In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)
I was 15 years old when Walmart moved into my town. They leveled a popular sledding hill, complete with a cozy pine grove at the top, and put in a sprawling parking lot — one more thing to add to my list of things that are wrong with the world. There was something so unsettling about that kind of change, especially for someone as spiritually volatile as I was. I felt I could lose my grip at any moment. I disengaged myself from others. I spent a lot of time alone. I was euphoric, and then depressed. I got involved in things… high things and low things, things I wouldn’t tell my teachers about. I walked in the woods around my town, in the park, by myself for hours, wondering why I was alive. What difference could my life make? At night I would cry in my bed, trembling, shaking, and desperate. I was filled with anxiety, plagued with a bad conscience. I was too proud to go to my parents for help. I hid the bad things from them, pretending to be all right.
There are too many people on the planet, I thought. I’ll be the first to go.
I used to fantasize about suicide. I never actually thought I’d carry it out, but I sure pondered on it a lot. My favorite scenario was drowning. There was something appealing about being immersed in water, enveloped by cool suffocation, hidden from sight. I wanted to disappear. I couldn’t face people. I felt sick in my spirit, and I didn’t want anyone to see my true condition.
At the same time, I wanted to do something radical, something amazing with my life, something that would be an example to others. Perhaps they would follow in my footsteps.
Wait a minute! Hadn’t I heard a story like this somewhere? Yes, there was a man who died for all. He never asked, “What’s in it for me?” My mother had told me about Jesus when I was growing up. She had a picture of him by the side of her bed. She told me that he was the kindest, the sweetest, and the most tender-hearted man there ever was. She told me that he loved people, and that he saved people. She also told me that he wasn’t to be found in Christianity, where they talked about him but didn’t love like he did.
My mother had been raised a Baptist in a small town in Maine. She turned away from it in her twenties, and became a hippie in her thirties. I was born in one of the biggest hippie communities in the United States, called Gaskin’s Farm. When things went downhill on the Farm, and it obviously wasn’t working, my parents left, not knowing what they were going to offer me or my brothers. They had thought the ideal of community was going to last forever.
I had grown up with early memories of people living a common life together, where sharing was the norm, and helping one another was just what folks did. I remember my mother asking, “Who will take this pound of sugar to the neighbor?” I responded with excitement, “I WILL!” It was so much fun to love people. This was what life was all about, I was sure.
Something great had happened, but it hadn’t lasted. Certainly, nothing in the mainstream could satisfy me after that. I yearned for a life with purpose and meaning — people living together, not divided up into little boxes all across the towns and cities, with their own separate finances, their own cars, their own families, their own separate lives. I knew there was something greater. There had to be. What had happened to the movement I was born in? My parents were nostalgic about their experience in community. I was cynical.
It’s not hard to imagine that if a person gives up his life to God, that God will benefit. It is far more difficult to trust that life will go better for you, as well.
If you stop and think about God for a moment, realizing that he created the universe in all its majesty and order, then you could surely come to the conclusion that your life would go better if lived according to his intended purpose for you.
Things really clicked for me when I was able to lay my eyes on a demonstration of God’s life. I met people who were living their lives in obedience to the commandments of Yahshua,* the Messiah, the Son of God, loving one another as he would. Among them, I was loved. They reached out to me and were hospitable. They invited me to visit anytime, and stay as long as I liked. They were always warm and friendly. If it weren’t for this contact with real human beings, manifesting God’s Spirit and love, I would never have believed.
The first time I met the Twelve Tribes in one of their communities, I was startled by their clean, simple life together. Modest dress, wholesome, carefully prepared food, and simple fellowship with wonderful music and dancing imprinted my first visit with them into my memory forever.
It was obvious that they loved one another. When someone knocked over a cup of water, another would grab a mop, and clean up the spill without even being asked. When one spoke, others listened, interested in hearing what she had to say. I was drawn to their warmth for one another. It could not be contained; it overflowed to me. Then they would share from the scriptures. They would open the Bible and read. I couldn’t figure it out. What did this book that I had ignored all my life have to do with the wonderful life I saw before me? Why were they even reading at all? I was so fed up with books at the time I met them that I imagined the ideal society to be non-literate.
Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
I guess anyone who wants to know the truth must ask himself whether he is willing to hear it from another. If you only want your own understanding, you don’t really want the truth. I have learned that true enlightenment is the standard of love shining brightly into my life, exposing all of my selfish motives and harmful thoughts, yet at the same time communicating to the depths of my heart hope to change. A person is truly enlightened only to the extent that he is honestly facing his own needy, fallen condition. The people of the Twelve Tribes Communities loved me so much that I finally let down my defenses, and acknowledged the truth about myself, knowing that I would not be rejected. We’re all full of the same junk — made in the image of God, but fallen, full of tendencies to sin.
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:19-21)
They loved me so much that I couldn’t stand being away from them. My visits became more and more frequent. I asked many questions, and tried to lower the cost of having the life that they shared.
The fruit looked sweet, but I had to count the cost.
If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
Months went by and the cost never changed. The gospel is always the same.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)
Then two things happened at once, while I was sitting in their Friday night gathering, enjoying the music and watching young and old alike dance in a circle together. I realized that it was going to be completely okay to trust their God, to give up everything to him, without reserve and without condition. And at the same time, it dawned in my heart that if I did not utterly forsake my life in exchange for his life, then I was a total coward.
How could I turn away from love? I could not go back to ignorance. The terms of peace did not change. I changed. Isn’t that what enlightenment is all about? Now things are so much better. I have learned not to ask, “What’s in it for me?” For in love, there is abundant life for everyone. I have finally found the way to be enlightened. It comes from being forgiven and walking in the light. I’m so happy to be on the path of life.