A talk over coffee -by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Confessions of a Church Bully, part 1

A talk over coffee -by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
A talk over coffee -by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

His name was Seabass. We called him that because of an inside joke. When you are 19 years old quirky things like that are very cool. Seabass was my best friend. Even today I look back and think that I have not had a better friend than him. But unfortunately today, we are not friends. I bullied him with my righteousness.

It was the summer of ’99. Remember? The sun was out every day and downtown Coeur d’Alene was still full of hippies and drum circles. I worked at a bistro and a bagel shop that summer, which were both located downtown. Seabass and I would get off work and go swimming in the lake and play hacky-sack. Then twice a week we would go to church, which was also downtown. It was called The Building.

I sat across from him while we had coffee, which is the beverage of choice when you need to have certain “serious” talks with other Christians who might not be living up to snuff. I was concerned about Seabass. You see he had a girlfriend that he was spending an awful lot of time with and was not coming to church as often. He was also hanging around other friends who were more unsavory in character than myself, and I knew that he was beginning to develop some pretty marginal beliefs, like homosexuality being OK and premarital sex being an expression of God approved love. It was my responsibility to correct him.

Seabass was a much better person than me. He took my youthful zeal in stride, but I could see it on his face that I had hurt him. He did not argue with me, or try to diminish my point of view. But after that coffee “talk” we were never the same again. Soon after that, Seabass moved to finish his college degree elsewhere. We had sparse contact after that, until eventually we just stopped speaking with one another. Seabass is not my only victim, but he is the one that I wish never was.

Why Church Bullies Exist

I was a pretty pathetic child. To this day I lack all perceptual realism about what I think about myself and what others think about me. It is a flaw that has always plagued me, and I overcompensate with bold honesty, which comes across as douchey, if I do not keep a tight reign on my reactions. I was locked in my own internal struggles and insecurities that I had no clue that my desperate acts to try and understand the world and other people that I was actually hurting people and alienating myself. I grew up in a broken home and had no contact with my dad. Most of my memories concerning my father revolve around me waiting for hours looking out of a window, because he said he would pick me up for that weekend. But he never showed.

Children have very little understanding of the forces taking place outside of them. I thought I was a happy child. My mom was very loving and did everything for me. I had very little need for anything and thought that everything was going according to plan, but I also had this other part of my childhood where I desperately wanted human connection. I had no clue on how to talk to other children, or to get friends. My social skills revolved around my mom asking the neighbor kids to play with me. I had friends, and looking back I had so many opportunities and friendships that simply slipped through the cracks of my own self-involved world. I was never an open child. I was closed and cagey, which is one of the great tragedies of my life, because I really was a cool kid. I just had no idea.

I so wanted to be a cool kid. I wanted to be popular and to be liked by everyone. But because of this, I was so insecure and unsure of everything happening around me. People would often approach me to get to know me, and I would retreat or overanalyze the situation, which would ruin any chance of a good first impression. This led to a very isolated childhood, which in turn led to a very awkward adolescence. I remember being so hung up on the idea of popularity during my junior high years, and in all honesty it was completely out of range for me. My cool days were over. I had ruined my chance. I most likely could have made a come-back, but my perception was entirely wrong. The way I saw the world as a young teen was that I had nothing to offer the world.

Everywhere I looked people were cool because of some skill that they had developed during their childhood years. The only skill I developed during those years was neurotic self-reflection. I was not good at sports. I had no father figure to even teach me the rules. To this day I am not really sure what the rules are for football. I was extreme uncomfortable around girls. Again, I had no good examples of love, romance, or intimacy to guide me or reinforce male to female relationships. I simply could not flirt. I avoided things like hugging and holding hands. And I had no ability to socially interact with others. I could not initiate friendships. I had to wait for circumstances to force conversation and hope that friendship happens.

I was not a recluse. Like I said, I did have friends and I did converse on many occasions in class in outside of class. Like I said, for the most part this is the world that was happening inside my head. The world which was taking place outside of it would show you a fairly normal kid having a fairly normal junior high experience. I had sleepovers and was invited to others houses to sleep over as well. I had a couple of “girlfriends” and even kissed a girl in the eighth grade. And I remember having a couple of girls flirt with me while I awkwardly tried to process these events. Looking back I was a kid who had ever opportunity to make so much of his childhood years, but simply lacked the ability to be confident and secure enough to make the leap to trust other people. That time I spent looking out that window hurt me more then I had realized.

Anyways, I say all that, because when I decided to become a Christian I discovered something that had completely changed my point of view on human relationships. Church showed me a world where one’s external “skills” no longer mattered. People could have friends and be popular simply based on how good one was at being a Christian. Though I was not conscious of these motivations entirely, when I first gave my life to God, I have come to see how important they were during my youth. In reality the only reason I became a Christian was because I thought I could cheat the system of the world that I thought existed.

I could easily be the best Christian in order to gain friends and popularity. There was literally no past experience needed, and for all intents and purposes it seemed that those with the “sinners” past received the most amount of attention anyways. Thus, it served two ends for me. It made my pathetic past a means to garner more attention to myself, and it gave my unskilled abilities new hope in opening up a skill set that anyone could do and master. So I became a Christian, because in my mind that was the only option left for me to have a somewhat normal adolescent experience. I was in eighth grade when I first came to the Lord, and by and large it was a life transforming experience for me.

Though I was supposedly cheating the system, my success and popularity did soar. I became well versed in reading my Bible and even became quite knowledgeable at a young age. I attended as many Bible studies as I could and pretty much spent every moment soaking in church and church attendance as possible. I was very fervent, because Christianity was fulfilling a deeply set need in my psyche to have human connection, but at the end of the day it was still an unhealthy practice, and no one was around to see the signs and help me resolve the issues happening inside of me. My spirituality was like a drug for me. I needed a constant fix to know that others saw me as the “cool” Christian. I needed to make sure that I had some interesting spiritual insight every week to share at Bible studies, and eventually this was not enough. As people began to praise me for my spirituality I needed to ensure that this praise continued, and so I had to fulfill my obligations to exercise authority when needed. I was a junkie hooked on Jesus.

Continue reading part 2.

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