Sunday, October 25, 2015

Declarations of a Nobody

Christianity and Spiritual Experiences (that aren’t drug related)
            I became a Christian when I was thirteen.  I think it was during the summer of 1992.  I remember that the prior summer played as a catalyst to my getting saved from eternal damnation.  I had gotten caught sticking nails in the road with a couple of my friends who had obviously a stronger influence on me than I on them.  I wasn’t the type of kid who would set nails in the road; I most always stayed out of trouble.  At the time I didn’t realize I was going along with a plot that could possibly put someone else’s life in danger.  I wasn’t pushed into doing it.  It just sounded like a good idea. I definitely wasn’t thinking there would be consequences. 
            Weeks before that unforgettable event, I had found my old man’s Playboy magazines. They were hidden in the living room closet on the top shelf, just barely hanging over the edge. They were easy to get to.  When we first moved into my parents’ country home (we being my brother, sister, mother, and father), there was an old chicken coop I had made into a club house. I snatched my dad’s dirty rags and hid them under a deer skin I kept in the coop.  Again, I wasn’t pushed into doing it, and I didn’t need the influence of a couple buddies to convince me. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew why: I wanted to gawk at the naked women who were willing to bare their breasts and spread their legs all for my voyeuristic pleasure.  I’m pretty sure by that time, playing with my slug was already a daily occurrence.  I was getting laid in that chicken coop, at least in my mind.
            As I stated, I normally stayed out of trouble.  So when my neighbor’s truck almost ran over one of those nails and he spotted us running toward the road to see if any had gotten stuck in his tire, my mother was utterly confounded when she was informed by the angry man of what we had been doing.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the shocked look on her face when she turned to me in fury and shouted, “JOSEPH!?”  At that time people only called me J.B. “JOSEPH!?” meant I was about to lose my summer privileges.  And to make matters worse, that same weekend somebody had divulged to my parents the whereabouts of those lost Playboys.  I don’t think she would admit to it today, but I’m pretty sure my sister, who was a year older, had snitched on me.  That little bitch.

            I really don’t remember my punishment for sticking nails in the road and stealing my dad’s dirty magazines, but I do remember my worried mother mentioning something about getting me into church. By that time, she and my tattling sister had already begun attending the Four Square Gospel Church on Goyer Road.  Mom rededicated her life to Christ and my sister became a born again Christian.  Well good for them, but I had no interest in religion whatsoever.  Obviously that didn’t matter to mom, because she began to wake me every Sunday morning around eight o’clock.  I had no say in the matter.  If it wasn’t bad enough getting my ass up for school five days a week, one of the two days I was able to sleep late had been taken away due to the belief that mommy’s little Sunshine might be turning into a delinquent. Maybe being forced to go to church was my punishment.
            Punishment or not, the summer I was sentenced to the pew forever changed my life.  If it weren’t for the Christian religion and my desire to truly live my life doing God’s work, I might have never had the chance to meet my wife; traveling across the United States in a Christian band would have never been an option; and I honestly don’t think I’d be who I am today had I not accepted Jesus as my personal savior.  It’s funny, though, I really can’t remember the experience all that much.  I think I just felt really good.  For such a life changing episode one would expect to see fireworks or hear the angels sing or…something. Nope. Not me. I just remember feeling at peace. I remember smiling a lot too. 
            And then I remember the Christian t-shirts, the Christian punk rock, the Christian bonfires (to burn the UN-Christian punk rock), the Christian summer camps (at which I met my wife), and the Christian book stores.  These “Christian” things had all become a part of my life. They affected who my friends were and what I allowed into my mind.  This new religion changed my whole perception of the world around me.  For the first time in my life I was truly concerned with the afterlife, and not just for me, but for the world.  Suddenly, everybody I knew who didn’t know Jesus was going to Hell, and it was my job as a Christian to stop that from happening.
             It was during that first year as a Christian I decided I wanted to play music for the Lord.  My hands had been anointed with oil by a crazy old pastor from a church in Mexico, Indiana; I began to learn to play the guitar; I began incessantly writing songs with Christian messages; and, finally, I put together a Christian punk band—after many failed attempts—that my band mates and I decided to call Calibretto 13.  But I’m going to save the details of that part of my life for another chapter. I’d like to spend the rest of this chapter recalling a few more anecdotes and then explaining why I am no longer a Christian.

            Aside from accepting Jesus Christ into my life as my personal savior, I can recall four other spiritual experiences during my span as a Christian that many readers might find hard to attribute only to raw emotion, the first involving several warts on my feet.  My mother had invited me to attend a prayer group with her that congregated every Friday night.  I can’t remember if I had lost all my friends due to my being a religious weirdo, or if I was genuinely seeking to know more about my new God, but I decided to spend my Friday nights with my mother reading the Holy Bible and praying with a bunch of old women.
            I remember those Friday night snore fests being nearly unbearable. I usually had to force myself to stay awake and almost always had a bad attitude.  I don’t know what it was that kept me coming back.   Maybe my mother forced me to go, but my memory doesn’t serve me.  Either way, one evening everyone was waiting their turn to gush out their hardships and receive encouragement and prayer from the other sad souls in the room.  When it came to be my turn, I asked the group to pray that God would take away the myriad warts that were living on the bottoms of my feet. I really couldn’t think of anything else, and the warts were annoying.  They had developed a year or so earlier and were a little uncomfortable.  So the group of women laid their hands on me and we all prayed together.  Some spoke in tongues and some sang to the Lord.  By the time everyone was finished I was just ready to go home.  It was late and I was tired. 
            It wasn’t until the following night when I was taking a shower that I had noticed my warts were gone! There might have been a few bumps left, but by the end of the week those had disappeared as well.  At that age there was no doubt in my mind that God had healed me through the power of prayer.  I look back at it now with wonder.  If we had been followers of a different religion, praying to a different god, would the outcome still be the same?  Did the miracle, if it was a miracle, have really anything to do with the belief in a god or religion, or was it purely a reaction to faith?  My faith definitely had nothing to do with it.  I really couldn’t have cared less if the warts were removed.  Maybe somebody else in the group had such a strong belief in what they were praying for that the energy they were transmitting manifested into results; or, maybe it was because a group of people all believed for the same thing.  It was all mind power, right?  It could have been a natural occurrence.  Maybe it was coincidental that the warts disappeared.  Maybe I didn’t realize that they were almost gone when I had asked for prayer and they were already healing on their own.  Whatever the reason, I’m going to call it a spiritual experience, because, at the time, that’s how I perceived it.
            My second spiritual experience happened probably about a year later.  I had to be no more than fourteen.  It’s pretty simple: I went on a youth retreat to Detroit with my sister and the rest of the youth group at Four Square, and during one of the sermons the teenagers in the congregation were asked to lift their hands and pray for God’s power and forgiveness.  The idea being that we as God’s warriors couldn’t go door to door in Detroit leading people to Christ if we didn’t have God’s power and forgiveness in our own lives.  I remember having a heavy heart and earnestly praying on my knees for Jesus to forgive me of my sins, when out of nowhere I heard his audible voice tell me, “I forgive you.”  I know this sounds silly, but at the time there was no doubting it.  Nowadays I claim it was all in my mind.

           My third experience can also be ascribed to an overactive imagination, but I find that hard to accept, for I believe in ghosts (I think).  I was fifteen when I experienced this one.  I was still attending Four Square with my mother and siblings and had been invited to a Christian festival by one of the other youths at the church.  The festival introduced to me several new Christian bands, and on the last day of the fest there was an altar call on the main stage.  Of course, being the devoted disciple that I was, I took myself down to the grassy altar and prayed that Jesus would bring me closer to him.  I asked him to reveal his purpose for my life and to give me a better understanding as to how I could serve him to my full potential.  Overall, I returned from the fest with a new knowledge of good Christian music and a warm fuzzy feeling.   That warm fuzzy feeling lasted about a week. 
            My parents still live in that same country house in which I grew up.  There are two bathrooms: one on the main floor and one in the basement.  At that time, the basement bathroom was unfinished, but I preferred to use it anyway.  I enjoyed the privacy, especially when I had snuck mom’s department store catalogs downstairs with me to toss off to the lingerie sections.  It was quiet and most of the time nobody knew I was down there.
            One afternoon I was coming out of that downstairs bathroom when I heard a chuckle as I entered the hall.  I was startled as it came from directly behind me.  I remember it had sounded like the goofy laugh that might come from a mongoloid or an idiot.   I turned to see who was there, not knowing what to expect.  A tall man with old blue jeans and a loose blue t-shirt stood over me with a crooked smile hanging from his ugly face.  His greasy brown hair was unkempt and his clothes hung sloppily over his emaciated body.  He looked young, without any facial hair to hide his pale visage.  Needless to say I was scared shitless.
            I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking at the time.  Did I realize that my imagination was getting the best of me?  I can’t remember if he seemed ghostly or tangible, but my fear was undeniable.  I backed away slowly to the stairs leading to the backdoor and stopped.  I took one last glance at him and quickly whispered, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.”  His image was still in my head as I ran up the stairs and out the door to join the rest of my family who were hanging out in the backyard, oblivious to what had just happened.
            Apparently I didn’t believe that he was really there, at least not in the flesh, because later that evening I had forgotten all about him.  I didn’t even care to tell anyone.  But, then again, I was fifteen and too old to be afraid of ghosts in the basement.  Besides, he was gone; I had rebuked him in Jesus’ name.
            Boy was I wrong.  I used to wake up with fierce stomach cramps in the middle of the night from the time I was a child up until my late teens.  That night I was having those cramps.  My brother and I shared the whole upstairs and whenever I was awoken by those evil pangs, I’d have to hold my stomach and clench my butt cheeks all the way down the stairs barely making it to the main floor bathroom.  I didn’t need the privacy in the middle of the night, and there was no way I’d be going down to the basement for awhile.  The only thing on my mind was to not shit myself, but once I had finished my business and the pangs had subsided, thoughts about that man came to mind.
            I was afraid to leave the bathroom.  Outside that door was darkness.  I devised a plan:  Since the kitchen was closer to the hallway that contained the steps that led up to my room, I’d have to run to the kitchen and switch on the light, go back and switch off the bathroom light, and then run back into the kitchen.  While I was there I could get a drink of water, switch off the light, and then jet up the stairs leading to my room.  I’d be safe under my covers where nothing could touch me. 
            The pressure was on and I remember hurrying back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom and then back to the kitchen again.  Next, I got my water from the refrigerator, which was by the stairs to the basement.  Of course the doorway leading down the basement stairs was dark and I could imagine the tall man standing there.  I felt he was on his way up from underneath the house.  I put down my cup, flipped off the kitchen light, and ran up the stairs to my room.  I swear the man was on my heels the whole way up.  I felt I could hear him breathing behind me.  As soon as I got to my room I jumped onto my bed, turned to face him coming off the stairs into my room, and yelled, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ!”  POOF! He was gone.  He vanished into the air.  I spent the rest of the night under my covers facing the wall, not wanting to think about the man whose presence I could still feel. My brother slept peacefully.
            When I awoke the next morning, I went downstairs to recall my story over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, as my mother listened with wide eyes to my terrifying experience with the man in the basement.  She had me phone my youth pastor to share with him my battle with what could have been one of Satan’s minions.  I felt like a soldier who had been attacked by the enemy but fought bravely to secure a higher ranking in the army of God. I had become a spiritual warrior…And then the sun went down.
            In the end it seems I was just afraid of the dark.  After thinking about the grotesque man all day, I couldn’t go into a room without a light on, and when my mother asked me to fetch for her a loaf of bread from the basement, I broke down the second I saw him waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.  My mother took me to her room and vehemently rebuked the man and prayed for my peace of mind.  I followed her around the house until I went to bed that night.  Over time I forgot about the man in the basement, but sometimes I wish he’d come back.  I have some questions for him.

            My fourth and final spiritual experience happened at a Kent Henry seminar probably about a year later.  Again, I had had a bad attitude and I didn’t really want to be there, but I guess nothing better was going on in my life at the time, so I went.  My negativity stemmed from feelings I held for a certain girl.  I was hopelessly obsessed with this cutie whom I had discovered at a new church that I was attending, and these feelings caused me great anxiety and loneliness.
            At the time I had no idea that I would end up marrying and having two children with this girl who consumed my thoughts, but I knew I was in love.  I was so respectful and sincere about my feelings toward this girl that I made sure to keep all thoughts of her pure.  I let no lustful fantasies enter my mind when it came to thinking about her.  I viewed her as too angelic and innocent to allow her image to be corrupted by my sexual appetite.  But, alas, she wasn’t mine and it was tearing me up inside.
            I stood against the back wall at the worship seminar while the rest of my group sat in fold out chairs as close as they were able to the man behind the piano.  Even though at the time I considered myself a strong force in God’s army, I simply had no interest in what was happening around me, but something changed that attitude.  I had found a sharp tack on the church floor and had been keeping it safe between my fingers when my cousin of the same age as myself walked up to greet me.  I still don’t know why I did this—maybe it was to somehow share my pain with her, or it could have been that I just wanted to hurt somebody—but when she reached out her hand I jabbed her with the tack. I don’t think I’ll soon forget that betrayed and shocked look on her face as she turned and walked away without a word. I doubt she remembers this incident, but I will never forget it.
            It was the guilt I felt from hurting my cousin and the anxiety over my crush that caused me to respond to the altar call Mr. Henry was beckoning to the congregation. I found my group, stood next to them, closed my eyes and lifted my hands. Within seconds my legs began to shake, my knees gave out and I hit the floor.  I remember begging for answers as I lay there on the carpet of the church sanctuary, surrounded by worshippers who were speaking in tongues and praising their God.  It was then I heard a voice assure me that I was going to marry the girl that had been consuming my thoughts.  I felt peace again and then I fell asleep.
            When I awoke, the congregation was dispersing.  People were gathering their things and going home. I was told that I had been asleep for over an hour, and the next morning at the hotel my mother said I had been speaking in tongues in my sleep throughout the night.  It wasn’t long after this event that I began dating that girl of my dreams, and not many years later we were married. We are still in love as of this writing and we share the joy of raising two little boys.  Was it the Lord who told me I was going to be with this girl?  If I were living by my old Christian faith, then I’m sure I’d have no doubt that I heard God’s audible voice, but I’m not living by that old faith.

            I had stated at the beginning of this chapter that I’d explain to the reader why I am no longer a Christian, but I think I’ll save those reasons for another time.  I’m sure after reading through my experiences some readers are probably just a little confused as to why I’d give up my Christian faith having been touched so many times by its power; but one must acknowledge that these personal experiences don’t necessarily prove any case for Christianity.  If I’m telling the truth, they certainly help defend the power of human will, raw emotion, and what believing in something—anything—can do to help shape an outcome.

Joe Whiteford
9/14/2009

6 years and one month ago I wrote this entry for a book I had started, but of course never finished. Since that time my mind has definitely traveled to darker regions. The faith I once had in Christ dwindled more with each passing year until I considered it completely obsolete and gone from my life.  I am at a place where my life needs much reevaluation. Over the past three years I've begun to accept the stagnant sadness in my world, even though I have two beautiful boys and the best soul mate for which a man could dream. Not only that, but I've been making a humble living as an artist. Still, for a year at least I've awoken angry at life, viewing God as evil or not there. Looking for things to fill a void, I've become obsessed with material possessions. I've become afraid for my future and finances, neglectful with the time I've been given with my children, unkind and beyond selfish to my wife, and needing to get high to make it through the day. All the while looking for self worth in a band that has barely gone anywhere for over a decade, as I've placed my identity simply in music and the desire to become loved as an artist. I've been searching within myself and useless beliefs for security while being stuck in a room; I was beginning to accept self hatred and failure. I've been blind for years, but just recently my eyes have been opened. My Creator is doing a work in me.



13 comments:

  1. It's interesting, I have been a fan of your music since I was a young christian and I got a cd with short clips of some songs from Enter the Danger Brigade (not sure what it was but it had some other very christian songs on it as well). I got that album for christmas and listened to it every day for months and became slightly obsessed with it. I think everytime you had a new album come out I asked for it for christmas (for I was too young to have a job and christmas was the only time that my parents would take me to Berean Christian Store and all I wanted was cd's). Your music made me question what my faith really meant and question what I was doing and what every other christian I knew was doing. I saw you at Cornerstone for your last appearance there and I was mesmerized. I saw both the generator stage show and the tent show.

    I feel like I have grown up and grown out with your music from the beginnings of Calibretto 13 with my blind faith, to the Calibretto albums with my intense questioning, to the Harley Poe albums with my complete disbelief. Sometimes I put on the old Calibretto 13 albums and I feel the old feelings I felt way back then.

    And now I feel like I am reevaluating my spiritual/religious/christian beliefs(or lack there of). I don't know if you are actually having feelings of belief again but I can relate. I am still unsure of everything but I just wanted to say that you are not alone in this. I think being raised in a christian home, or coming to it at a young age, puts something in your head (maybe a guilt of sorts) that brings you at least back to pondering the reality of it all.

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  2. I have always appreciated your honesty and wit. I started listening to Calibretto after getting the ETDB pre-release while on the T&N street team and followed the band until the final unreleased tracks made it on your website. I haven't left the faith, but sometimes wrestle with believing it all. I find myself doing what you just did, going back to reconfirm my experiences, viewing creation as a miracle, and knowing that there is evil in the world, so there must be good to counteract it. I married my high schools sweetheart, have three kids and can relate to a lot of the Christian experiences you encountered (including being healed from bad migraines). I ran a record label that I put a lot of time into that never really amounted to anything..and got caught up in having the "American dream" fancy house, material stuff...trying to keep up with the Jones. I find myself focusing mostly on Jesus these days and not his followers so much. I want what He offers and want to live simply and honestly, helping others whenever possible. You have so many incredible talents Joe; praying that God leads you to use them to help others and that you find fulfillment in the things that matter.

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  3. I feel you Joe. Take me- straight out of seminary/ youth pastor for years and turn out being disgusted with what goes on behind the scenes at a church. Worse yet- the nagging knowledge that so couldn't produce or find any miracle completely bankrupted my thoughts on the usefulness of my faith. This being said, my faith dwindled to a "well if He'a out there I can't know and I probably wouldn't want to know Him" type of mentality...

    But even then and yet... And yet it's that "and yet" that gets to me. I am not ok with there being no God, and something inside of me screams to have a personal connection with this universe (or its ultimate context). It doesn't get fed in me through community, or my own purpose, or anything. It's all not enough.

    And so maybe this is why I am moving farther from my skepticism myself. Maybe we really are all born hungry for this thing and I swear the closest I ever got to it's full satisfaction was when I was a passionate believer.

    And if it's not real, who gives a fuck? I'm hungry for a God, and this universe better damn well explain why nothing else is working if it expects me to give up looking for one.

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  4. I'm excited for the music you'll be creating next!
    Also looking forward to hearing more of your story.

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  5. Thanks for posting this. Super interesting to hear some of your story. Keep rockin bro.

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  6. This was beautiful. I randomly woke up this morning thinking of one of the most influential bands in my life while I was growing up and decided to research what they were up to. After a rabbit trail of page after page I stumbled upon this blog entry. My heart is overjoyed to hear God was too big for you to ignore. He chose to save you no matter what. Let your mind explode as you meditate on the implications of that statement. I'd recommend reading the Joy Project to start your mind exploding adventure. Here's a free PDF link: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-joy-project

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  7. Hey joe,

    No idea if you read these, I assume you would. Just saw a Harley poe link on reddit and decided to give it a listen. I recognized your voice right away. I love the honesty and style of your songs. I used to blast calibretto 13 at the local Christian book store where I worked, much to the chagrin of the older customers. Im and adult now and still listen to those same songs. The Harley poe song about playing at a high school kids party made me sad for you, I hope you work through whatever is troubling you.... for whatever that's worth to you.

    I'm going to listen to some of your music at work today, I'm feeling nostalgic now.

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  9. I was a fan of Calibretto 13 as a Christian teen. I saw you at some festival and I was hooked. I didn't keep up with your or your music. A few years back, I started listening to Calibretto and discovered Harley Poe. It was all as great as I remember it.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Mine sound similar. I was raised in the church. I never felt like I fit in though. I always believed in god but never in the church. I saw too much hypocrisy and bullshit.

    I kept my faith as I graduated high school but left the church behind. I continued to question why things were the way they were. "What if I was born in a Muslim home?" I decided that all paths led to the same god.

    But, the more I questioned, the more I found that the answers pointed elsewhere. I abandoned my faith at the age of 20 and never looked back. A huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. I carried an immense guilt and it dissipated. I had never felt so free.

    Faith and religion never gave me hope or peace or truth. Belief in myself and in my family is far more powerful for me.

    I hope guilt doesn't drive you back to the cross, but I wouldn't blame you. It's a powerful hold.

    I hope you never give up on your music or your art. You are truly talented.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your story. I happened to stumble upon your music at a merch tent, selling old cds, at a festival years ago and 'Calibretto 13' looked interesting. The rest is history. I listen to it every now and again.

    I appreciate your honesty, in your music and here. It is a great place to spill it all out.

    About the 'Christian material industry', I left it years ago too. My belief in God doesn't depend on others actions because they are human too, but it's about me and God and how I treat others. Right now I'm happily married and living in Tokyo. It's interesting what Christianity looks like when shedding off the 'American' skin.

    Hope to hear more music in the future. Cheers.

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  12. This was a great read and really mirrored how I came into and out of my faith as a Christian. I enjoyed your music in Calibretto 13 and enjoy your Harley Poe stuff now.

    When I left my faith I had a deep void that was really hard to understand and harder to fill with positive things. I struggled to understand the point of being on this earth without my faith, went in and out of depression, one stretch lasting 4 years. I had a bleak outlook on life in general, suffered/caused two failed marriages and family started turning away from my depressive manic state.

    I'm not sure exactly when things started to change but I still remember waking up and feeling that things were OK, they were going to be OK and I didn't want to die anymore. I'm not saying it was a choice, really believe I had some chemical imbalance in my head or I had been brainwashed so much from my faith that I couldn't possibly fill the void that was left when I walked away. I started to realize that the world didn't owe me anything and that if I wanted a life I'd be OK with I'd have to put in the work.

    Anyways, I love your music, your art and you unfiltered way of approaching life. The new album is great and I'm looking forward to more in the future.

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  13. Just to quote you " I had stated at the beginning of this chapter that I’d explain to the reader why I am no longer a Christian, but I think I’ll save those reasons for another time. I’m sure after reading through my experiences some readers are probably just a little confused as to why I’d give up my Christian faith having been touched so many times by its power"

    I'm a little said you never finished this article. I am one of those that am like "you were healed after being prayed for, heard the audible voice of God, and saw a demon (or ghost) vanish after rebuking it in the name of Jesus but you no longer believe" That's not at all in judgment, I'm just very curious as to why you no longer believe in the Christian faith since you never did get to that part. I was a huge fan of Calibretto 13 back in the day and somehow never managed to realize Harley Poe wasn't a Christian too band until recently. I guess I never listened to Harley Poe and just assumed. Again, I am very curious about why you no longer believe in the Christian faith, especially since it seems you had a moment of returning to that 6 years after this post, but currently no loner do.

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