Grace & Peace 06/29/2015

I2ZDRLRBNSAll along I was visiting and learning from a student, Nick, who began to unfold for me the truth behind the Bible. He talked about how I could have a relationship with God that was alive and not just understanding words on a page. But I had retreated deeply. I was a LONG way from the island. Turning me would take more than words. Nick planted the seed, though he never saw the flower of faith bud, he did his job.

The real journey of faith is not the journey of salvation, rather the steps we take once that glorious truth is realized. My steps to holiness encompass more than the removal of small pebbles of behavioral change. I really had few behaviors that spiritual mentors saw as unbecoming. Others struggled with their sexuality, or drinking, or smoking. My struggle was WAY bigger than that. The first thing I had to do was decide whether or not I hated God. Strangely enough, I never doubted the existence as some of the cowards at college chose to do. No, I chose to fight the battle.

Was God “malicious” and “indiscriminate” and “inscrutable” as Melville described him? I have to say, that was my starting point. As I looked through my young life, it seemed the divine organizer had lost sight of me. Either He did not care or He hated me as much as I hated Him. So the first thing I had to do was decide if God really cared about me. When I focused on my circumstances, I concluded a resounding no. Words on a page or poetry in a song did not have the power to change that. I attended Campus Crusade for Christ get togethers on Fridays and even led small groups. Something different was needed. God chose to use my defiant nature to His advantage, at times against my desire. I became the resident defender of a faith I was not sure I had. I began to argue for God instead of with Him. I asked professors for a time to openly debate in class. I launched an open forum at school to receive every challenge against faith someone had. I received the very barbs I had delivered to others. I kept telling people the only reason they could not believe was that they were afraid. It was not their mind that had to be converted; it was their heart. And I got to see lives begin a path to transformation. It was exciting. I read and I read and I read. This time I was reading the Bible and all things related to it.

Grace & Peace 06/15/2015

chainsI knew I wanted more. Melville haunted me,
“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar. ”
I wanted somehow to soar. Then I began to read Milton and was magnetically attracted to the one character I should have rejected. The star of Paradise Lost was clearly Lucifer, and I fell in love with his never give in to God attitude. He says,
“So farewell hope, and with hope, farewell fear, Farewell remorse! All good to me is lost… Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
I was most definitely on a dangerous path. I had come to wonder why I felt so strongly about some of my ideals. I held firmly to the thought that the perception of reality is more real than reality. I would shout at the top of my lungs, “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.” (Paul Simon) I grew weary with the never-ending academic “yes but…” College was filled with pawns who discarded every idea thrown their way in favor of their own perception and puppet masters who rewarded students who regurgitated their ideas back to them. Ideas became selfish delusions for me. I even laughed out loud at professors and ridiculed ideas that seemed ludicrous or sometimes challenged just for fun. I became as good at arguing as I was at basketball. But it was all so hollow. I wanted more. So I kept reading and reading and reading. I averaged more than a book a day for the next ten years. Milton continued to echo…”But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself is his own dungeon.”
No matter what I learned from my reading, I still felt myself a prisoner. My heart was not satisfied though my mind was always racing. My mind was not going to be able to free me from the chains.

Grace & Peace 06/08/2015

lonely_manAs I flipped through my books, there was no shortage of support for my melancholy attitude. It seemed that wherever I looked, I found some agreement that life was a bit unfair and only as good as you make it. I was drawn to Hamlet and Macbeth, Ahab and Lucifer, Odysseus and Santiago, Job. I loved his fight. The cynicism was exponentially supported by Melville to the point where he and I began to laugh at the oddest times as I read.

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”

In the depths of despair lies cynicism and deeper still apathy. As I began to care less about people and especially about how they felt or thought about really anything, I withdrew into a morbid laughter. It actually made the people around me angry to the point where they did not want to be with me at all. Isolation though was my goal. Have nothing to do with them. Live in silence. “I touch no one an no one touches me.” (Paul Simon)

All through college I spiraled into self. No dates with the ladies, not one in six years, no going to the movies, no parties, no drinking. Instead I retreated to the basketball court and played with venom for hours on end. Work, read, play basketball. There was nothing else in my life. I now know the exercise probably kept me from a permanent fate. I just played because it felt good to dominate something. I knew a change would help and I needed a big change. I found myself enjoying dreary weather and stayed long hours in my room reading and listening to music. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me. I am shielded in my armor…I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It laughter and the one thing I disdain. I am a rock.” (Paul Simon) I found myself envying Ishmael in the story, at least he had the courage to take a journey.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

I knew something had to change but had no idea how to do it and did not even know if I could do it.

Grace & Peace 06/01/2015

bookI find myself rereading things I read thirty and forty years ago, sometimes fascinated by my own notes and the words I underlined. I have come to realize that these ideas from books and songs have molded my own thinking and even prepared me for many of the challenges of life. Of course I had no idea at the time what my life would be like and had some really big ideas for my future. Over the summer, I plan to reflect on some of the thoughts I found underlined in my dusty old books or heard on an old 8 track. Ha!
I first became captivated with thinking about God when I read Herman Melville. Interestingly enough, he was not a Christian. My passion for the scriptures would not come till years later. For me, Moby Dick was a spiritual adventure, a roller coaster that threw me in and out of hope and despair. It ended miserably. Yet I was drawn to Ahab and his defiant spirit. I was accustomed to watching westerns on TV, shows where the good guy always wins and everyone is happy in the end. My family sort of fed that life view and my parents worked hard at making life a joyous adventure. This was my first real struggle with the reality that not everything comes up roses. As I looked back, I realized that I had been warned that such a journey is dangerous.
Melville writes, “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”
So begins the journey into hopelessness. It begins innocently enough with a thought that maybe something is a bit unfair. Perhaps I should be treated better than I have been; after all, I am a good person. I deserve better. As a young man I was enraged at what I considered unfair in life and this was before marriage, before children. I still remember some of the things I thought were so unfair: lost love, my dog died, homelessness, parents too far away to help, isolation, loneliness, betrayal, fighting for a dollar…whew!
My parents had created a beautiful island for me, lush beauty, a place where we treated others fairly and with dignity, where we resolved differences with a hug and laughed a lot, ate meals together, went camping all over the world, campfires, rainstorms, palaces, hamburgers, smores, all was right with the world.
Then I pushed off. Sometimes I think I got pulled off but have come to realize that the hardest and best ideals have to be chosen and refined in the fires of will and trials. They cannot be chosen for you. Once I left the island my parents created, my view of God became something like Melville’s. I saw God as a bit of a tyrant, rather unscrupulous and even malicious. It took a long time to find my way back to the island.