When I was a little boy I had stolen from my brother to buy ice cream cones. The joy and adventure of leaving home on my own, and the slight pleasure of sweet, refreshing, creamy flavors for just a couple metal coins overwhelmed my little soul. This became an ongoing thing. Knowing the big change jar that had piled up funds for years was slowly dwindling and my much, much, older, larger and less sympathetic brother might notice and terrify or kill me, I took the only step I knew how. I was sure if the penalty I laid over my head was severe enough, that I would be able to find self control. I addressed the creator of the universe, “If I ever steal from my brother again, God, you can send me to hell.” Wow, I aimed high and took risks as an 8 or so year old. As if he needed my permission. It didn’t take long. My desire overtook me and I stole, and I ate. I lived the rest of my early childhood in a continual fear of death. I was doomed.
Time went by and I found things to distract myself with. I pondered the idea of God. People presented me the Gospel: Believe in Jesus, that He died in your place for your sins, that He was raised from the grave, turn from your sins, believe in Him and call Him Lord and you shall be saved. And if you weren’t saved, then what!? Hell. The idea of Hell was overwhelming for me. I had been pondering this since I was about 8 years old. Constantly. I had finally found the distraction of sexuality, soon drugs, and alcohol, to keep me from such a harsh potential reality. Now these Christians were laying this idea before me yet again. I figured, I’m not so bad. Sure I have an anger problem, but I am surely angry and frustrated at myself or situations much more than at people. I seek to be kind. I had no idea who God was. But I figured He ought not send anyone to Hell, and at the very least just reserve it for the most horrendous people. I can even remember thinking, “Why does Hitler have to go to hell? Why can’t he and all the people he killed end up in heaven and have a big hug and realize life on earth was just temporary and it’s all over now and they’re all changed to be nice now?”
I had an Atheist friend. He would tell me his thoughts on why there was no God. I had started to get back into art. I had a strong interest as a little boy, there was even talk when I was very small that I had some kind of ability to understand three dimensional forms beyond the rest of my age group, but I rejected art because I felt that I was being celebrated for an ability by my family more than just loved tenderly because I existed.
Being so driven to create something, sometimes attempting to be innovative, I would become frustrated. I looked at a beautiful scene, or the pattern in a leaf; I thought: What’s the point of creating a drawing or painting of this or that. When nature is so beautiful, Why don’t I just open my eyes and enjoy? Although I didn’t know at the time, I began to agree with the notion that man is made in the image of God. I am so driven to create, and so it only makes great sense that this natural world around us and human beings ourselves, were created by someone who had that same drive, and so He created. If we are so driven to create, there must be a God who through that same drive created us.
I didn’t buy into the idea of eternal damnation or eternal life. Why can’t God just make everyone good? I looked into philosophy as a means to understand the world around me. At least they were having the conversation. Maybe by feeling around and following our minds as far as they would take us, we could get a right understanding about the nature of things, or even God himself. I became interested in eastern philosophy, mostly Buddhism. The ways of thinking I saw here seemed more advanced and complete than much of what I had read from even Greek philosophers and enlightenment thinkers. The Buddhists were covering everything from what kind of employment would be honorable, to being sure to buy your wife jewelry. They also seemed to tackle theory of mind and mindfulness in a way that I had never encountered in western Philosophy. The ideas stretched back into the traditions of Hinduism from before Siddhartha Gautama (aka the buddha), as I understood it.
I enrolled at a University against my own better judgement to appease my parents. Having run out of classes to take. I began to ponder the idea of being a philosophy major. At least these were people bold enough to ask the bigger questions in life, that no, didn’t pay any bills, but maybe they would find some kind of fulfillment through intellectual honesty above practicality. I started to head that way and registered for a class on Cults, Sects, and the mainline. Maybe I would be able to answer some of my questions about religion. By some fluke, I ended up registered in Buddhism 101. Okay, great! I could continue my journey to enlightenment and nirvana. I had already sensed some spiritual power behind eastern meditation. There was one time that I thought I felt God, maybe I did. Another time I stayed up all night drawing and sensed that I had achieved an aesthetic beauty that I never would have outside of that out of this wold focus that eastern meditation is supposed to bring.
The class was going well. We watched a documentary about a guy who left the western world to join a Buddhist monastery. He was sick of working for the weekend kind of mentality of life. There I was feeling the same thing. I felt like everyday life drained me, far beyond what other people seemed to experience. And I had my own sense of doom that any romantic relationship that involved me would fail, as the one I was in was failing. I was so into this stuff that I considered leaving to become a Buddhist monk.
Soon thereafter one showed up. She was an older woman, who was very peaceful, but not too warm, not too affectionate. She explained how she practiced meditation where another monk would walk behind those meditating and strike them on the back violently with a a stick or something. This was supposed to be an opportunity to disengage from suffering as I understood it. But what about the reality of the one causing suffering on purpose? The woman explained how she became interested in meditation because it was something she did on her own without being taught after she suffered sexual abuse. The whole idea of disengaging started to look more like the result of evil in the heart of man, leading others to run from the evil horde that we had become. I did some of that later, I wondered why everyone else was so horrible, Why can’t they be like me? then everything would be great. The deception of pride set in, I tried to be alone, I attempted the best I could to become reclusive and I withdrew into creating art.
I soon realized, if there was a God, man wasn’t meant to be alone. Buddhism was still something I pondered. I liked the idea of reincarnation. At least if I totally, utterly, failed at this life, the next one would be waiting for me, until I cycled around to be a rat, or an insect or something, then after thousands of years I’d reach nirvana and be at peace, or be totally obliterated. I guess it goes something like that. My bubble was burst when a diagram of the places you could go when you were reincarnated showed up on the overhead at class. There it was, a place of torment for those who had failed, a buddhist hell. NO, some weren’t so fortunate to end up as a rat or even a worm, they were left in a place of torment to pay off their bad karma. I couldn’t escape it Hell was back in full force. Who made this wheel anyway? I thought, “That thing is ridiculous. Who’s the guy that went to each of these places and came back to let everyone else know what the deal was.” I wasn’t too sold on buddhism anymore. I put it on the back burner.
I left school. I decided I would go to art school, as this was my true desire, anyway. I still don’t know why I have such a strong desire to be creative. I’ve come to terms with this though. I worked on a portfolio, and improved my drawing skills quite a bit. I got deeper into eastern philosophy and was becoming interested in Hinduism and different Gurus. The idea of Jesus Christ was not off the table, but I just wondered what the limits of His identity really were. Was He the son of God? Was he just a really great guy?
I met a beautiful woman in the tiny group of fine art students at my school. She was impulsive and vibrant, full of joy, mysterious, and seemingly unattainable, but willing to bond through art or other means. She liked my art. She was a musician. She seemed fun and was incredibly beautiful. I was love sick for her, for the first time in my life I expereinced a longing for someone that was so great I was litterally aching for her and yet feeling that I was horrible for her and would ruin her life if we were together.
The graduate student who led our group set up huge sheets of paper and asked us to paint something large on them. Meanwhile he drew us into a discussion on satanic artwork. He was angry because his friends had become christians. Even one of his friends had become a nun. Somehow we began to discuss our beliefs about the afterlife. The fashionable professor’s student who seemed to like shopping and nice handbags mentioned how she believed there was no life after death. The jewish girl spoke of the culture of guilt she lived in from her mother and Jewish society. Every art project she did was based on the land of Israel that she had visited. She mentioned how “they” didn’t believe in life after death. I wondered, “Then why are you obsessed with judaism and israel? What does it offer you? Why don’t you just eat drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die?” I had been doing my best to head this direction already and found it unfulfilling. I didn’t share my opinions.
The gorgeous young woman with waist long locks of flowing black hair traipsed in late with a certain joyful disregard for being nervous about anything. I was impressed. She asked what we had been discussing. I clued her in that our guide into the world of fine arts was angry because his friend had become a nun. She responded with a quick comment of approval and that she wants to be a nun. I didn’t buy it, but I was impressed at her quickness to respond with an excitement that someone would devote themselves to God in anyway without the slight hint of shame. I asked if she was even catholic. She said no. This amused me. I further clued her in that our guide was boasting of his books of satanic art and the rituals practiced wherein people would kiss goat’s butts. She responded that people draw what they think demons look like, but they have no idea what they really look like. I was impressed again that she openly revealed her faith that demons indeed existed but were not what others supposed. She then went on and revealed that she believed satan existed when she mentioned that satan was probably laughing at them saying, “Ha ha I tricked you,” when they engaged in such ridiculous activity. This was all so carefree and full of life. At this point I presumed she was a christian. I think in some incohate way I realized my desire for her was more than something of the flesh, but something like a lust for the Life that was in her, Who I didn’t know. She was free. I was not.
I started to draw on the giant sheet hung on the wall. I began to draw swirls of lines like I usually did until I started to see human forms start to emerge out of them. This was some form of automatic drawing I often practiced to generate some kind of idea. I’m not so sure I had any sort of plan, but I wanted to impress this girl. I ended up depicting people gathered around a golden goat, worshiping a statue. Before them was a religious looking man in a robe with his broad sleeve held up to represent that he was hiding the truth of the matter from them. He was tricking them in this whole scenario, into worshiping a golden goat statue. At the top I wrote the words “Satan is Laughing” as an homage to the young woman’s perspective. I don’t think I would have come to this on my own, but I at least found the notion of worshiping a statue ridiculous as well as the idea of being fascinated with satan, while denying the very system of Christian thought that verified his existence. Why not just throw out the devil along with God and all other supernatural beings if you want to go that route? She liked the art, and I wondered at the whole thing.
I left class that day in anguish. I pondered what had happened. I wondered at the uselessness of the religion of the zealot that left her as worm food after a life filled with moral guilt. I wondered at the notion of no afterlife, God and morality. “If this is so, why don’t I go on a crime spree. No one’s life even has value if at some point it just stops. We’re all just waiting to cease to exist, and this life has no meaning anyway.” The opening scene to “Cool Hand Luke” flashed into my mind. He’s cutting down parking meters to steal the change out of them, and seems to have no regard for the threat of law. Why not go out with a bang, I thought. What is the point. Guilt and death. Or shamelessness and death. What’s the differnece? Then what about this God stuff? This buddha stuff? What about creativity? What about my longing for this girl? Was that even meaningful? I decided I needed to get to the bottom of religion. I would go on a quest to discover the roots of buddhism in hinduism, and look into all the religions to see what might be found. I had gone through enough alcohol and drug use and no longer found it attractive to go deeper into the shamelessness side of things. It was time to know if morality had any meaning. Is there a God and who is he/it?
I began to research on the internet. Someone had just clued me into wikipedia and the notion of trusting everyone instead of just someone fascinated me. Why should I trust the people who wrote the encyclopedia more than anybody else in the world anyway? This was the way to get some real true secret hidden ancient wisdom maybe. This also created a new paradigm of trust in me. I would seek to understand ulterior or underlying motives for any testimony I heard and weigh whether to believe it or not. Otherwise I could only believe things I had myself personally witnessed or reasoned out. Could I trust myself even?
In my quest to understand some of the mystical experiences I had already had of sensing some power behind eastern meditation and trying to understand if there was any scientific basis for these experiences, I began to uncover examples of more impressive testimonies of miraculous happenings. One young man in Southeast Asia told a story of practicing white magic and witnessing a man stop a bullet with his teeth. He explained how one day he walked into a Christian church. Someone in the church cried out that someone there had been practicing black magic. He explained that he believed it to be good magic. He was told there was no good magic. They began to pray for him and he convulsed on the floor, got up and felt different. He asked them what he should do now. They said he should read the Bible everyday and hang out among these Christians. The story sounded reminiscent of the story I had read in the Bible about a boy who had foamed at the mouth, for whom Jesus disciples could not cast out a demon. Jesus said that kind came out, not but by prayer and fasting. Then he cast the demon out and the boy shook violently and then was fine.
Other stories of people who had practiced certain meditation techniques going insane came forth. Another testimony that struck me was a man who was practicing a certain meditation technique and began to experience severe involuntary movements. the Buddhist monks who led him in meditation stated that he was not pure in heart enough to do the meditation and should just go have a beer. He felt continually tormented and abandoned by his guides. One very interesting thing I came upon was that many people in India were afraid to practice certain forms of Yoga, because they believed they could die. In the west it may have been watered down to just include certain poses to stretch the body, but in India it was a very real form of worshipping the many different gods. It impressed me that one God was called the destroyer who was worshipped. I thought, “Why would anyone want to worship the destroyer?” Later I read in the Bible that same name describing a demonic entity. This led me to understand these things were deeper than the mind of man.
So I had been interested in Buddhism as a system of thought to organize and define human experience and possible a way to find peace or enlightenment, but as I got into it’s roots in Hinduism and other folk Buddhist practices, I came to see that the people involved in these types of meditation often were very aware of a polytheistic worship system they were involved in. I began to ponder if there was something spiritual or even scientific about the practices of different gurus, then where did they learn their practices from? Well, naturally From another guru. I asked again: well where did that guru learn it from? And again, another guru. Finally I asked, well where did the first guru learn it form? An overwhelming sense of fact and reality overcame me, that the first guru learned it from Satan. I now believed that Satan was indeed a true being, and I wonder at it now. But I believed more in Satan than Jesus at this point.
I remember feeling this longing for this Christian woman. I thought about the reality that if she was so devoted to God, she would never have sex before marriage. The idea of abstinence seemed impossible to me. I even began looking into the code of chivalry, (I know it sounds totally ridiculous) as a means to improve myself so I wouldn’t be such a horrible a person for her. There was something to her that shouldn’t be stained. I really wanted her.
I had been chain smoking cigarettes with my neighbor and sitting on her porch swing most nights. Another bad habit along with drinking and continual swearing that I perceived put me off limits form my true love interest. I had no real attraction to her, she was just there and her and her roommate smoked weed with me on a regular rotating shift along with my brother who came home at yet a different time. I often felt, even with all of my constant intoxication if only we smoked more I might feel fulfilled. One night I slept with the neighbor. It was a let down, she wanted to let me physically have her, but had not interest in the spiritual side. I couldn’t even hate her the way I had come to hate my ex-girlfriend. It was another strange call into something deeper. At the time I thought that thing was another eastern spiritual practice tied to sexuality. Maybe I needed an Indian woman or something. Now I felt totally off limits for the woman I truly wanted to be with.
I came to this ritual on the internet. The woman leading on the video said it would open up creativity and other things. Naturally as an artist I wanted to increase my creativity. She said you could say the prayer accompanying the ritual to her, the mother goddess, the Virgin Mary, or even Jesus. As she said this I thought, “I don’t know if Jesus is real, but if He is, He wants nothing to do with this ritual.” I had learned from Christians that you just speak to Him and He hears. I also knew that belief system dictated that there were no other gods, and worshiping Mary was not sensible. I decided to do the ritual anyway, even though I thought it was bunk.
My brother had gone on a trip, so I decided, in order to fulfill my longing for fulfillment, I would take all of his marijuana and smoke it all at once. At this time I was even pondering looking for another high, maybe heroine. I had run out of a garbage bag of weed I had grown and smoked the whole 1/4 or 1/8th all at once. I began to feel horrible. I flashed back to when I was a child and had stolen from my brother for ice cream cones. I realized I was in the same thieving state as back then, and now I was stealing in order pervert my mind.
If God was real, this was not the way to fulfillment. It should just be there available anytime, in Him. I began to see God as a person and not just an ethereal force. I began to feel terrible about all of the ways I had promoted buddhism and other meditation practices and mind of matter type mystical things. I felt a debt to God. I had already realized satan was real and now I was part of not only being deceived, but intentionally deceiving. I believed I deserved hell, and an extra special hot place in hell. I was in total turmoil, in fear that maybe I would end up demon possessed and incapable of escaping torment. I remembered Christians telling me that Jesus would forgive anyone of anything and I thought about stories of serial killers repenting and bing forgiven.
I thought of other’s outrage at this. I didn’t care. I needed him. If any God was merciful out of all the God’s I had been studying about on comparativereligion.com, then it was Jesus. I cried out to Jesus to save me, over and over for a period of days. I read about counting the cost. I thought of being a marine or something and promising to endure torture not to rat out your fellow soldiers. I realized this was the devotion a Christian needed. I told God, if my love is full of torment in this life, as long as I escape the fires of hell I deserve, then that’s okay, I want in. I told Him I would do anything for Him, I would even be homeless on the streets if He wanted.
I started to read the Bible more. I had decided I needed to read the gospels. I still didn’t have a sense that I was saved. One night my brother invited me to play poker. I knew I needed to stay home and read the four gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. I had read about receiving the Holy Spirit, how Stephen was on trial for his faith in Jesus. He cried out to his opponents that they were stiffnecked and always resisted the Holy Spirit. I wondered if that was what I was missing. Coming for a system of staying still in certain postures in meditation I wondered if my neck just wasn’t lose enough to receive the Holy Spirit.
I began reading the gospels. I came to Mathew 18:3 in thee good news translation where Jesus said,
“I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
I remember thinking: I believed in Santa clause as a child. I remember truly believing that, and it was a lie. Now I had all of this evidence about Jesus stacked up: Christian persecution around the world that was never mentioned on any news report I had seen, people testifying of harmful effects from eastern spiritual practices, a boy being delivered from a demon in just the same way as described in the Bible. I had reasons to believe. I also wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was and does truly exist. I decided this was what was missing. I would take the plunge into faith and believe like I had believed in Santa Clause. I would take the testimonies at face value. I took this step and my hands and feet began to burn and sweat profusely. There was a spiritual intensity I had never known before. As I continued to read through the gospels this continued. All of a sudden I felt something strike me on the right side just below my ribs. I felt like something bubbled out of me. I looked down and there was a red mark. No one else was in the room. I continued to read through to the end of the Gospel of John and the crucifixion of Jesus.
So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. John 19:32-34 (GNT)
I easily believed that the author of this book, God Himself, was in the room with me causing me to identify with the wounds of Christ in His hands feet and side. I now knew that the book I was reading was truly from God. I bowed to God the greatest spiritual power I had ever encountered. This time there was no sense of pride or elitism, or enlightenment. I was humbled. I felt protected by my Father the almighty. The first thing I thought was, now I’ll be ridiculed and mocked for knowing Jesus is real, and I was not looking forward to it. But, I now knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the Truth. Jesus is the Truth.