The stories that became most important to me are not the ones I wrote. The Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, and any other book that offered a keyhole through which we can glimpse the other side— these are the books that really mattered.
And more than any others, the stories in the Bible. Now this is a very strange thing for me to say, because I did not grow up in a religious home. We did not read the Bible, or talk about it, or go to church, or any of that. I’m grateful for my childhood. We enjoyed some real intellectual freedom, and when I finally encountered the Bible as a young adult, I experienced the awful and awesome power of those stories unfiltered by the shallow and haphazard way in which they are sometimes introduced to young people.
It happened like this: I was working as a driver for a pizza place and I stopped on a delivery at a local book store to buy a Bible. This was all very strange behavior, because I had been calling myself an atheist for years. Retrospectively, I was much too hurt and angry to be an atheist, it being somewhat irrational to feel that Nothing & Chance is being unfair. Only a something with volition, a Personality, can be unfair. But I was pretty low– broken-hearted from failed relationships, drifting from job to job, stoned most of the time, sometimes suicidal.
The question I kept asking myself was this: What’s the point? Does anything matter?
And if you honestly ask and answer questions like those, hold onto your butt, because some really strange things can rise up.
I didn’t know why I bought that Bible. I still don’t, not really. I was thinking something like this: I need to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve been saying this is all bullshit, but I’ve never actually read it for myself. I’ve only read what other people say about it.
So I bought one. I took it home and read it. I chain smoked at the gas station where I worked 3rd shift exchanging condoms for cash through one of those bullet-proof slider things, and I read the Bible.
What a surprise that thing was. Shocking, really. It was interesting, for starters. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Some sections read like a fast-paced novel. War, chaos monsters, witches, ghosts, romance, fellowship, heroes, miracles, god-battles, and all kinds of really bizarre stuff. Horrible, cringe-worthy stuff. Sublime, mind-expanding stuff.
Even stranger was that I believed it. I didn’t like it, not all of it (and still don’t), but I believed it. It had the ring of truth. It is an R-rated depiction of an R-rated world. And it seemed like, if there was a God, if what was behind all this was something closer to a Personality than it was to Nothing & Chance, then these Stories were really on to something. He must be very much like this Person the various authors of the Bible kept getting at.
Especially when I reached the New Testament and read about Jesus. One of a kind, him. The things he said and did were so countercultural and otherworldly… I became convinced there must be some kind of supernatural power at work in the world, at least in the creation of these documents. Jesus is stranger than fiction.
That was the beginning of my first great awakening, my first death and rebirth. When I was baptized— a profound dramatization of the death and birth of a personality paradigm, among other things— the stoner who once branded his arm with a white-hot coat hanger because self-mutilation was the only way he knew to structure his grief, was in a very real sense, as the years since have born out, gone. Or going, at least. Or changing? Looking back, I feel a lot of love for that angry dude. And a lot of gratitude for the people who, as Fred Rodgers put it, “loved me into being.”
But enough about that, because there isn’t much magic in me telling you secondhand. If you’re interested, maybe it’s time for you to put your money where your mouth is.
The second great awakening came when I married Lindsay, the phone girl from the pizza place, and stopped being merely a person and became a participant in this weird two-person thing. Marriage is every bit as strange as faith. And as terrifying. And as delightful. And fun. I’m not at all surprised the Bible says marriage is a metaphor for our relationship with the transcendent.
The third came when my son was born. He was our fifth child, because we lost our first four to miscarriage. That’s it’s own story, and a tragic one– with maybe a miracle, too– but I’m not in the mood to tell it now. Maybe I’ll write about that later. The scars from that grief, and the mental shift that accompanied becoming a father of all three of my boys, has been as profound and wonderful a change to me as the others. Nothing has taught me the nature and quality of unconditional love, the cost and rewards of it, quite like fatherhood.
I sure wish I could get to know you this well! Maybe you’ll stay in touch? Join my mailing list below, or follow me.