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Zac Gandara

I discovered Zac's podcast, Losing Our Religion, because a reader told me I should be a guest on it. Listening to Zac, I sometimes cringed at his caustic tones and wondered how I'd fare, but after a few episodes, I decided this reader was correct. I should be a guest on this podcast. So I was, and my husband, Mat, joined me. Listen to Part One and Part Two of our episode.

Meeting Zac, I was pleasantly startled by his warmness; he is humble, hospitable, and attentive to his very old, very tiny dogs - one who is blind and needs help getting around. Spending a few hours with him, I felt like we'd known each other for years.

Not only did Mat trigger Zac during our two-part episode - because it's weird to be out of church for five plus years only to be faced with your past-self sitting at your kitchen counter - but I've also triggered Zac. I understand being triggered; it happens to me when someone quotes scripture at me or uses Christian language as a distraction of what they're actually trying to say. Being triggered feels like someone who doesn't know how to whisper cupping their hand, leaning toward your ear, and speaking way too loud and forceful. It jars something loose inside of you, and all you want to do is stay away from that person or yell obscenities in their face because how dare they say something that makes you feel so... oogie inside? Oogie's not a word but a feeling - and you know exactly what I mean. 

What I appreciate about Zac is that instead of drawing conclusions and making assumptions based on those triggers, he engages and asks questions. After spending so much time in a world [ministry] where Mat and I were constantly talked about (good or bad) behind our backs and relayed the information as a secondhand story shrouded in secrecy to protect the source, it's refreshing to finally get it face-to-face a la direct message or Facebook-to-Facebook comment. 

If you enjoy discussions about faith, beliefs, religion - in reference to or lack thereof - sprinkled with swearing and rabbit trails of randomness, check out Losing Our Religion.

Responses by Zac Gandara

What do you believe, and why?

What do I believe? I feel foolish to put into writing what it is I believe because what I have found belief in over my life span has always proven to be ever-changing. The things I once held true, over time, have been proven false or at least transformative, never stagnant. To land on a belief and set up camp there limits creativity, human experience, and stunts our growth and ability to learn. If I must have a solid, unchanging belief, I'd say that having a solid belief is foolish at best, and life-limiting at least.

I currently feel most comfortable being labeled a “Jesus-leaning anarchist.” I often describe my life as having left Christianity to attempt to follow the life and ways of Jesus. I am on a quest of normality, trying to lose my religion and embrace my humanity. It seems God was a humanist, and I believe that if there is a God that it seems his entire focus became humanity and thusly I should follow his lead and make humanity my greatest focus and priority as well.

Due to my past experiences as a pastor in an American megachurch, I've become weary, cynical, and often untrusting of corporate structures - especially of those that lead them, and of myself in particular. I don't like who I become when I lead others towards a corporate goal or agenda. I don't like corporate agendas. By nature, they tend to maximize the reaching of goals while overly striving for achievement, in kind minimizing the importance of people in the process.

I spent the first 30 years of my life with those who considered themselves righteous and now desire to spend the rest of my life with those who I once would have called sinners. Those who I used to shun: Gays, Queers, Punks, Anarchists, Atheists, Transsexuals, Artists, and the rest of us that feel like rejects on this planet of misfit toys. It's from the misfits I most aptly see the characteristics of the one they called "The Christ".

You can hear more of my own story here.  

How did you discover your beliefs?

Beliefs are ever-changing, and if they are not then I think they should be deeply examined for their validity, and proof should be found of their usefulness to humanity. If they cannot help me love my neighbor well while in turn helping me have compassion, listen to and embrace others, and at the same time reveal my internal selfishness and demand possible and real transformation, then said beliefs are useless and should be lost immediately for the good of humanity. 

I feel like my current beliefs have come from pain. When my kidneys failed, my life was slowed to a crawl. The crawl became my ally causing me to stop the rat race and enjoy the moment, every moment. While crawling through renal failure, tri-weekly dialysis, I embraced deep study and literary engagement with the Christian Bible. Beginning from page one to the end, I read and re-read this book in context for the first time. (Which is sad, considering I have a degree in theology and had been a pastor for a decade by this time. But in my experience, this was 90% of pastors.) Then I read/studied it another time, then another, until I grew in historical context as well. Reading this book contextually, historically, hermeneutically, and theologically, over eight times, I kept coming to the same conclusions.

If this is the God that created all things then:

  1. He is in control, not me.
  2. He is not in a hurry, why am I?
  3. He is not mad, why do I treat people like he is?
  4. He is not worried about the eternity of others, why am I?
  5. In 30 years of church attendance, and leadership, why didn't anyone ever show me the actual teachings and life of Jesus?
  6. Why don't the lives of my "spiritual leaders" look anything like his?
  7. If I had come to faith in this Jesus, never having experienced the American religious system, what would I do and how would I live?

How do you interact with your beliefs?

That comes down to the final question from above: If I had come to faith in this Jesus, never having experienced the American religious system, what would I do and how would I live?

That's how I interact with my beliefs. I do that. Better said, I BE that.

Now this is either making you mad, or curious. If curious, then you're asking the questions: "What does that mean? How are you doing that?" For which I will not answer for you. If I answered, then to the ones it angers I become a heretic and or an apostate. Both terms I have already embraced and am completely content in being labeled. Because it's the freedom from caring what you think that has given me the most wonderful freedom. In fact, to the religious crowd that would label me as such, I love being their heretic and apostate.

For those that are curious, you don't need any other model of how to live than that which you have already been given. To find a model, a leader, only makes you subject to the ruling of said guru by which we then live to wait for them to tell us how to live, thus the anarchy of my life. I will never submit my life to another and wait for them to give me a 10-step process of how to do it. THIS IS NOT LIVING. I want to live. I want to experience all that this planet was created to offer me; the good, the bad, and the ugly, and most certainly the gray which lies outside someone else's absolutes.

What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?

Doubt is what makes us human. It is part of the suffering that comes with the human condition. Doubt and suffering show us who we are. Doubt is central to faith. Finding doubt through my sufferings,and embracing them is what has brought me the most freedom and joy. It's in embracing suffering, not avoiding it, that brings us the most healing.

I have grown to embrace doubt because without it I would stop learning, stop growing, stop listening.

What made you start the Losing Our Religion podcast?

It seems this podcast chose me. I had multiple friends and acquaintances encourage me to write a book, or somehow tell my story. When a "Christian" friend said he would do the podcast with me, I felt the courage to do it. Shortly after realizing we wanted to take it two different directions, we parted ways, and Losing Our Religion is the bi-product of that separation.

I'm tired of the Christian audience; they're like talking to a wall that seems to listen but is only interested in navel gazing, and resting inside their comfort zones. Leaving Christianity, I wanted to learn how to listen because I had spent more than three decades talking. The podcast is a reflection of my often let down idealism, my hope of humanity one day getting along. My way of doing that is sitting down over drinks, with others unlike myself, listening to one another, and hugging it out. 

What have you enjoyed most about the community you've found yourself in, outside of "church defined" community?

There are many things that I am enjoying about the community outside of the "church" and outside of Christianity as well. But if I had to name one, it would be that there is a refreshing lack of pretentiousness in those I surround myself with now. People are content being people; enjoying each other's company because they want to, not because they have to. No one is looking to change anyone, convict someone, or confront anyone. There is simply a joy of being human together, and if confrontation is needed it's not in words but deeds. In other words, if I confront you, you know that I am willing to walk with you 100% through the fire if you want help.

To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.

Leah Janzen

Claire Barrett