Confessions from a Human by Langley Shazor
Feature of the Month February, 2017 [Click here}.
Langley was raised in Bristol, VA; currently residing in Abingdon, VA, he is actively engaged in both communities. Serving as a board member of the Barter Theatre as well as other civic and legislative organizations, Langley is an advocate for performing arts, education, community involvement, and sustainable economic development. Before joining Bristol Virginia Public Schools, he worked as a process engineer, specializing in system automation, data mining, and platform development before moving on to operations and strategic planning. His hobbies are writing, film photography, and physical wellness training. He has a deep appreciation for culture, history, philosophy, science, and religions. An avid reader, he is passionate about learning all that he can and imparting that knowledge; breaking down stereotypes, creating social awareness, enlightenment, human rights, and helping those less fortunate are his life’s quests. Langley has a particularly strong burden for empowering today’s youth and encouraging their interests in the arts. A lover of all things antiquated, he is an avid typewriter collector, something that has only fueled his affinity for writing and encouraging others to write as well. Typewriters being his tool of choice for his craft, Langley has been able to bring a forgotten medium back to life and give it relevance in this, ever growing, digital world.
His latest ventures continue to push the legitimacy of “unplugging”; again turning to typewriters to bring people together, propagating interpersonal interactions, creativity, conversation, and building a stronger community. It is his goal to continue to push the boundaries of economics and social norms to continue to create new and diverse endeavors for today and tomorrow’s generations.
Religion? by Langley Shazor
Religion is a construct of man-made confinement; a deity based penal system. Its purpose: to enact order and control over misinformed and uninformed subordinates. By design, we are groomed to believe that we are unworthy and unable to ever attain the freedom; the antithesis of faith. Religious authorities tell us that they are here to guide us, but to where? How can we be healed, delivered, and set free when we voluntarily forfeit those ideals to live in a state of fear and self-deprecation? I am no expert in world religions, but I recognize that more similarities exist than differences between them. For the purpose of this essay, I will deconstruct my own system; Christianity.
It is no surprise that there are so many denominations within the Christian religion. What separates one group of people from another is not the teachings of the Bible, the book on which this system is perpetuated, but in man’s quest for power. From the very beginning, before Christ came, religious authorities had created so many rules, that the common individual practiced a futile pursuit of holiness. There were three distinct factions; Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes who were, themselves elitist, yet disagreed on “their” interpretation of the Torah (or Pentateuch). These were the first five books of our Bible and are commonly referred to as “The Law”. One complete work, three views, all vying for control and power for said work.
This was a twofold attack: Those with the knowledge would not share the information; for knowledge is power. They knew that, regardless of the difference in position, teaching would lead to understanding, and understanding would lead to an upheaval in the status quo. Only the elite caste could read, giving them singular authority over the information. Thus allowing them to keep the uninformed oppressed by edicts and unachievable goals. This psyche of worthlessness was and is the most powerful form religious slavery. A people who believe they have no power, are a people that will never reach their potential; never exercising that power. This was the modus operandi of the elite, to quell the idea of freedom at its source, the mind.
Moving forward, we see that this power struggle was at the crux of the protestant movement. Disagreeing with the Roman Catholicism, Martin Luther (The most prominent of Reformers) set out to translate and interpret the Bible. This is not to say that the Catholic church is excused from reprehensible behaviors, but there was an ultimately self-serving motive along with exposition of Papal flaws. History shows that the church did not take kindly to having its authority challenged and excommunicated Luther for his actions and words. This was the beginning of the modern divide of practical application among the Christian faith. What would soon be the example that all denominations model separatist movements after.
Shifting into modernity, western Christianity now hosts upwards of about 300,000 churches in the United States alone. Of that number, there are approximately 217 formal denominations (based on 2006 census), and approximately 35,000 independent or non-denominational churches (RCMS 2010 study). I would be surprised if these numbers have done anything but increase (I was unable to locate any recent studies). The fact that these numbers exist should elucidate the egocentric nature of man’s need to be in religious positions of authority. We are fall under the Protestant category; more importantly, we all refer to the exact same text for enlightenment. And yet, we have more division than should be possible for a group following the same teachings. Ironically, for all the proposed “differences” and practices, denominations (or untitled groups) still operate under the same principles of control and subservience.
In my own personal journey in faith, I have been witness to and participatory in voluntary religious enslavement. I watched warring factions argue over order of service, music, color themes, events, scripture, and the like. I was complacent in the alienation of those who did not adhere to strict codes of conduct, looks, beliefs, lifestyles. I perpetuated the “us vs them” mentality. If you didn’t believe exactly the way I believed, you were an unwelcome outsider to the “church” and my personal life. As a group of people, we believe that we are “better” than others or held to a “higher standard” as though some people are beneath us. The ego and desire to be in the religious hierarchy is an apocryphal enterprise. The degrees we go to separate ourselves is an egregious abuse of the responsibilities placed upon us by our faith. Religion tells us that we are somehow “special” and above reproach from society. But the Bible states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, paraphrased). We are all equal to the author and finisher of our faith; how arrogant of us to think any higher of ourselves. We place the leaders of our “churches” on pedestals, serving and worshipping those who, by the very nature of their calling, are called to serve us. They insist on being addressed by their titles and receipt of special treatment and accommodations. It is no coincidence, then, that we see so much preaching and so little teaching of the word. We gladly sit idly in a pew, waiting for someone to tell us what to do or not to do instead of learning for ourselves. As it was before, teaching leads to empowerment, which leads to questioning standard practices. Leaders will lose control; control they so desperately fought to attain. We are “all called to be teachers and preachers of the Word of God” (Mark 16:15, paraphrased). We have bought into the lie that the Bible is some mysterious text that only those elite individuals could ever hope to decipher and explain to the commoner. Again, I say apocryphal!
In order for our faith to grow, we must take religion out of it. The concerns, practices, and instructions of the modern “church” have very little foundation in scripture and no place in our application of faith. How religious a person is does not correlate to the strength of their faith. I would venture to say, just as in the days of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, those exceptionally religious individuals are a far cry from being true practitioners. Likewise, how much knowledge one has does not translate to how well they can help others learn. The bible says that a tree is known by its fruits. How can fruit be produced if the roots are not being watered, if seeds have been planted at all? How can a tree be expected to grow when confined to a small planter, hidden away from the light, unattended? There are far too many greenhouses with absentee gardeners. Our faith calls us to be free from the yoke of bondage inside of a system that seeks to keep us bound. Keep your religion; I will keep my faith.
Signed: The Casual Word
by Langley Shazor
My mother has always been a source of wisdom; frequently leaving conversations with phrases for me to ponder on. Looking at my current state, I am reminded of one such phrase: “you can’t be blessed with your hands closed.” If a person is trying to hang on to things, people, possession, level of comfort, or any other number of ideals, growth becomes hindered. For my cup to be running over, some of its contents must spill out.
Understanding the need to “let go” does not making committing to the process any simpler. We work long hours, sometimes at the cost of our families, to provide and achieve a certain level of comfort. For those without families, often times the work is what defines us, self-worth being directly tied to the level of success. When we spend years living a particular lifestyle, uncontrolled and unexpected change can be devastating. Even with the best of dispositions and optimism, losing everything will challenge every preconception.
I know that I began to question my beliefs and my choices. Was all the sacrifice worth it? The years of missing time with my children began to playback in my mind. Perhaps if I had made a different choice or not made an expenditure, I would be able to survive until another opportunity came along. I was filled with anger and malice, both with my God and my situation. This further strained my relationships with my kids, loved ones, friends, and former colleagues. My civic responsibilities began to take a back stage as I missed meetings and could not make other engagements. The cycle was relentless. The more I tried to fix my situation, the angrier I became that I kept losing. I believed that God had a purpose for this season, though I was quickly growing tired with waiting on him to change it. “Do you hear me? Are you listening to my cries? What is this purpose? Why do I need to be stripped of everything?” Eventually the “why” didn’t even matter. I just wanted it to stop. I began to spiral out of control, drinking more and more and supplementing alcohol with any drugs I could come across. I knew it was not an answer, but I didn’t care. If he wasn’t going to save me, and I couldn’t save myself, I could at least forget who I was and what was going on. Of course, these choices exponentially deteriorated my self-esteem, my physical health, and further strained relationships. Which only pushed me further into substance abuse. But hey, you would never know that I had these things happening if you saw me, so as long as that remained constant, I thought I was ok.
God always knows what He is doing, even when we think the contrary. I had started a talk show (which I still do today) while I was still with my former employer. I had people often tell me how much they enjoyed the episodes and how much they helped them overcome. As my life began to implode, I tried to use the show as platform to be transparent with my struggles. The Word says to confess your sins one to another. Little did I know that I was doing exactly that, albeit to strangers, but confession nonetheless. In my mind, I just wanted people to know that they weren’t alone with addictions and hardships. To keep them encouraged in the face of adversity. It was not until recently that I realized how much doing those episodes really helped me overcome those issues as well. I will forever be indebted to those who watch the show and give me feedback.
This isn’t a feel good, “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of story. At least not yet. At the time that I am writing this, I am still homeless, without a vehicle, dealing co-parenting issues, among other things. I do work part time in an exceptional school system, writing is taking off, and I have other ventures underway. Still, the biggest change is not with my circumstances. It is with the way I view them. The great opportunities that are being afforded to me could not have happened with all that I had going on previously. Working consumed most of my life, what was left was split with civic duties and being a father. Granted, this has not been an easy road, and it has not gotten any less difficult. I was put in a position where “letting go” was my only option. The uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen was as frightening as watching everything I had fade away. That is scary place to be, but that is where faith kicks in. Where it reminds you that you are taken care of. You will be all right. You will be victorious. I don’t know how long this season will last and I may never know why it had to be to this level of severity. I do know that there is nowhere to go from here but up; that greater is coming. But in order for my hands to be open to receive it, I first had to put things down.
Memoirs of a Sinner
The Casual Word
My new year has started early. In my heart, my only true resolution is to be better; a better friend, father, teacher, role model, leader, and follower. Working toward the best version of myself is the ultimate goal. The upcoming year will be a year of immense change and growth.
Many will ask how I can be so sure; the future is not promised nor do we know what it has in store for us. But I tell you this: God is with me. He walks before me, paving the way, and holding my hand that I may stay on course. I can feel his presence all around me. We are preparing for the next phase. The time for grieving is over, there is work to do.
Only two times in my life have I opened my eyes with a clarity that I could not describe. For this generation, the most accurate description would be as follows: imagine that your eyes were the quality of an LCD screen. Now for its time, this was the top of the line. You could see no clearer than that. You go to sleep one night, only to awake with 4K, ultra-high definition vision. Everything is brighter, more vivid, more brilliant, more real. Once exposed to this, you would never want to go back to the dull, blurry fogginess of your old eyes. That is the best way I can describe these two occurrences; that you might be able to understand them.
The first time was on the day of my baptism. I was fully submerged in water, when I arose and opened my eyes, I was met by this “4K phenomenon.” Everything looked different. In my spirit, it was revealed that this, in fact, was the true nature of being born again. Washing away the old man; making way for the new. This was indeed a fresh start or new beginning. My slate had been cleared of all my old ways and transgressions. Coming to this decision and committing to following through with it, were some of the first steps in accepting my walk and calling.
A common misconception about accepting Christ is that life will become rainbows and butterflies. Unfortunately, life will get much, much more difficult. This is due to the enemy wanting you to go back to your old ways. While you were in the world, he had you under his control. He had no need to make life difficult. This is a surface explanation for why the wicked are blessed in the midst of their wickedness; the enemy can bless as well. Those temporal, tangible things are what we desire as human beings. There is nothing wrong with having them, but we cannot let them be what controls our thoughts or actions. The enemy counts on this desire to lure us back into his clutches. Once you begin to come out of the world, you have a target on your back. He has placed you in his crosshairs.
I have been no exception to his onslaughts. The proverbial battle of good and evil is a very real one. I have had doors open, opportunities afforded to me that were nothing but divine favor. I have also suffered great losses. The death of loved ones, failed relationships, familial dissolution, job loss, home loss, etc. I felt as though God and the devil were trading blows, and I was caught in the middle; taking hits from both sides. Beat up, bruised, scarred, battered and broken at times. My faith wavered, my hope waned; I longed for some sort of reprieve from the anguish. I found solace in the book of Job, knowing that I was still not being tried to the severity that he was. But I would be remiss if I said that it helped me endure or ease the pain; for it did not. Still, I knew that my circumstances would not change under my authority. When all else fails, we must pray.
You may be curious as to why I would divulge such information to you. No doubt as you read this, you may be questioning your walk, your beliefs, or your decision to begin those quests. What you have read thus far is only the tip of the iceberg that is merely the beginning of my journey. Likewise, so many who have endured before us and endure now only tell one side of the story. I am charged with giving you the good news as well as the reality; both are equal truths. The road is long, it is difficult, and fraught with obstacles and opposition. But the reward is great. If you can but persevere, there is victory; assured to us by His Word. Our faith is increased by trials. Just as precious metals have to have impurities burned off, and gems come from pressure. So too do we have to be submitted to similar processes, that we may come out on the other side better than when we entered.
Earlier I stated that the “4K phenomenon” has only occurred twice in my life. Today is that second occurrence. Its significance goes beyond these meager words and examples, and it is as monumental as the first time. I know that grasping the magnitude of these events will escape some, though I have tried to aid you in some level of understanding. I know that others will recognize this as an ascension. I have fought the good fight, ran the race, and it is now time for the next stage. Undoubtedly, this new level will bring new enemies, more vicious than before. But I am better equipped to face them. Today I am reminded that it has been three years since my baptism; three being the number of resurrection. Three years of heart-ache, transitions, victories, and defeats. I have been resurrected from the bowels of despair and self-loathing, to joy and peace. I know that all things work together for our good. He who started a good work in us will finish it; on his time and his terms. Until it is done, we must keep walking.
Memoirs of a Sinner
The Casual Word