One time, I had a real moment of honesty with my psychiatrist. I told him about the manic episodes, the physical exhaustion, the pain that comes with every crash. I said, “I just want to give up.”
He asked me what I meant, and I assured him I didn’t mean suicide. Simply, I feel done sometimes. I want to quit. Just not do anything.
When he still didn’t seem to understand I explained to him that at some point long, long, ago my sperm donor had given up. He quit. He just one day parked himself in front of his computer and played Microsoft Flight Simulator for decades. His family, his responsibilities, his obligations didn’t mean dick to him. He took on the role of “absence-interrupted-by-moments-of-violence.” He played it well.
My psychiatrist asked me what it was that kept me going. I told him, “I don’t want to be that man. I have a family that depends on me. So, I just take on everyday as best I can—no matter how much it hurts.”
And that is how I’ve felt for so long. Overwhelmed. Suffering chronic pain most days. My head is chock full of ghosts. I feel alone sometimes. I want to quit, but I force myself to keep going. If I fail, I let everyone down and I become just like my sperm donor.
My psychiatrist has since referred me to a team of specialists. He thinks I need to unravel the rat’s nest of trauma still tangled up on my insides. Maybe he’s right. Still, there are days I want to quit.
Verse by verse. Chapter by chapter. Book by book. –Calvary Chapel
I grew up in a church in rural California. What this means is every Sunday we went to church. We participated in a variety of “ministries” to support the church. I attended youth group Bible study and, later, college Bible study. I helped with worship team set up. My parents made copies of the services on audio tapes and sold shirts on behalf of the church (tape ministry and shirt ministry). For a number of years, we hosted home prayer meetings and Bible studies. We rubbed elbows with various church leaders and influencers. The church was an extension of my family to whom I was to go with every issue and question I had.
I grew up in the church.
It was very important to our community that we all live in a Christ-centered manner with our ears ever pressed upon the murmurs of the Holy Spirit. We asserted, if not so blatantly, that we were one of few truly Bible centered, Christ focused, and biblically sound churches left in the world. We were the Acts church! The church of the New Testament! Christ was our centerpiece, but Moses was our model.
Who we were in reality–in practice–was (and remains) far from any resemblance of a biblically centered or Christ centered church. It was our boast to proclaim that we studied the Bible “verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book” (Calvary Chapel), and we did go through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, but to call it studying is only marginally true. For all our high mindedness of Scripture, we never really gave the bible an opportunity to speak. We were eisegetical in our approach. We read into scripture the things we wanted out of it. We threw out the entire literary approach to the Bible and approached it in the vein of Charles Finney–we approached the text as lawyers reading a law book. As a result, we became legalistic and insistent that our understanding of religious law be made the law of the land in order to save the world for Jesus. We walked with some of the earliest evangelicals to initiate the raging culture wars being fought today.
Our leadership, our pastor and his inner circle, asserted that we held the real and true, Holy Spirit inspired, understanding of the Bible, and as a child, I believed them. Right knowledge of the scriptures along with a prerequisite magical prayer inviting Jesus into one’s heart, assured our place in heaven and our superiority as God’s children on the earth.
Over the next few months, I am going to share my story. I am going to name names. I am going to share how divine intervention rescued me from a cult of personality and led me on a path to deconstruct the lies of my pastor and his church, spend over a decade in deep theological study that was both spiritual and scholarly, and how I came to save myself from becoming what they meant for me to be.
This project will not just be a work of essays but will incorporate various forms of art and media to convey my story. This work will be linked together using the “Valley of Shadows” category and tag.
I don’t expect this project to go smoothly, but after nearly twenty years, it is time to tell my story.
This space was originally meant to work on horror writing. When I set up Illiterate Broadcasts, I imagined I would occasionally write on current events in the news or touch lightly every now and then on issues of theology, but the state of my collapsing nation is too much to ignore.
Few know I spent twelve years studying Christian theology in depth. I studied historical contexts, languages, literary contexts, hermeneutical lenses, theory, Church history, and many other related areas. I thought I wanted to go into ministry, become a pastor, but what ended up happening was an intensive deconstruction of the toxic indoctrination I received at the hands of nationalists, white supremacists, and a cult that used the Bible to instill nationalist’s values into me as a child. I thought the deconstruction of these systems was the end of my journey with theology, but like so many other things in my life, I was wrong.
I intend to continue with my creative writing, but there will be more theological and social criticism to come as well. It feels necessary to address these issues than to let them simply eat me alive from the inside.
This weekend 31 members from “at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia, and Arkansas…” and only “…one from Idaho” (Bellisle) associated with the white supremacist organization Patriot Front were arrested and charged with “criminal conspiracy to riot” (Pietsch). The “little army” (White), bedazzled in matching military stylized outfits depicting stars and stripes, Patriot Front insignias, and shirts with typical fascist slogans such as “Reclaim America,” loaded up into a U-Haul truck outside of a hotel with plans to riot at a PRIDE event in the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Security had been augmented when authorities were made aware of increased threats against the event and its participants, but it was a tip from an eyewitness who saw the gravy seals loading into a U-Haul outside a nearby hotel that ultimately foiled the plan for mass violence.
Right-Wing Extremist violence is steadily rising across America (O’Harrow, Ba Tran, Hawkins). The right-wing extremist groups, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, in partnership with the disgraced former president Donald Trump, for example, led the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 (January 6 Committee) after the national embarrassment failed to get re-elected.
The country is slowly crawling towards progress, and as a result, conservative values–which lean toward anti-diversity, exploitative practices and policies, white nationalist philosophies, etc.–are falling by the wayside.
Extreme conservatism is dying, and its death throes are being expressed through lies and violence. As the lies lose the power to hold the masses in check, violence increases. A cursory glance at the Civil Rights Movement in history provides a clear example of this–which plays a role in why conservatives and the GOP are actively putting forth anti-Critical Race Theory propaganda.
Not only is this outburst entirely inappropriate for a sitting city councilmember in California’s fifth largest city, but it is entirely false and illustrates the far-right conservative tendency to lie, cheat, and steal when they don’t get their way. No one was attacking Christianity.
Prayer, for the record, is not the sole practice or intellectual property of right-wing conservative Christian nationalism. Prayer has been participated in by a variety of cultures, religions, and people throughout history. Written sources record prayer as far back as 5000 years ago.
Not only is Bredefeld incredibly mistaken, but his message attempts to divide the community into us (straight Christian nationalists with a priority for old world western European ideals) vs. them (everyone else) camps. The “us” camp often self-identifies as flag waving patriots–a dog whistle and moniker for white nationalists. While some might object to the fact that “patriot” has become a moniker for oppression, bigotry, and fascism, I simply point to the hyper nationalism common in hate groups and right-wing extremist organizations such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Patriot Front, Ku Klux Klan, Save California, Act for America, Mass Resistance, Occidental Dissent, and many more.
Now, more than ever, events and programs promoting diversity, inclusivity, and positive community building are crucial! Events such as PRIDE help to breakdown negative stereotypes, ignorance, fear, and reveal the humanity inside all of us. (Why do you think many of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents wanted to keep society segregated?)
Power is shifting away from those who have excluded members of our communities across the country. Their system is failing, and as their death rattles grow, so will their lies and acts of violence.
Only we, American citizens, can put an end to the madness gripping this nation. Only by voting out illiterate knuckle draggers like Bedefeld from local, state, and federal government, and replacing them with leaders who can build up and unite our country, can we ensure changes for the good of the entire community. By coming together and refusing to allow bigotry a place at the table, we can reduce the strength and violence of the far right.
In the fast paced environment of a first-person shooter (FPS) game, details are easily missed. The setting is often carefully rendered with masterful precision and full of wonderful surprises awaiting discovery by a player patient and curious enough to slowdown and explore. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a recently released FPS action roleplaying game set in a post-apocalyptic world by 2K Games, offers a treasure trove of social criticism through comically inappropriate jokes, parody, and over the top dramatic storytelling. In line with Toni Morrison’s “Site of Memory,” Wonderlands functions as a compendium of facts presented in ways wherein the player might discover truths about their own world.
A setting within a setting, the playing field exists on a tabletop and in the imaginations of external characters in a Dungeons & Dragons parody. The setting itself functions as a kind of heterotopia where the external characters work through aspects of themselves often suppressed and resisted. Through their work, and the player’s often mindless acts of gratuitous violence, facts are captured, but truth is never given outright. The player is invited into the story, into the narrative, of the game to parse out what they find to be true “[because] facts can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot” (Morrison 193).
Tiny Tina, the inappropriately young orphan filling the role of “Bunkermaster,” throws wave after wave of monsters, traps, and puzzles at the player to force the external characters directing the action from outside the tabletop into challenging positions. Tiny Tina appears to be working against the external playing characters at first glance. The player is made to face overwhelming odds that are difficult to overcome resulting in multiple deaths and resurrections throughout the entire campaign. As the narrative progresses and more facts about the world are revealed it becomes apparent that Tiny Tina isn’t working against the external characters or the player, but forcing them into great acts of heroism. Here it would be easy to assume that she wills those involved in her game to progress to higher levels and gain improved equipment and skill, but this, too, proves incorrect. She is processing the loss of her own playable character through whom she had experienced what it meant to be a hero.
Her initial understanding of heroism is defined by having power over one’s world to ensure the ‘good guys’ always triumph over the ‘bad.’ The young “Bunkermaster” believes being a hero means having power in a world where she—who has witnessed the murder of her parents by bandits, the death of her mentor by wicked oligarchs, and who continues to lose companions to tragedy—has had none. Loneliness and fear of abandonment surface as facts to a larger truth being revealed little by little. Through her narrative journey, and that of her companions Valentine and Frette, an agreement with Morrison arises. These characters “are my access to me; they are my entrance into my own interior life” (Morrison 195).
In the moment, in the heat of it all, when the virtual bullets are flying across the screen, the player is swept up in the action. They, we, are a part of something. Something big. Something epic. The player is in control of a world gone off course—what’s wrongs they alone can set right. Perhaps that’s both the alluring and damning part of the game. The modern world appears in many ways broken, or more honestly, the paradigm we have constructed and upheld appears broken. It is in need of heroes, but too many feel powerless. Like the many mindless sprites populating Wonderlands’ setting, we take care of our own and hope it is enough, but is it enough?
The facts about power structures, and the thrill experienced in the game’s action, archive for us facts about our own world. They lay the framework for truth to take shape. It might seem to be enough for us to take care of just our own, and we might believe ourselves powerless to change or move the world forward, but the thrill experienced specifically in setting right injustices, creating better paradigms between warring factions, and rebuilding communities in more beneficial ways—in game—seems to argue against this illusion of ‘enough.’ Truth appears to be more than we thought it to be. Maybe ‘enough’ is the conditioned response meant to keep us submissive—meant to keep us from moving the world forward?
Wonderlands is incredibly strange and arguably more interesting than the world we inhabit, but the impressions left on a contemplative player are as facts resonating within their own reality. Power structures corrupt and are corrupted. They don’t have to be. They are not fictional elements meant to convey a story, but real and tangible things which have been constructed and thus can be deconstructed and shifted. They can be corrupt now, and after some work, be not corrupted—or at least be made better for everyone. Perhaps this is what Morrison meant by: “’Truth is stranger than fiction,’ . . . it doesn’t say truth is truer than fiction; just that it’s stranger, meaning that it’s odd. . . . It may be excessive . . . but the important thing is that it’s random—and fiction is not random” (193). Truth is random. What is today may be something completely other tomorrow, if we choose to act.
Truth is elusive. This is why storytelling and art and literature matter. They shed light on facts which illuminate pathways towards truth. Even a video game such as Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands in its absurdity can cause one to pause and reflect on how many of our beliefs—especially about each other—have been conditioned in a specific manner. These glimpses, these facts, apply cracks along those things barring us from discovering truth.
And while it may be outside the scope of this work, perhaps these same glimpses leading to truth are really what’s behind the banning of books by authors and poets and artists of color, and of the same who identify as being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, from school libraries across the United States. Perhaps that is what has conservative white evangelical nationalists foaming and frothing at the mouth. Too many cracks exposing too many facts are drawing too many eyes to the truth.
Morrison, Toni. “The Site of Memory.” Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
I share these stories because we need to see how common this is. Racism isn’t in the past, but here and now. It is embedded in our systems and institutions. We can only change these things by voting out the powers that keep these racist systems alive and well.
It is not enough to simply vote out the enabling powers behind life crushing institutions and soul sucking policies; we must replace them with powers willing to transform those structures imbued with racial bias.
If Sedrick Altheimer had been killed, we wouldn’t be reading the story of a racist sheriff doing racist shit—we would be reading stories framing Altheimer out to be a criminal. He nearly became another name for us to say out loud.
Yes. Some will rightly claim this is just speculation, but let me point out a fact in this case—that sheriff isn’t behind bars. He made a call to clearly put Altheimer’s life on the line. The sheriff put out a distress signal to his fellow law enforcers that a badge was in danger. The sheriff intentionally manufactured a scenario which drastically increased the risk to Altheimer.
The sheriff walks. He might be sued, might lose his job, might go bankrupt—but he walks. A black man accused of some minor offense finds themself thrown behind bars to rot. But, the sheriff walks.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can create a more equitable and free system, but it takes all of us stepping up to vote for real change. We must weed out those who continue to cling to the racially biased structures destroying our neighbors.
At the very least, we ought to demand a system in which even a sheriff is held accountable for attempting to have a man lynched.
Tiktok’s @jolly_good_ginger shared a video that resonated deeply with me. In fact, if he grew up in an abusive environment and was raised in a cult, I’d think we were the same people. I’m not as good looking as he, but there are some physical similarities. We are both veterans. We are both poetic. And, it seems, we both have a unique insight into race, racism, anti-racism, and the part we’ve played in this very American problem.
Like @jolly_good_ginger, I wasn’t raised around racists, I was raised by them. I was them. And by God’s grace I escaped them, and continue to escape them. It is why I speak about racism with white people. My privilege, my insight, my experience—but especially my whiteness—grants me an open door to discuss these dehumanizing issues with people who refuse to even listen to the “other.” Those who—as Toni Morrison once pointed out—would rather these awful, horrific, and detestable acts of evil against our humanity be kept “drawn behind the veil” to protect our sensibilities.
It is not just our fellow humans who look differently from us that we mistreat. No. Those that are different—whose religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, identity, poverty (that is, their poorness), family make up, etc., etc., etc. are “wrong”—we treat with the utmost indignity.
Let me draw the veil completely open. That which I shame are the same things I practiced. I speak to white supremacy with intimate knowledge which no amount of propaganda can ever dissuade—which can no longer dissuade.
And before any accuse me of suffering from “white guilt” caused by “CRT,” as some who cannot even spell “CRT” have already accused me, let me offer this:
Repentance is the turning away from something—an act, behavior, habit, etc.—in agreement that the thing from which you repented is wrong. This boldness of bigotry and racism in the American 21st century is wrong—is evil—and if I say nothing, do nothing, then I am equally culpable in that evil. If I go on pretending not to notice it because it doesn’t “hurt me directly”—which it does—then my repentance is nothing and my growth as a human being is a sham.
Those who have experienced, and repented from, the side of the aggressor like @jolly_good_ginger and myself, have an obligation to speak up not only of the blatant racial and bigoted injustice that plagues America, but of the tactics and strategies used by whites to further sustain and uphold white supremacy.
Racism, and all the other prejudices borne out of white supremacy, is not solely the problem of its victims. White supremacy dehumanizes all of us—transforms us into animals and a means of profit for a system which benefits only a few. This problem is a problem for all of us.
The Adventure Church/Tower District battle in Fresno, California has been, and continues to be, a glaring example of evangelical Christianity’s relationship with white supremacy, colonialism, and American nationalism. There were a number of red flags in this situation from a moral, ethical, and theological perspective.
One problematic example which stands out is that particular cult’s relationship with the white supremacist group ‘Proud Boys.’ When the modern KKK comes to defend your cause, it would do well to review and analyze your cause. One might ask, “why is a hate group so interested in supporting me?” Or perhaps it would be worth the time to consider what a designated terrorist group finds so attractive about the church in question.
Secondly, Adventure Church’s hostility, belligerence, and cruelty demonstrated a behavior which might arguably be called ‘the spirit of the antichrist.’ At the very least, it appears to indicate an absence of Christ among both the congregation and its pastor.
Honestly, I suspect the whole stunt was an attempt to follow through with a decades long wet dream of area wide evangelical (nationalist) churches to slip into the Tower District and clean it up “for GEEZUS.”
I don’t understand how the irony of Christian nationalists continues to baffle me, but it does. How in Christ’s name do they claim to be disciples of Jesus while actively doing ALL OF THE THINGS he condemned of the religious elite in the Gospels?
In short, the whole burning dumpster fire serves as another example of the generally Christless Christianity practiced by specific segments of American culture.
What hurts personally is that I think about how similar Adventure Church is to the cult in which I was brought up—Calvary Chapel. The same symptoms were, and frankly, are, present in that place. Elitism. Us vs. Them perspectives. Isolationism. Ends-Justify-the-Means public motivation. Dangerous indoctrination by uneducated, ill trained, and ill equipped individuals. Fascist and authoritarian sentiment and philosophy. Toxic masculinity. Fragile masculinity. Sexism. Mysogyny. The list of abhorrent similarities goes on.
The worst of it, for both Adventure Church and the cult I escaped, is all the suffering was caused “for geezus.” As if nailing Christ to a tree wasn’t enough.