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Mike Orrill, retired pastor, on the difficulties of faith, freedom in doubts, the evolution of his beliefs, and the power of sharing stories

(Publication Date: 12.13.22)

Overview: In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, host Adam Williams talks with Mike Orrill, a retired Presbyterian pastor of 35 years.

 

Mike describes himself as a “poster child for doubt,” as he and Adam discuss faith and the dangers of certainty. They talk about Mike’s personal evolution over nearly 50 years from fanatical believer who needed absolute answers to his questions, to transparently fallible human who has become relatively comfortable with life's ambiguity. Mike shares how faith, belief in the afterlife, and even belief in God have never come easily to him.

 

“I think doubts are really important,” Mike says. “The moment we become really certain, whether it be matters of faith or politics or whatever, when we become really certain, maybe that’s when we begin to have conflicts with each other, because we’ve stopped listening. … I celebrate people’s doubts, because I think that’s our growing edge, that’s where we learn.”

 

He also shares his passion for the power of listening and storytelling, and what he’s learned about where answers to life’s questions actually come from. … Among other things.

SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.

 

Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.

 

We Are Chaffee

Website: wearechaffee.org

Facebook: facebook.com/WeAreChaffee

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffee

CREDITS

Looking Upstream Host & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

Producer & We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom

Director of Chaffee Housing Authority: Becky Gray

TRANSCRIPT

Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.

 

[Intro music, guitar instrumental]

 

Adam Williams (00:00:08): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams. Today's guest is Mike Orrill, a retired Presbyterian pastor with 40 plus years of service in churches and communities, and the past nearly 30 of those were here in Salida, Colorado.

 

This easily is one of my favorite conversations and I don't think I'm just feeling recency biased to say that. In part, it's because of the humble and egoless way that Mike tackled a conversation subject matter of faith and religion with me.

 

While I was curious to explore the concept of faith with a former pastor, it was the flip side of that coin doubt that especially made this interesting to me. It turns out Mike is an incredibly self-reflective and transparent student of doubt, especially his own. In fact, at one point in this conversation he even described himself as a poster child for doubt.

 

(00:01:04): So along with our exploration of faith and doubt and sharing our stories transparently, some key threads in this conversation have to do with certainty and ambiguity, the power of sharing our stories and truly listening to others, inclusion and how to build a world we want. And something especially compelling to me is the threat of personal evolution.

 

I love the ease with which Mike shares the unexpected in his story and so honestly. He was a faith community leader for decades, yet you'll hear him tell that he never believed in God easily, never came by his faith easily. There's just no fear or pretense or facade in what Mike is sharing with us. No pedestal or presumed expertise and I deeply appreciate that.

 

(00:01:49): Mike has evolved in his faith over the past nearly 50 years from fanatical believer who needed absolute answers to his life questions, to openly fallible human who has become relatively comfortable within life's ambiguity.

 

Speaking of myself here as someone who ultimately rejected the religion of his childhood, I find this conversation with Mike to be refreshing and helpful. And I think you'll find it to be eye-opening no matter where you stand in your beliefs. Here we go, my conversation with Mike Orrill.

 

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

 

Adam Williams: Mike, welcome to Looking Upstream. Thanks for being here.

 

Mike Orrill (00:02:29): Thank you Adam, glad to be here today.

 

Adam Williams (00:02:31): So Mike, you are a former pastor. I don't know if former applies there, maybe it's something you always are, "I'm a pastor for life." But for the moment a former pastor of 35 years. And I just want to ask where you started that process, because I know there were several years before you came here to Salida, Colorado.

 

Mike Orrill (00:02:51): Yeah, my path to being a pastor actually started with being a business major. So I worked in the corporate world for a number of years before I felt like I wanted to go back to school, be a pastor, so that was forever ago. But it was probably in '82 when I went back to school, seminary. Got my masters in I think they call it masters of divinity. And so really, so '82 is when I started being a pastor, even though I did volunteer work in the church for years before that.

 

Adam Williams (00:03:34): Where were you then? Where did you start as a pastor for the first I think it must have been seven, eight years before moving to where we are now in Salida?

 

Mike Orrill (00:03:44): I started, it would've been Alabama, actually. My wife and I were youth directors at a small church in Alabama, that would've been in the very early '80s, late '70s. Then I went to school up in Kentucky, that's where I got my masters in divinity. And then I had a church in Louisville, Kentucky, then I moved to Pennsylvania and did some youth work in Pennsylvania. And then in 1990 is when I moved to Salida and started here.

 

Adam Williams (00:04:22): Okay, so that's covering some geography there. Where did you grow up? Where are you from?

 

Mike Orrill (00:04:28): And I grew up in Florida.

 

Adam Williams (00:04:29): Okay.

 

Mike Orrill (00:04:31): Even though I just actually found out today, actually 10 minutes before I got here. So I'm retiring at the end of the year here. And so we called the social security office and they had me being born in Huntsville, Alabama. And I said, "I've not been born in Huntsville, Alabama. I was born in Madison, Indiana." They go, "Huh, we need to take care of that." I said, "Yes, we do." So anyway I have moved around a lot. But I grew up, I called my childhood home Florida and that's where my family mostly still lives.

 

Adam Williams (00:05:06): Are you sure they don't have some secrets? Maybe you were born in Huntsville. Maybe there's something going on there that-

 

Mike Orrill (00:05:11): With my family there could easily something be going on at any given moment.

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Adam Williams (00:05:19): That sounds like a fantastic doorway to a story, which actually I wanted to ask you about your upbringing anyway. Because I am curious what led you to this, what ultimately has become a life of faith, decades of service through church, and I'm curious about the impact your family had on that. Was it a matter of growing up in a family that raised you with certain beliefs, took you to church every week or however often. What was the influence or maybe even the nudge in the direction of seminary from them?

 

Mike Orrill (00:06:00): Well, so I come from a family of six kids. So four of us were born within five years, so my poor mom, two of my siblings came along much later. So we were a family that did go to church every week and it was important to my family. I always knew it was important to my family. I can't say that it was that important to me. It wasn't like I was anti-church or anything like that.

 

It's just was something my family did and so I went along because I had to. And I can't say that I had any real leanings toward that at all. And though my family went to church every week... I wouldn't call my family a religious family. We just went to church, it's kind of what families back in the '50s and '60s in my neck of the woods did. And so they were completely surprised when I told them that I was going to go to seminary.

 

Adam Williams (00:07:12): Really.

 

Mike Orrill (00:07:12): It was a total shock and not necessarily for my dad, he was pleased. My mom was like, "Really? You want to do that?" And my brother thought I was a dork and my sisters I'm not sure what they thought about all that, but it was not in my plans by any stretch of the imagination. I think what began to change was a chance meeting from my sister to what is now her husband.

 

And he came from a very religious family and this was in the middle of the Jesus movement of the late '60s, early '70s, the Charismatic Renewal. So the speaking in tongues and the spirit led services and the enthusiastic emotional type services, which was a far cry from my Presbyterian upbringing.

 

(00:08:17): And so she had met this gentleman and they became extremely influential in my life. And I remember in a previous conversation you and I had, you had asked me about defining moments and really a defining moment. And I call it merely my biggest defining moment in my life is when my sister asked me, "Hey, would you go with me to my boyfriend's house, his parents have a little house church that they run." And I didn't really want to go. My mother looked at me and she said, "You should go, it might do some good."

 

Adam Williams (00:08:57): What did she see going on in your life that she-

 

Mike Orrill (00:09:00): I was a handful as a kid. I was a handful as a kid. I was a very angry... and don't ask me why that because I don't know the answer to that. But I was a very angry kid getting into trouble quite a lot. And so she said, "You should just go, it might do you some good." So I went.

 

Adam Williams (00:09:22): How old were you then?

 

Mike Orrill (00:09:24): I was 16.

 

Adam Williams (00:09:25): Was your sister an older sister?

 

Mike Orrill (00:09:26): She was two years older than me.

 

Adam Williams (00:09:28): Okay.

 

Mike Orrill (00:09:30): So I went to this little house church prayer meeting kind of thing, and for whatever reason something grabbed a hold of me. And faith became I guess you would say it became sort of the central driver of my life was faith in God. And I can truly say that really has shaped that night... it was a moment from one moment to the next, from one day to the next.

 

Not everybody has those experiences and it's not necessary, but for me it was, it just from one moment to the next. Church wasn't that important to it became very important. Faith wasn't that important to it became very important.

 

Adam Williams (00:10:18): It sounds like there were several years between that defining moment. And when you actually decided to go from a corporate life to seminary and change and commit further to that path. Was it a matter of, "Okay, it's important to me, I'm 16." I assume you finish high school.

 

Sounds like you went studied business went on into young adult life, that's several years, had you just assumed, "Okay, it's important to me, but this is my path." What changed it then from that path to say, "You know what, I want to take another big step here into seminary."

 

Mike Orrill (00:10:57): And that will probably be my second biggest defining moment.

 

Adam Williams (00:11:01): All right, we're on it.

 

Mike Orrill (00:11:02): We are, we are on it. So as a teenager, I think a lot of teenagers who have what some would call conversion experiences. I was pretty passionate and fanatical, and I'm using that word because I really was. Stopping people on the beach asking them if they want to be saved, that kind of thing. So I was very passionate, it was part of my life.

 

But then after I graduated from high school, went to college at the suggestion of my dad, he said, "Well, why don't you major in business?" Because I wasn't sure really what I wanted to do, he said, "Why don't you just major in business? It's kind of a good all around thing to major in."

 

So I said, "Okay." So I majored in business, focused on marketing, was my thing. Got out of school, took my first job in Chicago and then in Birmingham, Alabama, which is probably where the Huntsville thing comes in eventually somewhere along the way.

 

(00:12:05): But I did live in Alabama for a while and it was wild. My wife and I were in Alabama, we started working at a little church as youth directors, and I realized I really like doing this. I like working with kids in this setting. I did not like the corporate world at all, it just was not for me. And so one day I said to her, I said, my wife's name is Bev, I said, "Bev, I really think I want to go to seminary. I want to go back to school." And at that time my only real thought was to get my masters in Christian education and work with youth.

 

(00:12:49): So we started that process in the early '80s and went to seminary. And while I was in seminary I said, "It's only another year to go to get my masters of divinity, so I can be a pastor, a full fledged pastor." And so that's what I did. So there was a period of years in there when I was working in the business world and I just wasn't happy doing it. It just wasn't for me.

 

I think I remember telling my wife, I said, "I really want to do something that has real eternal consequences." Just something really, really important that would have lasting impact in somebody's life. And working in the marketing field that I was working in was not that.

 

Adam Williams (00:13:33): I've not heard that phrase before and that sounds pretty powerful to me, eternal consequences. Was that terminology, that phrase from somewhere in your religious experience or just your expression of it?

 

Mike Orrill (00:13:50): Just my expression and that's even changed, how I understand that has changed. As a young 20 year old, 21 year old, 22 year old and coming out of a very conservative evangelical setting that I became a Christian in, my idea of that was heaven and hell. That was my focus of my religious faith was very standard evangelical stuff.

 

Get people saved so they get into heaven, get out of hell. I do not think that way any longer at all. And so what I mean now by that eternal consequences, it just has lasting impact on somebody's life. Ever since starting church and then even after retiring from church and working now with public health, I've really been drawn towards working with people in ways that are deeply impactful.

 

(00:14:55): At least I hope they are deeply impactful to them as they are to me. And so I've just always been drawn to... Well, Jon and I were talking just before the show, I've been drawn to working with those who are homeless, those who are addicted, those just who are struggling in lots of different ways. And that's what I mean now by working in something that has eternal consequences or lasting impact. I don't even think I'd use that term anymore eternal consequences. I just mean that has just really lasting impact for somebody.

 

Adam Williams (00:15:39): Right. Right. If I'm doing all the math here right getting in the ballpark. I'm thinking that when you became a pastor, again, I said at the top that you were a pastor for around 35 years. And you actually retired from that role, that chapter in your life several years ago. And have engaged in other community work, which you'd mentioned you're about to retire from. My math on this puts you in your mid 20s when you became a pastor, is that sound right?

 

Mike Orrill (00:16:10): Let's see, I would've been probably 25.

 

Adam Williams (00:16:16): Okay. So now that I am middle-aged myself and have at least lived enough life to understand our evolution to some extent as individuals, as we learn, as we accrue some sort of hopefully wisdom. Given the fact I'm a parent and I hope I'm sharing worthwhile things with my sons. I'm thinking when I was 25 I was very far from being a pastor in my behaviors and activities.

 

What wisdom would I have had to share with someone who is a member in the church that is maybe 40, 50, 60, 70 coming to me with real life? You're talking about lasting things, they lived things that at 25 we haven't. You were 25 starting off as a pastor. How did that process go? How did you handle those moments? I would have to assume it was tons of learning and humility involved.

 

Mike Orrill (00:17:22): I'm just laughing because I think I was a lot smarter than I really was, but I was 25. I was really dumb. I think the thing that really helped me out a lot is that I worked with kids mostly my first five years as a pastor.

 

Adam Williams (00:17:42): That was a good path, possibly.

 

Mike Orrill (00:17:44): Well, and that's kind of standard. It's not an unusual path. You start working as a youth minister then you work... So I work as a volunteer youth minister, my wife and I. Then I work as an intern youth minister, then I work as a paid youth minister.

 

And then you move on up to when you finally become a senior pastor like I became. So I didn't have a whole lot of wisdom to offer somebody who was 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. I have to just say how grateful I am because whatever wisdom I have I've learned from the encounters with both youth and older folks.

 

(00:18:30): Gosh, here's a great example. I think in my very first church, so I'm in my 20s. I'm on the church softball team. And we're just having a lot of fun as playing softball with other churches in the region. When one of our teammates, probably only three or four years older than I am, gets cancer and I'm with him on his death bed.

 

And I'm apologizing to him because I had been avoiding him, because I was so hurt by his death. I didn't even know how to handle it. It was my very first death as a pastor and he was in a coma, at least we thought he was. And I'm sharing with him. I'm just telling him I love him, that he's been a good friend. And I'm apologizing that I had been avoiding because I was just scared, and seeing a tear come out of his eye thinking that he was in a coma.

 

(00:19:39): And learning from that in that kind of situation, I always tell people now, "Talk to them. You don't know if they can hear you or not, but it's very possible that they can and so say what you need to say." So those are the kind of lessons that I learned from young people or people my age. I'm so grateful to that because any wisdom I do have... it does not come naturally to me as my dad would say. His favorite saying of me was, "Quit acting like a horse's ass." That was more typical of my young years.

 

Adam Williams (00:20:29): I think it's a fantastic reminder that what we are talking about with people who choose this life is you also are human, you also are fallible. You also are learning all along the way that it doesn't... Even when you feel there's a defining moment that someone might refer to as a calling this clarity of your path, that does not mean lightning strikes and you are imbued with this immense wisdom that doesn't have to be earned. You're still going through life and learning as we go here.

 

(00:21:07): So I think that's part of the fascinating thing for me in your experience, because there would be development of you as a pastor that at the same time there is of you as a human, like all of us. I think that people want clarity. They want answers when they go to their pastor, their wanting answers. And what you're sharing I think that's amazing, that first story there is showing your fallibility. Your willingness to say, "Wow, I wasn't perfect and I learned." And I think it sounds like that man's tear was his capacity to express some love and forgiveness back for what you were saying.

 

Mike Orrill (00:21:48): I think if I had any strength as a pastor it was that I was very transparent about my own fallibility, my own flaws, my own doubts. I think you remember what I told you when we met last week. I think one of the first things I said is I always hated that people looked at me as an expert. And I don't even know what that means when you start talking about spirituality what's an expert? I get a little frightened when I meet somebody who thinks they're an expert, especially in the realm of spiritual matters.

 

(00:22:34): I'm not by any stretch. I think the thing that people most appreciated about me, at least this is what they said was that I was very authentic about my doubts. And again, I speak in stories I think you know that. And so I'm thinking back to when I went on a sabbatical this is 2012, so I was here in Salida. And I was pretty close to a nervous breakdown and both my wife and our elders at the church said, "You just really need to take some time." And so they graciously gave me three months just to take off and just do whatever I needed to do. I think I went 7,000 miles that summer.

 

Adam Williams (00:23:32): Wow.

 

Mike Orrill (00:23:33): What do they say trying to find myself kind of thing. But anyway when I got back to the church and then I had my first Sunday in the pulpit back from my sabbatical, I just shared with them, "This is what was going on in my life. I was angry." Right before I left I had just buried a young person again. I said I was grieving from all the deaths that I had been a part of. My wife and I were struggling with our own relationship. I was burned out.

 

I started talking in those terms on my first Sunday back. And what was so amazing to me was I can't even count the number of people came up afterwards and said, "Oh my gosh, I felt the same way. I have felt that way before. I have felt suicidal at times. I have felt depressed and anxious."

 

(00:24:29): And that was another bit of wisdom I learned to realize, "Oh yeah, we're all on this journey and it's kind of pretty tough sometimes to be on this journey." And it gave them freedom. I had lots of counseling sessions in the weeks and months after that, where people now felt even more comfortable saying, "Can I say this to you?" Well, I said, "Absolutely. You can say that to me. No judgment here on my part because you've heard my story."

 

Adam Williams (00:25:07): That to me is the value of sharing in general. My path or tool for this is the podcast. This is why I think sharing vulnerably and openly trusting how it's going to be received is a point of connection rather than just putting ourselves out there raw for some sort of criticism.

 

Those things that of course are natural that people fear, are nervous about. I gravitate toward people who are transparent and who are willing to share themselves. And a lot of times that really includes or even focuses on flaws. Because there's also the sense of redemption or resilience or whatever might be relevant to that story, and how there's also light shining at the end of that.

 

Mike Orrill (00:25:57): Your word redemption is really a good word. And I'm not talking any kind of high and mighty type of redemption. I'm just talking human redemption. I love stories, you know that, we tell stories. I'm part of the We Are Chaffee storytelling thing. Stories of the most powerful thing I think there are. And I have never, ever in my life had a bad experience when either I or somebody else when we share our story with each other, it's always been a moment of redemption. It's always been a moment of... I don't know what to what it is, it's just a moment of humanness really.

 

(00:26:42): And as I've gotten older and know that I hopefully still have a lot of years left, but I have less years in front of me now than I do behind me and I don't want to waste it. And I feel like a lot of our conversations can be wasted if we just stay floating around on the surface all the time. But if we can allow ourselves to tell each other's story and hear each other's stories, I have always found that to be the most redemptive, powerful, transformative moments of my life and hopefully of the person's life that we're sharing with.

 

Adam Williams (00:27:24): I feel like our stories and how we share them like that, it cultivates a sense of trust and rapport, maybe even empathy and compassion. Those are these threads that run through so much of what we do here on the podcast because we're sharing with each other.

 

Mike Orrill (00:27:42): Right. Right.

 

Adam Williams (00:27:43): And that's also why I share so much from my seat rather than treat this like an interview. I never or close to never use the word interview in talking about this podcast. I talk about conversations and the reason being that I want it to be something that we both are sharing in, and it's not just one person on the hot seat.

 

And that when you and I can create a connection and a sense of trust and understanding with each other, that hopefully what that does is help listeners to feel that as well. But it also models perhaps how to listen with empathy without that judgment.

 

You describe that when members of the church would come to you for counseling, obviously there's already a trust established there, but that sounds like in a way a breakthrough moment. That sermon you gave when you returned from sabbatical, I think it sounds like they saw you in a little bit deeper, brighter light.

 

Mike Orrill (00:28:41): People tend to put ministers on pedestals sometimes.

 

Adam Williams (00:28:45): Sure.

 

Mike Orrill (00:28:46): And even though I really tried to avoid people doing that with me, and I made enough mistakes that probably most wouldn't put me on a pedestal, but some did. Some would try to put me on a pedestal. And so when they would come for counseling they would kind of expect me to know the answers to their problems.

 

Adam Williams (00:29:09): It goes back to that clarity, that sense of they want clear answers, they treat you as the expert, "Tell we what to do."

 

Mike Orrill (00:29:18): I think they probably quickly realized that I didn't have all the answers. But what actually helped them find the answers for themselves is just the process of communicating back and forth. They would tell me whatever was going on in their life. And when it was appropriate, I might share a little of myself that had some connections with whatever it is they were going through.

 

And somewhere in the midst of that... I was taught well in seminary don't give advice, because advice is cheap and advice is dangerous. Because even when somebody comes in and talks to me I'm only hearing just a little bit of the story, I'm not hearing everything.

 

(00:30:02): And so to give advice is pretty presumptuous to say, "I have what you need." But in the midst of the conversation and sharing again our stories. And you and I did this last week, when we were having coffee together it was like, "Oh, this is kind of fun." We're having good conversation here about things that are important to us. And in the midst of that, I know I did anyway, I started pondering then other things. I drove home from that conversation pondering other things in my mind that were brought up. And I hope that may have happened with you as well. And in the midst of that I think that's where people find their own answers.

 

Adam Williams (00:30:47): Mike, what that brings to mind for me is something that I've learned from a spiritual teacher that I have had in recent years. And that is to not fade, fight or fix. We have a tendency when people come to us, maybe that's a best friend, a partner, spouse, whoever it is. And so often, and it might be out of our own discomfort with having to sit and just listen patiently.

 

But we I think have a tendency to want to either fade, fight or fix. We want to either reduce or minimize what they're saying. We want to go ahead and give them the solution as if we know. Like you suggested there to give advice suggests you have the answers without even knowing the whole picture. I don't know your thoughts on that, if you're familiar with that phrasing.

 

Mike Orrill (00:31:34): I hadn't heard it, but I love it. I really do. I love it. And is exactly I think the kind of temptation that I as a pastor and I think anybody really when you're talking with somebody who's going through something, we face that. We minimize it saying, "Oh, it will get better." Maybe it won't get better, or fight like I disagree with you. Well, it's not appropriate to disagree, this is their story. And then the other is to fix.

 

And that's really for me and that's still today the temptation to fix the problem, and oftentimes people really don't need that. I do think people have within themselves the ability to find their answers if they can find the support that they need. And you know how people always say, "Well, what good does talking about it make?" Well, talking about it I think does a lot of good because in the midst of somebody sharing their story they're creating some clarity in their mind.

 

(00:32:42): And so I love this. I love that I'm going to try to remember fade, fight or fix, and to avoid those and just the idea of, "Let me listen." I wanted to be always throughout my pastoral career and I want to be now in whatever the remainder of my life will be, I want to be a safe place for people to be able to come to and share their stories. And to know that they will be appreciated for their story, celebrated for their story, accepted for their story.

 

Adam Williams (00:33:19): Believed.

 

Mike Orrill (00:33:20): Believed.

 

Adam Williams (00:33:20): They just want to be heard and seen. I think that validates their existence in that story, without saying anything is simply that you're willing to sit and listen. Because we all when we're going through these things, maybe we feel so aggrieved, so angry or maybe confused and uncertain, "Are my thoughts is this true? Is this clear?"

 

By simply listening we validate that person's existence in their story. I think it's what we're lacking actually as community, as society when it comes to many of the major differences we have across our society is that we're not willing to listen with empathy and compassion and just say, "I believe you."

 

Instead we immediately dismiss and say, "Well, you must have done something wrong, that's why the police officer chased, that's why they shot." Whatever the incident, "You must have done something wrong, that's why your boss yelled at you."

 

Mike Orrill (00:34:20): Yep.

 

Adam Williams (00:34:21): We're not there to support them. And sometimes that support only looks like I'm actively listening and letting you get it off your chest and be heard.

 

Mike Orrill (00:34:29): Before Chaffee County Public Health opened their mobile clinic back in May, we did a series of interviews around town both here in Salida and up in Buena Vista, just asking people, "Well, would you use such a clinic? What would you need?" And of course, I did a lot of interviews with those who are experiencing homelessness. And you know what the biggest answer that they had was that they needed?

 

Adam Williams (00:35:03): What?

 

Mike Orrill (00:35:04): They said, "Nobody ever listens to us at all. We're invisible and we just want somebody to pay attention to our lives."

 

Adam Williams (00:35:12): I think it's amazing that they said that because when you think of a mobile health clinic, I would think, "Oh, I have a cold. I need someone to check me out. Give me some Tylenol," whatever. You think of those what we might look at as more physical, that's more emotional.

 

Mike Orrill (00:35:30): Yeah. I think the people first hear when they hear clinic is medical. And we do some medical things, but we spend more time... Matter of fact, we just had the clinic yesterday and we talked about this among our staff and I said, "Man, I've just been spending a lot of time today just listening to the stories."

 

And these folks their lives are a little chaotic at the moment. But just the idea that somebody listened to them, they'll tell you right up front how grateful they are that somebody paid attention to them finally and that's all that they want.

 

Adam Williams (00:36:18): I got a chance to hear as much when we invited the two public health nurses who operate that clinic. Tonya Wait and Abigail Smedley, they were guests previously right on this podcast and we had such a great conversation.

 

Mike Orrill (00:36:33): They loved it.

 

Adam Williams (00:36:34): They shared as much that people really just they need to feel I think heard and cared for. Mike, I want to take us in another direction here sort of. You had mentioned doubts earlier and that's a really key subject area that when I think of faith, I think of doubt.

 

To me they sort of function as opposite sides in a sense of the same coin, but they just go hand in hand. And so I'm curious about your thoughts on doubt in faith, maybe yours since you've been so willing to share transparently about yourself, but also just in general as it relates to faith.

 

Mike Orrill (00:37:18): I heard a little saying once it's a little kind of a cutesy saying, but it has a lot of meaning behind it for me, that doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. And I have never been a person where faith came easily, never.

 

I've never believed in God easily. Never believed in Jesus as the Son of God easily. Never believed in an afterlife easily. Never believed that everything will work out okay easily. I am a poster child for doubt. And when I earlier had said people had expressed when I retired, one of the things they appreciated me about me most was my transparency. Well, a lot of that transparency had to do about doubt.

 

(00:38:20): And that's not changed to this very moment right here sitting in this chair. I have lots of doubts about faith. And there would've been a time when I would've thought that made me a bad person, but I now find it... And so I was the kind of person that had to live with certainty. Well, I had to have answers to everything early on.

 

And so that's probably one of my biggest transformations over the years is I can live with ambiguity now and it's okay, this won't be popular among some of my more conservative religious friends. But I think that religion as it's currently practiced in our society and that includes the Christian faith, that includes Jewish, Muslim, whatever, I think a lot of that's all human construct. The ways we put words to what's something going on inside of us, and so I'm really okay with doubting the human construct.

 

(00:39:40): And that's pretty freeing for me. I don't have to live within my own Presbyterian denominational doctrines. I don't have to live within anybody else's doctrine. I am free to pursue my own spirituality. I'm still very much part of the church. It's part of my life, will always be part of my life, it's important. But it's also important to me to be able to express my doubts and say, "I'm not sure I buy that preacher." I'm not preaching anymore and I can say that, "I'm not sure I buy that."

 

(00:40:20): And if I would ever preach again I'd hope somebody would say, "I'm not sure I buy that Mike." And I'd say, "That's cool. That's all right with me. Tell me what's going on. Tell me what you're thinking." So I think doubts is really important. And I think the moment we become really certain, whether it be matters of faith or politics or whatever, when we become really certain, maybe that's when we begin...

 

You kind of hinted at it earlier, that's when we begin to have our conflicts with each other because we've stopped listening. Not only because we've stopped listening, but we've also become certained in our not listening. And so I celebrate people's doubts, I think that's our growing edge, that's where we'll learn.

 

Adam Williams (00:41:11): There are so many things you just said there that could lead us down different paths and things that spark energy and excitement and resonance for me. The idea of knowing, "knowing," especially as I think we're seeing you mentioned that can be in reference to faith, it can be to politics.

 

We are seeing that now more than I remember at any point, and at least in my lifetime throughout the country and the way we're all acting in what I have felt like anyway is a very anxiety inducing chaos. In large part I think it's because there is blind knowing.

 

It's based I think and rooted in a lot of absence of fact. It's rooted in some ignorance. It's just knowing, not questioning, not having doubt. I don't know if there's anything more human for us to have then uncertainty. And an awful lot in the world sure makes it seem like we should know, we should be certain.

 

(00:42:21): Just like you were describing you were comfortable only in certainty and you felt like you weren't allowed the room for doubts in your faith. I assume you're talking about it in a much younger time. And that somewhere along the way there was evolution to what you just described so wonderfully as being a poster child for doubt. And I'm curious what was that transition for you?

 

Because I don't imagine there was just one point, but there was how would you describe that movement from the need for certainty... Oh, you said bad person, "I thought I was a bad person if I had doubts." How did you get to where you are now as someone who embraces doubt and understands the freedom of it?

 

Mike Orrill (00:43:09): Well, you're right there's no one moment where that transformation began it's many moments. Gosh, a lot of those moments would come out of tragedy let's say.

 

So as a pastor as you imagine I interacted a lot with people who were getting divorced, or people who had had sudden deaths in their families. Sometimes those deaths were natural. Sometimes they're absolutely just horrible, tragic deaths. I think interacting with people in those situations had a lot to do with me letting go of my need for certainty.

 

(00:43:57): Because when you're interacting with folks in those kind of situations everything is up for grabs for them in that. Everything has been dislocated for them. And so I was brought into a lot of dislocations. So that's a big part of it. Teaching, I love teaching. But in the midst of teaching and the interaction of student and teacher where they thought I was the teacher and, again, that I would have the answers.

 

And I would say, "Well, I'm not sure I do have the answers. Let's talk about where are you coming from." I think those kind of interactions begin to do change my need for certainty. I read a lot. In my younger years I was involved as I said earlier in the charismatic Jesus movement, there was a lot of emotion in that.

 

(00:44:54): And I left that movement after a few years because I needed a little more scholarly approach to faith. And so I just did a lot of reading, just all kinds of reading from all kinds of people and I go, "Oh, wow, that's really different viewpoint than I had had." If there was a moment maybe or a period of short moments, seminary would've been eye opening.

 

Because it was a very liberal, what would've been called by some very liberal seminary. And so the professors, of course, highly educated started saying, "Well, here's a way to look at this. Here's a way to look at this." This passage really comes out of this situation, might mean this, that blew my mind.

 

So that probably was the start of it. But it's really mostly just the interaction of pastoral interactions with people where I realized that I don't know, certainty... I don't know if this is true or not, but I wonder if the need for certainty in my own case and maybe in the cases of others is just this fear.

 

Adam Williams (00:46:09): I think we're talking about comfort, what we perceive as a need for comfort or the discomfort if we are not in control.

 

Mike Orrill (00:46:18): Well, I think all those fit together, the need to control. And if you're not in control and if you're living with ambiguity you're not in control. I think my need for certainty... I had a nun tell me earlier, many, many years ago, she says, "Mike, you have a really strong need to be perfect, to be right and to be controlled don't you?"

 

And rather than be offended, I was going, "Yeah, you are absolutely right. You are right, I do have that need." So that's another transformative moment. But I think we do want to control things and I think we're afraid. And boy, I don't know my take on the world today is that we have a lot of fear, there just seems like there's just a lot of fear.

 

Adam Williams (00:47:01): It's being stoked.

 

Mike Orrill (00:47:03): And the fear is being stoked in a lot of different ways, and I don't know what the answer is. Well, I kind of do. I feel I do kind of know. It's learning how to love one another in the midst of our differences, in the midst of our uncertainties. I'm kind of rambling now, but I think for me my need for certainty was a need to be in control and just a fearfulness that I had in me.

 

Adam Williams (00:47:34): I think that's incredibly common. It's common not even just as it relates to faith, of course. Whatever the human thing is, this is something that we all face at some point if we even are fortunate enough to recognize it, and recognize it's something that we can work on or make any sort of change about. Well, let me give some context here by the way.

 

And maybe for listeners besides for you Mike, my experience and just where I stand in with regard to faith. My experience was from probably the first Sunday after I was born until I was 18, I was forced to go to church one to two times a week. I revolted, which in my house meant nothing until I was 18 and able to actually take action against being forced. So my opinion I felt was unheard. My questions in church were unwanted.

 

(00:48:34): I questioned the very core of all of it in Sunday school classes and so on. And I would be met with these awkward smiles and blank stares and no answers, there was no openness too. So I appreciate the things that you're sharing, that transparency in those things in such a way.

 

I'm a good nearly 30 years removed from when I stopped going to church myself, that said I don't consider myself to be someone who lacks spirituality, who lacks a sense of a bigger picture, who lacks good. I'm trying to raise my sons with the same sorts of good compassion, love, empathy, patience, kindness, how we handle ourselves with others in the same way that to me if you removed some of these boundaries that are put around certain faiths or denominations, if you just saw those descriptions on paper we're the same.

 

(00:49:44): It occurred to me that maybe that context is of use in our conversation for you and I as well as for listeners. And I now want to ask about the other side of that coin. We've talked deeply enough about doubt, but on faith then I'm curious what it is that you have come to understand of faith maybe in general and for yourself, what it means? How do you define it?

 

Mike Orrill (00:50:15): Someone once told me when we were talking about faith, you said most people think faith is believing unbelievable things, like a set of doctrines or set of theological assertions. I don't think so. For me, I think faith is more of this relationship. And so we're going to come back to stories. But I think faith is relationship and relationships are give and take.

 

So relationships have ups and downs, faith has ups and downs. Relationships has some certainties and some ambiguities. Faith has that as well. So for me, that's really what it comes down to is the relationship that you and I would have with each other when we're together. Talking about whatever it is we're talking about, going through whatever it is we're going through. I say that about you in this moment.

 

My wife when we're going through our days and our weeks with my kids or grandkids. So faith is more of a sense of for me belief that this relationship is important enough to hang in there with.

 

Adam Williams (00:51:40): Okay.

 

Mike Orrill (00:51:41): Does that make any sense at all? And in the midst of that it's going to be messy, but it's worth keeping. It's worth keeping the relationship, it's worth keeping a faith group together. It's worth keeping the country together. It's worth keeping a family together. It's messy, but it's worth it. And maybe that's where faith kind of [inaudible 00:52:14].

 

Adam Williams (00:52:13): I think we're talking about an abstract thing. And if we go back to what we were saying about people's perception that they need certainty, what we're talking about here with faith is a very abstract difficult to grasp concept. And that might also explain then that when there is a feeling that one needs certainty, they gravitate to whoever will provide that.

 

You were advised don't give advice, be there to listen and allow people to sit in that conversation and come to their own answers. Someone who maybe goes to a more conservative approach they might be looking for a pastor who says X, Y, Z, these are your answers. And then we remove what I would say is truly faith.

 

Mike Orrill (00:53:04): Right. My daughter, when she first graduated from college, took a job as a teacher down in Cortez. She called me, she said, "Daddy, I want to go to a church somewhere, but how do I know which one to go to?" I said, "Well, choose one that's healthy." And she said, "Well, what does that look like?" I said, "It's the one that allows you to ask your questions and be who you are, be where you are without fear of judgment."

 

Adam Williams (00:53:32): Or fear of more of your questions

 

Mike Orrill (00:53:35): And the way you described it, I've heard that story a lot from people who once upon a time went to a religious kind of setting. It doesn't have to be necessarily Christian, it could be whatever, it could be Jewish, it could be Muslim or whatever. But they were in their setting and they asked their questions and they got this blank look or worse, kind of a slap on the hand, "Don't you ever ask those kind of questions."

 

So maybe faith is trust, maybe faith is trust in this person in front of me and the relationships. So my wife and I our relationship is sometimes messy, but I do trust that the relationship is important. So I'm going to stay there and stick with it even in the messy times, even when we may not feel certain about each other, or about the world or about our lives or whatever. The one thing that's solid is we trust. We trust.

 

Adam Williams (00:54:39): I hope that this, what I'm about to say, Mike, sounds like a positive as opposed to calling out your doubts or something here. You have a lifetime now of this faith in all its evolution, the doubts and transparency and all these things of that process. But as I ask you about faith, a man who is a pastor for 35 years and had a number of other years in the church working with youth.

 

I ask you a simple and incredibly complicated question, what is faith? And you're trying to put it into words. And I say that with positivity and appreciation because what that shows me is it's all an evolution and it doesn't stop, there's not a definition that we eventually arrive at like a destination, does that sound fair?

 

Mike Orrill (00:55:37): It's very fair. And I think for me that's the healthiest way to approach life is... Again, is not to put this boundary around me and say, "Okay, this is what I believe now and forever. Amen." That's just not reality to me. 20 years from now if I got another 20 years in me, I'm going to think differently about...

 

We would have this same conversation 20 years from now, probably going to be a very different kind of conversation and I think that's okay. I really do think that's okay. But I think that's a very hard place for a lot of people to be in today's world because people do want somebody...

 

I had a person tell me just the other day this person said, "I went to a church the other day and the pastor was talking about love and that we need to be compassionate toward people and to be loving, and it just sounded so wishy-washy. I just wanted him to tell me what it is I'm supposed to believe and that's all I wanted to know."

 

(00:56:46): And I go, "Wow." And that's not uncommon, it's really not an uncommon thing, it's just not me anymore. I find it really unhealthy. But again, I don't want to be judging of somebody in that space, if that's what somebody needs at this moment in their life, okay.

 

Adam Williams (00:57:09): They are in their evolution.

 

Mike Orrill (00:57:09): They're where they are in their evolution. And I love the word evolution, I really do. I love the word transformation.

 

Adam Williams (00:57:18): Mike I want to ask about... I explained for context where I was coming from in my experience with religion, it was from what I would describe as a fairly strict household. Again, I would say, "I don't like church. I don't want to go." Even as a teenager, "Well, you're going." And part of what over the years because I've spent decades trying to untangle in my mind and heart what it is I believe, where does that come from?

 

What is it that rubbed me wrong about that experience? And one of the key ones, especially now in this time and place has to do with inclusion versus exclusion. And I feel like what we see from my perspective in an awful lot of the more conservative forms of I'll say Christianity, it really is all religion, but I'll say Christianity simply because that's the largest.

 

(00:58:15): It's not even one aspect when you count all the denominations and perspectives within it, but it's the largest piece of religion, organized religion in our country and what I grew up around. So my experience with that and perception of that is, yes, we're about love. Love thy neighbor unless your neighbor is gay or unless they're this or they're that.

 

Because as we've said the preacher, the Bible, the certainty, the rules you were given said, "Nope, love thy neighbor – unless." I don't know how to square that. And I think that you have expressed here a broader view and one that is more accepting and loving and inclusive. I just want to hear your thoughts and perspective on my rambling thoughts and question there.

 

Mike Orrill (00:59:06): So if I'm hearing you the right way when you were growing up in church, one of the things that rubbed you the wrong way was that church was sort of a insular kind of place, closed door to certain kinds of folks, certain kinds of-

 

Adam Williams (00:59:20): It was enough them. But what I'm also including in this perspective is decades as an adult and my perception of so much of what we see. And again, a lot of that comes through in how organized religion is also carried into our politics. And so then it's carried into media and with the divisions among all of us rather than connections.

 

I think inclusion means that ultimately we come together in those relationships you described as a description of faith, it's breaking all of those connections down. It's breaking those relationships. It's saying you count but you don't. And I just can't get with an organized belief system that wants to divide us up that way.

 

Mike Orrill (01:00:03): Well, and I'm really happy you can't square that. I'm happy that you can't. Because with the way I understand the Christian faith, and the way I understand the heart of Judaism and Islam and Buddhism and all the other world religions that exist, the heart is all about inclusion, diversity, equity. Those are phrases that we hear a lot nowadays.

 

And so when your gut clutches when there's not that kind of thing going on in religious settings, it's right to clench, I think. And I can say that because I would've been 40 years ago the kind of person who was excluding of others, depending on maybe the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or gender identity. I know what you're saying because I've been there, said that, done that.

 

(01:01:13): But again over the years in my own revolution I've begun to realize... And for me, again, I'm looking at Jesus as my model, as my picture. I can't square exclusion with the person I know in Jesus. The way I like to do it now is a lot of us like to put circles or boundaries around us. It could be around our family, it could be around our church, it could be around our political belief, it could be around whatever.

 

We just like boundaries. And for me, faith, religion, Jesus, Christianity, all of that is about erasing those boundaries. It's all about removing those barriers, so that that all are welcome, and we say that pretty glibly. How many churches have we gone to? Or how many places have we gone to where their website says, "All are welcome." Well, all are welcome except...

 

Adam Williams (01:02:19): If, this big if, you meet these criteria.

 

Mike Orrill (01:02:22): If you change in this way you will be accepted here. Or they'll say things like maybe a little looser, they'll say, "Well, you'll be accepted here, but you're not allowed in leadership here." And I just don't think that kind of thinking has any place... it doesn't have any place in my understanding of the Christian faith anymore. I can't go there.

 

Adam Williams (01:02:49): I appreciate your sharing that there was that process from earlier in your life where your beliefs... and again, recognizing time in place. I grew up in a time in place in small rural Midwest where that was the more accepted general belief system. If I watch old TV shows say from the '80s or '90s and the way it treats homophobia as a joke or whatever. Of course, it's not hard to go back far enough and you get into a lot of racist things. This is all our evolution as a society and as a people too, and I think we need to allow room for that.

 

However, there's an awful lot of people I see who are not seeming to engage very quickly in the evolution that you described of yourself, where you came from a place that you were also it sounds like surrounded by sure racism and homophobia is part of this, but in your thinking and process and learning and growing as a human. You came to where we are both saying inclusion matters.

 

Mike Orrill (01:03:56): I think it's really at the heart, especially when we talk about inclusion of those marginalized people in our societies, it could be LGBTQ, it could be the poor, it could be of a race, a certain race. It could be exclusion of people who...

 

Adam Williams (01:04:14): Homeless.

 

Mike Orrill (01:04:15): .... are homeless or aren't educated. Here's a good one, here's a funny lighthearted one. In our church so when I was pastor we had a lot of us that went skiing. We skied all the time, that's all we did. And we had several people would tell us at church, "We don't feel welcome here because we don't ski."

 

And that's a really kind of a silly example, but it's an example of we can exclude people for any number of reasons, but we do have to allow people to have their own evolution also. And so my growing edge right now and I'm laughing here, but my growing edge right now is not to become judgmental of people who are judgemental.

 

(01:05:03): And not to become intolerant of people who are intolerant, because their story is their story also, and they are where they are for particular set of reasons. It could be the way they were raised, it could be I don't know whatever.

 

Adam Williams (01:05:18): Right.

 

Mike Orrill (01:05:18): So I want to be the kind of person and we're back full circle to kind of stories. I want to be the kind of person that can listen to your story, even if I am in a totally different place than you are.

 

Adam Williams (01:05:36): I mentioned a spiritual teacher, mentor in my life in recent years when I talked about fade, fight, fix. Another thing that comes to mind from that person is the idea that everyone is doing their work, that we should assume that everyone is working on being the best person that they can be. And that like you just said we're in different places, perhaps we have different reasons for that. But to give people that compassion and that space and to not judge where they are because they're not where you are.

 

(01:06:08): I just wanted to mention that as part of the process too and it's very difficult. I've mentioned on this podcast before, this is an aspirational practice in my life to come onto this podcast and be the best listener, to have the most compassion. Anyone can come sit opposite me and tell me whatever they have going on in their life or what their story has been and I'm not sitting here judging, I'm not picking a fight. But when I go walk down the street I might find it a little tough to not get aggravated at the person who does whatever that my ego now decides is rude, so far from perfect as well.

 

Mike Orrill (01:06:51): And I just think we have to own that. As much as I talk about being graceful toward each other, inclusive toward each other, I got my moments where I'm not that at all. And so we just have to recognize that that's part of being human as well.

 

Adam Williams (01:07:09): You reminded me of a story when you're talking about the teachings of Jesus and you had mentioned Buddha. And so I have in my mind to some extent without any great deep study I acknowledge, a thought about the two of those as sort of parallel or something. The idea of the teachings as opposed to the rules of a church, an organized church, the teachings love thy neighbor.

 

It's simple, it's basic, why can't we just have compassion and empathy and so on? And that my story, since we're trading stories here. I was on a plane a number of years ago and I was sitting next to two women, and the woman in the middle seat clearly was in charge in some sense. They seemed to be heading to some sort of conference or gathering that was related to their faith.

 

(01:07:56): And she took the book from her partner's hand, it had something to do with Jesus, I don't remember the title, being a carpenter or something of that nature. And she decided to strike up a conversation clearly with the intention of trying to convert, persuade, save me. And she asked me, "Would you read this book if I gave it to you?" And I was honest with her and I said, "No, I won't."

 

She stuck it into my hands and said, "Take it anyway." I said, "It's your friend’s. She was trying to read it. 'I'll get her another one. Don't worry about it.'" And she proceeded throughout the flight to continue trying to talk, trying to find an edge in. And I wasn't engaging in the conversation until the plane was on its way down to the ground to land.

 

(01:08:44): And I finally made mention of something to do with, in my mind, my thinking, a connection between Jesus and Buddha and teachings. And I didn't even get the sentence out of my mouth and she cut me off, "They are not the same." That was it. She had tried for a whole flight to get me to talk. And when I finally did she cut me off. She wouldn't let me give the book back. I felt bad for the other woman, and I never read the book, like I said I wouldn't, and I ended up taking it to a Goodwill at some point.

 

Mike Orrill (01:09:20): Boy, that sounds like a horribly uncomfortable flight. Just like, oh my gosh, I might have asked the flight attendant, "May I have another seat?"

 

Adam Williams (01:09:33): So I have a number of these experiences I think a lot of us do. Again, it's so refreshing to be able to talk with you. I know that our time is running out even though I would love to talk for hours more and I'm sure that we could. I want to ask you we've brought up the word compassion so many times. And I think that we can all feel no matter what our perspective of life in the world is right now, that we need something. We need something that's more connecting.

 

Compassion seems to me to be a key for that empathy. In your view, what is it that we can do to cultivate more of this compassion and a sense of empathy, better listening and sharing and openness maybe as individuals, but also as communities and society?

 

Mike Orrill (01:10:29): Well, two things come to mind. So you know that the churches are sometimes at each other's throats, individual denominations and so forth. The times though when I have found the churches and individuals who are widely diverse in their viewpoints about anything get together is when there's a tragedy. And they put their differences aside and they go and they do something for somebody else, they act compassionately.

 

And so when we would go on mission trips with other churches, if we would sit down and talk about theology we would clash. But when we would talk about we got to go put the roof on that house, we're all together completely. I think that's one very practical thing that we can do with each other is actually quit holding on tightly to our theological beliefs and thinking that that's the only place we can connect, and let's just do human compassionate works together.

 

(01:11:36): And then the second thing is a story by Mother Teresa. Somebody asked her once why she thought the world was in such a mess and she says, "I think it's because we've forgotten that we belong to each other." And so that's been a thing I've remembered it for years, is we just need to remember that we actually belong to each other. And if you zoom out from this planet earth and you just see this one little ball, that's it, that's all there is, there ain't nowhere else to go.

 

That's a good analogy that we're in this together and we're going to survive or fail or survive or destroy ourselves one way or the other. And when you zoom out of the earth and you see that, "We're all this together, we belong to each other." Maybe that's something important for us just to keep in mind every day.

 

Adam Williams (01:12:33): You and I both have some background in marketing, and that just gave me this idea of needing to do this big broad global campaign, “Earth, We're in this together.” And try to cultivate this idea that we're connected, that there is a ripple effect for everything that any of us do. Some people refer to that as karma. I don't know other words at the moment, but the idea is that whatever we do it's going to ripple and create reactions throughout everyone else. We're not headed in good places when we forget and we become disconnected emotionally, spiritually, and so on.

 

Mike Orrill (01:13:15): My son's in the military and he always has a saying that we will build the kind of world that we want, and I think we will build the kind of world that we want. Do we want something good or do we want clashing with each other? I think we have that potential and power within us to both heal and to destroy, and that sounds a little negative. I don't want to end on a real negative spot there, but we do have that power to heal the world and to bring together. I'm from the '60s, maybe that sounds a little bit too kumbaya-ish, but that's my background.

 

Adam Williams (01:13:55): Well, I think I am a bit naive in thinking that you described as well just moments ago, all these basic behaviors in my mind don't require a faith structure, an organized religion that creates all the boundaries and the hard edges and the divisions and even conflict.

 

There have been actual wars throughout history based on religion. When really if we come back to just remembering we're in it together, compassion, we belong to each other. Why does it need to be harder than that? That's my naive question that's in my mind and always has been. I didn't need to be forced to go to church to end up being a good person.

 

(01:14:41): I had shared with you before when we were not recording an experience I had when my oldest son was about to be born. And a religious woman that I worked with... I worked at a large corporation, it had nothing to do with religion, but she happened to be a faithful person who asked me what church we were going to take our newborn son to. And I said, "Well, we don't go to church." And her answer was, "Well, I guess serial killers have to come from somewhere."

 

The assumption being, "Well, clearly then we are the ones who are in the wrong, we're heathens, we're bad." And whatever way she imagines this, obviously, that's a cringe or the sort of disgusting thing to say to anyone, and about to be a new father, and as a representative of her faith to have such a horrible sort of comment.

 

Mike Orrill (01:15:32): That was pretty horrible.

 

Adam Williams (01:15:34): And again, I reassert that those of us who have been able to step back, you mentioned freedom. To me there's a freedom that when the lenses I use are in line more with Mother Teresa and let's just be good to each other. Let's belong to each other rather than use rules against each other.

 

Mike Orrill (01:15:58): If it's naive, then I'm probably naive as well. If it's simplistic, I'm probably simplistic as well. I know the problems of the world are profound, but love doesn't do wrong to a neighbor. If I have a certainty, if I have a certainty, it is that love understood not as a sentiment, but as a gutsy act of giving myself to another. I think love can solve the problems.

 

Adam Williams (01:16:33): Having courage to love.

 

Mike Orrill (01:16:36): It takes courage to love. Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Is there anything harder? Is there any harder statement than love your enemy or forgive those who hurt you? Those are profoundly difficult things, but I think they are answers to some of our issues that we are facing nowadays.

 

Adam Williams (01:17:01): I agree. Mike, unfortunately, we're out of time. I would love to keep talking with you. Given the experience that I've shared from my youth and my perspective on organized religion, it seriously, I think, had a chance to go differently had you been the influence in my life at that time.

 

I'm grateful for this conversation and any conversation that we have. You've shared so honestly here and put up with my challenging questions, my questions that challenge faith, so thank you.

 

Mike Orrill (01:17:35): Again, I am grateful to be here and your kind words, appreciate that. It's been good. Appreciate it.

 

[Transition music to outro comments, guitar and horns]

 

Adam Williams: OK. That was my conversation with Mike Orrill. If what he shared here today resonated with you, you can email comments to Lisa Martin, one of our producers at lmartin@chaffeecounty.org.

 

We invite you to rate and review that We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also welcome your spreading the word on your social media pages and telling your family, friends, and neighbors about the good work that we're doing here at Looking Upstream. Once again, I'm your host, Adam Williams.

 

Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN Radio where we recorded today's conversation in Salida, Colorado. To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design; Lisa Martin, producer and community advocacy coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Initiative; Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment; and Becky Gray, director of the Chaffee Housing Authority.

 

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing and is supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.

 

You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee.

 

Lastly, thank you for listening and until next time, as we say it at We Are Chaffee, “be human, share stories.”

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