Welcome to Heathen.

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I'm Matthew Blake.

I've always been a church geek. There are certain arenas where being a "geek" is really just code for "aficionado," and is, in fact, decidedly not geeky. Pop culture geeks, political junkies, tech nerds - they all have a fair amount of social clout. I have doubts the same holds true for church geek.

But I know I'm not the only one, nor am I alone in being deeply conflicted when it comes to faith. You know how the term "godless heathens" is this derisive label some Christians want to slap on anyone who doesn't believe the right things? I'm ready to reclaim that. Godless? Sure. Heathen? You bet. And I'm still here to talk spirituality. How do you like me now?

That's why I decided to make a podcast, and that's where the name and tagline came from.

I grew up in an extremist example of conservative evangelical fundamentalism in the wooded mountains of western North Carolina. And I was good at it. Really, really good. The golden boy of my church's brand of extremism. Of course, what is extreme to the masses is normal to the person born into it, until he finally travels beyond that bubble.

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 helped to start), but I finally decided that I was not a Christian. I disassociated, in name at least, from the religion of my youth and my family. I would choose instead to be, as my Mom often cheekily called anything outside the realm of Christendom, heathen.

In practice, though, I've found it harder to fully cut ties. I've never not gone to church. The few "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 church leader. Even in the past seven or eight years when I've been attending as a skeptic instead of a believer - I've still been attending.

It's a pressing question for me: what keeps pulling me in? Why can't I quit the church? What do I believe, really? I can talk all day about what I don't believe - all the things wrong with the system, the Bible, the people who perpetuate the abuse. But I don't have a good answer to the question, what do I believe?

That's the impetus behind Heathen. This is simply something I need to talk about. In my adventures across the country and the many churches I've tried and failed to fit into, I've met plenty of people with similar stories. These are the folks I'll be sitting down with each week to hash out our histories and hang-ups. To damn the downsides of faith, and muse on its merits. To paradoxically geek out on a culture we've left, or that may have left us.

If you feel some or many of these same things, I hope you find something of value in our stories and conversations here. I hope that by talking it out, we can find the closure we need, the motivation to move forward, the language to own our stories, and, perhaps most importantly, the community that we crave.

Here's to the heathens.

 
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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.