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Screwed Up Beyond Belief

By ex-Pastor Dan --

I have been coming to Ex-Christian.Net for about 3 years now. I have posted other stories and rants but I haven't ever laid out my life's story. So here is the first installment of my Testimony of De-conversion.




It may seem strange to start this story by talking about my elder brother, Richard Jr. (or Dicky, as everyone called him), but it will make sense as the story unfolds. My mother told me that the name Dicky (or something that sounded like Dicky, coming from the mouth of a one-year-old) was my first word. As the story goes, he really loved me and would watch over me like a mother hen. Apparently I loved Dicky very much and enjoyed the attention he gave me. Dicky was the family member most interested in spiritual things. Although mom attended the local Four Square Gospel Church, she was not totally ‘sold out’ (her own words) to the Lord. Dicky on the other hand was so dedicated he would attend Bible Studies in a neighbor’s home, on Saturday afternoon! Oh, have I mentioned, Dicky was just eleven years old at the time!

My parents had been married for nine years before finally having their first child. My mom loved children and desperately wanted one of her own. Her and my father raised one of my cousins from the time he was six months old. He was and is just like a brother to me, but they really wanted a child that was their own ‘flesh and blood’. Back in the 1930s there wasn’t a whole lot of treatment available for infertility issues, so mom did the only thing she knew to do, she prayed. That is why Dicky’s birth was hailed as a miracle! The proud parents named their firstborn son Richard Jr., after my dad.

Just two years later the stork visited our happy home once again. Thomas was born and quickly dubbed Tommy. (It seems that during that time in America, parents loved to add a ‘Y’ or ‘ie’ to the end of every kid’s name. I think that is why they nick-named Richard, Dicky. In our family there was eventually a Dicky, a Tommy and me, Danny. All of the boys in our neighborhood had the ‘eee’ sound attached to the end of their first names – Donny, Denny, Johnny, Charley, Bobby, Lonnie, Rocky, Billy, Larry, Randy, Ronnie, Ricky, etc.).

Anyway, back to the story. Four years go by and mom’s prayers for a little girl are answered. Joyce Elaine was born and yes, I called her Joycee, when I came along 4 years later. Joyce had her own physical issues, but that story unfolds later, after the event that changed everything.


When I was just one, our family went on a vacation. Of course I don’t recall any of this, but I can reconstruct the basics from conversations I’ve had with my brothers and sister. I never spoke to my father about it before he died and no one dares bring it up to mom, even though it has been 58 years since it happened. The event that turned our world upside-down and pushed mom over the edge was the death of my big brother, Dickie.

We had pulled a travel trailer to a lake, somewhere north of Bakersfield, California. It was raining as we pulled into the campgrounds. Due to the bad weather and wanting to get to bed, dad never unhooked the trailer from the car. The next morning there were mud puddles everywhere, but that didn’t stop my brothers from playing ball. Dickie was eleven and Tommy was nine on this fateful day. Tommy was responsible for the ball rolling under the trailer, where it settled into the middle of a mud puddle. Dickie volunteered to retrieve it.

No one knew that there was a short circuit in the wiring set up, somewhere between the car and the trailer. The trailer’s under-carriage was energized and when Dickie touched it, while laying in the mud puddle………

My sister had walked to the little store with my dad. When they returned, mom was hysterical, Tommy was traumatized and in shock – Dickie was dead. My mother had to be sedated. She blamed my father for not being there and for not setting things up safely. She blames Tommy to this day for hitting that ball under the trailer. He is sixty-six years old and still trying to gain her forgiveness. He is a minister and mom attends his church; a constant reminder of his guilt.

My mother’s own guilt and anguish pushed her into total fanaticism from that point on. She glorified Dickie almost to the point of deification. He was her little angel who wanted to go to church even when she didn’t. Now he was in heaven (like Elijah – God took him), and we were left to somehow try to appease this angry God. Mom believes that God was punishing her for not being a dedicated-enough Christian at the time. She vowed that she would never be found wanting again. From that day forward she was in the church every time the doors were opened. Although she stayed with my father until his death in 1991, she walked away from him emotionally and into the waiting arms of Jesus.


My very first mental images are of being in the prayer room of the Four Square Church, in early 1950’s, Ventura, California. I would sit on the floor, facing mom as she prayed. My first images of her are not that of a sweet smile and baby talk. I recall a face of total sadness. Tears and a strange mix of words, groaning and weird-sounding noises, that I didn’t understand (I later found out about speaking in tongues), would gush from her throat.

I remember going to the cemetery a lot in those early days. I hated it! It meant more crying and agony for my mother. It meant I had to sit and watch and not play. The cemetery was a strange and frightening place for a three year old. You couldn’t step on the graves (this was somehow disrespectful) or run around. You couldn’t talk loudly or play with any of the little flags that were placed on some of the head-stones. Many times there were other funerals taking place and a huge pile of dirt would be mounded up. There would be a casket setting next to a deep hole in the ground…..and more weeping people. I didn’t really understand death, but I knew I hated it and I hated the cemetery! I didn’t really understand the concept of God either, but I think I started hating him at that time. Somehow he had hurt my mother and made her sad – that made me sad. I was a sad and frightened little boy.

Next episode – Born Again, the early years


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