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Fifty years of Searching…

21 May

On Sunday Easter April 20, 2014, I reaffirmed my faith in God, and that his son Jesus died for me, so I would be forgiven for my sins and poor choices.  It wasn’t an easy choice, yet it was very easy.  It only took me 50 years to get to this point.

I was born on October 25, 1949, the 1st child and son of William and Ila Hamilton. I was the 1st of 5 boys and one girl.  Warren, my third brother died of what was termed “crib death” before he had a chance.

As a child I remember the “church” being a very important part of our growing family, I remember having cloths that I only wore on Sundays for church.  I remember before Easter each year we kids would always get a new outfit for Easter Sunday service.  I remember going en mass to church each Sunday.  I also remember going to Sunday school, I remember going to Sunday evening services, and I remember going to Wednesday evening services.  Also if there were a youth sponsored event, you can count on the Hamilton’s kids being there. If the church had a gathering the family attended in mass, and there were no excuses.

This practice of church attendance started before I had memories of such things.  But I know I was a regular in Church in: Baltimore MD, Easton MD, Reynoldsville PA, Norwalk CT, York PA, Dover PA, Shelbyville KY, and of course Grandpa’s in Waynesburg KY.  I was baptized into the Southern Baptist Church, in a creek not far from the Pilot Baptist Church (before my 10th birthday).

The Southern Baptist Church was the only religious organization I was even remotely aware of until I was 15 years old or so.  Going to a Sunday church service was Hell on earth.  The preacher stood at the pulpit and screamed and pointed his finger at you and told you all the reasons you were going to hell, his voice carried for miles, his rant was always the same. Each Sunday he picked out your sin and screamed at you until he was blue in the face.  The message was always the same, you are going to hell, and you’re going for this reason or that, and the only way you could get to heaven was through the church, and it was a message about being at and in the church so your fellow brothers and sisters could see you for the Christian you were, that without the protection and guidance of the church you were on a direct course to hell.  But by attending church at each opportunity you would be graced with access to God and Heaven.  The message when on still ranting that while Jesus may have died for our sins, he only did so for those that came to church to prove they were worthy.  This was the message that I received from every service until I was about 14.  To this day I don’t ever remember hearing a preacher speak (during this phase of my life) in a quiet tone, speaking of God’s love and the joy one receives from that love.  The pulpit was a place where anger and wrath, a place where condemnation was spewed.  At this point in my life I was tired of the church, tired of hearing what an evil person I was, and tired of the formula for being saved.  But I couldn’t do anything about it because it was a family event.  Dad taught Sunday School (or so I have been told). Being at church was a requirement not an act of Joy.

But it all came to a stop when we moved to Louisville KY.  I do remember the 1st couple of months of going in mass, but the Church wasn’t convenient to our home, and soon as a family we stopped attending.  I am sure there were other factors involved, but for me to even speculate would be pure fiction on my part.  But I remember the great relief I felt, no more screaming, no more blame, no more belittling, that was a pure Joy.  In my mind I knew there had to be a gentler God, that Jesus was a kind soul that lifted your spirit. But I thanked God for putting the family in a position were going to Church was not convenient.

Our house in Louisville was located about 150 yards from active railroad tracks.  For the next 2 years, whenever I needed alone time I would go walk the tracks. During these walks I would get my head straight, I would sort out what I needed to sort, and I would pray.  I prayed for family and friends, I prayed for good results on upcoming tests (those never came thru until I learned to study), having recently being quite ill prayed that didn’t happen again anytime soon (that one was answered), and I just spoke to God and Jesus, addressing each or both depending on the conversation.   Sometimes these conversations were in my head, but usually I spoke out loud in a conversational voice.  It was a comfort to speak to Jesus.

During these walks I watched a new Baptist Church being built right on the other side of the tracks from where I lived, and that I could access the Church by existing pathways, and it was no more than 7 or 8 easy minutes away by foot. One summertime afternoon I got the courage up to visit that Church.  I was ready to become an active member of a Church. This place was new and fresh, my memories of the sermons I heard were not as pressing as they had been a couple years earlier, and I really wanted to join a group of fellow Christians. I walked into the Church and followed the signs to the Pastor’s office.  I gently knocked on his open door, and asked to speak to him.  He smile, bid me to enter, introduced himself and asked all the appropriate questions about me.  We were all smiley faced.  Then he said where do you go to church now.  I told him that I had not actively gone to church in 2 years, but that I had spent that time talking to God and Jesus right there on those tracks behind his church.  And like every other Baptist Preacher I had or remembered hearing he when right into the spiel that as a Baptist you needed to be at church every week, you needed to be seen there, and you needed those in attendance to witness your love of God and Jesus.  I looked at him and said something like “no sir, I disagree; I believe God and Jesus listen to me as I walked the tracks.”  His face got red, his voice got louder, and it was like being back in the country.  His finger pointing and screaming just exploded.  I got up and walked from his office with him screaming at me as I did.  I left the church, and I walked away from the church for the next 50 years.

While I was away I visited a variety of churches and listened to a variety of sermons.  None really set with me.  Sometimes it was the rituals, sometimes it was the message, but mostly it was the people in the church.  As Forrest would say “Stupid is as Stupid does.”  I have seen a lot of hypocrites at the churches I have visited over the years, and these were all reasons which in my mind justified my feelings.  That I believed strongly in God and Jesus, but I didn’t believe or trust the church to have my soul’s best interest at heart.

But this started to change about 5 years ago, my wife had joined the First Presbyterian Church of Brandon Florida.  Kicking and screaming she got me to attend more than just the Christmas and Easter services.  I had the opportunity to listen to the Pastor Rebecca and the Associate Pastor Tim.  They preached of a caring loving God that didn’t find fault, who didn’t activity seek out fault in his followers, and his son who is nothing but Love and Kindness.  There was never a raised voice, always a warm smile.  And from where I sat it was genuine.  They did care. Over the next 5 years I believe I have met about 100 different people, actually closer to 200, and to a one, they are what I have always expected a Christian family to be.  The message preached each Sunday is of a loving caring God, the scriptures are to the point and make you think and feel.  Rebecca has moved on to preach at a church closer to her children and grandchildren, and First Presbyterian has an interim Pastor Lucian, whose message is similar and as powerful as Rebecca or Tim.  These three have delivered the message without screaming, or pointing fingers, or blaming the fellowship of the Church. They along with the members of the church have made me feel the way I thought I should feel at church. My belief in God and his Son has never wavered.  This church made me feel I belonged not only to the Lord but to the church.  

I had decided to join the Church before I found out my end of retirement date had been pushed forward.  At first I was hesitant to join because I didn’t want to appear to be the Church going hypocrite I had seen all too many times during my search.  But I overcame that because of the folks that make up this Church, and I knew in my heart, it was where I belonged.  April 20, 2014 I stood before the congregation and reaffirmed my faith.

 As always thank you for taking the time to read my post, if you have any questions, concerns or comments please feel free to ask, I will answer.  Take care, Bill

   

 

 

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31 responses to “Fifty years of Searching…

  1. haddyism

    May 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Aw, God bless you, Bill.

     
  2. Chatter Master

    May 22, 2014 at 5:49 am

    I’m so very happy for you Bill. 🙂 I don’t know much …. but I’m pretty sure love is the message. And you don’t express love by bullying people. I’m glad you found ‘home’. ❤

     
    • FlaHam

      May 22, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Colleen, thank you. take care, Bill

       
  3. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

    May 22, 2014 at 10:45 am

    You can put God in a human but you can’t stop a human from being human. Your direct link with God is where it’s at. No middle man needed from my humble opinion and from my seat your light shines brightly. You are a good, decent, wonderful friend, who to me represents the light of God within more than the example of that screaming… I like what Colleen wrote and I’m also glad you found ‘home.’ Love to you my friend. ❤

     
    • FlaHam

      May 22, 2014 at 11:34 am

      Paulette, You would be surprised the ridicule I have encountered over the years by speaking my mind honestly, that while I believed in God and Jesus, I didn’t believe in the church. I have been told by so many both close to me and others in passing that I was going to hell for not being a member of a church. I have been hurt by those words, but as a kid I learned “sticks and tons will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It amazing how many people insist that their way to heaven is the only true way. I will shut up now. I joined this church because it was the right place for me at the right point in my life. You and Colleen always say nice things about me, and I truly appreciate it. Bill xox

       
      • The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

        May 22, 2014 at 11:43 am

        I hear you, Bill. And interestingly enough bring this point up very subtly in my next book. Here’s a tiny taste I’ll share with you. When it’s complete, I’ll happily gift you a copy.

        “Don’t get us wrong, Sara. Nothing against any specific religion, we just aren’t fond of them being organized.” Michael gazed at Candace. “Who was it who said they distrust people who know so well what God wants them to do because it coincides with what they want to do?”
        “Susan B. Anthony.” Candace wiped a fragment of leaf off her blouse. “My favorite is from Gandhi. Of course I’m paraphrasing—I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, who are so unlike your Christ.”
        Sara breathed easier that this wasn’t heading into a religious rant.

        I feel compassion for all is a wonderful view to hold, even those who bully. I don’t have to like their actions but can I see the human condition in all of us.

        BTW: I just phoned you and didn’t hear the beep go off so not sure it you got the message. If you feel like chatting I should be around for a bit. If we don’t hook up, here’s a big cyber hug for you. 🙂

         
        • FlaHam

          May 22, 2014 at 4:08 pm

          Paulette, thank you so very much. I loved the tease taste from your new novel. I truly am looking forward to it. I did call you back and had the opportunity to speak to Terry, I just told him your east coast friend was returning you call. Take care, Bill

           
  4. kanzensakura

    May 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    It always confused me when pastors would stand in the pulpit and rant and rave and do the going to hell routine. I would then read about Jesus going about the countryside, right out in nature and going out to meet people where they were, with love and longing. Something is wrong with this picture, I would say to myself when I was in church. They say to be like Jesus but there they are acting like crazy people, like the Pharisees who persecuted and eventually brought about Jesus’ crucifixion. I read about Jesus in the Bible and was told the bible was true. So I said, at an early age, “nuts to you crazy Pharisees” and began my own search for Jesus. Didn’t have far to look. All the pages of the New Testament breathed to my aching soul, a whisper of love for me and for all people. That if I believed, I was in like Flynn. But to believe in Jesus as he talked to people from hillsides, under trees, from boats, in the busy city marketplaces, from beside a well – telling a sinful woman she had been forgiven and he could give her living water for her thirsty soul if she only believed. Not if (a) she joined a church (b) gave money (c) believed what a crazy preacher screamed (d) not if one hated people for being different (e) not if you went to certain Sunday School classes and got badges of attendance…no, only if you believed in Him and His love. So simple and true and so many people screw it up. Given the choice of being like crazy preachers and being like Jesus, I’m gonna choose Jesus. I’m going to sit outside and read about Him and imagine what it was like. I go to church because I like being around people (and not all of them are like this but some really are) who want to learn about Jesus and His love and discover ways of being truly like Him. I think one day Bill, there are going to be some really surprised crazy preachers in hell. and happily, some truly amazed folks with Jesus in heaven because…they believed.

     
    • FlaHam

      May 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Kanzen, It confused me and scared the crap out of me. If someone had belittled me today as I was all those years ago there would have been a major war. My daughter is a Baptist, and I have been to her church, I will say it is a slightly different message, delivered in a much better fashion. But even having said that I could not affiliate with the Baptist Church. Throughout the old testament God has shown time and time again that he is not to be trifled with, but be didn’t strike down everyone he encountered. He son, Jesus was a kind and gentle man, his message was of peace and love, and the joy that could be had following him. This is the message I have always needed. This is the message I get weekly, and try to live daily. Smiling, I have met some of those preachers that will be right at home in hell, and deservingly so. Take care, Bill

       
      • kanzensakura

        May 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

        I always think of Job….Job who had been through hell and was faithful and had finally had e.n.o.u.g.h. He demanded to speak to God about his treatment and whywhywhy….I love that God did not strike him down but listened to Job, heard what he had to say and then, like the good father He is, spoke to Job in a gentle but firm and explaining manner. This has always impressed me. God’s patience with us and His love and grace – and then to send His Son to be with us so His Son could be there beside Him…for us! The message has changed some, but I am more a student of Wesleyan holiness (Wesley) than the rock ’em sock ’em Southern Baptist thing. Even C. H. Spurgeon, THE Billy Graham of his times and Baptist, did not rant and rave. He was spot on and to the point, but his messages were so full of love and guidance to his parishoners. sometime, So full of yearning and love for the people who packed the pews of his church every Sunday. He was a big, ugly man with, from reports, a voice that angels listened to. But I digress….I am just so thankful you renewed your faith and trust in our Lord and Savior who loves us so very much. I know angels rejoiced at your prayer, as do I. I am glad you get that message of love and joy. In these days, we need it.

         
        • FlaHam

          May 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

          Kanzen, Smiling, Job was clearly a better man than I could ever be, even in my wildest dreams. Kanzen when I speak of the ranting and raving of the pastors in the Southern Baptist Church’s I attended in was my experience. I can’t nor would I say everyone got the same message, but I can’t help but feel that my parents sought out preachers that preached in that manner. Soft smile, it is all a moot point now. I have found a church I am comfortable in, that provides a message I long to hear, and it’s filled with folks that I believe truly believe. Yes there are butt head and assholes in this church, they are few and far between, but even talking to them you get the feeling that their feeling are true. As always thank you for the wonderful support and kindness you have extended to me, and thank you for finding a way into my life. Take care, Bill

           
  5. Barbara Farrelly

    May 22, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Bill! How wonderful for you to have renewed your spiritual life. I think the story of the prodigal son fits you rather well and there will be much feasting and joy that you have come home.

    God bless you, x barb

     
    • FlaHam

      May 23, 2014 at 5:19 am

      Barb, That is sweet of you to say, but I am far from the prodigal son. I was a soul seeking a proper place to rest, and thankfully I found it. Barb, may the Lord Bless you as well. Take care, Bill

       
  6. Nancy

    May 23, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Thank you Bill. I love you. Always have. Always will.

     
    • FlaHam

      May 23, 2014 at 5:15 am

      Nancy, I did it for me, not for you. Love Bill

       
  7. Linda Scriven

    May 23, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Well done Bill.

     
    • FlaHam

      May 23, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Linda, Thank you, your words, thoughts, smiles and encouragement have always been important to me. A bit ago (30+ years) you took Steph under your wing and that is probably one of the best things that has happened to her in her life. By extension we have become the greatest of friends. I can’t ask for anymore than that. Thank you, Bill

       
      • Angela

        May 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

        What a blessing you are Mr Bill. Your story is quite inspirational. So pleased to have gotten to know you over the last year. And so happy you’ve found the loving message of Christ. Many blessings to you!!!

         
  8. Wanda

    May 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Bill,

    Thank you for the day-brightener this post is. It makes me happy to know you’ve found a place where you are comfortable with your faith and beliefs.

    I’ve had my own struggles with established religion and with faith (separate issues, believe me). If someone asked right now, I would have to say I’m a lapsed Christian–someone who has accepted Christ but isn’t living in a way that honors His sacrifice. Tangentially related, have I told you that I’ve been baptized four (!) times?

    Some of my disenchantment relates to the all-or-nothing church environment you describe. For years, I volunteered for committees, taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, led my church’s teen girl’s youth group, even lent my off-key voice to the choir, etc. One of the sayings I became familiar with during that period of my life was “if you need something done, ask a busy person” probably because busy people have the organizational skills to make things happen. But…for me at least, it eventually became too much. I have a hard time telling anyone “no,” so I eventually drifted away from the demands of organized religion. Time will tell when/how/where I end up.

     
  9. writetowag

    May 24, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I am so happy for you Bill!!!! Such wonderful news…When a heart can rest easy, I think it opens a new door in your life…I worked in the church for years and haven’t returned fully just yet…(It’s a Bill Murray Baby Steps kind of thing…Giggles…)We all have our reasons for leaving the church just as we do returning ‘home’…I love God…the church, well, I’m trying…The older you get, the more you can take it for what it really is…humans doing the best they can…Hugs, love and blessings to you and your family!!!!

     
    • FlaHam

      May 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      WritetoWag, Thank you, this is such a very sweet comment. It is good news, and it makes my heart feel good. Wag, I completely get that you can have issues with the church, while I am sure they differ from mine, they are just as real and just as important to you. You will know when the time is right, you will know when the message is clear. Until then keep your faith, and you will be just fine. Again, thank you for such a sweet note. Take care, Bill

       
  10. luciaoerter

    May 24, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Bill, I’m just so filled with joy after reading this post! Thank you for your sharing and raising such a great awareness of how church is called to be loving and real!! God bless you!!

    Lucia

     
    • FlaHam

      May 26, 2014 at 7:19 am

      Lucia, Thank you for spending time with me, thank you for the visits to the hospital, thank you for preaching in a manner that drew me back to the Church. My faith in our Lord has never faltered, but your messages of his love and kindness drew me back to the Church, I am more grateful for that than my vocabulary can express. God Bless You. Bill

       
  11. Tim Black

    May 24, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    So very grateful for your words, your affirmation and your patience! Thank you for such a great remembering of your own history and journey. Blessings!

    Tim

     
    • FlaHam

      May 26, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Tim, Smiling, patience, you’ll were extremely patient with me. I am very very grateful of that. Your kind words, our brief conversations, you visiting me in the hospital, and your attitude when you were at the pulpit. all played a part in showing me how the Church can be and should be a part of my life. God Bless You. Take care, Bill

       
  12. benzeknees

    May 25, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Like you, I became disappointed in the church early & stopped going to the church. I have always believed in God, but I was disappointed in the hypocrisy of the church members. It took me a long time to realize people who go to church are just the same as you & me, they have the same fears & longings as the rest of us. Just because they attend church doesn’t me they don’t get jealous or petty. I had a lot of growing up to do.

     
    • FlaHam

      May 26, 2014 at 7:50 am

      Benze, I hope your search for a church is fruitful. I know it has helped me greatly. I have always been a man of faith, but I wasn’t a man that believed in the church. I found the right place for me, I am sure you can as well. Take care, Bill

       
  13. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.

    June 1, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Bill – Great blog. It seems many of us are searching for that ‘special’ place that feels just right. For Tom and I, we’ve lived so many different places and often stayed such short times, we felt like visitors and not part of the population. I loved the lifestyle for a long time, but it does have it’s drawbacks. We thought we’d found ‘our church’ until the last presidential election and when six months before the election, each sermon was about how we must vote, well that did it in for us.

    We both grew up in the Methodist church but with different experiences. However, the Methodist doctrine has changed in ways neither of us find comfortable. We’ll search until we find a place that’s right for us.

    My faith has never wavered but for approximately 12 years, Tom felt as though God had turned his back on him and I might have felt the same way if so many things were happening to my body all at once. Sheri

     
    • FlaHam

      June 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Sheri, I can say in all honesty I have never heard direction on how I should vote from a pulpit. But if that were the doctrine at the Church I joined, most likely I would have walked away, much like you and Tom. This Church is right for me, 50 years ago I walked away from the Church, this church helped me back in. I am forever grateful that they did. All I will say is don’t give up your search. Take care, Bill

       
  14. huntmode

    August 15, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Somehow I missed this one, Bill. I came to research something and came across this post. I have met so many who have experienced what you did. Some found a church, others never went back. I am so glad you followed your heart and best instincts. For me, this is just one of your finest. Thank you for sharing this, Bill. Huntie

     
    • FlaHam

      August 16, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Hunt, I won’t say the 50 years were difficult, because during most of that time I was a militant non-church goer. Yet my belief in God and Jesus was never an issue, it was the church and what it come to mean to me. Had I found the right home 20 years ago my search would have only been for 30 years. I am also glad I found this church, these folks, and the message I get week to week. I am glad I had the opportunity and forum to share it, and extremely happy that you found it worthwhile. Take care, Bill

       

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