I closed the door on them, with a rather smug look on my face. To be honest, I really wasn’t so comfortable inside, but I sure wasn’t going to show it to those two fellows. They were from a local Bible college, making the rounds door-to-door asking people if they were “saved” and “how do you know it?” Actually, I was interested in spiritual things, but I couldn’t get anywhere with these two, so I went back upstairs to my shabby little apartment and lit up a joint. No matter what they said, I was not going to become a Christian and wear a tie. Ties were out. I did have a certain amount of respect for Jesus though. I mean, it was obvious that he was a very significant spiritual leader in the cosmos, but he never wore a tie either. So there! If he could be spiritual without wearing a polyester suit, then so could I.
But things were getting sort of, well, empty around there those days ... and more than a little bizarre. It was bad enough that I was back from Vietnam trying to pick up the pieces of my old life and get some momentum going again, but I was so unexplainably lonely. I had always been sort of a loner, yet somehow now it was getting to me. Maybe it was the letdown of coming back from ’Nam where I had such close contact with my buddies, who ate, slept, and everythinged together; but now I was back to my familiar land, and where was everybody? Oh, I saw people rather regularly; there was some kind of socializing going on amongst people I called my friends, but I felt like such a square peg in a world that only offered round holes. Of course I did my best to let others know that I thrived on being a square peg. Oh, but what was the use? I just couldn’t fit in. Even when I sincerely tried to, I would falter inside, feeling like I was compromising with what I deeply felt about everything. I was lonely, phony, and not happy ... also too proud to say so. How’d I get this way?
It wasn’t too hard, really. Once a little sapling begins to grow at an angle, it never straightens out. It becomes a full-grown tree that can never know uprightness. And was I ever bent, but I couldn’t blame it on anyone. Fact is, my parents were middle-class Christians who regularly and faithfully attended church. To this day I can remember a family picture when I was five or six, with me wearing a little monkey suit with short pants, a little hat with a short visor and, you guessed it, a tie. At least it was a bow tie. I sort of liked it back then because I’d play with the clips on it all the way home. Hated church, though. The people were nice enough, I suppose, but it was never clear to me why we went there. I always went to sleep during the sermon, and Mom used to poke me with a safety pin to wake me up. One time, after a Sunday night chapel service, I was sitting in a pew, waiting for Mom and Dad to come. Actually I wasn’t just sitting, but was being a little rowdy with a friend of mine. I say a little rowdy, but being seven at the time makes it hard for me to judge. Well, from the pew behind us comes this lady’s voice, “Boys, boys, you need to behave! Don’t you know that you are in God’s house?” Uh oh. Caught.
I sheepishly sank down in my padded pew, my little ego all a-fluster from the fresh rebuke. My eyes wandered from the fancy altar to the ornate chandeliers and back to my lap. “If this is where God chooses to live, I don’t think I want to have anything to do with Him,” I thought. True to my word, I parted ways with this god, and set out to discover whatever destiny life had for me.
But as I sat down smugly smoking my joint, it didn’t seem like I had any destiny at all, except maybe like the ending of that old Frank Sinatra song, “I’ll just roll up into a great big ball ... and die.” You might think I was reaping what I’d sown for “rejecting Jesus,” but it wasn’t Jesus that had made me feel so alienated. Regardless of what I’d heard about him over and over again in church. I remained unconvinced. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. I just couldn’t see myself going every week to church and worshipping God when he didn’t have anything to do with me any other time. Did he need my money that badly? I’d have to work pretty hard selling life insurance to keep up with the other church-going Joneses, and it was becoming obvious to me that I didn’t have to be a Christian to be moral, so why pretend to be something on the outside that I wasn’t on the inside? “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites anyway.” I’d murmur at a party, while pretending to be comfortable.
I wasn’t anywhere close to finding out why I was alive, and eternity seemed like the only thing worth looking into. Anyway, when all is said and done, eternity is the big issue, isn’t it? But where did I fit in? Fortunately, or so I thought, there was a big movement towards Eastern philosophy that offered fresh insight into the fundamental nature of reality. Whoopee! Away I went! Zen! Yeah! Transcendental Meditation! All right! Sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at a candle. Wow! Finally getting to be one with the universe! Hey! Oneness with trees, oneness with the trash can? God is everywhere! I can really dig it! All this and Jesus too! If he could achieve Cosmic Unity, why not me? He was just a man like me. He simply realized the divinity within himself that’s in me, too! I like it!
So, for over a year I had a lot of fun being one with trash cans and dogs, nearly always under influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Although I knew well that deep within my subconscious I was miserable, I could not have stated why. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know who I was. For all my oneness with the universe, there was no oneness with any other human being. I was twenty-three and healthy, had survived a war, had everything to took forward to, but I was out in the cold and didn’t even know it.
So, what happened was I started roaming around at night in the wee hours, looking for something to do. I found this little restaurant that served good salads twenty-four hours a day. I was going through my stint as a vegetarian, which is like Required Reading for all serious students of Eastern mysticism, so I’d drop by regularly. Sometimes stoned. Sometimes really stoned. Always paranoid to some degree. The restaurant was rather crudely built out of old barn wood, and made me feel at home. Into my favorite little booth I’d snuggle, and just watch, sipping coffee. Watch what? Nothing much. Just people. They’d wait on me, friendly enough. Well, actually, really friendly. Downright warm.
“Hey,” I asked, as if I didn’t much care what the answer would be. “Are you people religious or something?” I don’t know what prompted me to ask that. Maybe it was because I felt something different about the place. “No, not really. We do love Jesus, though.” This girl who was waiting on me gave me a big smile. “Oh, him,” I thought. Fearing the worst, I gradually inquired as to what they thought of him. Then it came out ? the worst? virgin birth, uniquely God in the flesh, crucified for my sins, rose again on the third day, coming back to? my heart sank as there surfaced the unhappy memories of the Apostles’ Creed being recited, bouncing off scarlet carpets and padded pews, droning organs, odd-looking figures in stained glass. “All rise? every head bowed? time for our tithes and offerings?” I had grown to hate all that stuff. But, offended as I was, I kept coming back. Why? Because no matter how offended I was at their message, I was still curious. These people had something I didn’t have. They acted like they were in from the cold. But I was still out.
“Now come on! You don’t really believe all that stuff, do you?” I would earnestly plead, hoping to find some loophole where I could fit in. There was a sense of dread in me that the only answer was believing in some spooky, pale fellow with stringy hair, clammy hands, and a look on his face as if he wasn’t really there, like a passive ghost. At that point I could definitely deny all the doctrine about this savior, but what I could not deny was the life of warm love and togetherness being experienced by these people. They even lived in some kind of community together. I wanted some of that warmth, too. So after a night of such bickering on my part, I’d go home to fellowship with my Eastern doctrine. But the past year of such hope in being one with all my fantasies had left me only with a heart like a pool of stagnant water. For ten years I had been diligently pursuing a career as a drummer, and never thought of settling down. But I began to have this vision (now don’t you folks get all excited: it wasn’t a trance, just a mental picture), a vision of me sitting in a hotel room in some city, fifty-four years old, with nothing to look forward to but playing in a smoky lounge that night. And I was still all alone. Who would even bury me if I died? Who even cared?
Back to the restaurant I’d go. Sipping coffee in a booth, I heard laughter back in the kitchen, then some hammering. I saw this big fellow with a hammer, all smiles, like he was happy to be alive. What could he be so happy about at 2 AM? Hey, that’s not fair! Why can’t I be like him? What makes you so happy? I knew what he’d say. “Oh, it’s just Jesus. Without him I’d be miserable, too!” Answers like that made my guts tighten like I had an ice cube in my stomach.
No! I was not going to believe in the Ghost of my Christian Past! The God who created the beautiful sunsets couldn’t be the author of those incredibly dull Sunday mornings, satin choir robes, those funny little wafers. I had enough hours of hushed reverence to last me forever. I’d paid my dues. How could I ever believe in such a god?
The truth is, I couldn’t. But I was faced with a dilemma. These people were saying the same things I’d heard in church all my youth. Why did it now begin to have meaning to me? Why couldn’t I just shrug off all the doctrine as I had so easily before? What was different?
I’m beginning to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). And John the Apostle wrote, “There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:9,4).
Christianity is like the moon, reflecting the historical facts of the Messiah, but not able to directly generate the light of life, full of warmth like the sun. The true light enlightens every man, yet I had been raised in darkness by those who thought they had light. I love those people though, and I hate to see them so misguided. They were taught that all you need is light, just proper doctrine. But how cold and sterile ? not the Spirit of the living God at all.
What gushed out of Jesus right before He was taken away to be crucified? What was His uppermost thought? It’s recorded in John 17, especially the last part. His desire was for His followers, those who put all their eggs in one basket along with Him, that they would be as much in unity with one another as He was with His Father in heaven. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). You can’t separate love and unity without losing both.
So what made the difference to me that night when I called out for deliverance from my sin? How was I able to cry out to the One whose identity I had so fiercely denied? “In Him is life, and this life is the light of men” (John 1:4). It’s life first, then light. Do you know that old song, I saw the light, I saw the light...? Well, I saw the life, the life of true unity. Only real togetherness like I saw in those people can express the “true light that enlightens every man.” So now I’m out of the cold. I want you to come and visit this true warmth that I’ve found.
~ David Jones