How I Got to Where I Am Now

by

Two days ago, I posted an alert about the upcoming Hiroshima Day anniversary on the Google Group unofficially and loosely connected with my home meeting:

The website http://www.doonething.org/calendar/nonukesday.htm urges us to do one thing to eliminate the threat of nuclear destruction — like, for example, “It’s the perfect time to urge your Mayor to declare your city a Nuclear Free Zone.” But I venture to add another suggestion:

If you believe that God is almighty and listens to your prayers, take time on Hiroshima Day to pray that the whole world become a nuclear-free zone. Don’t be half-hearted or tentative; you don’t want God to be half-hearted or tentative about listening to you. Do something radical: kneel to make your prayer. Prostrate yourself to make your prayer. Sing it. Shout it. Dance it. Call up a friend on the phone and ask, “will you pray out loud with me?” and this way you’ll have a witness to what you did. Get up in the morning and fast until you’ve made your prayer. Or even better, and more to the point: ask God how to make your prayer about nuclear weapons. God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray. God is the best expert on it there is, and God is already there in the room with you. Make your prayer an event you’ll remember.

The nine nuclear powers are: The US, the UK, France, Russia, and China; India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_nuclear_weapons).

There are also “peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” meaning, mostly, use of radioactive material for the generation of electrical energy. but you may feel led to pray that these be phased out also, so that there may be no more Three Mile Island meltdowns, no more Chernobyls, no more Fukushima Daiichi disasters. (There have probably been more meltdowns than you know about: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_meltdown.)

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of money, and state power, and corporate influence arrayed against your tiny little wish. The Ruler of the universe, the Inventor of the atomic nucleus, the Ultimate Comforter of every victim of nuclear warfare and nuclear bullying is on your side. Nothing is too hard for God.

In this posting, the reader will notice, I make some statements about God that invite the question, “How does the writer know these things?” And that’s just the question that a Friend asked in a private e-mail. (The statements about God that I see as most inviting that question are “God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray” and “The Ruler of the universe… is on your side. Nothing is too hard for God.”) Now I could have tried to answer the Friend with proof-texts and exegetical arguments, but if the Friend doesn’t accept scripture as authoritative, I’m out of luck, aren’t I? And anyway it would be disingenuous, because I got these statements not out of scripture but out of the knowledge of God that I believe God planted in my own heart. So I wrote a longish letter back to the Friend explaining how I got from being a child atheist to a born-again follower of Jesus who can dare to claim some knowledge of God’s character and intentions toward us. I think that some readers of this blog may find it interesting. The only thing in it I’d correct is that I referred to my father as a “bad-tempered alcoholic.” Well, he was, but not after he got sober, when I was turning eleven; and then he stayed sober till he died, thirty years later. And even before that, he was a faithful husband and father, a dedicated teacher, and a hard worker who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. I’m inserting a little pictorial tribute to him before I go on (yes, his hands were almost that huge):

Everything I Know about Drawing Moon Faces

Everything I Know about Drawing Moon Faces

My letter follows:

Thanks for asking. I’m really grateful for the question, and hope I can do the truth justice. I’ll do my best to speak simply from my own experience. As you can see from the headline of my announcement, “Thursday, August 6 is Hiroshima Day,” I’m very fallible; August 6 is today, Wednesday.

I was raised an atheist. My mother, a gentle soul who put flies out the window rather than swat them, an admirer of Gandhi, told me she believed in the power of Love, but didn’t go into details. My father, a bad-tempered alcoholic who’d been raised by a strict Irish Catholic mother who forbade little boys to “touch themselves” (clueless me! I had no idea what Grandma was talking about). He was in violent reaction against religion, and despised it all as a huge fraud foisted on the masses by the ruling class (“but don’t tell Grandma that you believe that”). When I was nine or ten, some time before my father turned to a Higher Power, sobered up and joined AA, I knelt and prayed to God, angrily, that if He wanted people to believe in Him He shouldn’t make Himself invisible! Oh, what a fool I felt like! How my father would shame me if he’d seen me on my knees! But how I wanted to know whether or not there was a God, because I’d been cursed with a philosophical mind that had to understand the basic principles of existence!

As I grew up, I came to loathe Christianity, which, as I was exposed to it, considered everyone a damnable sinner unless they agreed with its notions, which, however, it could not prove by the ordinary rules of evidence I’d been raised to trust in. In fact it contained a wicked Catch-22 right near the end of its sacred text, The Bible: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8, King James Version). Can you beat that? First it makes me fearful as all hell, and then it throws me into the lake of fire for being fearful! To hell with that! And this Bible is supposed to be about a God who is Love?

But then came the sixties, and first the activist revolution (during which I almost converted to Marxism, but lacked faith in the right-mindedness of the working class) and then the psychedelic and “New Age” spiritual revolution. On an LSD trip I became convinced that there were invisible worlds inhabited by invisible intelligences. I wanted to know more. I read the literature of Zen, Yoga, Sufism, Theosophy, the occult, and the pseudo-shamanism of Carlos Castaneda. I wanted to open my chakras, raise my kundalini, encounter the nagual, and experience enlightenment, with a hunger that even seemed to out-burn my desire for sex and love. I dropped out of graduate school, left my first wife, and became a wandering hippie. During this time I read the Bible, having been tipped off by the occultists that it was full of hidden wisdom. I also remember telling my aunt that I felt so bad about walking out on my first wife that I’d rather die than do anything like that again.

One year after I left my wife (to the day!) I almost got my wish. My new girlfriend Deon, then three months pregnant by another man (this was the sixties, you’ll remember), asked me if I’d take her out to get a hamburger, because there were so many people standing around in our communal kitchen getting stoned that she couldn’t fix herself food there. I agreed. Two friends came along with us, John Butler and Michelle Silverman. It was night. It was the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco, on February 17, 1969. John Butler, black, and Michelle, white, were walking about twenty paces ahead of Deon and me. We’d almost gotten to the all-night diner when three bikers jumped out of a parked car, shouting the “N” word, and ran up behind John with obvious intent to do him violence. I squeezed Deon’s hand and sprinted forward, shouting “Hey, man, that’s my brother!” It would have been one of the last things John heard. The man called Crazy Mike, who’d been killing for thrills since age 12, stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife, piercing his heart. He died on the spot. The man called Moose whirled around, hitting me on the left cheekbone with a wine bottle, breaking the eyesocket and giving me the deep-set eyes I now have. As I reeled from the impact, Crazy Mike whirled around and stabbed me in the abdomen, punching through diaphragm, liver, kidney and intestines. “Come on,” one of the murderers said to his buddies, “let’s get out of here.” As I lay on the sidewalk, a strange calm came over me. I knew that I was bleeding internally, and was in shock, which was keeping the pain at a tolerable level, and might die within minutes or even seconds. I remembered the instructions from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: Pay attention. Deon ran up to me, sobbing. I urged her to be calm; “It’ll be all right.”

And then a well-groomed young man in a trenchcoat walked up to me, knelt beside me, and asked, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” I thought very fast. I knew that, whatever God’s theology might be, He didn’t approve of liars, and I might be meeting God very soon, so I’d have to give a truthful answer to this person. And I’d need to keep it simple. I knew, from the Biblical accounts, that Jesus had laid down his life of his own accord (John 10:15), surrendering so that others might be spared (John 18:8), and was not crucified because of any bad karma of his own earning that might make him “deserve” it: therefore His death on the cross was His gratuitous gift to me. This allowed me to truthfully call Him my Savior. It didn’t mean that the Buddha, Socrates, Marx and Gandhi couldn’t also be “saviors” to me, but I wasn’t being asked about them. So “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do.”

“Good,” he answered. “That’s all that’s necessary.” And he got up and walked away. In a moment, the police arrived, and I got taken in an ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital. I woke up full of tubes and pain. I kept that encounter with the street-evangelist pretty much to myself over the coming years. Frankly, I was embarrassed to have called Jesus my personal Savior; it was like admitting I was bisexual, or weak and cowardly, or a failure and a fool.

Seventeen years later, when my first child was almost a year old, I felt the need of a faith community to raise my child in, and found my way to Fifteenth Street Meeting. It was very tolerant and welcoming, traits I still value. But if I am to call myself a Quaker, I wondered, am I to call myself a Christian also? My biggest quarrel was with Paul who, in Romans 1:24-32, showed that he despised homosexuals, and in 1 Corinthians 14:34, that he silenced women. If I can’t accept the New Testament, I reasoned, I can’t call myself a Christian. I re-read Romans 1:24-32, continuing on to Romans 2:4, where Paul describes God’s eagerness to forgive sinners as the very thing that makes sinners repent and fall in love with God. I saw that Paul may have had his own prejudices against gay people, but their arguable damnability was not the point of his writing, but God’s magnanimity. When I got home to my son’s mom, I quietly announced that I now considered myself a Christian. To my amazement, she didn’t even question it.

Then I started having auditions. The first one was “I give ear:” said in a majestic voice, as if from the other end of the universe, entirely within my mind. Some years later, when I was tempted to commit adultery and wondered what we might do if the door were closed behind her, I heard “NO!” I obeyed at once and put the thought away. A few years later than that, as I was at worship in the meeting house, obsessively berating myself for something foolish or hurtful I’d once said or done, I heard that same voice say “That sin is forgiven! Put it away!” – and soon after that, but on a different day, “I will not let you fall into sin.”

About ten years ago I was told by a respected elder that I carried a gift of healing, which she blessed and sealed in Christ’s name. Well, I thought, people do tell me that my touch relieves headache, but I’m not going to expect cancer cures. Then one morning I woke up with my palms buzzing and a voice in my mind – that voice again – saying “This anointing is for real: don’t abuse it.” And some years later: “I give you the gift of effective prayer.” Today I wouldn’t necessarily expect a cancer cure as a result of my prayer, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

This was not the only gift or calling I believe I was given to carry, but it illustrates my experience of growing in the new life in Christ. I agree that it could all be a delusion, and that reality doesn’t really work that way, and that I need to be deprogrammed or given lithium, but I invite any skeptic to consider the saying of Jesus, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). If my inward experiences can be shown to be making me more arrogant, quarrelsome, and unforgiving, then maybe I should take lithium. But if not – if, rather, they’re seen to make me sweeter and more compassionate, then I’d say to the skeptic, let’s see where this new life in Christ leads, and if you can’t bless it, at least please tolerate it.

Recently I’ve had impressed on me the character of the God of all creation, as revealed by Jesus. Forget the questions of whether His mother was a virgin, whether He rose from the dead, and whether well-meaning people might have doctored the story to air-brush out all the warts and blemishes in the historical record. They are less important than this: Jesus said, and here I paraphrase, “Know my Heavenly Father, who is also your Heavenly Father. He is like what you see Me to be. I wish the liberation of all people from this bondage to oppressors, this fear of death, this endless ignorance and suffering. I am willing to pay for that liberation with My own suffering, even to death by crucifixion. I will forgive all, even My own betrayers and murderers, because God is Love and that’s what Love demands; so will God forgive everyone everything, if they will just come to God and be willing to receive it. Trust in God, who is eternally like this, and who has the power to give you courage, and patience, and wisdom, and kindness, beyond what you dreamed could be yours, so that even this world of fear and pain can be experienced as the outskirts of Paradise, soon put behind us like a bad dream. All that you have read in Scripture about God being vengeful or wrathful is not true. People fear God because they project their own bad consciences onto Him and flee into the darkness rather than face the Light that stands ready to heal and perfect them, now and always. So do not fear, but come and be healed by the God that always intended your perfection. If you are a Jew, come to God as a Jew. If you are a Muslim or a Hindu, come as a Muslim or Hindu; if you are confused about what to believe, come as a confused person.” I am now on fire with this Gospel, and I think that it’s the key to the world’s practical problems, from war and hunger to the ecological crisis that’s now threatening all life on earth.

I can now answer your question directly, which was, “How do you know all this?” How do I know, for example, that God is almighty and hears prayer, that “God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray,” or that nothing is too hard for God? And my answer is, because I’ve been granted a new kind of knowing, a knowing that’s not in the mind but in the heart. I don’t know how I know these things about God, and I would truly want God to rebuke and correct me if I overstep my measure of light and say things about God that are untrue. But when God said to me, “I give ear,” I believe that God not only assured me that He/She/It listens always, but also announced that He/She/It was giving me an ear to hear with. And what I hear with that ear, I must also speak.

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One Response to “How I Got to Where I Am Now”

  1. treegestalt Says:

    “Lately it occurs to me
    what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

    Still is. But it did seem like many of us got touched by Grace like a falling sandbag… That’s still happening, but it seems easier now. (Maybe we’ve gotten easier?)

    Well, I’m tempted to bother you with writings of my own (but maybe not just yet!)

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