I was baptized and raised a Catholic. Of course, I don't remember the baptism, since I was a week old, and all I remember of church was wanting to stay sitting down. I got tired of the sitting-standing-kneeling process. At least I could try to pay attention to whatever was being said if I could just sit down.
I remember attending a catechism to prepare me for "Confirmation" when I was a youth, but as the day for the big ritual came closer, I wondered whether I really wanted to go through with it. I asked my mother if I really had to do it. She told me no, and I was so relieved.
That was all there was to my experience as a Christian. Being born and raised in a college town in Maine, there wasn't a lot of pressure for me to give my life to Christ. My father became an agnostic after going through Catholic schools, so neither he nor my mom tried to impose any religion on me.
I went through high school experiencing the struggle of listening to my conscience. I was caught up in the popular group, but I had difficulty giving myself to some of the things they did. I am so thankful for that instinctive voice within, which labored to steer me through those years, for I have no idea where I might have ended up if I hadn't listened to it. But the superficiality of those teenage years kept me from contemplating things of any great depth.
Things changed when I went to college at 18. I was on my own for the first time in my life, and it freed up my mind to consider life. I enrolled at Syracuse University in New York to study architecture, but I began spending more of my time digging through philosophy books. I wondered about words like morals, ethics, and truth. My friends and I would sit in our apartment, take psychedelic drugs, and wonder about life. We were surrounded with the complete degradation of typical college life. Disgusted by the fraternity scene, coupled with the sports scene, we would hide in our apartment, talking about real things -- what life should be like. But we had no solutions. We could only open the door and look through it. Even so, the next day was the reality of life, and it never changed.
I remember one girl in my freshman year. She was a country girl from Kansas, as pure and innocent as you'll ever meet. She soon joined a sorority and became engulfed in typical campus life. The next time I saw her, three years later, she was completely changed -- hardened, mistrustful, used... ready to embark upon life in the world. It left a deep impression on me. Why does life have to be like this? Where can I find the truth? Does the truth even exist?
I started to wonder if I was an alien, since it seemed no one else could understand my search. During my college years, I would spend the summer with my parents in London, England, to find work. One summer day I was taking a walk with my father, telling him, "There has to be more to life than just making a living for yourself and dying someday. There just has to be!" He looked at me as if I had two heads. He simply could not understand where I was coming from. He loved me, but he didn't have the answer to life. His hope was just that I would graduate college and be a successful architect someday. He didn't realize the path my life was starting to take.
I remember working a summer job as a courier in Goldman Sachs in London, delivering messages to the high-up stock brokers in the building. "Doesn't anyone else think about what reality is, or what the truth is?" I asked a fellow courier. I was fired up with zeal about my search. "All I know," he said, "is that when I get home I have three hungry children to feed. Working to earn a living is my reality. Yeah, I could think about stuff like this, but it doesn't change my reality one bit. I would go insane if I stopped to think like that."
It sobered me. Here I was, this young, zealous college student with all these ideals swimming in my mind, but I had yet to embark on the struggle to make a living. But there has to be more than just making a living for myself!
Another summer, back in my hometown in Maine, I ran into one of my old friends down the street. I asked him a deep question: "What do you think is the purpose of life?" He thought about it, looked at me, and said, "I think it's to have children." The idea appalled me. What? It was the very last thing I would have thought of. Who in his right mind would want to bring forth another human life into this sick society?
But what else is there to live for? You might start out life with a hope to change the system from within. Everyone does, right? But life goes on. You get married, settle down, have children, and pretty soon you're just another brick in the wall, like everyone else. I hated the thought of it. A song by The Doors always went through my mind:
Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Into this house we're born Into this world we're thrown.
All my searching came to two clear things: I wanted someone to follow, and I wanted to be part of a completely different society, separate from the one everyone else was content to live in. None of the Greek philosophers I studied had the answers to life. I wasn't about to become a follower of Plato or Aristotle. They questioned truth and reality, but had no solutions.
I took an interest in the native American tribes, and eventually dove headlong into studying about the different tribes, and my hatred towards Christianity grew as I read what the missionaries did to these simple people. I was drawn like a magnet to the way of life they lived -- a simple, tribal lifestyle. It struck a deep chord in my heart. I wished I could somehow become part of a life like this. But could I do, show up and try to join the Navajos, as if they would accept me as one of their own?
A friend of mine was doing a report about the Iroquois nation in New York. He went to interview the chief at the reservation. How exciting! A real Indian chief! What he encountered was an overweight man slouched on a couch in front of a television set. Empty beer cans littered the couch around him. Tears filled my eyes as my friend told me of his interview with that hopeless man who had nothing to live for.
I came to a crossroads. For my fourth year in college, I went to study in Florence, Italy. The campus was based at a public square called Piazza Savonarola. In the middle of the square was a statue of Girolamo Savonarola, who had been burned at the stake for attacking the Catholic Church. I learned that he had been a zealot who preached against the corruption and immorality he saw in society, and especially within the church. He eventually convinced the entire city of Florence to burn most of their books and artwork in what became known as The Bonfire of the Vanities. His efforts to reform society were futile, but nonetheless, he left an impression on me.
Although I never entertained the thought of becoming a Christian, I began to notice the monasteries that I had to study for architecture classes, and I started thinking about this Jesus fellow that I kept seeing in all the paintings and stained glass murals. It hit me like a lightening bolt: there are only two paths in life. One leads you into the world, and one leads you out of the world. What I saw in the monasteries was appealing to me. These were men who had devoted their lives to following Jesus Christ.
It became crystal clear: either devote your life to the world, or devote your life to God. There was no muddy, gray area. I knew it was impossible to devote your life to God while living like everyone else in the world. What was the point of just taking along some religion while you live for yourself? I hated the thought of living life that way!
I never followed through with the monastery thing, thank goodness. I cut my stay in Florence short by half a year and came back to glorious Syracuse, New York, in order to continue my search. Little did I know what awaited me during the winter of 1993.
One night, my friends and I went sledding at a big golf course. As I was heading down a particularly steep slope, I ended up flying off of a ramp some local kids made. My body bounced a few times on the ice and slammed against a tree, like a rag doll. I couldn't catch my breath for what seemed like minutes. For the first time in my life I was close to death.
My friends took me home to rest, and when I woke up the next morning, I felt as if someone was twisting a hot knife right into my guts. I was in the worst pain I had ever experienced. After two unhelpful visits to the local hospital, my friends took me to the big hospital in the city. After a CAT scan, the doctor told me that if I hadn't come in right then, I would soon be dead. He said I had ripped my spleen open in the accident. I didn't know what a spleen was, but I knew it was serious. Confined to a hospital bed for two weeks, I was told not to move, and hopefully my spleen would heal itself.
There I was, laying in bed by myself, hooked to an IV and morphine, with nothing but a television set in front of me, complete with 100 channels! With nothing else to do, I turned on the television to see what the average talk shows had to say about life. This experience sealed what was already at work in my heart. It was shocking. If mainstream humanity was this base and ignorant, then I wanted out, and fast! There had to be a way out of this sick society! There had to be!
I was discharged from the hospital right at the beginning of spring break. All my closest friends were gone on a Grateful Dead tour for two weeks, and the entire campus became a ghost town. To top it off, the biggest blizzard the area had seen in years hit, with over three feet of snow. Once again, I was isolated, utterly alone in my apartment, with the Navajo bible to study for my Native American Religion class, and a big bag of pot for consolation. I can't remember whether I actually prayed, but I said to myself, "If there is no truth out there, if there is no way to radically change my existence, then I'll just live a normal life like the rest of the world." I would have to give up my search and just live... or die.
At the end of the most miserable two weeks of my life, my friends came back from Grateful Dead tour beside themselves with excitement. "We found the most amazing people! They traveled around in a big maroon and cream bus, and they live together in tribes!" My heart was pounding as they were telling me, and hope was filling my heart again. "They were also telling us about Jesus, but they call him Yahshua..." I instantly stopped listening. The last thing I wanted was to add Jesus to my life. They handed me the "Freepaper" they had received, and I threw it on the floor.
The next morning I woke up early as usual, and noticed the Bible I had bought a year before, in order to get a historic background of this Jesus fellow before I went to Italy. I had never read even a page of the Bible in my life. I thought, "Well, I might as well find out what this man is all about. I mean, if the whole world revolves around him, maybe I should know something about him." For the first time, I started reading the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I was deeply affected. After devouring the accounts of his life, all I wanted to do was follow him and be his disciple. I didn't want to become a Christian; I wanted to be a real, true, bona fide disciple.
What affected me the most was the response of his most intimate friends:
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
He didn't tell them to find a Bible-believing church. He didn't tell them to say the "sinner's prayer" and invite him into their hearts. He didn't tell them to go back home and take care of themselves. He told them to follow him, and they did. They actually left everything they had in order to follow him.
I picked up the freepaper, which I had discarded, and started looking through it. "Could it be?" I asked myself. "Could this finally be the way out?" I had nothing to lose by going to find out whether it was real. My friends were traveling to Boston, so I tagged along in order to visit the community in Boston. My plan was to spend a week there to see whether it was real. I was dropped off and took the subway to the station that was a block away from their house. It was a big Victorian house in an old Dorchester neighborhood. As soon as I walked through the front door, and was warmly greeted by everyone living there, I already knew it was home.
For the entire week, they shared their life with me, because they shared their lives with one another. I ate with them, worked with them, and gathered together with them to worship twice a day. Finally there was a place to belong, a place where true believers took care of each other daily, a place where I didn't need to fend for myself, a place where I could follow someone greater than myself, a place where I could put all of what Yahshua said into practice, and truly follow him.
I went back to Syracuse to get the rest of my belongings. I dropped out of college with another year left to graduate. Finally, I could follow Yahshua just as the first disciples did. It was exhilarating. I have now been a disciple for 18 years. I have a wonderful wife and three daughters. I have children now because now I have a purpose to raise them in. If you are not satisfied with your life in this world, and crave true life, please come and visit us.