A few people have asked me for more detail on my story. After all, it's our history that largely shapes who we are today. Understand a person's story and you'll understand a lot about what makes them tick and what makes them tick greatly influences the things they say. So, if you're going to read my blog, you might want to know how I got to where I am.
I was raised in a Pentecostal (Apostolic) home. My grandfather was a big-shot minister in the city I grew up in. I say that with much love and respect. One my fondest memories is going into his study and looking at the books and stuff on the shelves. I remember the smell of the place. It was very comforting to me for some reason. I'm sure that plays a role as to why I have so many books lining the bookshelves in my bedroom. My grandfather led a very large church. His style of preaching was quite unique. He was raised Methodist yet discovered "holiness". So, he was a unique combination of the two. But, "holiness" was the main thing I got from those early years. Staying separate and pure to please a God who seemed impossible to please.
I was taught about hell from the time I was five years old. My Sunday school teachers used to scare us with stories of the rapture and what would happen if we weren't ready. Left Behind (the novel series) was our regular Sunday School fare. Not being ready meant being in the wrong place when Jesus returned (like a movie theater) or in a bar (why they taught this to five year olds I don't know), or a skating rink. Also not being ready meant having any unconfessed sin. We were only "saved" as long as we repented for every sin. I asked to be baptized at a very young age simply to escape the fate of being sent to hell. But, my parent's wouldn't let me. So, I suffered severe anxiety wondering what my fate would be if Jesus did return or I died before I could be baptized and speak in tongues. I used to freak out if I couldn't find my mother or father in the house, thinking they had been raptured away and I was Left Behind.
After my grandfather died, we started attending a church where one of his proteges taught. I loved listening to him. He was an extremely intelligent and sincere man (as was my grandfather). I remember once our pastor taught about eternal security. People in the church went nuts. You can't go around telling people that they have security. Gotta keep 'em scared to keep 'em on the straight and narrow. Their answer to "eternal security", if you insisted on believing in such nonsense, was- if anyone "backslid" they had never been "saved" in the first place. So, my conclusion from this was you could fool yourself into thinking you were saved. Great! Another thing to worry about. While I thought I had been "saved", maybe I really hadn't. I had just fooled myself into thinking I was and when I died, I'd get the "Depart from me, I never knew ye" speech. I had finally convinced my parents when I was 13 to let me get baptized. I spoke in tongues. So, I was "saved" right? No. I always doubted this experience and never quite feel like I measured up. Other people were saved. But, I wasn't. I was just a fraud.
I had migraine headaches as a child. Ironically (or not), they went away about the time I was baptized. I don't know if there's a connection there or not. But, unfortunately, the panic attacks started soon after that. They would happen most frequently when I was in church My other grandfather died in church giving his "testimonial"- later in therapy I figured out that had something to do with my fear of church. But, I think the biggest reason for my fear of church is they were always talking about hell and death. I was fixated. I had hadephobia big time. I never really loved God (I loved Jesus). But, I feared God. To me, He was big big old man who wanted nothing more than to catch me in some sin, kill me before I could repent and torture me eternally. Fortunately, I could hide behind Jesus. But, would He really protect me when the time came for judgement?
When I got out on my own, I stopped attending church. I never lost faith. But, I didn't see the point in going to be tortured every week. Panic attacks were most prevalent in church (I did have them in other places). So, avoiding it made a lot of sense to me. I wouldn't say this was a fully conscious decision. I really wanted to love God. But, it was hard. I can't say I really got a lot out of church in those days. When I got married, my wife finally got me to go back to church. But, it wasn't great. I did it mostly for her. I began exploring other faiths, not seriously, as in converting to them. But, mostly out of curiosity. I did some reading on Kaballah (Jewish Mysticism), Paganism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, read the Tao Te Ching and I can't remember what else. I knew I was a deeply spiritual person and couldn't abandon that. But, this image I had of God and my relation to Him was literally killing me. I saw beauty and truth in other religions. But, I couldn't bring myself to dump my Christian roots- as much as I wanted to at times.
Fast forward about some years and the panic attacks became overwhelming. I finally let people know I was having them and began to see a Christian counselor who helped me work through them. I had several issues. But the biggest one was that I never felt that I measured up. I never felt I had "earned" God's love. I knew that theologically our churches spoke of "relationship not religion" and "grace". But, I didn't see those things practiced. What I saw was judgment. And, I saw people worshipping a monster. Anyone who could torture anyone for any reason, for an eternity was someone to be feared, in my eyes.
Sometime around the beginning of 2004 (after my counseling had helped repair my self-image and my image of God somewhat), I discovered UR. Wow! This made so much sense to me. I began reading everything I could on the subject and was blessed enough to find a Yahoo group where that was the central theme. Finally, someone had a picture of a God that I could both love and respect and yes, even admire. I set off on a journey of rediscovering Christianity.
Around the time I discovered UR, I started looking into meditation. Christian meditation is sometimes called "contemplative prayer". I've been practicing for about 2 years now and it has made a major difference in my mental state as well as the way I view the world.
I started the blog to help spread the word about UR. My mission is to Christians who are looking for more hope from their faith and who cannot (or do not want to) believe their God is the monster they have been told He is. I'd also like to reach those who have rejected (fundamentalist or evangelical) Christianity because of its narrow-mindedness, exclusiveness, homophobia and or sexism. With the message board, I hope to bring together many Universalist voices that are currently scattered all over the Internet.