This year has been the best year of my life when it comes to outward accomplishments and lifelong goals achieved. My career has boomed and I've been doing more creative work than ever and it doesn't feel like I've worked a day this whole year. Spiritually, it's been the opposite, it's been rough, really rough. Some nights I'd stare at the ceiling wondering if I'd wake up a Christian. I'd talk to backsliden Christians and it sounded so freeing, it seemed like they were the ones free from slavery, when Christianity claims the opposite. Needless to say my faith was in a desert, I wasn't doubting God's existence because what I've experienced, saw and learned in the past was very real to me, I couldn't deny that. It was like my highschool friend stopped taking my phone calls, I knew we used to be best friends I couldn't deny that or that He's real but I doubted His current interaction with me. It was like I was playing phone tag with God, but just like every time you play phone tag, if the other person doesn't call back after a while, you tend to give up. Even if you love them dearly, there is a point where you just move on.
For years I used to go to nearby train-tracks to pray. It was amazing. I'd be able to find train tracks no matter where you dropped me off in the world, I would find them. It became something that I started associating with God (not thinking that trains were God, but in the sense that people associate Church with God, it's where I learned most from Him), to the point where when I was in my time of doubt I'd sometimes hear a distant train whistle as if God was telling to me come back to the tracks to pray again. But I didn't, not always. Sometimes I would. One time when I was touring I took a walk through the woods to pray and I came across an abandoned railroad. It was a perfect analogy of where I was spiritually; it showed that something real was once there, but it's no longer there, it moved on and left something useless. Because what is a railroad without a train?
So I've read the Bible for about ten years now, a chapter a day pretty much. This book that I've loved for so long, that undeniably has inspired, directed and changed my life has become stale to me. Some verses I could no longer stomach, a lot of them actually. I could pretty much read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 and a few chapters after), John 9 (one of my favorite chapters), a few random other stories/parables and Ecclesiastes (one of my favorite books ever). The rest was hard for me to read. I'm just being completely honest here.
The Bible talks about theology being like food and the new Christians eat 'baby food' and the more grown start eating the 'meat'. Anyway, I've absolutely loved theology my whole life, anyone that knows me well knows that I'd try to get deep with anything and everything. I loved it all. Arminianism vs. Calvinism, works vs. faith, hermeneutics, etymology, Bible translations, History of Christianity, other religions, sects, cults, whatever that was to do with God. I'd love it. I'd eat it up, all day. I'd chew on meat for hours a day. One time when I was a kid, there was a sale on Reese's Peanut Butter cups, they were easter ones a few weeks old, so they were like a dime for each big piece, so I spent a lot of my money to get them. Of course I ate all of them that night and threw them all up. For about 15 years I've finally been able to eat them again. What I think has been happening is that I've overate, I made my faith about the study of God instead of God. So I've thrown it all up and now I'm hungry but I can't seem to stomach anything but the basic stuff of Christianity (the verses/chapters that I mentioned). So, I'm back to baby food.
It came to the point that I couldn't even understand why someone's death on a cross could do anything for me 2,000 years later. I'm telling you everything I've known was thrown up and I needed to taste it again for the first time. And the verse that scared me most was the one that says "the Gospel is stench to those who are perishing", I didn't know what that meant for me, I was perishing but I felt this was a desert experience that everyone goes through before their big ministry (ie: Jesus, John the Baptist, etc. all went through the desert before their ministry started) But in the Beatitudes, one of the things I could stomach, Jesus says "blesses are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled", that gave me hope, because I was hungry and I was thirsting.
In my love for theology, of course I became of fan of C.S. Lewis when I was about 16 years old. I've loved him since. I even loved that my middle name, 'Clive' is his first name, because I connect to this man so much. I literally read "Mere Christianity" in two days when I first picked it up and since then, bought out any used book store of every C.S. Lewis book any time I entered one. So I thought I'd give him a read. I started reading "A Grief Observed" and it was so refreshing. It was so good to see someone that I respect so much in the faith to be honest with his doubts and struggles. In fact that's the only reason I'll respect anyone in this faith is honesty about doubts and struggles, if someone doesn't have those, then they've figured it out and I cannot relate to that. So 'A Grief Observed' is a journal of C.S. Lewis talking out the aftermath of his wife's death. At one point he says it's like "God has slammed a door in his face and he hears the sound of double bolting on the inside…there are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once." Wow. It's like I wrote it myself. I never related to someone's writing before so much. I've been in the past so disgusted by the vague dishonesty from other people's struggles. It was like I was talking to a real person again. Instead of someone just quoting a Bible verse at me like it was gonna solve all my problems.
I'm getting somewhere, don't worry, I just want to continue on with the details.
In "A Grief Observed", Clive talks about how he ran into a friend from ten years ago, that he thought he remembered so well, but then five minutes into the conversation his image of his old friend was shattered. Not that his friend had changed but instead Clive kept thinking, "Yes, of course, I'd forgotten he thought that, disliked this or jerked his head back that way." He talked about how his memory of his friend was actually different than what his friend really is like. I wrote in my notes that I think we do this to God. We meet Him, experience Him for real, then run on fumes until He becomes what we remember Him to be or what we want Him to be? I think we need this shattered regularly. It'll hurt and it'll feel like we don't know Him, but we are just knowing the real Him. Sometimes, when I like a girl, I'll know the few characteristics of her and then my emotions will start assuming the rest that I don't know and she becomes even more perfect. Then when I finally take her on a date, she's a totally different girl than I made up in my mind. I know we totally do this to God.
So in the midst of all of this, I knew I was pretty desperate. I wanted to know the real God because I started learning that He isn't what I've made Him to be and I needed a spiritual detox. I couldn't write down God, I couldn't explain Him, I knew nothing about Him. But I saw someone genuinely wearing an usually tacky W.W.J.D. bracelet, but I knew this person lived it, I saw their love and it felt right. Just a very faint light in this darkness, felt right.
A night later, my neighbor T. came knocking at my door. She is a former prostitute that is a hard worker, mows lawns, does manicures and whatever she can to make an honest living. She has become a friend to everyone on the street with her honesty and great sense of humor. She was asking me for five bucks to borrow to fill her gas tank to get to a mowing job. She tells me that she is getting paid tomorrow and will pay me back. So a few days later I ask my neighbors, some dear friends of mine that are a huge part of the neighborhood ministry we've got going on, know T. very well. They tell me that T. worked a catering job and the caterer didn't pay her in cash but gave her all the leftover cheese. So she can't pay rent. The next night I see her on the corner, with make-up and highheels, she is working the corner. I've lived in ghettos my whole life, I've seen prostitutes since I was a child, but this one I knew, I knew her well. I knew her real name, her past, her sense of humor, I've seen what brings her joy. This is the first time I've seen her with make-up, highheels and dolled-up. I've seen prostitutes my whole life, but I've never seen one that I've known so well. I saw shame in her eyes and it kept me up that night. I sat there laying in my bed looking up at the ceiling thinking what would Jesus do in this situation? Like not a cheesy WWJD way, but I literally had no ideas for myself. I needed something way bigger than me. I had a love for her that wasn't based on laws, I didn't her to stop because my religion said it was bad, I saw the shame, the hopelessness and brokenness. I saw someone who felt trapped and that love I felt, I knew was God. That love that made my heart an inch bigger that night was God. I couldn't explain it, I couldn't break it down or blog about it, I just knew that I wanted to follow that. I wanted to follow this love.
I felt like I wanted to do whatever I could to help her. I can't say I did much yet, I hope I do. I saw her on the corner and realized that I have been on my own corner. God sees me not like "I need you to stop this because the Bible says not to" but more like a "I want to free you from this slavery you are in, the shame and hopelessness". This was the Gospel to me, this was God showing me the music of the Gospel because I've heard the lyrics so much I haven't heard the music in a while and when I heard the music, felt this love the lyrics made sense to me again.
More to come. God's teaching me a lot again.