For a while now, my
faith belief in God has been intellectual. I’d read a lot of books and had many personal experiences, to include what I believe to be interactions with the Holy Spirit. Dealing with Paloma’s epilepsy and trying to continue living has really shaken me up, and caused me to reevaluate a lot of what I thought I knew about myself, how I fir into the Universe, and what it all means. As a result, I wanted to be done with God. I imagined my life as an Athiest, and practically what that would mean in raising my kids. Would I still engage injustice? Would I still care for widows and orphans?
What it looked like, instead of the grass being greener, was just laziness. It wasn’t for me, at least not the blasphemous, hedonistic, mean-on-the-internet kind of Athiesm.
Also, there was the pesky, continued belief in a benevolent creator still involved in our daily lives.
I begged God to leave me alone. I wanted to feel alone. I declared that although I still affirmed the Nicene creed, I no longer called myself a Christian. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the cultural cache it carries.
I had gone spiritually feral.
There’s a song by Aussie hipster-worship powerhouse Hillsong United called “Oceans”.
Let’s backup a bit.
I started going to church in the mid-90’s, and at the time, most “Christian” music was heavy on the Christian and pretty shoddy on the music. I still played in bands at the churches I’ve attended.
At around 2006, I noticed that Christian music had started to suck less, and a big part of that for me was discovering Hillsong United. This was around the time I was returning to regular church attendance after a few failed attempts had soured me on the idea.
This music was important to me, it wasn’t bad art praising the most creative entity, and was significantly less corny, out of touch, and dorky.
Last year, in our early days of epilepsy, before we even got a specific diagnosis, our church attendance started tapering off out of necessity. We still prayed every time she had a seizure, but after it didn’t work several times, I stopped.
One morning, Paloma had a seizure right before we were to go to church.We had to rectally administer a valium gel, which made her understandably miserable. She would moan and wail for hours, and we’d have to drive her around to soothe her.
I heard “Oceans” that day. I’d heard it previously, but the chorus particularly stood out to me:
“So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine”
And I couldn’t bring myself to sing along, because it was a straight-up lie.
I hadn’t done that. I could not do it. This power-pop ballad was setting an untenable standard for how I handled crises.
I stopped listening to “Christian” music intentionally at that time. I also stopped playing in the band. Yes, I felt closer to God when I did, but I refuse to be a spiritual Milli Vanilli, a playacting sham, manipulating people. When I read my bible it was detached and didactic.
I declared myself an unfit vessel, and that was that.
Today, I went to church with the 2 older kids. It was reluctant, I looked for a thousand reasons to not go, from bad parking to attempted bribery .
They played “Oceans”, and I felt bitterness well up. I remembered Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, which I’d heard applied as an injunction against negative self-talk.
I don’t think that clause applied to me anymore. I had taken back my heart from God, and no longer harbored excitement, or ardor, or devotion. Perhaps I initially did it as a protective measure, but solidified it when I *REALLY* was trying to force myself to stop believing in God, or any god, or the possibility of a god.
I had reduced the God that invented baby giggles and volcanoes and puffins and photosynthesis to a cold, hard fact. God was no more important to me than gravity, which goes on whether you believed in it or not.
God had become an “it”.
I know that’s wrong. I know a more abundant life awaits me. Also, based on my judo experience, gravity totally exists and matters a great deal.
For the past few years, the Holiday season was something I got very excited about. I had gotten really plugged in to the community. I was managing winter homeless shelters, getting in there and learning people’s stories. I was as excited for Christmas as I had been when I was a small boy. I started getting recognized as “one of the good ones” by street people. I felt I was investing my life in something meaningful, that I was living how Jesus would have. I went to a shelter to wash homeless people’s feet on Christmas. I have a thing about feet, I
think know they are the very worst, and these feet were especially nasty. It was God alone that allowed me to wrangle these supernasty monkey feet, talk story with people, affirm their humanity, preserve their dignity, tell them I loved them, and give them a fresh pair of socks. I didn’t throw up, even though the homeless feet water splashed on me. I was excited, and it was contagious. Them feets were contagious, too, but everyone involved had a blast.
I want that. Not to feel important, but to be able to get out of my own head. I want to be less self-centered and have goals that shake the bonds of poverty, and substance abuse, and violence, instead of making a little ripple immediately around me.
I’m ready to come home. It won’t be the same as before, and there will still be issues (Gays, the environment, institutional racism). Still, I know it’ll be a big deal; God will put a ring on my finger and throw me a huge party, and while I’m not one for being fussed over, I’m ready.