This entry has turned out to be very personal and a part of my life I don’t talk about very often. It’s not something easy for me to talk about partly because it’s painful and partly because it’s hard to believe, and I don’t wish to add the burden of asking for belief to all of the other burdens that people bear in this life. The things I’m about to share, I don’t half believe myself even though it was my own experience. My warning, dear reader, is that what follows is also not for the faint of heart. If you like me as you see me and wish to keep seeing me as you currently do, then please don’t let me shatter your bubble. If it’s going to make you afraid of me, then do yourself a favor and read no further. However, if you think it can help you to understand me and others who’ve been in similar circumstances, and you would like to be able to understand then please read on. I am honored to bare my soul in the interest of helping to bring understanding.
I have walked away from Christianity, it’s true. However, it is important to make known that what I have walked away from – and, more importantly, renounced – is a disenfranchising subculture that is making every attempt to contaminate the broader world’s psyche (and with some measure of success, I might add).
People who knew me as a Christian might want to know how I could walk away when they heard me say I had an actual encounter with Jesus apart from the church. And this is true. I did have an encounter, and it is no less impacting and profound – and even confounding – to me to this very day. I have not sorted through whether it was a psychological construct or one person meeting an actual other, and there is a possibility I may never sort that out in this lifetime. I am growing more comfortable with that possibility every day. For a long time, I was hung up on a perceived need to know which it was – real or a hologram that my survival instinct created to get me through a time when I knew I was floundering with a very real chance of not surviving for much longer. Now, at this juncture, what is important to me is what I take away from the experience.
So here is the takeaway as it stands now. That encounter, whatever it may have been, was significant because, at that time, mental disorders being managed (very poorly, I might add) with substance abuse had, in the eyes of the the world around me, made me one of the disposable ones – except that, a little bit here, and a little bit there, people would come along, and when they did, I had a safe place to sleep, and/or I had food, and/or I had clean clothing – when before they came along I had none of these things. At times, when certain people came along I even had coffee and cigarettes. I would lie in whatever bed (be it a couch or actual bed) was provided and wonder: What unseen force has intervened and seen to it that I’m here and not out in those streets outside that smell of urine and feces? I began looking in earnest for the source of each benevolent gesture, and one night all my searching and all of the bread crumbs of hints that seemed to point to Jesus led to seeing a vision of him. And when I saw him, what I saw, indeed what I experienced was, “I see you.” That’s what it was – and just what I needed at that time. I saw someone who could see through my appearance and through my disturbing behavior and actually see me – the me I’d been looking for in the mirror who’d been eluding me for some time.
So this was Jesus, I said to myself. I had never seen this aspect of him. All I’d seen of Jesus before this was people with wild, judgemental eyes and shaking fists saying on his behalf, “Turn or burn.” My encounter/experience revealed something the polar opposite of all that and led to a desire, suddenly, where no desire had been before, to get my hands on a bible. I wanted to know what this Jesus said, and I knew of no other source to learn his words. In that vision, there were no words spoken.
The visual aspect of “seeing Jesus” was significant to me, and there was a whole series of things that led up to certain things being significant, but what feels important for me to share is what I would come to take away from the encounter. Though I’d been clean having newly started a rehab program for substance abuse, I was by no means sober. My thinking was by no means sober. Anyone who’s been through a significant erosion of who they are and/or of sound thinking due to substance abuse and related factors will know what that means. The first most immediate takeaway of seeing Jesus in this vision was the experience sobered me up. Seriously. Prior to the vision, my head was swimming around and around in the goldfish bowl of addictive thinking. Coming out of the vision was like coming out of a dense fog and being given the ability to see things more clearly than I’d been able to for a very long time. In this vision, Jesus didn’t utter a single word – yet I understood that he could see me and that my life…that I…mattered. This was something I’d spent the whole of my lifetime grappling with: whether or not I actually mattered, whether or not my life, my existence, whether any of it mattered, so, yeah…the immediate takeaway from this experience was a pretty big deal, a life-changing kind of big deal.
I was in San Diego when this vision occurred. The events leading up to it started several months before while still living in Northwest Arkansas. Not long after the vision of Jesus and feeling a desire to get my hands on a bible, I was in Pacific Beach and found a bible in a parking lot. It was open, pages flapping in the ocean breeze. I mean, what are the odds of wishing for a bible and stepping off of a bus a few days later and walking right into one? A few days later, I ran into someone who was going through a difficult time, and we talked with each other about a desire to know Jesus. After our conversation, I gave her the bible I’d found. I was sad after she left with it and wondered if I’d just given away the most precious gift I’d ever received – and even more importantly, if the “giver” of the gift would be insulted by it. But a few days after that, in a sobriety coffee house downtown, I was presented with a whole shelf of bibles and encouraged to take one for myself if I so desired, which I did.
I absorbed the words of the gospels like a sponge – especially the words in red. The things that stood out to me and resonated were things such as the woman being thrown at Jesus’ feet after being caught in the act of adultery and discovering Jesus’ response: “You who are without sin, cast the first stone” and the man of the Gadarenes who was found sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind…I could relate.
These experiences, these things that resonated with me about the life of Jesus Christ are now my takeaway. The Jesus that gets down to eye level when one is down and looks into the face of the disenfranchised and communicates in a meaningful way, in a way they can understand, “I see you.”
We don’t get to read the accounts of what occurred in the lives of these formerly cast off and invisible ones after an encounter with Jesus. I’m writing this to document, to put it out there in some form, that I am 21 years out from my encounter with this Jesus who looked at me and communicated very clearly with me – without so much as uttering a word…”I see you.” And I’m still sober as a result. That’s important, because I’m alive and able to function (except at the times where I struggle – or don’t struggle [which sometimes happens too] – to function) as a result of this sobriety, this gift that I feel was given to me.
So when I openly – and sometimes even brazenly – declare that I am no longer a Christian, I am declaring that I no longer wish to align myself with a subculture that actually breeds disenfranchisement. What was given to me when I saw Jesus was the understanding that there was someone/something that could see it all and see beyond it all and understand. And that’s the thing: if one actually takes the time to get to eye level of a person they find distasteful, disgusting, what-have-you and look past all that they see on the surface and chooses to actually see and understand, then that one can never stand behind a pulpit or hold up a sign on a street corner and call someone an abomination (or shaming people because of their reproductive choices, or all the rest of the ugly, dehumanizing things that are said and done in the name of playing “the bible says” game) ever again. THAT is the difference between the Jesus that sees and the Christian who is blind. I do not wish to walk in the high and lofty place of being above all of the suffering around me – choosing not only to be blind to the suffering but to also leave a trail suffering in their wake by saying that the very God whom they claim sent the Jesus they claim to follow is not anything like the humanity that Jesus came to introduce humanity to.
I know I keep saying I am walking away from Christianity and attempting to explain why. I’ll keep saying it – as many ways as is necessary to say it – until some kind of flicker of understanding is sparked – – – because it’s important. It’s important for you, entitled Christian, self-proclaimed child of the Most High God, to understand the damage that you are doing by not seeing people like the Jesus you claim to follow saw them. He didn’t go about trying to convert anyone or convince anyone of his rightness. He simply lived out his rightness for those to see who needed to see it, and it made all the difference (I speak from experience).