4 – Hyper-Religious


a1ccd94cfeWhen I was a young child my dad was guest preaching at a church in San Antonio.  I sat with my mom and my twin brother with the congregation.  In my memory, it was a huge church.  My home church was a tiny church in a tiny town.  My dad often addressed children in his sermons.  This morning, he held up a decorative egg and asked,  “Who knows where this comes from?”

My hand shot up and I said, “From Aunt Jean’s house.”

This was absolutely true.  He had borrowed it for his illustration, but that was not the answer he was looking for and the congregation knew it.  They laughed at me.  Adults laugh at children because they’re cute.  Some kids may like it, but I preferred to be taken seriously.  I was embarrassed and I hid under the pew for the rest of the sermon.

Years later, soon after my trip to Vegas, I found myself in church.  During the children’s sermon, one kid said something in all seriousness, but it was very cute.  The adults laughed. I remembered the egg.  During the part of the service called Joys and Concerns where people ask for prayers and expressed joys I resolved to stand up and give a very solemn lecture, in which I cried, about how important it was to take kids seriously.  It was not the time for lectures.

After the service, a woman approached me and said, “I’m sorry that happened to you in your childhood.  You must be carrying a scar from it.”

Defensively, I said, “It’s not just me, many kids feel embarrassed when adults laugh at their sincere questions and comments.  We should treat them with respect.  We’re sending the wrong message!”  She walked on.  I knew she would never get it, nor would the rest of the congregation.

I believe I was right about this and I still feel this way, but it was the way I handled it that set a precedent for a series of uncomfortable lectures which became more and more dire, and more and more perplexing over the following two years preceding my breakdown.  One Sunday, I preached on the importance of preparing our hearts for worship during the piano prelude.  I lectured about how this hurts the feelings of the pianist who is making an offering to God which they chit chat over.  I brought the pastor, who I had a huge crush on, into the lecture in some way.  Later I sent her an email, one in a series of emails, offering my solidarity and telling her that she shouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior.

No one ever said anything to me about my lectures, and my wife quietly tolerated them.  During that time, I became increasingly and brutally argumentative with her.  She didn’t want to provoke me.

The worse my mania got, the more evangelical I became.  My church was a very progressive church and did not welcome conservative, evangelical viewpoints or worship.  I was brought up Presbyterian, the least evangelical church in the country.  And now I was a Methodist, which is not that much different.  My turn toward praise worship and more conservative theology confused and concerned people.

I began to study the Bible obsessively and argue with people in Sunday School in which the theology was soft at best.  Then one morning, I decided to attend a mega church.  I worshiped with abandon.  I raised my hands and sang loudly hoping to attract the attention of the pretty singer in the band.  I wanted to be asked to sing on stage.  I wanted to be singled out for my excellent praise.  For awhile I attended both churches.

kari-jobe-2I began listening to Christian Contemporary music all the time.  I became obsessed with Kari Jobe.  I was attracted to her as a Christian artist and as a woman.  I tried to contact her several times through Twitter and Facebook to no avail.  I leaped at the opportunity to see her live.

I invited my mother to come with me.  It wasn’t a very long drive, maybe 45 minutes.  We talked about faith the whole way there.  I wanted my mother to know that my faith was evolving in radical ways.  The worship event was held at a large non-denominational church.  The place was packed.  We made our way to the back so that my mother could sit down.  I remained standing. I knew how this worked and I wanted to show it off to her.

Kari is a talented worship leader.  Her voice is beautiful and her songs are easy to sing.  And she is beautiful.  I was a little high just being in the same room as her.  I raised my hands with the crowd.  I sang along as beautifully as my trained voice could.  I tried to draw attention to myself.  My mom sat the whole time and quietly prayed.  I had hoped that she would stand and worship with me.  I wanted her to see that this way of worship was valuable and important.

Nearing my major manic episode I applied to the newly opened position of choir director at my home church.  I was qualified for it and I was favored by many members of the choir, but I had competition, the preacher’s best friend.  He was a strong candidate, but his high church style was incongruous to the church’s more casual ways.  We had become friends over the last few years.  I liked him very much.

He got the job and I tried to be gracious about it.  People approached me and said that it should’ve been me.  I told them that he would do a great job.  But the truth is that he did a terrible job.  The choir had developed a reputation of being one of the best church choirs in town.  He had reduced us to a 2-part choir with boring Anglican hymns instead of 4 to 6 part advanced anthems and large sacred choral works.  Choir attendance went down.

Most noticeably absent, was the presence of gospel music, mostly Black Gospel.  We could sing Black Gospel because it is multi-cultural;  something highly valued in progress churches.   The church loved it and the choir loved to sing it as long as the lyrics weren’t too conservative.  But he was a high church musical snob.

Then one Sunday morning we had a guest preacher.  She preached on  Mary washing the feet of Jesus during the Passion Week.  I knew a piece that was about that scripture:  Broken and Spilled Out.  If was a flat out Southern (white) Gospel song with very conservative theology;  a Gaither song.  It wasn’t multicultural.  It was written for white conservatives, a demographic which id not a welcomed in progressive churches.  This church couldn’t be more anti-Gaither.  There was gospel like “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” and there was gospel which talked about the blood of the lamb, dying for sins, and the shame of our sins.  This was not what this church believed and I knew it.  But I also believed that they were wrong and they needed a little dose of what I and the pianist believed.

Between services, I conspired with the pianist to sing the song.  I downloaded it from a sheet music site.  We would sing it during the Offertory.  Now, I knew the protocol.  No special music should be sung without advanced notice to the music director, but I’d already been turned down on a piece before for which I was furious. I had been the golden boy singer for this church for nearly fifteen years.  And now I was going to stick it to him with the most inappropriate song I could find.

To his surprise, I stood up and began to sing.  His face was contorted with confusion and rage as I sang.  There was nothing he could do and he knew it.  Then, about half way through the song, I broke down and began crying.  I cried through an entire verse, choking and sobbing  through the notes or not singing at all.  It was a disaster.  I had not practiced it enough,and I was in a terrible emotional state.

The choir director never spoke to me again.

I went full on rogue after that.  I tried to run an underground music ministry.  He had been turning down soloists, including my wife (the best singer in the church), who had been singing solos for years.  People wanted them to sing.  Then, at a children’s vacation Bible school, I heard a 5th grader sing.  She was really good.  I knew that the choir director would not allow her to sing, so I took matters into my own hand.  I ran into her with her family at a restaurant.  I told her that she had done an excellent job at VBS and if she liked, I would arrange for her to sing a solo, which was a Kari Jobe song, in church.  She loved the idea.

But her father, a professional musician who consequently had left the choir, said, “Daniel, you’re talking as if you’re the choir director!  What are you doing?”

That was the first time I knew that something might be wrong with me.

Then came the sleeplessness.  I began waking up at 2:30 am with a sense of tremendous purpose.  I knew that God was calling me to do important work.  I would go downstairs, brew a pot of coffee, and crack a Bible.

I had resolved to read the entire Bible. I read and worshiped with Kari Jobe videos night after night with no fatigue;  living off 2-3 hours of sleep.  I began to attend a 6:30 am men’s Bible study with my dad at which I attempted to dazzle the class with my knowledge and ideas.  And I did.  I was truly inspired.

Eventually, my hyper-religiosity and my hyper-sexuality collided in a disastrous way.

These weren’t my first incidences with hyper-religiosity.  Before my manic episodes began, I got involved with a new age cult.  I learned meditative yoga techniques.  I rose through the secret levels of the path forming strong emotional bonds with members, especially women.

For awhile, there was a young woman who attended, Laura.  I’ll never know how much of my mystical experiences were real or not, but at the time I believed firmly that they were.  During group meditations, I began to sense a sexual energy between me and Laura.  During one session, I had a vision from a previous life.  I saw myself living in India as a market broker for rice for the surrounding farms of Mumbai.  I envisioned that she and I had a business relationship.  I bought rice from her farm and sold it at market.

After the meditation, I found her in the parking lot and told her the vision with as much of a new age mystic flair as I could muster.  She was impressed, but she moved to Colorado soon after that.

Years later, during my anti-depressant-induced mania, I found her online. She had been overweight before, which didn’t bother me, but now on Facebook she appeared to be leaner and sexier.  I remembered the spiritual bond with her.  I read through her timeline and gleaned that she was lonely.  I reached out to her under the guise (though I believed sincere) of spiritual mentorship.  This began my delusion that I was called by God to bring fulfillment into women’s lives;  a sort of spiritual gigolo

We began to form a relationship where I encouraged her and told her how beautiful she was.  Eventually, emboldened by mania ,I told her my true feelings, and she was excited.  We began texted constantly.  It became more and more sexual.

When the manic episode was over, my hyper-religiosity subsided.  I began sleeping again.  My hyper-sexuality ended as well.  I began treatment.  I began healing.  I took a job as a music director at another church because I was too embarrassed to return to my home church.  Too many people knew the extent of my mania, and I couldn’t bear to be around them.

Although I’m not as liberal as I used to be, I never returned to the megachurch.  And though I still listen to Kari Jobe once in awhile, I’m no longer trying to have a relationship with her.  After all, she is a mega star, and I’m no longer mega manic.

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