Sunday, November 13, 2011

#50- Hotel Rwanda

I was at my Uncle's mechanic garage when I saw the movie "Hotel Rwanda".  That was the moment that I had my purpose made clear to me.  I cried like a baby.  The movie brought back images of the scenes I had read in the Bible and the Iraq war.  I had a vision of my running into the Sun.

I felt that God wanted me to vindicated Him against the Bible.  That god was evil and thus false.  I knew that people wanted Armageddon to come so that Jesus could return and that meant that scenes like the horrible genocide in Rwanda would soon come to fruition.  I was frustrated because I felt alone on an impossible mission.  I had to break a lot of people's faith and version of God in order to make them see the danger that the people in the Middle East were in.  I sincerely thought that people of faith were all about peace and love, but I was wrong.

The movie shook me to the core.  I still had an undercurrent of Afrocentrism inside me.  It gave me comfort to point the finger at the White man as an evil agent throughout history.  Now I had no excuse because the genocides of Rwanda was a Black on Black crime.  The international community did nothing.  I felt that I was a coward for staying quiet and allowing people to amass support for more pain and suffering in the Middle East.

Believers in the Abrahamic religions expect war in the Middle East because of prophecy.  I wanted to warn people in order to stop it.  Speaking out at church was becoming more and more useless.  I had a reputation as a polemic who asked leading questions in order to teach the audience.

I was extremely distraught at the indifference of the members of the church.  I tried to calm myself down by remembering how ignorant and indifferent I was before I went to war.  It is like a pregnant woman describing what it is like to be pregnant to a man.  I felt like Nehemiah in the Bible.

All during that time of tumult I still styled myself as a believer in a benevolent God.  I was also a freethinker because I used my God-given reason to seek out and process the information.  I literally traveled around looking for people who can cross-reference and contradict what I know.  At that time atheism was not an option that I considered.

Eventually,  I stumbled upon the Atheist Experience show from the Austin Community of Austin, Texas.  I listened to all their shows.  One thing led to another and I found a local atheist group near me.  I made some phone calls and eventually found myself in the middle of atheists at a Starbucks.

Two members of the Atheist Community of Austin
After the proper definition of what atheism was explained to me I eventually came to the conclusion that it described me.  In August 2009 I reluctantly accepted the fact that I could not absolutely, positively prove that there is a God.  It was then that I suspended my beliefs in the supernatural until further notice and accepted that I was an atheist.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

#49- The Tour of Faith

I had effectively completed reading the entire Bible by 2007.  I learned that reading for myself was essential in order to find out things.  I had to look for individuals that were as passionate about the things I knew.  Most of my peers could not relate or care about reading the Bible.  They were probably distracted by things in their lives but payed lip service to God and the Bible on the weekends.

By 2007 I had read several books from different perspectives on the Bible and even joined a Freemason lodge.  This was done for several reasons including letting go of past fears and plunging in head first into things to find out about them first hand.

There are some people who don't consider Freemasonry to be compatible with Christianity.  I got my hands on a paper that challenged any Mason that was involved in both worlds.  This gave me pause and I showed the paper to a few brothers in my lodge.  The reception was lukewarm at best.  My lodge was overtly Christian and didn't see any discrepancy with the two positions.  After considering the matter I ruled that Freemasonry's core value were better than Christianity's.  To be more specific, I like the fact the Freemasonry included people from various faiths while Christianity insisted that you follow and worship Jesus exclusively.
Black Hebrew Israelite woman

I also visited a mosque of the Nation of Islam during those days.  Their views on Islam is not orthodox.  They claim to be the latest revelation of Islam with a special emphasis on Black people.  There is a mural in that mosque that is very ominous.  I spoke to the artist who made it and she told me that the original humans were Black, the characters in the Bible were Black, and that White people possessed an evil nature that was evident by their history of treachery.  I even ate a bean pie for the first time while there.  It was very delicious and sweet.

I had a better understanding of the Nation of Islam but I couldn't see my self becoming a member because I disagreed with several things about them.  I had a few White friends and I knew that your skin did not make you evil.  Their take on the Bible was very esoteric.  It was used in conjunction with the Qur'an to promote their programs and ideology.  In other words, it was no different than every house of worship that I have ever visited.  Everyone remixed the holy books as necessary.  I found it hard to imagine how they overcame the Islamic proclamation that Muhammad was the last messenger of Allah.  Wallace Fard Muhammad is said to be God and Elijah Muhammad is a prophet according to the Nation of Islam.  When it came to religion it seemed to be all about a person's personal interpretation.
Elijah Muhammad
I also visited a Moorish temple, several mosques, and at least two Jewish temples.  Everyone was doing their own thing believing that they were right while not talking to the other groups at the same time.  I was invited to a fervent Jewish group after visiting a laid-back Synagogue but I never went because it sounded like they took the Torah serious I didn't feel comfortable going to a place like this by myself.
Black Hebrew dudes

I went to home services of independent folks, Jehovah Witness kingdom halls, and Black Hebrew Israelite home meetings.  The Black Hebrews are an interesting and dangerous sect.  I got kicked out of one of their home meetings when I asked some tough Biblical questions to the leader.

Wallace Fard Muhammad
The only groups that I did not visit during my tour are the Rastafarian and a Vodou group.  Although I had some exposure to these two groups and have since learned more about them I did not know anyone who overtly practiced those religions.  I also grew exhausted of touring because it was all the same after a while.

I still attended my church during that time but kept my thoughts to myself as best as I could.  I struck provocative conversations with people when I thought it was safe to do so.  Overall it was a pretty lonely time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

#48- Vodou: The religion of our ancestors

1.  Voodoo

Voodoo was a mysterious thing as a child in Haiti.  Everyone knew of this phenomenon but yet no one cared to explain it to me.  I heard of "lougaoos", "bakas", "zombies" and "djabs".  There were tales of people morphing to animals, cures, curses, and poisons for revenge.  Vodou is the biggest white elephant in Haiti's room.  It was implied and understand that Christians were superior and were to have no dealings with Vodou.  Vodou was of the devil and we were of the Christian God.  In my early years I questioned very little because these were my formative years and was just being introduced to these concepts.  Either way it is rare for Haitian adults to ask children for their views on any matter much less religious ideas.

Haitian Heroes
I started elementary school in Haiti and remember Haitian history starting essential with the invasion of Columbus and the rest of his Christian European marauders.  I vaguely remember the details but as everyone knows by now the Haitian slaves rebelled and drove the French away from Hispaniola.  During that time I don't remember Vodou being given any credit in the freedom of the slaves.

The ceremony before the big rebellion
In 1988 I migrated to the U.S.A.  Times were rough for us but we did our best.  During that time being Haitian was a curse.  People used the word "Haitian" as a curse word.  Haitians were blames for A.I.D.S. and people beat us up all the time.  Parents got kids out of schools because Haitians were jumping Haitian kids that recently came to the US.  I lived in a Jamaican neighborhood and the kids were ruthless on us.  They thought that Haitians ate cats etc.

Later a movie came out that really dealt us a big blow:  The Serpent and the Rainbow.  It was a public relations nightmare for Haitians especially when it came to tourism.  All the news stories about Haiti were negative.

Serpent and the Rainbow put Vodou on the map once again.  It wasn't until I got to my second middle school that I was introduced to new religious ideas.  I learned that Jesus was not a White man, that Christians used the Bible to take over land and enslave people, and finally that Vodou was a critical part of Haitians becoming free.

Vodou is still demonized and misunderstood.  Many Haitians still treated as taboo even though our oppressors forced us to become Christians.  I recently did a podcast where I explained what I learned about Vodou.

Of course the earthquake of 2010 did not help the Haitian cause much.  Christian televangelist Pat Robertson made some questionable comments about Haiti and Vodou.  He blamed the Haitians for the disaster.  His brain is a cesspool that has been decayed with Christianity.  What hurt more is that some Haitians actually agreed with him because they too are Christian and know the story.


F'd up, right?

A picture from Haiti

Erol Josue

Haitian Presidential Palace before the earthquake

Pat Robertson, Christian asshole
Today I have a greater understanding and appreciation for our ancestors and Vodou.  I don't see Vodou as any different from other religions.  I say that if Haiti is going to have a religion it might as well be our own and not from the people who hated and oppressed us for hundreds of years.

Friday, November 4, 2011

#47- New Testament Completed

It was in Vermont at a debate camp that I started to read the book of Revelations on late night.  It was a bizarre tale indeed.  I learned a great lot including that there is no heaven.  Jesus is supposed to return to Earth and rule from Jerusalem.

The story was rather weird but it certainly was not so cryptic that I couldn't understand it.  Eventually I went on to read the Gospels.  Matthew elaborated on familiar story lines. Mark was quick and swift.  Luke was more scholarly and informative.  John was a poem at best.  Then I went on to Acts.  That was a very action packed book.  Romans contained the tough philosophical fiber that I've been clamoring for.  I went on to finish all of Paul's letters to the churches and eventually completed the entire New Testament.

Jesus is much more fascinating then I was led to believe.  The gospels are much better, much more elegant and regal then promoted.  It was fascinating and gripping literature.  Jesus was always three steps ahead of his troop of idiot followers.  He had a sharp mind and tongue and loved to embarrass the powers that be with sarcasm and rhetoric.  He even made a joke!  It was very exhilarating and edifying.

Having heard the principles, concepts, commands, and parables straight from Jesus' life story and mouth I found myself asking an important question:  was I really a Christian?

When I say Christian I meant was I copying the lifestyle of Jesus and following the commands to the letter.  I could not plead ignorance anymore.  I added to sugar and no pretenses to the words of the Gospel.  It was in black and white.  Suddenly I realized that I hadn't really met ANY Christians in my life; or at least any consistent ones.

Would I really be able to: take slaps in the face, sell all my possessions, live like a homeless beggar, make miracles?  Would I castrate myself or mutilate my face because I thought of a woman?  Would I hate my family for the sake of Jesus?  Would I go and do the Great Commission?

As good as the Gospels were I could not shake off a few observations:

1.  Jesus was racist and/or sectarian at least some of the time.
2.  Jesus said he came to bring war.
3.  Jesus got his super powers AFTER he got baptized, so was he a god?
4.  Jesus' parents made no big deal of his supernatural birth and the same happened to the locales who heard of it.

I struggled with these questions because I took them seriously.  The Holy Spirit seemed like an agent of God and not a third member of a trinity.  I was told to humble myself and pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and I did to no avail.  The questions came faster than answers.  Jesus made claims that were not in the Jewish Bible and put his cousin on the spot about him being John the Baptist.  What about the fact that he was not the Jewish Messiah?  What was the Christian answer to this?

The rest of the New Testament taught me one thing:  Saul of Tarsus is the one who started the religion!  He wrote most of the book and that is not taught in Sunday Schools or at churches.  Peter was racist and was the one who was supposed to succeed Jesus.

The Jewish side of the story was told by Christians which drew a red flag in my mind.  Was I going to wash anyone's feet?  My stepfather was the person who I was going to humble and humiliate myself by washing his crusty feet.  I was contemplating doing this for Jesus and to prove to myself that I was a true Christian.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#46- Brave New World.

 My and I church didn't see reality in the same way.  I submitted my thoughts as best as I could but I couldn't take the politics and bullshit very well.  I started suggesting that we held a round table event where we invited the best representatives of different religions and/or denominations and allow them to explain their beliefs for themselves instead of our church members making up stories about them.  This idea was not allowed in Sunday School but I kept pushing the envelope.  I went to meetings hoping to promote the idea to the bosses of the church.  Obviously it didn't fly.  Questions came up about my standing in the church.  Was I a member or not?  Meaning; did I get baptized?  Apparently, without being a baptized member my ideas wouldn't travel far.  So I did what I had to do and enrolled in baptism class.

It was around that time that I decided to tour different places in order to get my answers.  Two places come to mind the most.  One was a home church that one of the former members of the church attended and the other was a budding and energetic church called "Tabernacle of Glory".

Anti-homosexual Pastor Ted Haggard

A friend of a friend left the church because of internal discord and gossip.  She got with a small home based church which I decided to visit.  It was there that I was given a book called "Fossilized Customs" by a Lew White.  What made this visit so unique is that I had a slight phobia of the group because I was affected by the rumors that she had joined a cult.  I was reluctant and closed-minded at first.  Eventually I read the book and it blew my mind.

Tabernacle of Glory is the brainchild of a young pastor that has all the makings of a rising star.  I found out about that church through another defector who grew tired of the politics and deception of my church.  T.G. was friendly and the people seemed genuine.  I knew a good deal of people from there and that was good.  I started to feel right at home at Tabernacle of Glory when my loyalty bells started to ring.  No matter how nice or established another church was I wanted to donate my talents to my home church.

In a desperate move to have a literate Christian leader answer my questions I enrolled in a class at Tabernacle of Glory hoping to speak with the head pastor.  I felt that the head pastor was dodging my sophisticated, philosophical ideas.  He seemed to sense that I was educated.  This was during a New Believer's Class.  I only took the class because I didn't know another way to get his attention.  Pastors tend to be very busy.

I visited various other churches during that time.  I was very disgruntled and spoke to various individuals about the Bible.  I read and verified as best as I could.  I consumed information relentlessly.  This only seemed to make me more at odds with my church fellows.

Baptism class was a struggle to submit to the same old non-sense.  I was treated like an elementary student who didn't know any Bible knowledge.  I became insolent to my fellows and when I noticed this I did my best to still my mind and tongue.  Eventually, I graduated and got baptized.

I did my best to stay on the narrow path after baptism.  I felt like I had gotten married to Jesus on that day.  Unfortunately, I was getting the most steady and rocking sex of my life at that time.  Guilt ate away at me and I gave in.  Having cheated on Jesus within days I eventually broke up my arrangement with my sexual partner for the sake of  the Lord and being serious about my commitment.

James Randi
There was not other class for me to take at my home church.  I couldn't teach because I was a rebel.  The only avenue left for me was to get married and to take the married couples class.  That class was dreadful as well.  I tried to go to functions with the Men's Ministry.  I went on a retreat with a few of the men from church.  The guest speaker introduced me to a new word:  "reprobate".  He used it like it was a curse word.  I knew I was in the wrong place when the guest speaker ask the attendees to sign a petition to keep homosexuals from getting their due and proper rights to get married.  My table consisted of my delegation and they got up to sign the ghastly petition.  I sat down quietly in protest.  I felt compelled to step to the microphone and educate the homophobes about equal rights.  But instead I sat down.  I still feel ashamed of this cowardly act until this day.  I tried to make up for it by questioning the presenter with a tough Bible question but I honestly don't remember what the question was but I wouldn't have been satisfied with the answer anyway.  I believed in and went to war for every American and when it was time to stand up to tyranny I sat down.

As we sat in the car I told one of the brothers that Jesus was not God during what I thought was a casual conversation.  He took it personally; as if I defamed his mother.  The quiet that fell over the people in the car was nerve-wrecking.  I apologized to him later but it was apparent that no matter how much I could back this up with facts at my church emotions ruled.  It was overwhelmingly clear that I did not belong to that crowd.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

#45- The Need For Validation

That's me in my former life.
After being dismissed by the head pastor of my church when I asked him a serious question about Jesus I found myself in a constant search for answers.

Sunday School was my favorite part of church.  I was often the first one in class and I was certainly the most educated and most motivated to learn.  My Sunday School teacher was a happy-go-lucky guy who was burned out by the on-goings and politics of the church.  He had a lackadaisical approach to the class and his zeal reflected onto the students.

People often came in to class indifferent to the subject.  I offered to spice things up by appealing to their tastes.  The Sunday School, indeed the whole church, followed archaic schedules tailor made for Haitians in Haiti presumably around the time that the head pastor and his leaders were young.  Thus, practically no one of my peers or plus or minus 10 years had serious mental investments in the ways of the church.

Having just learned that the person that the church worshiped was not the Jewish Messiah I endeavored to share that info.  I was met with immediate opposition.  Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and critical thinking are just about sinful in that place.  I was well read and motivated.  I found that the more knowledgeable members of the Sunday School class engaged in straw-man arguments and misguided depictions of non-Christians.  They approached the provocative topics with caution.  Looking outside the Bible was increasingly discouraged.  I was ridiculed when I disclosed my sources. I was told that going to a Muslim site should be expected to produce an anti-Christian slant and should thus not be trusted.  The Jewish site was treated similarly.  I made my best attempt to use logic to jolt the laymen to get involved but class increasingly became a show between my teachers and I.

I formally approach the necessary parties to be a teacher but was told that I would have to take a class before teaching.  When I asked another Sunday School teacher if she took the class she said "no".  I had a feeling that I was being discriminated against.

I suggest the real stuff.  Not the generic brand.
I attended Wednesday Bible Study whenever I could.  I wanted to find someone who was like me who read the Bible and was not afraid to call it as it is.  Those meetings were almost always a less formal version of the Sunday sermons.  The scene was more intimate and only the core members of the church showed up regularly but the opinions of the laity was rarely sought.  When I did began to question I drew an ire.  I knew people were uncomfortable with me but I pressed on.  I made a point to befriend some of the brothers beyond just church so that we could get a feel of one another.  I was branded a "searcher of truth" and given backhanded compliments about having my heart in the right place and so on.

There is much to say about this time period but it suffices to say that I grew disenchanted slowly and surely with the church.  It was a time of self-searching for me.  In some ways I enjoyed being a maverick but it did bother me in other ways.  I realize now that I assumed that the intrinsic goals of the church were the same as mine.  The fact is that this is not true.  This caused me a great deal of pain.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#44- The Investigator is Born 2

1.  Why Did Jews Reject Jesus?

I read this book to find answers
After I brought up that there are serious problems in the Bible that should be examined I found out that there is a nonchalant attitude towards investigation in the church.  What made it more frustrating was that I was far more familiar with the Bible than my peers and I knew that it would take time to catch them up.

It was under these conditions that I approached the head pastor of the church to ask him a question that is rarely discussed.  I asked the pastor "Why did the Jews reject Jesus?".  He answered "Because they were sinners" dismissively.  I felt that my manhood and intellect were insulted.  He did not take me serious.  He did not take the question serious.  He did not take the gravity of the question serious.

In the post 9/11 world, I realized that people's beliefs had real life consequences.  The answer to my question would help me understand Jewish-Christian and maybe Muslim relations.  After my pastor dismissed me I had another epiphany:  I can talk to Jews and find out myself.

This was not hard to do.  There are a lot of Jews living in South Florida.  But since I saw religion as a private matter I could not bring myself to ask a random Jew about Jesus.  I suspected that this was a taboo subject for them.  Luckily I found a website that was dedicated to answering questions like mine.

I spoke to and corresponded with a kind lady from the group Jews For Judaism.  She explained that there were Christians who were posing as Jews who were trying to get Jews to become Christians.  I asked her why Jews did not believe in Jesus and she told me it was because he did not meet the requirements of what Jews and the Bible were looking for in a messiah.  I was shocked.  I asked her for proof and she provided it.  When I read the article I asked her why Jews had not shared this with more Christians and she said that they tried that in the Middle Ages and were killed and persecuted for it.

She sent me a letter with the Jewish interpretation of famous Isaiah passages used by Christians to justify their belief that Jesus was the messiah and I sided with them.  I was dismayed yet excited to share this discovery.

I took what I learned to church in order to get the information cross-referenced but this time much more quietly.  I asked select individuals for their opinions and I was dismissed again.  I asked my Sunday School teacher who looked at me with glazed eyes.  He looked at me exasperated, as if I was an annoying rabble-rouser.

The gentleman who helped run the Sunday School was a pastor himself.  He visited my class from time to time and caught wind of my inquisitive nature.  He and some other older guys offered to give some answers to the Jewish problem but usually offline in order not to distract from the predetermined Sunday School lesson.

I didn't see the point of teaching about a man who wasn't what was being advertised.  I tuned out and was very disagreeable.  I thought that I could do a better job of teaching the class and started to ask tougher questions to the teachers.  I asked questions that were provocative and rhetorical in nature.   I asked questions to see if my teachers knew there stuff.  Looking back I now see that I could have handle things better but I was very sad and angry that the church members did not take the faith seriously.  In fact I began to see the goals and the culture of the church to be contrary to my values.

#43- The Investigator Is Born.

My meeting with my pastor did not have the desired result.  I waited months to get some answers about slavery, genocide, and other foul things and he did not really have much to say because those things were in the Old Testament.  This made me realize that I would have to research myself.

I didn't know what an "apologist" was but that's what I was training myself to be.  I was active in Sunday School challenging my teachers and helping them with the lessons.  I found learning the Bible exciting and wanted to share my passion and knowledge with the students in the class.  I had exposure to philosophy and debate around that time and I knew that not everyone the students meet would be ignorant about the troublesome passages in the Bible so I wanted to learn the answers to the hard questions.  This was especially important during the times that people were talking about going out to preach to strangers.  I always had a problem with telling strangers about religion.

I started my search on the internet.  I stumbled upon an Islamic website with a list of Bible contradictions.  I thought that this was very peculiar as I had never seen such a comprehensive list before.  I set about reading and examining each claim and see it I could answer each contradiction.  I understood context and had a good grasp of logical rules so I felt confident that I could clear up any misunderstandings.  What struck me most was that should there be any contradictions it would be easy to fix should the Bible editors become aware of them after all these years.

After going through the list it was apparent that the author had a good case.  When I brought this to the attention of my Sunday School teachers they dismissed it because I had gotten the list from the internet and from a Muslim site.  I told them that I cross-checked the material and that they were worth checking out and got nothing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#42- The Vatican

The Vatican is a wonderful and opulent state.  My first impression of it came when I and my companions tried to entry its museum.  It was a long line to get in there and I was surprised to find nuns working there for profit.  I had a certain image of nuns and Catholics and my biases were either going to be confirmed or denied by this trip.

I didn't like the fact that they were charging people to get in the museum.  I thought it was sacrilegious.  Once inside there were artifact upon artifact, art upon art, wonders upon wonders.  The grandeur of that place can not be described in words.  Pictures and video my help a bit but even that falls short.  Being there live is the main way to appreciate that place but to truly understand what I was experiencing one had to have a good grasp of its history.

I felt like the Catholics were competing with other holy relics in a celestial beauty contest dedicated to God.  There were scores of unique and priceless art in every corner of the place.  I saw giant frescoes done by renown art masters like Michelangelo.

The stones we stood on were precious.  The gold, silver, ivory, and rubies were everywhere.  I was not Catholic but I was impressed and intimidated by the place.  I constantly wondered at the total value of the place.  I wondered if the architects and tenants of the Vatican were interested in keeping with the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus.

The Vatican has mined precious stones into extinction.  I contemplated the amount of people that the valuables could feed if there was an auction of the treasures of the place.  It was then that I decided that  the Catholics didn't do enough for humanity.  I didn't understand the fascination with the Pope or the art though it was beautiful.  I thought often of the suffering children all around the world.  I wondered about the Catholic's work in Haiti, their demonizing of Vodou, and other dubious historical facts that made the church look bad.

All this was overwhelming for a tour that lasted only a few hours.

#41- The Meeting with Pastor Ron

Eventually things settled down for me.  I had a routine and I had gotten enough of the war experience out of me to me social again.  My pastor finally had the time to meet with me.

Pastor Ron is a good man.  He grew up in a Catholic home like me.  He served as an altar boy at one time in a Catholic church.  Somewhere in his journey he decided that Catholicism was not for him and became a baptist.  Eventually he became ordained and led the younger side of my church.

He was old enough to be respected and revered for his wisdom but young enough to have experienced American from the perspective of a young Haitian man.  He was very kind and passionate and busy.  Thus to get an audience with him was a privileged of sorts.

I wanted to be efficient and succinct during the meeting.  I brought my notes but I made an outline of my concerns and questions in order to get at the big things.  I asked about the genocides, slavery, and evil zeal of Yahweh.  I remember the look on his face as it seems like he was getting some of this information for the first time.

He confessed that he was more familiar with the New Testament and the deeds of Jesus then he was with the Old Testament. That took me by surprised because I thought that a pastor was a doctor in his field.  In my past I never thought of challenging a religious leader and always thought that any problems I had with the religion were of my mind.  It was at that time that learned that we are all able to learn equally and think equally.  I learned not to be enamored by titles but investigate a matter full and as judiciously as possible.

I left the meeting satisfied with Pastor Ron's honesty and humility but I was disappointed with the answers that I received.  I had to keep digging and looking around.  My thirst for knowledge grew and I was on my own to satiate it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

#40- My return to the US

Combat Infantry Badge
I returned to the U.S. in early 2004.  I had been changed forever.  I experienced things that could not be conveyed easily in words or images.  I experienced a few different cultures, tremendous fear, camaraderie, discrimination, patriotism, and had started to read the Bible from Genesis.

Church service in Iraq
I was pretty religious at that point.  I wrote a poem to God and everything.  I started to learn of Yahweh from the Bible and slowly started to see how he did not match my understanding of what God was or does.

Upon my return home religion was one of the last things on my mind.  My first impression was how different things seemed to be.  The US seemed so surreal; as if I had entered The Matrix.  America was full of bright lights and advertisements for a myriad of things.  America was all about money.

After going through the formalities my unit was eventually dismissed from active duty and we returned home.  Obviously we were happy to be back but there was a sense of sadness as well.  My comrades and I became close by a trial by fire and we had a new sense of the world that was unique to us.  Our old families could never fully grasp this.

My old Sunday School class
Our second group's welcome rally
I had some readjusting to do.  I was full of rage which was normal.  Many people wanted to see me and there were people I wanted to see as well.  Some people gave God credit for keeping me safe.  My aunt wanted me to get baptized.  I was repulsed by the idea that my aunt felt privileged to my religious affairs and was making deals and promises to God on my behalf.  I remembered a meeting that we had in Iraq when it was relayed that a soldier had gotten killed a few days after arriving in country.  He was a new father and now he was gone.  I wondered why my family should be thankful for me being safe and meanwhile that soldier's family was grieving.  But events were done under the watch of the same God.

Sometime after my return, I went to church in my desert uniform.  I walked in there fully expecting a hero's welcome.  There was no such fanfare.  I was utterly shocked.  I kept telling myself that I was fighting for these people and received no such ovation when I actually was among them.  I may have gotten an introduction but I think that it was due to me standing out in my uniform.

I decided to treat myself to a vacation.  I returned to Haiti for 2 weeks first.  I was glad to see my family but was saddened to see the condition that they were living in.  I had been gone for about 15 years and a lot of things have changed.  Things had gotten worst and hope was at a premium.  The future looked bleak for my fellow countrymen.

I came back to the US saddened by what I had seen.  It takes trips like going to Haiti to appreciate what you have and to re-evaluate one's perspective on things.

A few days later I was on a plane to London, England.  I was on my way to a tour of Europe.  That was another life-changing event.  I saw great and wondrous things.  I met people from different backgrounds.  My American arrogance and bias was exposed.  I saw other people living a different kind of life that did not center around money.  Religion did not really come up except when we visited the Vatican.

View from my aunt's house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

P-a-P, Haiti

Jacmel, Haiti

Bus station in Jacmel, Haiti

Map of my European tour

Nice, France
Me in Rome, Italy

The wealth of the Vatican can be described in one word: Grotesque
I returned home with a fresh new outlook on the world.  My mind was a lot more opened.  I was now settled and ready to share my new discoveries and adventures with my friends.  But first I was granted an audience with my Pastor.  This was my chance to get some overdue answers.