Saturday, May 31, 2008

Get that boy to church!

I decided to go to my friend's church because it was, according to her, a very simple and authentic church. And she was right. It was basically a shack with some lawn chairs in it. I loved it! I thought all of the decor of the episcopal churches I had been to was a waste of money and all that mattered was the word of God.

And this is where things started to go wrong. Somewhere between my quest for God when I was 12 and when I started attending this church I had developed a decent sense of right and wrong. I was a tree hugger. I was for animal rights, human rights, women's rights, you name it. So when people started telling me what to think and what to say I was taken aback. I don't recall the exact sermons but every time I was called a sinner I could feel something inside being turned off.

But I stuck with it. I went to some Christian rock concerts. This was something of a culture shock for me. I was into techno, industrial, some metal, and some punk when the mood was right. I knew the difference between listening to music that was debasing and music that had a forceful message. Dead Kennedys songs would make a fundamentalist's ears bleed but their songs spoke of oppression, politics, and cynicism in popular culture. So when I attended a youth group meeting that listened to pop music and decided if it was OK for young Christians like myself to listen to I was downright angry. I mean, really, is Wilson Phillips going to corrupt young Christian hearts? (yes, they really had a problem with Wilson Phillips)

The message I was getting was that people are stupid and can't think for themselves. If we don't guide their every move then they might stray from the path and do something that would send them to hell. Well, that's what the Catholic church did a long time ago. Granted, their methods of enforcement were a bit harsh (sarcasm) but the overarching idea was the same.

Well, people aren't stupid. I think they appear to be stupid because they have been raised in that very same environment that treats them that way. Rather than teach people to think for themselves we are raised thinking that we aren't quite good enough to accomplish that. But if that's the case then how did the people telling me what to listen to get so smart? It all goes back to Genesis, we all are able to decide right from wrong, our ancestors "ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." It's in our genes. Whether you believe it was something we inherited from Adam and Eve or whether you think we evolved the framework for morals out of the need to survive, we all have the ability.

As you can see, I was quickly growing tired of the establishment bringing my Jesus high down. And the last straw came when I went to church one day and they were taking up a special collection to buy wooden pews. The lawn chairs weren't good enough for our asses to worship in and we weren't Amish so the thought of everyone pitching in and making them didn't occur to anyone (it only occurs to me now as I write this). It seems like a silly reason to stop going to church. Perhaps I was looking for an excuse. But I had my standards and I figured it wouldn't end with just pews. (talk about building a church from the ground up!)

My high was over. The buzz was gone. Reality was back. That was the last time I went to church of my own accord, roughly 18 years ago. But I didn't stop believing at that point. I decided that my faith simply didn't need a church, that my "relationship" with God would be strictly personal.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Getting high with Jesus!

I'm sure that title will offend some, but that is not my intent. I was serious before when I said that being saved, being born again, felt like being high. I doubt many true-believers out there have smoked pot so take my word for it.

But I don't mention this to either cheapen the experience of worship or exalt pot-heads. I simply want to put things into proper context. What I experienced was not the result of a lifetime of religious schooling. You can go through all the religious schooling you want and you might never feel the experience of being "born again."

I have felt the effects of both legal and illegal substances on my brain and body and being born again goes right up there with the best of them. But it was not without side-effects, as I found later on. And like some drugs, I craved the feeling more when it started to go away.

I was friends with a girl from my college at the time who by all outward appearances seemed like her Prozac prescription needed to be reduced, but it was, as far as I could tell, just Jesus.

So what are the side-effects? The comedian in me would say salvation and rapture. But seriously, there was a bit of paranoia in me during that time. At first I worried that the feeling would go away, which it did. Then I worried that I had done something wrong to make it go away. I worried that I wasn't doing all the right things, that I would slip up and spend eternity in hell. But I didn't get the munchies, so at least it had that over smoking pot!

So, I think it is correct to say that religion is a powerful thing. It is mind altering. And in that respect I can understand why some people do good things under its influence and why some people do horrible things under its influence. But like I said before, it was an impulse buy. I had been shopping around for something and it seemed like a good deal. I'm sure I will hear from some that my heart just wasn't in it. That I wasn't REALLY saved. And those people will probably smile when they imagine me burning in hell. I think, perhaps, that I set my goals too high. I think I didn't read the packaging well enough before purchasing.

So I will end this post by saying with religion, like all other things, it's buyer beware.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The search begins!

It's 1989, I'm 18, I'm living in a small north Florida town and there's not much to do and not many people to talk to.

This is before the least before it was available to the masses, so as an introverted geek I didn't have many places to turn. I had a huge love of science, astronomy, physics, and most of all computer programming. I had lots of time to think about the world but mostly all I thought about was how sad I was.

Thinking back it it now I see that I would have been vulnerable to something like Scientology had I met someone who offered a reading. I subscribed to a magazine called New Age Journal. I had lots of ideas on my place in the universe. But mostly, I was lonely.

I happened to take a college course on philosophy and religion. This provided me with tons of options to try out.

  • One week I was praying to the east, but the origins of Islam made me doubt its authenticity.
  • The next I was studying Buddha. I still like much of what Buddhism has to offer, minus all the mystic mumbo-jumbo.
  • I never got past the shear number of Gods that Hinduism offered. There seems to be no shortage of miracles that happen in India...statues of Gods that cry tears of milk and such. (Now, if there was a Hindu comedian who could make milk come out my nose when I wasn't drinking any then I might reconsider!)

None of these offered me the feeling I was searching for. I stuck with reading about how quantum physics would somehow offer us all of the answers and how the vibrations of crystals could help to heal us. But the next semester I took a music class and without even trying I found myself sucked back into Christianity.

We were assigned music reviews. We had to complete 3 concert reviews by the end of the semester. Being a poor college student I attended whatever was free. There happened to be a Christian rock concert playing on the campus so I went just to be review it. But I left there saved. The right words at the right time in my life made me close my eyes, bow my head, and raise my hand and accept Jesus as my savior.

It was an easy thing to do. One doesn't contemplate it, one just does it. I compare it now to an impulse buy at the supermarket. You go in for bread and milk and come out with bread, milk, and a magazine you just had to have! But when you've gone a year searching for answers without finding any, being saved feels good. It felt right.

I remember being led into another room where they took down my information. I was offered answers, I was offered the way to salvation, and I received prayer and a pamphlet on where I could go to church. I went with a group of kids from the campus that night to a restaurant. I felt like I was finally a part of something. I felt elated. It felt like I was high. The feeling one gets from being born again is very similar to the feeling you get when you smoke pot.

But I awoke the next morning with butterflies. Where had that feeling gone? I wanted it back. I guess I needed to go to church...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another early experience

I was around 5 years old and was living with my grandparents on my mom's side. We were going to move to Scotland within the next year, my dad had already moved there and my mom wanted to spend time with her parents before we moved.

My grandparents lived in a double-wide on the Homosassa river. My grandfather had owned a lot of land and the house my mom grew up in had been about 500 meters away at a high point, away from the threat of floods that can easily take over a house in Florida. I'm not sure of all the circumstances but at some point they sold much of the land and the small orange grove and moved closer to the river. I still remember the long driveway lined with orange trees, the palm trees, the swampy area that housed the gator that ate my grandparent's dog, the dock extending out into the river. I remember climbing into a tall orange tree, at least at that age I thought it was tall, and basking in the smell of orange blossom. I remember all of this every time I peel an orange and the spray fills my nose with all these powerful memories. Oranges will forever remind me of these times.

But I'm here to write about my religious experiences and my path to self awareness. One night the power went out. Something that any adult will deal with in stride but for a 5 or 6 year-old it's a scary experience. The candles were lit. My grandmother's praying Jesus-hand sculpture was lit by the flickering light. I knelt down and prayed something like, "Dear Lord, I'm scared. Please turn on the lights. Amen." And I kid you not, the lights came on that very moment. It was as if I had brought the dead back to life, my mom and grandmother were ecstatic! According to them ours was the only house on the river with lights.

This stuck with me for a long, long time afterward. I thought I was something special. Of course, subsequent prayers went unanswered. To this day I wish that particular prayer had been ignored and the one where I win the lottery had been heard!

But prayer to a child is often a selfish thing. My son still wants to pray at bedtime, and I still pray with him. But I make sure that rather than just praying for sweet dreams that we ask for God to watch over our loved ones. Even that is selfish now that I think of it. It seems logical in a "selfish gene" sort of way. I wonder how many people, out of 6 billion, actually think about all of the people in need. Even with billions of people following the word of God we have millions out there who suffer. According to there are 3.6 billion Christians and Muslims combined and about a billion atheists/non-believers. If over half the world's population either thinks that Jesus was God or at least his prophet, then there should be no strife in the world because 50% of us should love our neighbors. But it is the Christian and Islamic nations that seem to cause today's non-natural strife (as opposed to natural strife, like earthquakes).

Anyway, I'm rambling. I just thought I would mention that when I was a kid I prayed for light and there was light, and it was good.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I finally read the bible

I stayed out of church until I was about 12. At that age I guess I started getting curious about life and death and decided I would read the bible.

I didn't finish.

I skipped a lot. The whole this "guy begot that guy" part was very boring.

I questioned a lot and this is where my parents were useless. In Genesis when it says God create light I wondered how it what when there wasn't light. What it negative light? Black light? My mom said I shouldn't ask questions like that.

The biggest problem I had with Genesis was the whole tree of knowledge story. The way I translated it I figured the rest of the book was up to us to decide what we should follow since Adam and Eve got the ability to think for themselves once they ate from the tree. So, all of their descendants would have that ability. After that I didn't read the book with the idea that it was all true and infallible.

But reading it wasn't enough, so I dragged my parents to church. We found an Episcopal church and I went for a few months. I was torn by the wonderful beauty of the church with the idea that it seemed a big waste of money that could have gone to something better.

Thinking back on it now, I must not have paid much attention while reading the bible because now I know there are parts of it that are pretty appalling.