Tag Archives: Bookstores

My Deconversion

9 May

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for The Wartburg Watch.  You can read the original post and comments here.  I wanted to include my deconversion on  Christianagnostic for those that might have missed it.

Before I tell you about how and why I deconverted from Christianity, let me give you a brief tour of my previous Christian life.  Ready, steady, go………

My Christian Life

I was raised in a Christian home in the Northeast, and attended an Evangelical Presbyterian church from age 7 until my mid teens.  It was at the age of eight that I responded to a Sunday school teacher’s presentation of the gospel and prayed to receive Christ into my heart.  I was involved with the church youth group and Boys Brigade up until High School.

In High School, I was involved with Young Life and became a student leader (Campaigner) and was actively involved with the Young Life club at my school. This also involved  trips to Saranac Lake and Lake Champion.  In college, I continued with Young Life as a volunteer leader.  I led clubs, led campaigner Bible studies, organized trips to Young Life camps, volunteered for work crew, and led worship on leadership retreats.  I also had some involvement with Campus Crusade, including a week at Daytona spring break, Intervarsity, and Chi-Alpha.  Not to mention that I also helped fund and promote a couple of Christian concerts at my school (it was a public University, not a Christian school).

After college, I worked full-time at my local Christian bookstore.  I worked there for 14 years as a store manager, music buyer, gift buyer, and staff trainer (did I mention that I also scrubbed some toilets in my time).  After the bookstore, I was hired by a Christian division of Warner Music.  I served as a sales rep. for the Northeast and then the entire West Coast.  I spent almost every waking hour in Christian bookstores, helping to market and promote the latest Christian music and DVD’s.  I worked in this role for almost 10 years , before changes in the industry forced Warner to lay off almost 90% of our division.

Personally, I had gotten married to a woman I met in college.  We had met at church, got married in a Calvary Chapel and soon began attending an SGM church.  I served in the worship band, was part of a church planting team where I also served in as a worship leader.  After leaving SGM, we helped with a local Vineyard church plant where again, I served on the worship team and became a small group leader.  I attended some pastoral training conferences with Vineyard and was on unpaid staff at another Vineyard church on the West Coast.  This is the brief version of my Christian life and involvement in the church….

I mention all these things in the hopes, that no one will come along and say that I must not have had enough information, or that maybe I had never really been a Christian.  It’s frustrating to have that thrown at me, considering that I was committed to Christ in both a personal and professional way.  I truly believed with all that was in me, and tried to be Christ like in all that I did.  I read the Bible as much as possible, and was reading books about the Bible or Christian life when I wasn’t reading the Bible.  I’m not sure what else I could say to convince someone, that  I had been a Christian.

The Circle Doesn’t Go Unbroken

There’s an old folk gospel song that asks the question, will the circle be unbroken?  For me, it would be broken, and I’ll try to describe some of the key issues that lead me from my faith to an agnostic point of view…

When I was involved with SGM churches, as some may know, there was a huge emphasis on gender roles.  The pastors of SGM preached often on the subject and it was hammered home in the small groups (called care groups) that men should lead their homes and women and children should submit to their husband’s authority.  They also preached that man, woman, and child should be submitted to the local church’s authority, in other words, the pastors.  I won’t repeat all the abuses that were rife in these churches, as they have been well documented….but it did lead me to a scriptural conundrum.  SGM and their teaching on pastoral/ marital authority roles were consistent with what was taught in the New Testament.  They took the face value teaching of Paul and Peter, applied to today, and followed it to its logical conclusions-which led to all sorts of abuse, neglect, and pain to all involved.

I began to wonder why God would have such confusing and hurtful passages in Scripture?   I tried desperately to find alternative views, that would allow me to see some sort of wisdom from those passages, but as much as some of the alternative views were attractive, I could not wipe away the fact that scripture spoke of women as a lower class of human than men.  Men, by accident of birth, were to be the leaders and rulers in home and the church, according to the plain reading of the Scriptures.  This bothered me because of the abuse I had seen up close…

I started to explore the early church, to see how they handled these scriptures.  What I found was even more diverse that I had imagined.  Some early church movements seemed to have women Apostles and deaconesses, even alluded to in the New Testament, while other early church movements saw women as a seed of the devil, only to be saved through childbirth, but not to be trusted in any other way.  Needless to say, the history of the early church provided little relief.

Another issue that began to creep up, was the history of the Scriptures themselves….some scholars on the Women’s issue (like Gordon Fee) argued that many of the texts about women being silent and submitting, were additions to the text, and that they should not be binding on the church, since they were of dubious origin.  At first I was relieved, and started to see that this indeed might have been a case of cultural bias being written in to the Scriptures.  But the relief was short-lived….

I began to realize that if these texts, had been possibly added, than there might be other texts that had been added or changed as well.   The more I researched the issue (among Evangelical scholars) I realized that the issue of contradicting manuscripts was a major issue.  One fact I came across that blew my inerrant mind, was the fact that over 7,000 copies exist of Paul’s letters, and every single one is different from the other-no two are the same.   The final blow came when I was reading a history of the persecution of women accused of witchcraft.  It was a terrible history of both Catholic and Protestant churches using the Bible to condemn and kill thousands of women on the flimsy charge of witchcraft.  It occurred to me, that so much of this pain, murder, torture and fear mongering could have been avoided except for the Bible’s teaching on women.  Why would God allow this to be so?  The more disturbing thought, if it was a result of someone adding or changing the text, then why didn’t God prevent it?  It’s a question I’ve yet to get an adequate answer…

I have many friends who are seminary trained, full-time clergy/ pastors.  I have summed it up for them this way, “If the Bible is the most important message that God could ever hope to say to mankind, and it is supposed to be reliable and without error in the original form, than why didn’t he bother to make sure it would be preserved without error?” It just seems unbelievable to me that God would not bother to keep the scriptures from being corrupted (or lost, as in the final chapter of Mark).  I’ve had a couple of my friends admit that this bothers them as well.  I’ve had others say they agree with my approach to textual criticism, yet they disagree with my conclusions.  But I can no longer put my faith in a book as the infallible word of God, when it obviously has been changed, let alone has contradictions within the text itself.  Once this house of cards fell, my faith was no more.

My Life, After Christianity

I am one of the lucky ones, when I finally built up the courage to tell my wife that I no longer believed, she listened, asked some questions, and then told me she never thought the Bible made much sense.  She was, in fact, a functional agnostic.  She had always been a Christian, because she had no choice as a child.  As a wife, she supported my faith and chose not to take issue with it.  It was a huge relief, I know of other instances where the believing spouse divorced the unbeliever or made life such a battle that the relationship suffered greatly.

As for my kids, after about a month, my wife and I decided to tell our kids that we were no longer Christians.  We let them ask questions, which were many and also told them that we would not be raising them as Christians.  We didn’t forbid them to have faith, we just let them know it would be their choice, not ours, what they chose to believe or not to believe about God.

The hardest part has been the reaction of friends and family.  For the most part, we are now viewed with suspicion by many in our family.  We recently received a letter from a family member, in which he describes us as deceived and followers of Satan….sigh….My wife couldn’t even read it.  This same rhetoric has been leveled at my children at school.  My one son came home confused, because a friend told him he was a Satanist if he didn’t believe in God.  My daughter had the threat of hell preached to her at a sleep over.  No fun, but that it is what the Bible Teaches, so I am not surprised.  It is still not fun to know that you are regarded as unintelligent, uninformed, deceived, and following the lies of Satan.

One Final Note                     

This is kind of my coming out to the Christian blog community….let me explain.  A few years ago I began blogging over at SGM Survivors under the handle of Musicman.  You can read my story at this link:

http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/2008/07/07/musicman-concludes-his-story/

If you read it, you will see that it is from a Christian point of view.  That’s because, I was still very much a Christian when I began to participate on SGM Survivors and the Refuge.  I have nothing but respect for Kris, Guy, Jim, and Carol and for the price they have paid to allow us Survivors to have a voice on the internet.

As I began having doubts, I also began reading the Wartburg Watch.  When I started to post, I would do so as doubtful.  I began this blog, as my way of beginning to think out loud about many of the issues I dealt with as a Christian.

Thanks for reading!

Christian Bookstores-Random Memories, part 3

2 May

Christian Bookstores are an interesting slice of life, for sure.  The following is less of a stereotyped discussion, and more of a random re-collection of some of my experiences at the store.

Study Bibles

Study Bibles are interesting creatures.  Not only do they have the Biblical text, but they usually include extensive study notes.  Some are just your basic Study Bible, meaning that they discuss different possible meanings of difficult passages,without too much of a slant.  Often times the study notes refer you to the original languages, or to the historical context, to help the reader fully understand a passage of scripture.

On the other hand, there are a plethora of Study Bibles that are pretty much nothing but slant.  By slant, I mean that the study notes will almost never stray from the systematic theology of its editors.  You have The Reformed Study Bible, The Baptist Study Bible, The Women’s Study Bible, The Men’s Study Bible, The Ryrie Study Bible, The Dake’s Annotated Version, The MacArthur Study Bible, The Jewish Study Bible,  ….. last I checked, there are over 100,000 listings for Study Bibles on amazon.com.

We often joked with customers, that the new Star Wars Study Bible was about to be released.  Of course, some of our customers would have gladly purchased a Study Bible mixed with quotes and pictures from George Lucas.

Occasionally, customers would come in and ask for the HIV Study Bible!  Not wanting to be rude, we’d lead them to the NIV Study Bible section and then quickly exit to the back room for a quick bellowing of laughter, before returning to assist our misspoken customer.

The Store’s on Fire (Can I Still Buy This?)

It was a Friday night, about 15 minutes before close, when we noticed an odd smell in the bookstore.  That smell was the smell of burning wires…an electrical fire had started and I wasn’t sure if we were about to go up in flames.  After a few minutes I saw smoke starting to come out of the ceiling, right over the CD section.  Then the fire alarm kicked on with flashing lights and a screeching sound blaring into the store.

I quickly ran over to a couple in the music section and told them that we had a fire in the store and we needed them to leave immediately.  They looked at me, paused, and then asked if they could finish shopping and check out first?  WHAT…There is a FIRE!  “Please,” I said, ” just take what you have in your hands and leave the store; do not worry about paying.”  They again shrugged and slowly made their way out, while smoke filled up the store.

I then ran up front to the registers where two employees were counting down the cash drawers and preparing the bank deposit.  “Please stop what you’re doing and leave the store!” I said.  “We have a fire!” I yelled, as I motioned them towards the door.

“But won’t our boss be mad if we don’t have the deposit ready?” said one of my employees.  What is wrong with you people, do you have a death wish?  “I don’t think he’s going to care about the deposit if this place bursts into flames and you’re still in here-GET OUT RIGHT NOW!”

“Good point!” one of them quipped.  They put down the cash drawers and exited the store.  Luckily, everybody was cleared from the building and the fire department came before it developed into a major fire.  There was only minor damage and the store was not even closed as they replaced the wiring in the ceiling.

I’m still shocked at how nonchalant everyone was in the face of a possible fire.  Did they not understand that fire can spread in seconds?  Did they think an angel would come to extinguish the flames because we were in a Christian bookstore?  I still scratch my head at this one.  I’m just glad nobody got hurt on my watch!

Rogue Employee of the Month

We didn’t really have an employee of the month, but if we did…here’s some of the folks that would definitely NOT have been nominated.  Instead, they might have won a rogue employee of the month award.  Considering most of them didn’t last much more than a month, I guess it would have been pointless.

I hired one guy, middle-aged, extremely polite and likeable.  And utterly unable to use a cash register or count out change correctly.  It was painful to have to hover and make sure he didn’t give back extra change.  He was always apologetic; he even fired himself when he realized that retail was just not his thing.  He would have received an honorable discharge as a rogue employee.

Then there was my “loafy” teenager that I hired to close the store.  I received a call from my boss, soon after I hired my teenage friend.  He showed me a tape from the in-store cameras of the night before.  It showed my teenage loafer sitting on the check out counter, facing away from customers in the store, occasionally picking his nose.  My boss actually made me show him the tape.  It was not a comfortable situation.

He did improve slightly (at least he stopped picking his nose), but he did get into a row with another teenage employee.  He called her fat.  Needless to say, his hours ended up being reduced. When he came back the next summer for a job, I politely informed him that I suddenly didn’t need any more employees.  He was rogue, but immature.

Another employee came to me after the store next door closed.  She was well liked, very friendly and older in a grandmotherly way.  I really thought she was going to help us out.  What I didn’t know was that she was almost legally blind and had a bad habit of just making things up for customers, instead of finding out whether something was available or not.  This was hurting business.  If that wasn’t enough, she also was in the advice business. As in, I corner you during your break and tell you what you need to do with your life sort of advice.  It had gotten so bad (unbeknownst to me) that my most trusted employee was in tears and about to quit.  I actually had to fire Grandma, because she wouldn’t stop cornering people even after being warned.

Last but not least, the roguest employee of them all was a seasonal hire from the local Christian college.  He was nice enough, still a little green, but trying his best.  He came in after about 2 weeks and was sick as a dog.  He sneezed and coughed on everyone before we sent him home, but within days, all of us were now fighting a cold.  He was due to cover me for the weekend so that I could take my wife out on a date.  He had been in earlier that day to cash his paycheck, so I was sure that I was good.  Just as we were dressed and heading out the door,  I received a call that he had not shown up for work and that the store was mobbed.  Ugh….I went into the store to help, and tried tracking down my rogue employee.  He never did answer his phone.  I had his folks number on his application, so I gave it a try. His mother, very apologetically, informed me that she had just received a call from him.  He was half way to Florida for spring break.  Yep…not much chance of that date happening now.

That’s what happens when you hire rogues…

Christian Bookstores-Part 2

29 Apr

I had promised to take you behind the shrouded mysteries of employers and employees of Christian Bookstores.  But the the comments after my last post,  made me realize that I had some more to say about it’s customers.

Biblereader is the one that asked about a very special breed of Christian Bookstore customer…..

The King James Only Customer

The KJV Customer usually will head straight to the Bible counter and begin to ask numerous questions about why you don’t carry a better selection of the King James Version.  When you inform Mr. or Mrs. KJV Customer that most people prefer to read an English translation that doesn’t require a Masters in Shakespearean English, they will launch into numerous  arguments to prove that the KJV is really the only Bible Translation that one should ever read.

One milder KJV Customer told me that  they had done a study (not sure who the they was she was referring to) and they found that the King James Version of the Bible was actually easier to read than any other Bibles.  Uhhhhh-no way Jose!  I grew up reading the King James and if there is one thing it is not, is an easy read.

Sometimes, I would cite some of the verses from the King James that I never understood, until I had read them in a modern translation.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

Psalm 23:1  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”

What the heck, why didn’t the Psalmist want the Lord as his Shepherd?  One customer accused me of being uneducated for not understanding what being “in want” meant.  I told this customer that a friend, who grew up in Great Britain , had told me that they had misunderstood the same verse in the same way.  Sheesh-if the English can’t understand proper English, than how can I?

1 Corinthians 5:7 “Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump”

I wonder why that wasn’t on any t-shirts or bumper stickers in the store?  Maybe we could have named our store New Lump Christian Books.  What is a new lump anyway?  On second thought…..

Some of the verses just cracked me up, because of ye old English phrasing.  Who can forget this one?

John 11:39 “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”

Ah yes….he stinketh Lord.  As did the King James Version, as far as I was concerned.  It’s just a translation people! Sorry, but once I got my High School fingers on the newly completed NIV, there was no going back.

“Creepy Guy Who Hits on You” Customer

Ok…so being a guy myself, I actually didn’t have any guys hitting on me ( at least, none that I know of).  But I had many younger female employees, ages 16-25, that would often have Creepy Guy linger around the store, and vie for their attention.  Creepy Guy would ask one too many questions, or start asking a female employee whether they were married or not.  Some of the girls would get invites to Creepy Guy’s church volleyball game or he’d ask them if they were going to the next big Christian concert.  There was something a little awkward and well, creepy, in the way they would always seem to be avoiding the male employees and be sharking the younger females.

My wife even got hit on by one of our regulars when she was 6 months pregnant and showing.  When she got over the shock and pointed to her belly, the guy laughed nervously and then asked out the girl standing next to my wife…..I think she chased him out of the store with a King James Bible or threatened to tie him up and play Carmen’s “The Champion” if he didn’t exit the store.   Anyway, I think many times, Creepy Guy, was just a lonely guy who was socially awkward and had run out of options at their church singles group.

Last but not least, was the shoplifter.

Shoplifter

This had to be the worst part of my job.  Dealing with a shoplifter always left me with a pit in my stomach and the shakes.  It got so bad, that we had to install a whole anti-theft machine at the entrance to the store.

One time, I caught an elderly woman trying to leave the store with a couple Amy Grant CD’s and the novel Joshua-by Girzone.  She started yelling at me and telling me that she was in a Bible study with my boss.  I called the police and she was arrested (never fun).  It turns out she had warrants out in multiple States for shoplifting.

Then there was my Vineyard thief.  Back in the day, when Vineyard music was pumping out the best-selling worship CD’s.  Our little Vineyard thief would come into the store on release day, and we’d be missing a copy within an hour of the CD hitting the shelf.  We never did catch our Vineyard worship thief, and the irony of someone stealing a worship CD always miffed me.

Lastly, there was the shoplifter who stole us blind, but their conscience had caught up with them.  One time, it was a couple in marriage counseling .  They confessed to their pastor, that they had stolen over $10,000 worth of merchandise from our store.  He made them call the owner and work out a payment plan.  That ended up being one expensive counseling session!

Many time we’d get an anonymous letter, confessing their crimes and promising to send money for all the items they stole.  And if you want to know one of the most popular items stolen from our store….the Bible.  And it was almost always an expensive leather-bound Bible that would be swindled.

Nothing like feeding your faith, with a copy of God’s Word that you obtained while breaking the commandments.