The Guy’s Club

–Paul Newton

It had been 30 years since I attended church, on purpose.  Sure, I had been to weddings and funerals, but that was about it.  My faith was a fractured mess that haunted me every day.  Then I saw a newspaper article about a group called Men In Balance, and it read like a solution to what was keeping me away from my faith.

You see, even now it’s hard to talk about what happened to me as a teenager.  At 15 I started dating a girl, my first real girlfriend, and she happened to be the minister’s daughter.  And as soon as I started seeing her, I met her parents.  They were fundamental Christians, which meant nothing to me at the time, but her mother was quick to cite one qualification for dating her daughter – join her church!

Next thing I knew was the heavy pressure of being ”saved” and filled with the holy ghost, evidenced by “speaking in tongues.”  I was 16 then, going to church 4 times per week, and expected to be an example of what “saved” meant in every way possible.  When her mother thought it was time for me to “talk in tongues”, the pressure intensified.

That was my introduction to Christianity.  For 8 years I heard messages of who’s-in-and-who’s-out, lots of bible-thumping, and sermons of hellfire-and-brimstone.  And along the way I married the minister’s daughter.

Any folks that disagreed with their version of faith were considered lost.  And I mean burn-in-hell-forever lost!  And that included, as I was strongly advised, my parents.  Everything was about separating the true Christians from all others.  As we were taught back then, the Pentecostals got it right, the Baptists were the loose cousins (but still made it in), but the others were outside the loop.  And Catholics! – don’t get them started on Catholics!

My parents thought I was in a cult, my friends disappeared, and my life was all about two distinct messages. 1) invite people to be “saved” and keep them close, or 2) if they resisted, warn them of everlasting damnation, and stay away from them.

When I was 24 I’d had enough!  I left the church, and in doing so, lost my marriage.  For my wife, her choice was between man and God, and I was surely leaving God by leaving their church!

And so my lonely journey began, for 30 years wandering and wondering what God really wanted for me.  Believing in my heart that God was more open and loving than the one I heard about, but never having anyone I could talk to about my feelings.  So I lived a guy’s life, sucked it up and moved on, like a strong man should!

And then I saw the article.

By that time, I had lost my dad in a horrible car accident, some 20 years earlier.  And now my mom was dying of cancer.  So I packed the article in my bag, and drove from Charlotte, NC to my home town of Chester, VT.  I looked at the article in the car, taking a break from her hospital room a few days later, and wondered if any group of guys could truly have open discussion about spirituality, sex, careers, family, and other issues that men cared about but seldom talked about.

There was a picture of a bearded guy referenced in the article about Men In Balance, its founder Jerry Hancock, and I gave him a call.  I gave him my short story, and he invited me to meet with him when I returned to Charlotte.  A few days later, I was with my mom when she passed away.   And I remember driving back to Charlotte, thinking about the here and the hereafter.  Was the old Pentecostal training correct?  Were mom and dad lost, or was there hope for them, and me?

My first meeting with MIB was in the fall of 2009.  I started out borderline hostile, or so I think, mad about what I had been through as a teenager.  But the guys in that first meeting listened with open minds and hearts, and immediately assured me that my words were confidential, and that I could say whatever was on my mind.  So I did.

Jerry invited me for breakfast a few days later, and we got an opportunity to chat one-on-one about Men In Balance, faith, and many other subjects.  His views on faith were more open minded than what I was taught as a kid, and I told him I had been warned back then that I might encounter such views, and that they were “of the devil.”  He laughed then, and we still laugh about it now.

But Men In Balance immediately became my emotional safety net.  I looked forward to having spirited conversations about God and faith and all things “guys.”  It was a no-holds barred venue, with the only rule being to be respectful of other’s opinions, even if you didn’t agree with them.  Sometimes I was angry, sometimes teary, but always surrounded by men who sincerely cared about helping me get back on my feet with my faith, and not letting religious rules get in the way.

Being seriously “miswired”, I also got some private counseling next door, at the Counseling Center, as well as listening to many sermons at DUMC Davidson.   It took several months, but my (new) wife and I found a new home at DUMC (we joined in 2011), and I still look forward to bantering with the guys at MIB.  Plus we recently we started attending the Navigators class, where couples also share in very open minded exchanges of faith and love and life.

It’s taken a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual adjustments on my behalf, but I now have hope that God has open arms for all of us.  That’s a major step of faith for me, and one that “The Guy’s Club” helped me understand.