Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 1

Martin Fowler mentioned the BeliefNet Belief-O-Matic today on Facebook and he was surprised to learn that I found Quakers via the Belief-O-Matic. This made me think back again about my spiritual journey. The Atlanta Friends Meeting has been inviting members to share their spiritual journeys on the first first-day of the month during the Adult Ed class before meeting for worship. I shared mine in November of 2008. I recorded it at the time, and decided to make it available. At the time, I didn't know how to switch off the voice activation feature, when means it cuts off the beginning of some syllables, which makes some of them sound a little odd.

I have also transcribed it, and will post it in multiple parts since it is a little long. I hope it might inspire others to do the same. We have found it to be an enriching experience at Atlanta Friends Meeting.

Mark Wutka's Spiritual Journey

So, I'm Mark Wutka, and I'll just start from the beginning. I was born in 1965, May 11th, in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and within a year of that my parents divorced, and since then I have not seen my father. We moved to live with my grandparents around the time I was a year old, and my uncle (my mom's younger brother) was still at home. This was in Jackson Heights, New York. And although in what I have to say I don't mention my family a lot, my family provided the foundation that underlies my spiritual journey. You know, you might think that not seeing my father that I might be lacking for something, but living with my grandparents for several years, and with my uncle there, I have probably more of a family than a lot of people have, and my mom.. I have a better parent in my mom than a lot of people have with two. Though a lot of what I have is because of them, and it's not necessarily any one thing I can point my finger to, it's just the way they always have been.

So, when we lived in New York, I left there when I was six, we attended Free Gospel Assembly of God church, which is pentecostal, so there were people speaking in tongues. I remember one particular, I'm sure this couldn't have been the first time, but there's this one where I can just see her and hear her in my head. I have no idea what she said, but I just remember it exactly. Of course, I learned a lot about the bible. I could recite about 2/3 of the books of the… list them.. of the Old Testament, by the time I was five. One of the sunday school teachers had made this set of books of the bible out of these little cereal boxes, and so I learned them. It's also kind of funny that the pastor of the church was this older guy, haircut like mine [I had a flat top when I recorded this], gray hair. I remember that that was always what I thought God looked like. And also, I didn't find this out until after I had become a Quaker, my mom remembered that around that time a lot of her friends were concerned because I played with their children and I would never hit back when they hit me. They kept telling my mom "he's got to learn to hit back!"

We moved to Raleigh in 1971 and we attended a Methodist church there, St. Mark's United Methodist, and the only thing I can really remember from there is learning a lot of bible stories. And the funny thing is when you're a kid you form mental images, and it's kind of fun to go back and especially read maybe 1 & 2 Samuel, some of those Old Testament bible stories, and suddenly those images will still come to me. Like the letting the guys down on the rope and that sort of thing.

And around 1973 my grandparents moved to Pinellas Park, Florida, and I would go spend the summers there for several years, and they still stayed in a pentecostal church. They were at Glad Tidings Assembly of God, and we went to church.. now, when it was open, we were there, so sunday morning, sunday evening, wednesday evening, and it was kind of interesting. I can't remember a lot of people speaking in tongues, but I can tell you one of the things we did in sunday school, I think Mary Ann [Downey, a Friend from Atlanta Friends meeting] has mentioned this before, is they used to do a thing called "sword drills". A lot of churches.. there's a thing in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God and it talks about the "sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God", and as Quakers, for us the "Word of God" is Christ, or speaking what the Spirit is leading us to say, and not the book, but for the pentecostal church, the sword was the book. So the sword drills would be that they would call out a bible verse and you had to go find it as fast as you could. It was always a competition between me and the preacher's kid. And they also.. they had something called being "slain in the Spirit", which is sort of, you put your hand on somebody and they just fall backwards. And I was never really comfortable with that, it happened to somebody right in front of me, and she was just laid out on the ground in front of me, and I just kept looking at her. It felt kinda weird. But, the people there were kind and sweet people that lived their faith, and even though there may have been things I might have been uncomfortable with, the people were good people and I can't really say I have bad memories of that.

Now, the other thing is, they were very big into the rapture. During the 70's that was a big thing, "The Late Great Planet Earth" came out, so it was always "oh, the Earth's gonna.. Jesus is coming back tomorrow, you better be ready." I saw movies about this, and it was just drilled into me. And a funny thing is that even into my teens.. one of the passages that the idea of the rapture came from talks about the blast of trumpets.. I would hear a train horn and wonder "Hey! Is it the rapture?"

Also, right around the time we moved to Atlanta in '74 we visited an Episcopal church, and the funny thing about that is, growing up in a protestant church, when you have communion, you get this little, little bitty cup of grape juice. We went to the Episcopal church, they were doing communion and they were passing this huge cup around, and I thought "Oh boy!" I took a huge gulp, and it was wine. And I think that may have contributed to the fact that I have really never liked alcohol.

So, when we moved to Atlanta, we attended Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a very large church, it's kind of a rich section of town, it's across the street from Phipps Plaza [fancy mall, has Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, etc.]. I was baptized and joined the church in '75. Basically that was the earliest you could join. At the age of 10 you were qualified to make this life decision and be baptized. Looking back, I obviously.. I was not. And, in '77 I joined the youth choir, and it was a good community of teens. However, it was nothing like the open and loving place that the SAYF [Southern Appalachian Young Friends] program is. I certainly wish I had had something like that. And, the thing that sticks with me most about the choir was actually a lot of the songs we sang. There was one called "Peace Like a River" that's not the "Peace Like a River" you're familiar with. But, I just remember singing that one Sunday night and feeling this overwhelming sensation of peace, that was very rare. And, of course, it wasn't something we often talked about in the church. And some of the other favorites of mine, "Come to Me All Who Labor", and it's that whole verse, "I can do all things through Christ" another favorite verse, and incidentally if anybody watched the Georgia-Florida game yesterday, the Florida quarterback [Tim Tebow], on those little black things he had under his eyes had Philippians 4:13, which was that verse. And another one I liked, "And this is love, that a man lay down his life for his friend".

Another thing about me, I was always a big "Star Trek" fan, and the reason I bring this up, is 'cause as I was talking to Ceal [my wife] last night about.. trying to help me fill in any holes here, I remember that this one episode called "The Empath", that was about this woman, who, if somebody was hurt, she could touch them, and whatever was wrong with them would transfer from them to her, and then she would heal. So you'd see this person with like this scar, and she'd touch them and the scar would disappear from them, and then it would appear on her, and then you'd see it fade away. And I always wanted to be able to do that.

So, late into my teens, I started to doubt my faith. This was, this would have been early 80's, Reagan was in office, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were on TV, and I'm not sure.. it's kinda hard to read back into.. look at the events around and read that into what I was going through, but I'm reasonably sure that a lot of my problem was that the image of Christianity that was portrayed in the media was not something that I could accept. I had a lot of difficulty that I had to believe everything in the bible as it was there, and the funny thing is, I didn't talk to my mom about this, and I could talk to my mom about almost anything, and she probably could have helped me out, although in some sense I think I had to go through this. One of the things last weekend, some folks I was talking with, they talked about going away and coming back to have an adult relationship with God, with Jesus, that it is a different relationship than what you grown up with as a child. And I had tried talking to my youth minister, and he was really no help. He just said some generic things like "well, this happens sometimes", or "you just gotta believe", and it just didn't help me. George Fox would probably have phrases for that, "empty husk" or whatever.

So by the time I was 20, I stopped going to church. I picked up Bertrand Russel's book "Why I am not a Christian" and read it, and I found that it did not really speak to my condition. It really didn't speak to why I wasn't a Christian, why I didn't consider myself that. And I spent the next 15 years with basically no spiritual life. I was always interest in Taoism, I read Lao Tzu and Chang Tzu, and even on our honeymoon in Hawaii we visited this old Taoist temple on Maui, but I never really embraced it as a faith tradition. I liked the images, the ideas, but it just wasn't for me. And I was also somewhat influenced in the mid-90's by the revival of conservative politics. I listened to Rush Limbaugh and that sort of thing. I actually continued.. I have mostly had a losing streak in presidential elections. I voted for one winner, and that was Clinton in '92. But, part of that was, I eventually got to the point where I didn't like who I was. I didn't understand why, I just.. I felt like my attitude towards people was harsh, at least.. I wasn't always that way outwardly, but my internal attitude, and I guess a lot of the times at work it would be that way. I didn't like who I was, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Also during this period, in '92, Ceal and I were married. And, it was funny, we were talking about this, I considered myself agnostic, and I guess Ceal did too, but we both felt it was important to be married by a minister. This came to Ceal when we watched our wedding video over the weekend of our anniversary, and I'm not sure what to make of that, other than, you know, there was still something there that I just wouldn't admit to.

Part 2 continues here.

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