TO CELEBRATE THE OCTOBER RELEASE OF MY BOOK THRASHING ABOUT WITH GOD, AND TO EXPAND THE CONVERSATION BEYOND MYSELF, I HAVE ASKED 31 BRAVE PEOPLE TO SHARE A GUEST POST WITH THE THEME OF #IAMTHRASHING. THESE ARE PEOPLE I HAVE PERSONALLY DIALOGUED WITH, PEOPLE WHO I KNOW HAVE RISKED A LOT TO WRESTLE WITH THE HARD STUFF THAT COMES WITH SPIRITUALITY. OUR FAITH MAY NOT LOOK LIKE YOURS, BUT WE WELCOME YOU TO THE DISCUSSION.
I was leaving a local discount store the other day with a couple of grandkids and just outside the front door were a bunch of crickets. One grandkid thought they were cool, while the other was freaked out by the sight. As soon as I saw them, my mind went back over thirty years ago to a time when I was in a music group with a guy named Tim Hacker. Along with his musical skills he had the unique ability to sound just like a cricket. It was amazing how real it was. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and smile, as my lips slowly and silently spoke his name - Tim Hacker.
We have so many memories and images stored far away inside us. Like it or not, they have helped us arrive at our opinions and beliefs. I was raised in a little town in southeastern Ohio. I had the typical 60’s childhood of baseball, bubble gum, school, and church on Sunday.
Because of the church I attended, I assumed every church was done the same way. You had Sunday school, which had a very smart older person who led you in reading the famous bible stories. After a small break, you went straight into the sanctuary for the main service. There were always two songs from a hymnal, followed by the offering which would have another hymn or a special choir number. Sometimes even a soloist would sing. Then the Pastor would speak for at least thirty minutes. I wouldn’t understand much, but knew I was to be quiet and not talk. I didn't want to get into trouble.
At the end of each service was the “Altar Call’. That’s where everyone was given the chance to dedicate or re-dedicate their lives to the Lord. Normally a moving hymn would be sung during this time. Then you were free to go home for the rest of the day, unless there were special services on Sunday night, in which case you were then encouraged to come back for a message you did not want to miss.
You could always tell if the service was really good, by the way Mr. Fowler would act during the service. If he raised his hands during a song or said “amen!” during the sermon, it was really good. This was how it was every week.
I don’t say any of this to make fun or belittle anything about those wonderful services. I look back with fond memories and realize those are my roots with religion, my starting point of learning and beginning to understand God. Nobody ever questioned if there was a God. It was a known fact, and I would have told anybody that. I mean, you prayed before meals, you pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America in school each day saying "one nation under God." Every coin in my pocket said “In God we trust." All of that created memories still with me today.
It has taken many years and way too many experiences in my adult life to mention at this time, to finally start to question and reason out what I really believe. I have been in high business positions and very low spots. I have met or worked with state governors, millionaires, leaders of world-wide ministries, and prisoners in state prisons.
I wish I could say that there was a huge difference between the groups, but there wasn’t. Each group had people you could trust and people you couldn’t wait to get away from. Some of my best and most trusted friends in the world are those inmates I worked with and trained so they could have jobs once they were released. Most of the people I worked with in ministry don’t call me or stay in touch, except maybe a Christmas card here and there. But I can always count on one of those former inmates to give me a call every few weeks, just to say hello and ask how I’m doing.
Are all ministries bad and corrupt? No, that’s not what I’m saying. People are people, no matter where you meet them. I simply expected someone involved in a ministry to be different. My images of God and his servants were so different than what I found once I was involved. I became confused, frustrated, wanted to run as far away as I could. The closer I got, the more surprised I was by how inconsistent and human things were. It was during this time, when I finally put down all I knew, or thought I knew, about God on the table. I needed to get away and start over. I needed a reboot. I had to “Control-alt-delete” my whole belief system.
Needless to say, I really didn’t want to hear about God or use any of the “God phrases” I had so easily thrown around for many years. I found out who my real friends were. I found out how much of my energy for years was to keep the wheels of church spinning. I didn’t even know my neighbors' names, but I could sing you any church song you wanted to hear. I can’t really be too upset with some past church friends. They are still in the spinning wheel that never stops. Always the next service to prepare for…Always.
So where does that leave me? I do believe in God. I believe in heaven and hell. I believe Jesus died for my sins. Yes, I’m a Christian. But that means something completely different these days. Church is important to me, but it’s not in a big building all the time. It can happen anywhere and at any time. And I will not pass up an opportunity to help somebody in need just to get to another Sunday service or special meeting. I though I was sacrificing my time with loved ones for God's work, when all the time my family was God’s work. I would pass a neighbor on my way to church on Sunday, when God was there with my neighbor hoping someone would stop and help them or encourage them.
I’ve also opened up to try and realize something amazing and earth shaking. Everyone in the world was not raised in Ohio! Everyone has their own amazing story, and it’s just as wonderful and important as mine. I need to embrace that difference, not talk against it. Instead of talking so much to people about God, I need to talk more to God about people. Okay….I mean prayer. But again, that’s different now. Straight talk, like I did with my father on earth. I can only love and do my best to be an example of what I believe. My sphere of influence is much smaller, but so very, very important.
And yes, there is one last thing. I really wish I could make that sound like a cricket! Tim Hacker…. You’re a truly gifted man.
Sam was born and raised in Southeastern Ohio. He has a bachelor of Music Education degree from Ohio University. He has spent most of his adult life involved with church and community music programs wherever he lived, while working as a roof and floor truss designer for the Stark Truss Company.
He currently lives in the Edmond, Oklahoma area with his wife, Laura, and enjoys spending time with his two sons and their families…. Especially all the grandkids!