loudest, divisive preachers are just bad people who do not represent the UPCI.

Paul Mooney or the Michigan youth president will talk all day from the pulpit and in meetings and tell you what we alleged liberal emergents are saying. But they'll never hear our actual thoughts since they don't have the courage to actually converse with us. We're nothing more than a fantasy to argue with in their mind.

And when we're being portrayed in such a negative light it's hard to get a word in to say, "Well, No. That's not true." And even harder to tell fellow Oneness Pentecostals that we do care very much about our movement. We care deeply because this is our family just as much as our biological family. For us to just up and decide to conspire to bring the UPCI down would be an attempt at setting fire to our own history and childhood and friendships. And that's just not our style. We may have questions and we may disagree with some interpretations of the Bible, but what kind of environment would the UPC be building if there are threats to kick anyone out who even thinks about not agreeing with every facet of what being an Apostolic consists of?

But then you get stuff like the following document sent to every licensed minister in the state of Michigan. There are two pages below of the same piece of paper. The first to prove that it is 100% real. The piece of paper was scanned in amateurishly by yours truly. The second paper is a zoomed in, easier-to-read, highlighted version of the first document. It comes from a minister's conference just last week up at the Michigan campgrounds.... It's a proposed passed resolution:

When you read the above you can get mad.You can wonder what it means when the word "legalism" is a positive word within the UPCI. You can get frustrated at the passive aggressiveness of the whole "we don't want anyone to leave our fellowship, but..." rhetorical nonsense. You can wonder why they care so much to the point of sounding like reactionary control freaks. You can call your liberal friends and talk about how paranoid those ministers sound. You can laugh at how poorly written it is, but chances are they'll edit the resolution to clear up the poor grammar and odd wording.  None of these behaviors actually helps the the fact that such resolutions exist.*

So what can you do?

Well if you're like most of my friends, you move on and call the UPCI a self-destructive Titanic.  Which yeah, there's good reason to think they're right.

But I have a different idea:

To stop letting the conservatives in the movement speak for everyone else...

1) Liberal Ministers -If you're a liberal minister thinking about leaving the movement and find resolutions like these as confirmation from the Lord to move on, I beg of you to hear me out for a brief moment:

Chances are you've grown up in this thing. And if so, saying good bye is no fly-by-not kind of decision. It's tough because it would mean saying good bye to some of your closest friends and family. Not to mention that a lot of people will think you're a traitor which is so disturbingly false that it's impossible to laugh off. Plus you know very well that the people who speak wrong of you don't have a clue about where your heart is at and how you wish to God you weren't so conflicted. You would make your own theology as tidy and simple as some ministers make the Apostolic message out to be if it wasn't a question of God's Word in the middle of it. 

What I'm asking is that before you leave, or if you are already on your way out, please do not be silent. Do not paralyze your own voice and belief in fear of what others will say about you. Speak up and say what you believe. Talk about your struggles. Speak from your heart and don't hesitate. While you may not benefit, I assure you that it can help others and at the very least not let those Apostolic curmudgeons to have a monopoly of who speaks for the UPCI. If we are silent in response to such resolutions like the above, those ministers who initiated it will take this as affirmation that they are the unified voice representing a movement that is far more diverse and loving than they could ever imagine. 

2) Loving Ministers- If you're a UPCI abiding preacher who agrees with everything the manual says but also enjoys diversity and differences of opinion with the UPCI, and thinks these witch-hunters are making something out of the UPCI that it should never be, I beg of you to speak up and defend these hesitant ministers who may not agree with every dot and tittle of the UPCI bylaws. You have no idea the kind of influence your voice can have, especially if you adhere to everything in the manual. Because when you speak out, it can only be received with love and care and conviction since you yourself don't have anything to gain by defending those who may feel threatened within the movement.

3) Conservative Ministers- Especially those responsible for the above resolution within Michigan... Call me sometime. Or if you have the time let's meet up for some lunch. Let's at least start a conversation so you can feel like you've listened to someone's views who disagree with yours instead of making a straw-man out of what we believe. My e-mail is and I'll be happy to send you my phone number from there.

*I do wonder if these pro-legalism people who drafted the resolution are aware that sharp, uncompromising hostility to the point of getting some ministers kicked out of the organization also means less income for the district as well, but what do I know?

Monday, September 10, 2012

#260-"Kill or Be Killed" Sunday School Contests

If you grew up in the UPC, you know very well that there is no spectacle as intense or unchristian than that of the Sunday School Contest.

It was pretty viscous. Sunday School Contests are not a thing of novelty. It's where human children are converted into classic Marxist commodity then and there for the UPC church. To the teachers, the guests represent potential converts (objects), bible verse memorization represents a means to brain-washing. To the student, guests represent points (victory). To the guests, I don't even know what they were thinking, but I can only imagine the fear in their eyes as all our Pentecostal eyes got real big the moment they walked into church as we all thought "fresh meat, fresh meat." And then we licked our lips... 

When I was a kid I won things in these contests. I won a bike once. Semi-Cheap bike probably from Wal-Mart. Doesn't matter, because it was paid for by someone else. It was provided by my church, it's Sunday School department, probably a little point-rigging, and especially our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In my victory speech I thanked each one. I was 7 years old then.

One time I won a miniature ship made out of wood. Kind of like this one. Took someone hours to build. I Broke that sucker when I got home simply for not being a bike. I was 8 years old then and the boat was for 2nd place in the Sunday school contest that year... behind, you guessed it: Another Bike. A bike that was even flashier and possibly a little more expensive that year.

One time I won candy and gave it to charity because no one named Joel Riley ever accepts 3rd place candy in Sunday School Contests. Especially when there's a 1st place bike to be had.

As I got older the stakes got higher. I got smarter. More viscous. I received the Holy Ghost when I was 9 and by the time I was 10 I determined not to settle for anything other than 1st place in Sunday School Contests for the rest of my life so help me God. 

If your church was anything close to normal, getting 1-2 guests to show up to church during the contest was basically sealing the deal to victory as long as you memorized your verses and showed up with your fat butt every week thereafter.

So the key was getting my neighbors to come to church. This was not easy. Especially when the kids had fallen for that trap once. And my neighbors no part of it, especially if church entailed spending your Sunday Morning waking up at 9:30 AM. And I completely empathized with their plight, but I also had contests to win.... 

So I resorted to bribery. Wasn't my crowning achievement as a kid, but the world is a ruthless, heartless struggle these days I'll tell ya what. And if you aren't keen to exploit the cracks in the system, the cracks will eat you alive....

So I offered my friends from home 5 dollars (my allowance) to come to church. My friends who were quite shrewd themselves understood the whole scheme and agreed to come but only after a little more negotiations involving broken miniature boats and candy.

Once they come, I win everything. Which "everything" meant "Free Trip to Cedar Point" back then which was a 40 dollar value by my calculations and considering that I only paid up 10-15 dollars in the process, I was getting a steal.

One time a competing friend at church told me he was all set to have 3 friends from his school come to church the last day of a contest... which would have meant one more miniature wooden ship broken by the time I got home. So what do I do? Yours truly has the brilliant insight to secure a whole "sleepover" the night before the church service at my friends house. Where of course, those 3 potential church guests would happily spend the night....

And one-by-one I secretly tell them each a horrific tale about our church when my one church friend is away to the bathroom or eating or something dumb like that. I tell one of them that you have to touch ugly girl hands during "Red-Rover." I tell another that one time Freddy Krueger was the guest preacher. I tell them all that the teachers in Sunday School will hit you real hard on your mouth with a ruler if you don't memorize the Psalms by the time class is done. When they asked how long the Psalms was, I found the quickest Bible and held between two fingers the soul-sucking range of the bible that consisted of the 150 chapters of Psalms therein. And the woe smeared across their face and they got all white and one of them pee'd his pants a little bit and we laughed at him too for that to make him feel worse. And wouldn't you know, by the time it came to get in the van to go to church the next morning, every single one of the potential guests were very politely but slightly fearfully asking if they could go home instead of go to church. And amidst much accusation and conspiracy theory that day at church, yours truly won the Sunday School contest that year at the ripe old age of 12. And I wrote everything today to confess this story and finally get everything off my chest

Stuff was messed up...

Head's Up: General Conference is in a Few Weeks. Unlike bickering over something as silly as advertising on television, there's a resolution on the table that matters this time. About Gay Marriage.

And it's worth talking about....

Expect posts to veer in that direction and also, like if you know someone who has a few hundred dollars lying around, to tell them to give me that Hot Cash so poor old me can drive down to St. Louis for General Conference and report to you live on the bigotry or anti-bigotry that goes down in that joint....