Welcome to Heathen.
I'm Matthew Blake.
Let’s get the formalities over with: I’m a white queer man on the older end of the millennial generation. I’m an enneagram 8, and very good at feeling emotions. I love horror and humor. I’m a newish practitioner of meditation, I vacillate between yoga and working out and being a couch potato, and I love road trips and National Parks.
Oh, and I’m a heathen. It’s one of the few labels I genuinely love and wear with pride. That, and “rabid Amy Grant fan.”
Have you ever heard religious folks derisively refer to people who don’t subscribe to their particular brand of faith as "godless heathens?” Sweethearts: it me. And momma’s here to reclaim that term. Godless? Sure. Heathen? You bet. And, without being ironic about it, I am down for all the spiritual conversation. Heathens can be like that.
I grew up in an extremist version of conservative evangelical fundamentalism in the wooded mountains of western North Carolina. And I was good at my extremism. Really, really good. The golden boy of my church, Christian school, and extended family. Of course, what is extreme to the masses is normal to the person born into it, until he finally travels outside that bubble and people look at him funny. (I’ve never related to a character more than Kenneth Parcell on 30 Rock.)
It took me nearly 30 years of living, coming to terms with my sexual identity, lots of spiritual angst, and being evicted from at least three churches (including one I started), but I finally realized that I was not a Christian—never really was one. I was just really good at playing a game, because if I wanted love and acceptance, I had to be.
I disassociated from the religion of my youth. I would instead be heathen.
Full disclosure: in practice, I've found it really hard to fully cut ties. Despite a pretty public apostasy, I've never not gone to church. The handful of "breaks" I've taken over the years never amounted to more than a couple of months before something would draw me in again. The promise of a fresh start or new friends, the hope that this time things will be different, the craving for ritual and the comfort of music, the admiration for a certain pastor.
Hope springs eternal, amiright kids?
Against all odds, it appears I’ve found a weird, raucous, oft-sacrilegious community of progressive spiritual people in my home of San Diego who, so far, haven’t been scared off by my heathen ways. In fact, I, um, (whispers) lead worship there. I mean, “leading worship” is a helluva misnomer for forcing a room of spiritual wanderers to sing along with you to Dixie Chicks and Cyndi Lauper songs, but for the sake of brevity and our (probably) common tongue, we’ll just call it leading worship. At the end of the day, yes, it’s a Christian church. But either old habits die really damn hard, or just maybe I’ve found one of the few churches in America that lets a heathen be a heathen and still share in a love without pretense. Lucky me. Seriously.
My weird heathen-honoring church has made me feel safe and given me community, but I am acutely aware of how rare my experience is. For the vast majority of Christian churches out there, there are long lists of requisite doctrines and behaviors you must align with to be part of the crew, starting of course with accepting Jesus as your homeboy. And listen: Jesus didn’t save me. I’ve got nothing against the guy. But he’s simply not my guy.
Heathen is how I share the unexpected joys I’ve found in the godless spirituality I’ve been cultivating since I left the faith with anyone who feels adrift, alone, or just plain curious. There’s something soul-saving about these conversations where we reminisce and ruminate on the triggers and trauma, but we also geek out over the ways we find resurrection after the death of our faiths.
We’re damned. We’re blasphemers. We’re apostates. And we’re doing so much better now, honey.
I hope you find something of value in the stories and conversations here. I hope that by talking it out, we unearth the closure we need, the motivation to move forward, and, perhaps most importantly, the community that we crave.
Here's to the heathens.
I'm Karyn Thurston.
When I started to lose Jesus, or, at least, losing was how it felt at the time, I was 33 and more adept at shaming my falling away than any evangelical Christian not confined to my internal monologue. I walked hundreds of miles, alone with thoughts that were once prayers and only questions where neat rows of answers had always been. I was terrified - of what you would say, of what you might think of me, of eternal damnation, of the disappointed weight of leadership gone sour, of the unbearable burden of leading others astray.
I was terrified of a world without God the way I’d always defined him.
But there were voices - warm, wise, laughter-filled, holy, deeply spiritual voices that found their way into the cacophony of my private panic. They handed me tools and ideas, like rungs on a ladder that climbed toward something I was lacking - hope. They handed me hope, and hope changed everything.
It started with a podcast.
When the podcasts and books led to conversations, and conversations led to SoJo, our unicorn-safe-space-of-a-church here in San Diego, I followed. And when a guy I didn’t know well beyond his voice and guitar on Sunday mornings started a podcast about deconstruction, I listened. And when he put out a call for folks to share stories, I messaged him. Immediately. Within minutes.
Maybe it was the hundreds of evenings of my childhood spent gathered around a piano singing songs I knew he could hum along to, or maybe it was the fire in my gut that had been smoldering too long in tedious years of transition, or maybe it was just that I never really say no to a chance to talk for hours. Whatever motivated the leap, my heart said jump now, jump, you belong here.
He said yes to my story. So we recorded a podcast.
I left that night of recording sure of a few things: that I had a new friend, the good kind, the kindred heart kind. That I wasn’t afraid of the truth he was going to air. That I was content with the choices that have outlined my story. And that maybe a little bit of magic had happened, and to follow it, I would show up for Heathen again and again in any way I possibly could.
So when, over tacos, Matthew asked me to consider being his cohost, I said yes. Immediately. Within minutes. Jump now - you belong here.
Hear me: if you are safe, and loved, and happy, and whole, in your definition of God and your faith and your practice, I am not against you. I celebrate your sureness. And I also celebrate that there are a thousand places for you to connect with others who believe what you do. Heathen might not be a thing you need, and that’s okay. You totally don’t have to hang out here - I have no expectations to put on you.
But I’m here because I remember how the fear felt - the fear that said there will be nothing but loss and death and loneliness on the other side of my questions. I’m here because there were voices that whispered me into the joy, and community, and wide open love I found there instead. I’m here because if there’s any chance I can be one of those voices for someone else, there’s literally nothing that I’d rather do with my time.
You won’t always like what I have to say. Please don’t always agree with me. Please push back when you want to, and tune out when it’s too much, but also, please laugh along, please join me in laughing at myself as we go places I’ve never gone before and it’s so awkward or ignorant that it’s painful to listen to. Please cry when I cry in Every. Single. Episode. Please come with us as we dive into wherever Season 2 will take this journey, as we cross our mutual swords of scars and cynicism with relentless optimism and those damn hardwired heart swells. We have no idea where we’re going. But you can totally sit with us.