Awakening Part 4
I will condense years into sentences, but the next 10 years were quite eventful. I graduated from Valley Forge with my BS in Bible and soon found that knowledge of scripture and theology does not immediately translate into food and rent payments. While waiting for the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do in lieu of youth ministry, I found an unexpected talent in the computer sciences and gained employment as a network engineer (like almost every minister that I know that didn’t go directly into the ministry – there is an interesting correlation here). Eventually, we moved back to Richmond Virginia to be closer to my family and to start a family of my own.
I began to work in my church in the worship ministry, playing guitar for Sunday morning worship. Our church was musically very progressive, so I was able to pour my heart out through my electric guitar to about 4,000 people a week. At the request of my senior pastor, I began to create a ministry to appeal to post-modern young adults, which I relished. I just slid back into my role in the church, better educated and ready to do whatever God set before me.
In an extremely unexpected way, the death of Pope John Paul II in April of 2005 was to be the final beginning of the end for my faith.
As a Protestant, I had never given any thought to the Papacy or ever learned much about Catholic beliefs or tenants outside of a couple of Chick tracts that even the majority of my fellow church members recognized as insane. Watching the ceremonies on CNN sparked an interest in me to discover what these Mary-worshipping idolaters really believed – once again, in my hubris, I figured that my Protestantism would certainly prove to be superior in every way – for goodness sake, the maniacs believed in transubstantiation! So I began to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church and compare their arguments for their beliefs to mine. What I found astounded me.
On a point by point basis, the Catholic theology was in every way as scripturally supported and in some ways more rational than the beliefs that I held. Sola Scriptura and Sola Fides were the hinge points that most of the disagreements revolved around and to my amazement, the Catholic answers were persuasive. For the first time in my life, I actually began to realize that it was possible that the faith that I had been raised in and had built my world around was not the correct one. My presumptions and hubris had kept me from ever reading or hearing any arguments could have changed my mind or even honestly challenge my faith. If you have ever faced this moment, you will agree how shattering it is – all of the innate superiority and bigotry that you have ever produced within yourself turns on you, pointing back at you like the finger of Charon. For the first time, I allowed myself to think that perhaps I had been taught incorrectly – and if they were wrong about this, what else in my mind was waiting to be overthrown? Was my faith simply an accident of birth?
If my mother had become a Muslim, would I be asking my questions to Allah instead?
This was both an intensely frightening and paradoxically exhilarating time in my intellectual life. I knew that no person, no book, no website could solve this problem for me because every person, book, or website that I consulted presented the rationale of the scriptures from their own presumed point of view. I, for the first time in my life of faith, could not lean on presumptive authority to determine truth from fiction – I had to believe that I could trust my mind and opinions in a way that would have been unthinkable before this revelation. As an engineer I had been responsible for multi-billion dollar financial assets, all under the direct control of my hand and mind, yet I was horrified to discover that I did not have the confidence to judge simple matters of truth and fiction in my own faith.
I now know this to be a direct result of the most dangerous kind of belief – the unreasoned and irrational faith.
At the end of the same April, my ex-wife and I attended a 3 day conference that was the culmination of months of preparation in small group meetings, study, and prayer. The name of the program was “Cleansing Streams” and its purpose was to heal wounds from the past through the power of Christ in a sort of prayer based regression therapy. It was our second trip in two years; in fact, we led a small group this time because we felt that our first experience had been so deeply impacting. We went looking for a touch in our lives, a healing that could only come through the awesome power of Christ. I went looking for a miracle to help me to discern the truth that I was seeking.
Instead, I found myself sitting outside on the sidewalk, fighting for breath, my mind filled with confusion and revulsion. The pavement was warm beneath me as I sat with my back against the building – I could still hear the speaker through the wall and all that I wanted was to get away from that voice. What he had said and the context that he had said it in had offended me in a way that I could not begin to describe. Something awesome had awoken in me that day – I was disgusted, my moral sense was affronted, and I was finding it difficult not to go inside and drag my wife out to the car. If I had remained in the room I would have either have screamed defiance or succumbed to his will; there was no way that I could have remained without breaking myself or my mind. I sat until the voice stopped and then I slowly walked back in, purposeful and angry.
I’m sure that the second conference was no different than the first, but my perceptions certainly had changed. Maybe it was from my age or my present struggle with my questions concerning my faith, but I was overwhelmed by the anti-rational, anti-thought, anti-personal, and overly emotional atmosphere. We were told to pray, to line up, and to recite prayers specifically without thought or reflection. We were specifically told not to think, but to do and that God would take care of the details. In the hyper-charged emotional air of the meeting, I was immediately struck by the unhesitant willingness of all of the participants to do what ever they were told to do. I told my ex-wife later that if they had started handing out grape Kool-aid a la Jonestown, everyone in the room would have immediately lined up and gone to their deaths. The horrifying unthinking faith of the participants to do what ever they were told struck me as demeaning and in some deep way evil.
Had I followed such a voice without thought? Had I willingly given up my personal moral integrity in the name of faith? Was I one of those who simply followed without reason or rationality? These questions burned in my mind, demanding an answer. In confusion, I remember praying for God to please answer me, to give me some understanding of what I was feeling – to just respond. There was no answer; the sky was shut.
When we left to return to Richmond, I carried with me a cold emptiness and confusion that I was determined to conquer. My method was plain before me – I would rationally and without presupposition start to read the scriptures and determine the truth about my faith. I would seek God and His heart to determine the truth no matter what the cost.
In a last attempt to find the answers that I sought within my childhood faith, I arranged a special prayer meeting with some trusted leaders in my church to specifically address my concerns. I simply poured my heart out to them, communicating my doubts and fears. We began to pray, fervently seeking God – and I could feel the same unconscious manipulation of being told to say certain words, to not think, to in effect give up myself in the name of healing. I remember disappointment building into tears – tears that drove me to my knees in pure anguish. Not anger at the people I was praying with, for they were and still are well intentioned, but at the unthinking belief that had brought me to this place.
I determined that night that whatever I had believed in the past, I would never again reject the power of my own mind or the simplicity of my innate moral sense. That night I became an individual, much to the detriment of my faith.
After the meeting I remember getting into my car and telling God that I simply needed him to show up. I needed him; I begged him to reveal himself to me, to please help me find the answers to my doubts and questions. I needed a touch from heaven – and I never received it.
I was determined to find the truth. Why was my innate self pressing back so furiously against my experiences? My religious teaching told me that it was simply rebellion against God and his working in my life, but I knew in my heart of hearts that this was simply false. I knew that I sincerely wanted to know God and experience him, but it seemed that every avenue of faith led to a dead end, to an abandonment of my true self; an abandonment of my mind. I was even more determined to prayerfully search the scriptures and find the truth – to find my path.
And I would find my path, though it would lie in a completely unexpected direction.
This, my gentle reader, brings me full circle back to that certain warm fall day.