DJ Badger:  The News and the Journal

Entry Two Hundred Forty-Eight.
Sunday, 2023.03.05, 11:25 AM central time.

Why I quit going to church as a kid.
Current Mood:  Contempative.
Current Scent:  Sunset Riot by Allsaints.

Hi, everybody.

This is something I've wanted to write about here for several years.  It's a story that I think I've told maybe two people over the course of the last four decades, and I figure that I should finally post it publicly here.


As some of you know, my religious beliefs are... complicated.  I was raised as a Christian, and while I was never driven to outright atheism after that, there were a number of experiences that damaged my religious beliefs.  I now consider myself a "Christian" in the sense that I try to follow the ideologies attributed Jesus, but I don't agree with a lot of modern "Christianity," which seems to be based on hatred, fear, and greed rather than love and charity.  Someday, I may post on my site a lot more detail about my religious standpoint.  I'm not anti-religion, but I'm very much against the abuse of religion, and sadly, religion is apparently an amazingly easy thing to abuse.


This story takes place in the early 1980s.  My parents decided to start attending a local church in my hometown of Claremore.  The church didn't have "Baptist" in the name, but for all intents and purposes, it was a baptist church.  I had a couple of friends who went there, and I gained a few more friends as my time there continued.  I enjoyed the fellowship - even though it seemed like, far too often, the "lessons" to be learned were really just new and creative reasons that I could find myself GOING TO HELL if I stumbled out of the straight and narrow.

Around the time that I started going there, I wasn't even into video games yet.  My thing was magic - sleight-of-hand and illusions performed to entertain people.  "Bill the Magician," some called me.  My parents would take me to magic shops (Spot Lite was the main one for us) in Tulsa and buy me new tricks, props, and books of routines.  I practiced a lot and actually got pretty good at a lot of illusions.  I even went to a local magician's convention back in the day - that's how dedicated I was to the craft at the time!

Well, my "magic" soon became a "thing" at my church.  I would get up and entertain churchgoers - the youth group, specifically - with different "tricks" every week.  It was fun, and as a young, awkward, and often lonely geekling, I enjoyed being able to make people smile and wonder.  I think (but I'm not sure) we found ways to associate Biblical lessons with some of the tricks, so that they had some meaning beyond mere entertainment.


One Wednesday evening, I went to one of our nighttime Bible classes.  The youth pastor's wife, who was generally a nice person, was running the lesson, and the bunch of us kids - maybe a dozen or fewer of us ranging from very young children up to just below teenagers - all sat along a rectangular table.  For the sake of this story, we'll call the youth minister's wife "Jackie."

Jackie handed out a bunch of little pieces of paper to us all and told us to write down the one thing that we were proudest of, with the exception of the love of God.

I thought about it - not too long - and wrote down what came to mind.  So did the other kids.  We all dutifully turned in our pieces of paper, and she gathered them up.

She then dropped them all into a big metal bowl and, as we watched, she covered them in lighter fluid and set them on fire.

Once they were all burned up, she dumped water on them.

Then, she asked us what was now in the bowl.  "Ashes," said someone.  I think someone else said "trash."

That was the point, she explained.  Whatever we were the proudest of on earth - whatever really made us feel pride about ourselves or our lives - it was garbage, junk, worthless - "compared to the love of God."

The lesson wasn't productive for me.  It was traumatizing.  I stayed quiet, but inside my head, it fucked me up.

Can you guess what my piece of paper said?

"Doing magic tricks for my church."


In a matter of only a few minutes, Jackie made me feel horrible shame about what I had been doing FOR THEM every week.

In the years to follow, I often wondered what some of the other kids put on their slips of paper.  Maybe their bike?  A new puppy?  A new baby sibling?  Maybe just the fact that their parents or grandparents loved them?

Whatever they were, Jackie made sure that we felt like shit because we were proud of whatever "earthly" things, activities, relationships, whatever... that we had.

And this was her dramatic, kind-hearted, "Christian" way of showing up how much God loved us.

After that... I didn't go back to church for a while.


Jackie's husband - the really nice youth minister whom I'll call "Mike" - came by my house to check on me after that.  I had given no indication that I had been traumatized by Jackie's little display.  Mike just knew that I hadn't been there for a while, and I was probably happy to see him show up.

Strangely, I can't remember firsthand what happened during his visit.  My mom described it to me years later.  I got out a model of the USS Enterprise* to show to Mike.  It was a doozy - very complicated, with lights wired into it around the edges.  LOTS of hard work went into this thing, and it was still a work in progress.  I'm sure that I was quite proud of it.

(Edit 2023-03-25:  It may have been the Millenium Falcon, but I'm pretty sure it was the Enterprise.)

And then, as my mom explained to me later... with Mike right there, I started breaking the model apart - destroying my own work.  I don't think I explained why.  I had never told my parents about Jackie's "lesson."

What happened after I did that?  I have no recollection.


My parents and I may have gone back to that church a handful more times, if that.  I may have even performed magic tricks there again - but I didn't feel good about it.  I felt ashamed.  Eventually, I just told my parents that I no longer wanted to go, and thankfully, they respected that.  If memory serves, they also felt like there was some kind of corruption at the adult level that made them want to stop going.  I never explained what Jackie had done.

For years, though, whenever I felt some sense of accomplishment about something, I remembered Jackie and the metal bowl, and how whatever I did was pretty much nothing, trash, shit - compared to "the love of God."

So, if you knew me back then and you want to know why I kind of started hating myself around that time - there's a pretty good piece of the puzzle right there.

It took a good long time before I started realizing that I had every fucking right to be proud of the things I had and the things that I could accomplish - which, if I wanted to see them in a much less destructive, much less-jacked-up religious light, I could consider to be blessings instead of reasons to be more and more ashamed of my earthly life.

These days, on the rare occasions that I visit my hometown and pass that church way up on its hill, I think about that "lesson" every time.

Sometimes, even though Mike and Jackie have long since long since left the church, I give the place the finger as I drive by.

And Jackie, if by some weird twist of fate you happen to end up reading this:  On behalf of every kid who was unfortunate enough to be there for your "lesson" or any similar "lessons" that you may have administered:  FUCK YOU for what you did back then.  You did far more damage than good that evening, and I hope to God that you know it.  I don't believe that you weren't doing it out of real love for us... you were doing it to maintain a sense of control.  So fuck you, and fuck your control.


To give the rest of you at least some sort of happy epilogue... as the years went on, even though my passions shifted to video games and computers, I still continued to love the art of "magic."  I even performed at a friend's brother's birthday party back in 1990, and a few years back, I went into a local "magic shop" and bought an illusion or two.

Coming up later this year, in fact, I even have plans to see the great Penn & Teller perform.

I still love "magic," and I'm still proud of my abilities, and if you think that I should feel ashamed of that pride, then you're welcome to go fuck yourself as well.

Also... About ten years ago, I finally found a church in Tulsa that made me feel welcome and good about myself.  I don't go often, but I usually enjoy it when I go... and they never aim to make me feel ashamed for anything.

More soon.

- Badger

[The site is still forthcoming.  The views and opinions expressed in my posts are mine and mine alone.  No posts on this site, nor any of my posts on social media, should be considered representative of any company for which I work, nor any company for which I've ever worked, nor any company which I own or have owned.  Also, since you're already here reading this:  Don't rent cars from Dollar, Thrifty, or Hertz.  Thanks.]