Friday, December 28, 2012

Conversions and De-conversions - Marriage and Morals

Rosemary and I did not continue with our private Bible studies for very long.  I knew what was in the Bible.  That knowledge was the downfall of those Bible studies.  I was embarrassed by what was in it, so I hid it from my curious fiancé.  I just never talked to her about it.  I was a little naïve though.  Rosemary also knew what was in it.  She carried the baggage of the Bible around in the guise of Church Tradition.  She knew that she would one day have to be submissive to her future husband because of her tradition.  She knew that one day she would have to follow me as her spiritual guide.  Rosemary was intelligent, strong-willed and independent, and I was just a little afraid of upholding my future obligations.  Fortunately, we both talked about this often.  Neither of us was willing to accept the other as ‘head of the household’.  And both of us were fine with that.

We had a massive choice to make regarding our marriage.  Should we wed in the Baptist or the Catholic Church?  I initially did not mind going to the Catholic ceremony, until Rosemary told me that the Catholic Church would be a little more complicated than the Baptist.  I would have to actually be confirmed as a Catholic believer, which meant a whole regimen of instruction and catechisms followed by a public declaration of Faith in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  There was no way that was going to happen, because I felt no Faith conviction with the Catholic Church.  I was not raised in the Catholic tradition, and I had no reason to believe any of the claims that it made regarding religious beliefs.  I attended the Catholic Church with Rosemary, I partook of the Eucharist, and I tried to incorporate the elements of the Catholic rituals into my own personal beliefs.  But I did not literally ‘believe’ any of it.  I did not believe that the priest was really invoking the body and blood of Christ into the elements of the Eucharist.  I did not really believe that praying to Saints would do anybody any good.  I did not believe that Mary was and continued to be a virgin, and that this virginity was somehow a mark of her purity and worth of veneration.  I had no reason to believe that a hierarchy of priests, bishops, cardinals and popes had any authority to dictate what my personal beliefs could be, or even should be.  I was advised by some more liberal minded Catholic friends to just go with the flow.  Take the creeds in stride.  I was told that lots of adult converts to the Catholic Faith did this.  I was advised to stop taking these matters of Faith so seriously.  But I could not.  I took my Christian Faith very seriously.  I always had.  Honesty compelled it.  I could not publicly confess something, especially something that was to frame my entire moral and spiritual life, when I did not really believe it.  To do so would make me just another hypocrite, just like the whitened sepulchers that Jesus condemned in back in His day.

In the meantime, Rosemary was being pressured to be baptized and join La Puerta del Cielo Baptist Church.  She worked with the pastor’s wife, and our friends who joined us in our weekly Bible study all encouraged her to make a public declaration of her Faith as a member of the Baptist Church.  But the Baptist Church was just as alien to her as the Catholic Church was to me.  We both respected each other’s religious traditions, and we each got what we could out of the respective churches.  I did my best to use the symbols of the Catholic Church to suit my own beliefs, and I gained a better appreciation for them as symbols.  But there was no way I was going to join the Catholic Church.  Similarly, Rosemary loved the Baptist tradition of direct prayer to God and the more practical, family oriented sermons of Pastor Alvarez.  But there was no way she was going to join the Baptist Church.  It was not her tradition.  “I am not a Baptist!” she would sometimes tell me in secret frustration.  “I wish they would stop telling me to convert!” 

Fortunately, each on our own way, we both identified as Christians in the traditions that we were raised in, but we both felt free enough by this time, to take what we felt were the best of each other’s traditions and meld them into our own private beliefs.  We somehow made it work.  In the end, we decided to get married in La Puerta del Cielo Baptist Church.  There were far fewer strings to deal with than trying to wed in the Catholic Church.  We had the added bonus of having much more control over how the actual ceremony would be conducted.  We just had to pay a few service charges, rent the church building and a few props for the day, and attend a mandatory wedding class.

We were to have thirteen sessions with one of the La Puerta del Cielo Christian counselors as part of the wedding class.  The class was intended to teach us the Biblical standards and God’s ideals for a successful marriage.  While I appreciated the fact that our Baptist church did not treat marriage in a trivial manner, and wanted to ensure that our marriage would be a success, I was still secretly concerned about this class.  I will repeat that I knew what was in the Bible, including what the Bible had to say about marriage.  That is, it said practically nothing about marriage.  I did not know how the sparse Biblical instruction concerning marriage could be ever padded out to fill thirteen counseling sessions.

Unlike what I had learned of the physical sciences, I discovered that Christian theology rests on a foundation of vague concepts, nebulous definitions and subjective language.  When we have a problem in physics, or when something needs to be studied, one of the first things to be done is to have terms precisely defined.  Everybody involved must speak the same language, so definitions must be precise, assumptions must be listed, and initial conditions must be established.  Subjective language was for the realm of poetry, literature, art.  And religion.  I found that consistent definitions for basic and fundamental concepts could not be agreed to by any of my fellow believers.  Spirit did not have an adequate and consistent definition apart from vague and unconvincing references to energy.  I later found that God, religion and even Christianity could be defined so broadly and vaguely that they could conceivably lose any meaning at all.  But at that moment, I was only interested in understanding what I had heard and taken for granted my entire life, the Biblical definition of marriage.  That definition was essentially what I found printed in our marriage counseling workbook:
Marriage is a divine institution.  It is God’s idea.  He made the first man and woman.  He introduced them to each other.  He gave them their pre-marital counseling.  He performed the first wedding service.
And that was it.  This was the only definition given in our 152 page counseling workbook.  It said nothing else.  And I knew that even that was complete post-hoc fabrication.  I knew God gave no pre-marital counseling, and performed no wedding service.  This was the author’s desperate attempt to give marriage some kind of Divine sanction.  At least the Catholic Church tradition made marriage into some kind of sacrament!  But I knew that the closest the Bible comes to ever defining marriage to his creation is found in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen 1:27  
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Gen 2:23-24
And on this meager citation, the modern Evangelical institution of marriage has been defined, and my marriage counseling workbook was forced to fabricate what it could out of those scraps.  By this point in my life, I was far beyond knowing that Adam and Eve were myths.  I knew that such people never existed.  The institution of ‘marriage’ was then left to be the product of a mythical origin story.  My church claimed that a permanent vow between a man and woman had its only foundation on a story that I knew to be a myth.  This was no different than claiming that rainbows, which I knew to be the product of light diffraction through a prism, were really God’s reminder to me that He would not to flood the planet.  As if I needed a reminder about that.  Clinging to ancient mythology and ignoring the changing cultural and societal definitions of marriage was no different from ignoring what we knew of science in favor of mythologies.  Rainbows were not God’s reminder of the world engulfing Deluge.  The world was not a flat, circular disk.  Heaven was not in the sky.  Women did not have difficult labors because Eve ate fruit from a tree.  A donkey did not talk, an ax did not float, the sun did not stop in the sky and marriage was not ordained on the First Couple.  My counseling workbook was fully, completely, thoroughly incorrect in its definition.  It was deceptive.  It did not tell the truth.  God never introduced Adam and Eve to each other.  God never gave Adam and Eve pre-marital counseling.  God never performed the first wedding service.  And without even a basic definition of what marriage was that made the least bit of sense, I was left to do with my workbook what I was doing with the Bible.  I would have to grab what good I could out of it, ignore the rest, and hope nobody noticed.  Someday it will all make sense, I figured.  For now I will just make do the best way that I can.

What I feared about our Biblical marriage counseling proved to be correct.  The Bible had next to nothing to say about what marriage was, or how it should be conducted and lived out in modern, western society.  Our counseling workbook, which emphasized on the cover that it would teach marriage God’s Way, was essentially 152 pages and 13 lessons of padding.  Sure, it had some good stuff in there.  There were exercises on how to communicate effectively with my spouse and avoid conflict.  How to handle finances.  Sorting out responsibilities.  Dealing with in-laws.  But I found the same problem here that I found in trying to dredge practical relevance for my life out of the Old Testament.  Despite the claims made by our workbook, the Bible says next to nothing about how Rosemary and I were to handle our personal finances, our domestic responsibilities or conflicts with in-laws.  The workbook was absolutely pathetic in its attempts to attach Biblical foundations for these kinds of issues.  How can we read nonverbal communication from out spouse?  Try some examples from Scripture like 1 Kings 21:4 or Joshua 7:6.  How about resolving a conflict peacefully?  Try getting an example of how this is done from Genesis 26:17-31.  What can the Bible teach us about handling family finances?  Surely we can glean a lesson from 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.  Need advice about relations with troublesome in-laws?  The story of Jacob and Laban can provide some inspiration.  The vast bulk of our workbook dealt with these issues in a practical manner with exercises and discussions to work through, but the Bible verses seemed tacked on as superfluous afterthoughts.  Reading them provided no guidance whatsoever.  They were either vague or irrelevant to our situation.  I could see no point in including any of these Scriptural references except for the need to make the Bible “God’s instruction manual for my life”, despite my growing realization that it was anything but that.  My fears about the counseling sessions were confirmed, and my Bible again proved to be an embarrassment.

There were a few exceptions in which our workbook cited direct and unambiguous authority from the Bible.  One of them concerned my leadership role as a husband and Rosemary’s subservient role as a wife.  The Bible spoke with more certainty on this issue than pretty much any other.  I was 41 years old by this point in my life, and preparing to wed for the first time.  I was not a youngster.  I had lived independently and alone for more than 20 years, and I had no intention or desire to marry Rosemary as my subservient helpmeet.  On this, however, the counselor was insistent and my Bible was clear.  I inwardly cringed at workbook passages like:
“…conflict can be eliminated if clear lines of responsibility are delineated.  The husband under God is the head or manager of the home (Ephesians 5:22-27; 1 Timothy 3:4-5).  He is the one who is finally responsible to lovingly and Biblically guide the home.  The buck stops with him.  But he may decide to let his wife (his chief helper – Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 31:10-31) take the leadership responsibility in certain areas…”
It was to our great relief that our counselor almost entirely skipped the portions of our workbook that dealt with sexuality.  Neither Rosemary nor I were youngsters, and our counselor cut our sessions short by three weeks, skipping over huge chucks of our workbook that dealt with sexual anxieties, God’s commands against fornication, abortion and birth control.  Our councilor agreed that since we were not a young couple, these sections were probably not applicable to us.  In hindsight, we were smart not to wed in the Catholic Church, which would have claimed much stricter controls on Rosemary’s reproductive system.  I don’t think I would have been able to sit idly by if Rome attempted to impose personal and sexual authority over Rosemary.

Between the Old Testament atrocities, the moral ambiguities, and the way any pragmatic meaning had to be forcibly scraped and dredged out, the Bible was turning into an embarrassing, irrelevant fifth wheel in my Christian life.  Its ancient ethics, stories and myths seemed to be losing all meaning in modern western culture.  But somehow, even after all this emotional conflict, I could not shake the conviction that the Bible was still the inspired Word of God.  Somehow, someway, this Bible was God’s ordained foundation for my Christian Faith.  That firm, bedrock belief, sealed by a lifetime of instilled conviction, was the paradigm which framed my entire religious existence.  I believed in the Bible.  It is the Word of God.  And the only thing that was going to make me a good husband, which I desperately desired to be, was a solid relationship with He who created me and He who had a purpose for me.

That was all I knew.  There was only one way to be good and that was through God.  That is all I was ever taught.  Even after all the work I had done in scientific research, even after all the training I had in problem solving and critical thinking, I still clung to that old boogeyman of primitive morality, inculcated by childhood indoctrination, and cemented with years of rote repetition.  God is Good.  Man is Depraved.  God is Love.  Man is Sinful. 

I could give up creationism.  I could give up atrocities.  I could give up mythology.  But one thing was certain, and one thing was at the center of my beliefs – and that was the Person of Jesus Christ.  My faith had to remain in Him no matter what.  I knew that I had to believe the correct things about Him.  He was God, incarnate on earth as a man.  He was fully human and fully divine.  He died, atoned for our sins, and ascended into Heaven.  He was the second Person of the Holy Trinity, but one with the Father and Holy Ghost.  He was eternal and infinite, with no beginning and no end.  Through Him all things were created.  And He wanted to have a personal relationship with me.  That had to remain the core and certainty of my Faith.

I secretly inspected Rosemary’s answers in our marriage counseling workbook.  I was particularly interested to see what she answered in the Spiritual Convictions Questionnaire.

Finish the following sentences:

Jesus Christ is:
Rosemary answered: My brother who inspires me to do good and support my life’s discoveries and experiences.

A Christian is:
One who lives life like that of Christ – full of hope, forgiving, relentless in the search for truth, kind, and sincere.

The Bible is:

Oh no.  Rosemary’s answers seemed very limp and weak to me.  There was nothing powerful in her convictions.  Rosemary said nothing about Sin.  Atonement.  Salvation.  And she had absolutely no opinion on the Bible.  What am I going to do to change that about her?  I am so embarrassed to confess this, but these are the kinds of things that I was thinking as I scrutinized her personal Faith.

So I secretly condemned the woman that I loved because she did not list her answers in a stupid workbook exactly as I thought she should.  At the same time I was embarrassed by the very Bible I was using to condemn her.  Slowly, imperceptibly, I was retreating back to my Fundamentalist, Calvary Chapel mentality.  In my desire be a good husband, I tried to rediscover my religious foundation.  But ironically, the more seriously I took my desire to be morally virtuous, the more I turned into a self-righteous, smug, judgmental asshole.  I was so conflicted.  I was so incredibly confused.

Rosemary noticed how my attitude was changing.  She did not understand why her relaxed and content fiancé was slowly becoming more cranky, uptight and insensitive.  She did not know at the time that he was just trying to find Jesus.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Conversions and De-conversions – The Filtered Bible

Rosemary had never really read the Bible.  Her Catholic background never encouraged her to read the raw, unfiltered Biblical text.  She only read from selected readings and portions chosen for her by some anonymous men in Rome.  But she managed to bluff her way through our Baptist led home Bible studies.  There was one particularly uncomfortable evening at our home Bible study where we fervent Evangelicals were discussing our favorite portions of the Holy Scriptures.

For instance, my favorites have long been John chapter 10 and Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.  Other people expressed their favorites, and we all nodded with fond agreement.  “Ah yes!  I love Romans as well!  So deep…”  It was finally Rosemary’s turn to speak and somebody asked her to gush over her favorite part of the Bible.  She stumbled.  I knew she was in trouble, but the singer and choir performer in her pulled something out.  “I have always loved the Psalms.  I love the singing and poetry.”  “Ah yes!  The Psalms…” our Bible study group again nodded in approval.

In private, I knew that Rosemary only knew the basics of the Bible.  She could list off the most elementary bullet points, like Paul’s letters and the four Gospels.  But if given a Bible she could never find them without first consulting the table of contents in the front.  What is a sure way to spot a true Bible believing Fundamentalist?  Easy.  They can instantly find obscure books like Haggai or Philemon with a mere flip of a few pages in their Bibles.  But what Rosemary lacked in Biblical knowledge, she made up for in sincere devotion to her beloved Deity.  She loved prayer during our home Bible studies, and she felt free to dispense of the Catholic prayer regimen of repeating the Rosary.  She relished the Baptist tradition of bypassing the endless cycles and intermediary prayers to the Saints and instead boldly approaching the throne of God for a direct talk with her all-loving Deity.  Rosemary loved this devotional prayer time, and she always prayed with much enthusiasm during our Bible studies.  At the time, she seemed to enjoy the Rick Warren 40 Days of Purpose videos that our home Bible study was watching.  But her weak spot was the actual Bible readings.  I think she felt a little embarrassed by her ignorance when surrounded by fervent, Bible believing Baptists.

She once asked me if we could have a private Bible study session at home, just for the two of us.  My heart leapt.  My Catholic girlfriend was interested in the fountainhead of my religious beliefs.  Maybe she would come around to my side after all, and leave Catholicism as a cultural vestige.  Maybe we could at least meet halfway, with my growing, but not complete, interest in her Catholic Faith. 

I had previously read the entire Bible twice, both times while attending Calvary Chapel nearly a decade before.  At the time, I read the Bible as one would read a novel, with the only difference being that it was preceded by much prayer to the supposed Author.  I had a tendency to read the Bible only to retain an over-arching idea of what was actually in the text.  I rarely dug into details.  I did not compare and crosscheck one text with another.  If there was a gap left in the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, it could easily be filled with something I found in the Gospel of Mark.  If the long list of requirements for the Tabernacle or Priestly garments in Exodus became tedious, I just had to remember that the details all somehow acted as pointers to the person of Jesus Christ, who was being miraculously pre-figured by Moses centuries before the fact.

But I had not read the Bible, the Source, the Wellspring of my Faith, in around ten years.  I laid great hope in our home Bible studies, but I felt famished after being coerced into watching Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose videos during Bible study time.  I felt the Holy Ghost convicting me to again ‘dig into the Word’, which us Fundamentalists used as code for reading the Bible.  I picked up my New King James Bible.  I started in Genesis.  “In the beginning….”

My attitude in reading was different than it was ten years previously.  I no longer read it with the same attitude that I did in Calvary Chapel.  By this time, I had been conditioned with several years of reading textbooks and scientific papers.  I knew how to study.  I did not read the Bible in the bathtub or in bed, as I had before.  I instead sat at the table, with pen and pad in hand, and after a short prayer for guidance, I did my best to actually study the text as I would study any other text worthy of intense scrutiny.  This time when I read the Bible, I took copious notes.  I highlighted.  I crosschecked one passage to see how it compared with another.  I paid attention to details.  I tried to detach myself emotionally from my revered text, and tried to understand what cultural context could produce a Deity that suddenly seemed alien to everything I had been led to believe in Calvary Chapel.

I made it up to 1 Samuel.  I could not go any further.  The Bible felt like a different book when I read it critically as opposed to devotionally.  When I crosschecked the text, many things seemed out of place.  I noticed stories that repeated, sometimes with a couple of details or names changed, but nevertheless repeated.  I noticed characters doing things that seemed to have no motivation, non-sequiturs, or events that would be repeated.  I tried keeping track of how many times Moses climbed Mount Sinai to retrieve his laws, and it became so confusing that in the end I could never fully sort it out.  Abram, Abraham and Jacob all had stories of visiting a foreign king, and telling that king that their beautiful wives were actually their sisters.  Moses curses the land of Egypt with plagues that kill all the livestock, but the livestock is suddenly present again just in time for the next curse that kills them again.  Isaac appears out of nowhere 20 years after he was shown on his deathbed, blind, and tricked into giving his birthright to the wrong son.  The exiled Moses repeats the same itinerary as the exiled Jacob.  King Saul hunts for his young protégé David then forgives him after David spared his life.  Then with no explanation, Saul is shown hunting for him again.  Jacob scolds his son Joseph, and claims that he and his mother will not bow to him, years after Joseph’s mother had already died in labor.  Samuel pronounces Saul king at least twice, the first by anointing him with oil in a private ceremony, then again by drawing lots amongst all the tribes of Israel.  After David killed Goliath, King Saul needs to be introduced to the valiant young warrior as if he did not know him, even though King Saul had earlier specifically requested the services of David, by name, for his harp playing skills. 

Saul loved David so much that he became his armor bearer, and then he suddenly forgot about him after he killed Goliath?  What is going on?  Early in the book of 1Samuel it is said that God prevented the Philistines from attacking Israel while Samuel, his prophet, was alive.  But the rest of 1Samuel is a record of nothing but Philistine invasions.  What happened? 

Deuteronomy claims to be a record of the repeating of the Mosaic laws to the new generation of Hebrews before they possess their Promised Land.  Yet when I compared the Deuteronomy laws with the laws of Exodus and Leviticus, they were almost never the same, and in some cases flatly contradicted.  Events in Deuteronomy are described as occurring in different locations, and for different reasons than they do in the other Mosaic books, especially Numbers.  Deuteronomy claims that Moses was given two sets of the Ten Commandments, and that the second was like the first.  But a simple comparison of the two sets of the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus shows that they were almost entirely different.  The firstborn of people and livestock are treated differently in different portions of Scripture.  There seemed to me to be some confusion about what to do with firstborn male children.  In some texts, they are to be ‘redeemed’ to God, along with the firstborn of all the livestock.  But in other texts, humans do not have to dedicate their first born, but can redeem them for money.  Still other texts specify that firstborns do not have to be redeemed at all, but that the job goes to Levites.  Specific priestly rules often differed, even just slightly.  Priests may eat different parts of livestock dedicated for sacrifice, but those body parts differ depending on which text is referenced.

These were all things I noticed and which I am referencing from the notes I took at the time.  But none of these strange signs of textual tampering, the duplication and alternate versions of stories, the changing and abnegation of laws, or other anomalies caused me to doubt the veracity of the Bible.  It was still the Word of God.  After reading it a bit more critically than I had in my Fundamentalist past, I just seemed a lot more unsure in its foundations than I had once believed.  The Bible was not as clear in its interpretation as Calvary Chapel made me think it was.  It would take much more study to plumb its depths than I had earlier imagined. 

For the first time in my life, I noticed the morally embarrassing character of the Deity in the first books of the Bible.  Today, I would call the Deity’s character monstrous, abominable, loathsome and unworthy of any human respect, much less worship.  But at the time I was reading these passages, at a time when I was doing my best to be a good Christian, I was just embarrassed.  I did not know what to think when I read these passages as they were written and without trying to explain it away at any cost.  I once justified the reprehensible character of the Deity as a product of the ancient cultural context in which He was depicted.  I once told myself that the slavery that the Deity regulated in the Bible was actually better treatment than the barbaric and godless slavery as practiced in neighboring cultures.  When God commanded Moses to dispossess the land he was conquering, and when he commanded Moses to kill all Amorites, I reasoned it was because the Amorites had long before earned their destruction by rejecting the True God, by turning instead to false idols and sacrificing their little Amorite babies to those idols.  Everybody in Calvary Chapel reads the Bible in this way.  When church pastors encourage believers to read the Bible, believers have no choice but to excuse all of their Deity’s abhorrent behavior and instruction by any means possible.  But instead of making excuses by inserting things in the Bible that were not already there, I just read the Bible as it was printed, and wrote down troublesome passages in my notes.

I think what bothered me most of all, more than the contradictions, multiple versions of the same stories, more than the questionable morals of the Deity, was the sometimes childish, petulant, dare I say, even immature character of the Deity.  He would throw crippling plagues on Egypt, and then consciously and willfully harden the Pharaoh to unrepentance, which would justify more crippling plagues.  His temper sometimes resembled the tantrums of a spoiled all-powerful toddler, cursing or killing anybody who broke the slightest of His commandments.  I tried to imagine the horror of fire falling from the skies and the earth opening to swallow 250 rebellious Levite priests.  I tried to picture the scene in which Moses ordered the Levite priests to massacre 3000 of their rebellious Hebrews brothers.  When the Hebrews complained about the lack of meat in their diets, the Deity responded by dumping a plague of quail on the camp of ‘day’s journey’ wide on each side and two cubits high.  The Deity seemed proud of stuffing the Hebrews with quail because they dared complain of their lack of meat.  It all reminded me of an impatient father who stuffed his rebellious teenager’s mouth full of cigarettes because he dared sneak a puff.  The Deity commands his followers to stone with stones anybody they suspect of tempting others to stray from the Faith.  Even if that person be a brother or a wife, they are to be stoned.  I tried to imagine the punishment of stoning – hurling rocks at a victim and the fatal infliction of one injury upon the next by the pounding impact of rocks.  Such a torturously painful execution for any reason seemed like nothing short of barbarism.  Could we even do a quick decapitation or something?

Blessings are promised on the Hebrews if they obey the Deity, but they almost seem an afterthought compared to the numerous curses promised on the disobedient.  The amount of curses threatened by the constantly angered Deity in Deuteronomy 28 bordered on the absurd and laughable.  It just seemed over the top.  Sometimes no reason at all was given for the unbelievable temper and wrath of this Deity who was supposedly the center of my Christian beliefs. 

This type of behavior and moral structure was not the rare anomalies of a few isolated passages.  The first few books of the Bible was not a record of a loving and generous Deity occasionally interrupted with descriptions of his punishment of unfaithful followers.  The pages seemed soaked with barbarism and petty behavior from the Deity from beginning to end, and I simply could not ignore it any more.  I never made it past 1Samuel on that reading of my New King James translation of the Bible.  I stopped reading the Bible after I read of the Prophet Samuel’s rejection of Saul as King.  The only rationale given for this rejection was that King Saul disobeyed the Deity.  How did King Saul disobey the Deity and earn His disfavor?  By warring with the Amalekites and sparing the life of the best livestock and Agag, the Amalekite king.  The disobedience came, not in the war, but in the sparing of life.  King Saul was under orders from the Deity to slaughter every living thing among the Amalekites - man, woman, child and animal.  The order from God was explicit.  King Saul was to destroy everybody and everything, and spare nobody, not a single man, woman, infant, sheep, camel or donkey.  Saul did kill everything; he did obey orders, with the sole exception of the Amalekite king, whom he kept imprisoned, and some choice livestock which he intended for sacrifice.  But this was not enough for the Deity.  Saul was to slaughter everything, and for not precisely and savagely following the letter of this command, Saul was cursed from that day onward.  By the time Samuel, the Prophet of God, took a sword and personally killed the imprisoned Amalekite king by hacking him to pieces, I had had enough.  I simply could read no further.  How in the world had I missed all this sludge when I had previously read the Bible?  How could I have simply prayed, read about morally reprehensible behavior from the God that I worshipped, then closed the Bible and thanked God for the precious jewel of His Word?  How could I have done that?  How?

The problems ran even deeper than this.  I had been promised by Pastors Skip and Chuck of Calvary Chapel, that every detail of the Scriptures was there by the design of the Holy Ghost.  The details of the Old Testament, I was told, pointed to or prefigured the person of Jesus Christ in the New Covenant.  Calvary Chapel prided itself on devotional reading from the entire Bible, both New and Old Testaments.  But on this reading, I could no longer read these ancient Scriptures with a sense of devotion, or of applying some kind of relevance to my own life.  What did any of this ancient history, these meandering stories of patriarchs, judges, kings and lawgivers, these minutias of alien purity laws and tabernacle regulations, these detailed accounts of Divinely commanded genocide - what did any of this have to do with my Christian life?  I felt separated from these Scriptures by the continents of distance and the millennia of time that stood between us.  The problem was that I was trying to put my faith in the Christian religion as a follower of my Savior Jesus.  I did not want to worship the Bible as an idol, as I once did.  I acknowledged that it had its share of legend and myth, and I was still willing to place my Faith in it as a source of my Christian beliefs.  But Rosemary and I were getting married very soon.  I wanted nothing more than to be a good husband for my future wife.  I wanted a basis for my morality, and I believed that the only way to gain that moral basis was through my faith in Jesus Christ as expressed by my religion.  In this case, my religion was Christianity.  So I turned to the Bible to learn about Jesus, to follow the example set by my Savior, and to be a good Christian.  To a good husband.  To be a good person.  That is all I wanted.  But in the process, I was forced to read the divinely inspired Source of my Faith, and I discovered that it was saturated with embarrassing, irrelevant crap that I did not know what to do with.  What did any of these culturally alien texts have to do with my Christian walk and my desire to be a good husband?  Sure, I could pull a life lesson for my marriage from analogous readings of portions of Scripture, for instance from the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca.  But I figured a Divine oracle, inspired by the all-wise creator of my soul could be more explicit.  I could pull life lessons from analogous readings of any man made product of literature.  Aesop’s Fables contained more explicit lessons for my life than my attempts to dredge some kind of personal meaning from the stories I was reading in the Bible.

I still did not lack Faith in my Christian faith.  This shocking reading of the Bible did not destroy my Faith.  I just no longer knew what to do with the Bible any more.  At the time, I found it more of an embarrassment than as truly morally wrong.  I was confused.  I did not know what to think.

I was initially excited when Rosemary asked me to lead her through private study of the Bible.  But after my own reading, this excitement did not last long.  I knew what the Bible contained.  I knew there were good things to be found, but I suddenly felt like I had to wade through a sewer to get to them.  I was embarrassed.  So I ended up doing the same thing that her Catholic Church had done for her.  I intentionally steered her away from the embarrassment.  I stuck with pre-selected readings, just like her Catholic priests.  We stuck with the safe and neutered territory of the Gospels.  We read well-worn portions of Paul’s Epistles.  The first 3/4 of her big, fat, thick Bible was ignored for the comfortable, familiar and tepid readings in the last 1/4.  I filtered her Bible.  I was as guilty as her Catholic church in pre-selecting readings and trying to keep everything sterile and sanitized.  I was afraid of embarrassing myself by letting her read the bulk of what I knew the Bible contained.  I knew there was a problem, but I did not yet know what to do about it except pray, and ask for guidance.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1 Jan 1998 – 17 Dec 2012

It was a cold winter evening in Socorro.  A wolf hybrid belonging to my old girlfriend B---- just had a large litter of pups.  One of them was a runt, and kept getting muscled out from the mother’s nipples by the stronger pups in the litter.  B---- called me and said that she knew I had recently lost a dog and was looking for another one.  She had a batch of newborn pups from her wolf hybrid, and she figured the runt would be an absolutely perfect fit for me. 

I went to visit B---- and there she was, as tiny as could be, with eyes still closed.  I could not resist.  I took her home with me.  She was born on about New Year’s Day 1998.

I have never been good at naming pets.  I have no imagination, and I usually just grab the first word that comes to me and run with it.  I initially named her Alpo after a can of dog food, but a girl I was dating at the time told me to change the pup’s name or I could forget about being seen in public with her again.  So, I struggled to think of a name for my pup.  She was not yet housebroken, and as I was scrubbing up one of her messes with a canister of Comet scouring powder, the name of my pup came to me.

That’s basically how I do it.  The pet gets named after whatever brand named item I am looking at.  Poor animals.

Comet became my wolf-dog.  She had the look, that attitude, and the intelligence of the other wolf hybrids in her litter.  She was just miniature in size.  She never weighed more than 60 pounds in her entire life. 

At the time, Socorro had no leash laws.  As soon as she was old enough, I took Comet to campus.  I never had a leash.  She just followed me there as I walked to the university.  When I walked into a campus building, she would wait at the door.  She would wait patiently, for hours if she had to, until I came back out from the building.  If I was in a classroom for more than a few hours, she would wander off to the duck pond for a dip in the water.  But she eventually came back to wait for me.  In the meantime, everybody who walked into or out of the building had to walk by Comet.  There were many young men and women who were away from home for the first time, and missed their pets back home.  So Comet got spoiled with attention.  Lots of head scratches, lots of petting, lots of ‘good doggy’. 

She did this all day.  Every day.  For years.  Everybody on the campus of NMT knew Comet.  I remember once walking around Socorro and Comet was following behind.  I rounded a corner and passed by a young girl walking in the opposite direction.  I had never seen her before, so she walked past me.  Then Comet rounded the same corner.  The girl, who I had never seen, suddenly lit up.  “Comet!”  she said excitedly, as she ran to her kneeled down and gave my dog a hug.  Huh?  Who are you again??

NMT’s version of homecoming is called the 49ers Celebration.  I never paid much attention to this celebration during my academic career, but during the 2001/2002 academic year there was a group of young students campaigning to get Comet voted 49ers Queen.  I remember them campaigning in the old student union building “I am telling you, that dog is more popular than any other girl on campus….!”  They were probably right about this, considering that at the time there was probably one female for every ten male students at NMT.  But they campaigned mightily and when the votes were counted, Comet ended up winning.  I could not believe it.  Of course the decision was appealed and the prize was eventually given to the most popular human contestant.  But somewhere out there, somewhere, there is a woman who lost to a dog in a popularity contest.

I once shared an office with a grad student from Romania.  Outside, Comet and a few other dogs were running around and playing in the snow.  I kept looking out the window at their playful antics, and could not concentrate on my work. 

“Look at those guys play!  It is so joyful!” 
“I know,” said my office-mate in her thick Romanian accent, “all they do is play.  Play Play Play.  Those dogs do nothing productive!”  I guess us Americans do not take our academics seriously enough.

I eventually left Socorro and moved to El Paso, and Comet has been my constant companion ever since.  We have been on many adventures together, mostly hikes in the hills and swims in the Rio Grande.  She was a faithful friend to the end.

Yesterday, I had to euthanize Comet.  She was 2 weeks shy of 15 years old.  She slowed down over the years, but always remained remarkably healthy for her age.  She eventually went completely deaf, so I had to keep her on a leash when walking in the desert for fear of letting her walk off, not able to respond to my calls.  She continued to walk until the last day of her life, and still got joy out of going to the desert.  She could not walk far before getting too tired, but she could at least get pleasure out of sniffing things to stimulate her brain. 

About one month ago, I realized the time to end her life was near.  I did not want to unnaturally prolong her life if it came to that decision.  She was very old, and had a very full and exciting life.  I am confident I gave Comet the best life that I possibly could.  It was loaded with outdoor activities, love and fun.  Between chasing rabbits in the desert, becoming friends with an entire college campus, hiking with me to the top of South Baldy in the Magdalena Mountains, or swimming in the Rio Grande, her life was very full.  I am responsible for the quality of my pets’ lives.  Last week, I took her to the desert one last time to sniff some old coyote trail.  I bought her some spare ribs to feast on like she did when she was younger.

I sometimes wonder how much Comet really perceives and remembers.  She was a wolf hybrid, and although she was domesticated, she still had an intelligence that I had never seen in any other of my dogs.  I believe she outlived all the other pups in her litter.  How far back could she remember?  Could she remember my old girlfriend B---- or the other pups in her litter?  I know that Comet’s mother instinctively growled at her runt pup, even after Comet was several years old.  What could Comet perceive about her mother?  Could Comet remember all those days lounging around the NMT campus, enjoying the attention of hundreds of students?  Could she remember chasing rabbits, and never once getting close to catching a single one of them?  Could she remember playing in the snow?  Or was all her memory more short-term than I care to imagine it was?  After she went deaf, could she even remember what it meant to hear things?

I guess I have no way of knowing.

We euthanized our dog Nero a few months ago.  Now Comet is also gone.  Next month, I am hiking to the top of Anthony’s Nose to disperse their ashes.  Comet represents my anchor to 15 years of memories.  So many memories.  So many memories just wash away…

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A morning run in the Franklin Mountains

Many of my blogging buddies, for some reason, also happen to be avid runners and joggers.  They have put up their own great ‘race reports’ and stories about their running addiction.  I started running about 12 years ago, just as a way to relieve stress from all my class assignments, and I have been addicted ever since.  We have a few organized races here in El Paso, and I have run a few 10k races and a couple of marathons, but with the exception of only one, I do not have an interest in entering any more of these races.  They are just not my thing. 

Several of the people I read regularly, like DaGoodS and DoOrDoNot have written about their experiences with jogging, and joining races like the exciting ‘Warrior Dash’.  Adventure races like the Warrior Dash looks like a chance to get muddy and have great fun, but so far there are next to no races like this in my part of the country.  The Zombie Races that I saw while visiting Maryland last year looked like a blast, but so far, nothing like that is happening in El Paso.  So, I am forced to sort of do my own thing.

Not that I am complaining too much.  I live in the southwestern desert of the U.S., and I try to do the bulk of my running in the desert and away from the pavement.  If there is a cow trail, a powerline road, an old mining road, or even a gutted arroyo near my house, I have probably run on it.  I have fallen in the mud, gotten caught in hail, surprised a few bobcats and coyotes, had my legs shredded by underestimating some cactus, and have had more near-misses with rattlesnakes than I can count.  I would never give it up, even with those nasty hazards.  Those slight risks are far outweighed by the thrill of it all.

I will run on the pavement if I have to.  I am sometimes forced to jog on the hotel treadmill if I am out on business travel.  But what I really love is the desert floor – the rocks, the cactus, the sand, the dry air. I really thrive on getting back to my desert source.  I love the desert.  I love hiking and exploring, but I especially love running in it.  I find no greater sense of freedom than when I am alone in the elements, listening to nothing but my own footfalls, my own labored breathing, and the occasional coyote yipping behind that creosote bush up ahead of me.

Since it does not look like I will be reporting from a Zombie Run or Warrior Dash any time soon, I thought I would take you on a guided tour of one of my typical runs in the desert.  So put on some shorts, shoes with sturdy tread, a wide-brimmed hat and a water bottle and let’s hit the trail!  Oh – don’t forget the camera!

Never try holding a camera in front of you when you run
Last weekend I decided to take my dog and run in Franklin Mountains State Park.  A little background:  The city of El Paso has a very unusual shape.  It was founded at the southern end of a pass in the Franklin Mountain range.  The Rio Grande runs through the pass, and takes a sharp turn from south to south-east – hence the city’s name ‘El Paso’.  Over time, the city grew and spread northward on either side of the Franklin Mountain range.  Now El Paso wraps around the mountains.  That whole mountainous area, in the middle of the city limits, is designated Franklin Mountain State Park.  I believe it is, by far, the largest urban park, or city park, in the entire country.  You can hike to the top of North Franklin Peak, about 3400 feet above downtown El Paso, and miles from the nearest house, and still be within city limits.  It is easy access to get outdoors and a very popular area for mountain biking and hiking.  Every picture in this blog article is within El Paso city limits, even though it may look like I am in the middle of nowhere.

We will start our run at Chuck Heinrick Park in northeast El Paso.  There is a retaining wall just beyond the parking area that separates us from the desert trails.  The wall is there to protect the residential area from flash flooding.  When water pours off the mountain during monsoon season, it has to go somewhere, and the floods are rare, but fierce.  The trails are constantly being eroded by flood waters.

Here is my running buddy.  Sunshine is about 4 years old, and full of energy.  This little fella is always ready for a desert run!

Here is a look at Franklin State Park from the parking lot.  Plenty of space to bike, hike, jog and explore.  That is one huge city park.  It is much, much larger than Central Park in New York City, but it does not get quite as many tourists.  I am not sure why. 

hmm.. there's some trails in there somewhere.
Our jog will be a loop through that desert, and our goal will be some abandoned tin mines somewhere way up on the side of that mountain.  First we will run parallel to the retaining wall for about a mile.  Then turn a sharp left and run towards the mountain through a gutted arroyo until we hit the tin mines.  Then on a well-worn jeep trail back to the parking lot.  I have never measured the length of the trail, but I will guess about 7 miles for the whole thing and an elevation gain of maybe 1000 feet or so.  Ready?  Let’s hit it!

Oh my aching knees!  It usually takes me a while to warm up during these runs.  The first mile or so is always the worst part of the run for me.  That is OK.  I am in no rush.  We can take it easy during the first part and shuffle along.

And these blasted arroyos!  They are everywhere blocking our path!  Those rare flash floods can be really fierce.  It is really tough when they cut through the trail like this.  I have to either find a way around them or climb through them.  My days of attempting to jump over them are long gone.

After a mile, we turn a sharp left and head straight toward the mountain through a gutted arroyo. 

The trail on this part of the run is really tough.  The trail is straight, but it is dredged out of an old arroyo, so there are loose, smooth rocks everywhere.  Running on this stuff is pretty treacherous.  You do not want to take your eyes off the trail, or you risk tripping and falling.  I have fallen on rocks like this, and it is not fun!

After a mile or two of some really rough running straight uphill through some nasty, loose rocks, we finally leave the arroyo.  Veer left.  The trail starts to smooth out a bit and makes the running a bit more enjoyable.

Look at all those bicycle tracks.  I don’t see too may bicycles out here today, but on weekends, especially in the mornings, this place is pretty popular.

Just because we left the loose rocks in the arroyo does not mean I cannot take my eye off the trail.  Whenever I run in the desert, I must constantly scan the trail ahead of me because there are plenty of creatures out here who do not care to be stepped on.  And they are not always easy to see.  Over the years, I have had plenty of close calls with these guys:

Don't tread on me
Do you see it?  They blend in so well with the ground, rocks and shadows that they are easy to miss.  Rattlesnakes are extremely dangerous, and if you get bit way out here more than a few miles away from the nearest help, you are going to be in a world of hurt.  Rosemary scolds me about not carrying my cellphone when I run out here, but I have never been in the habit of carrying gadgets with me when I run.  Just carrying this little camera with me during this run was a bit of a chore!  I admit, I am used to my desert jaunting, and I live with the risk.  Anway, as dangerous as rattlesnakes are, there is a bit of good news.  They are non-aggressive.  I have never had a rattlesnake chase me.  I have heard plenty of stories of snakes chasing people, and maybe some are true, but I have never witnessed it.  As long as I am outside of striking distance, I can watch them safely.  They will rattle and rattle and rattle and finally get bored and crawl off.  A simple rule of thumb is - if you don't bother them, they will not bother you.  Rattlesnakes basically just want to be left alone.  Don’t forget to keep your curious pets away too!  Come on Sunshine, let’s go!

We are getting closer to our goal.  Can you spot the tin mine on the side of the mountain?

After we run another mile or so, we are just below the tin mine.  I am certain you can see it now.  We just have that really steep bit of jeep trail left to muscle up. 

We have to take the steep trail to the left.  We have already run about 4 miles, and Sunshine does not look too thrilled with the idea of humping it up for the final stretch.  From the looks of the bicycle prints that obviously avoid that steep trail, nobody else was too thrilled about going up there either.

GAAG!!  This thing is steep, uneven and rocky.  Even Sunshine is lagging behind.  Screw the jogging.  I am walking up this final stretch.  I am not that crazy!

Don't try this at home
And finally, we are at the tin mine!  Abandoned mines are dangerous, and they are covered with metal grills to keep us meddlesome joggers out.  I went in there once on a guided tour.  Nothing too exciting.

A look back to the city far below us:

I need water!
Poor Sunshine looks pretty wiped out.  Fortunately I always carry a water bottle and a drinking pouch for the dogs during these long desert runs and we can take a break for a few minutes.  Don’t worry, it is all downhill from here. 

the next bit after we leave the tin mine is my favorite part of the run.  The trail runs parallel with the mountain.  I am out of those awful arroyos and the trail is smooth.  I can take in a bit of the scenery.  It is absolutely beautiful up here.  I love running in the high desert like this.  There is nothing blocking your view, and you can see forever!  I have hit my stride after running 4 miles, and I am running almost effortlessly.  I love this part of the run!  If only I did not have those tough 4 miles to run before this!

Then in front of me, from seemingly out of nowhere, the trail just disappears into another arroyo.  This one is on the side of the mountain, so it is long, deep and treacherous.  UGH!  This one is going to take some time climbing through.  Here is a shot of my feet balancing on a thin ledge on the opposite side of the arroyo.  I can handle arroyos, but this was a deep one!

Yikes!  Crossing that added about 15 minutes to our time.  Oh well, when running out here, we cannot expect to set any speed records!  But it is a straight shot down an old jeep trail for a few more miles back to the parking lot.  It is all downhill, so we can run very fast.  We blast down in half the time it took to run uphill to the tin mines.

Back in the parking lot, safety and civilization.  Thank goodness Burger King is just around the corner cause I need a Whopper.

Well, not much of a race report, but this is what a typical desert run is like for me, and I thought I would share it with you.  I love running in the desert.  I have run in many different environments, in the city streets, along mountain passes, but my favorite has always been the high desert.  It is thrilling, exhilarating, and I would not give it up for anything.  I hope you enjoyed the jogging tour of my desert home.  If you ever make it to El Paso, look me up and we can hit the trails!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Conversions and De-conversions - Returning to Fundamentalism

Rosemary and I continued to date, get closer, learn about each other, and fall in love.  I had been in only one serious relationship previous to meeting Rosemary, but it was nothing like this.  I began to believe that Rosemary was everything I had ever hoped or dreamed for in a woman.  I had to be cautious though.  I had thought the same thing when I met B---- nearly ten years previously, and that relationship had turned into a train wreck.  However in those ten years I had learned, through my education in physics, what critical thinking was and how to apply it when necessary.  I had applied my newly developed critical thinking skills to scientific problems on the job and at university, but I never thought to apply those same skills when evaluating a relationship.  As I stated in a previous article, I personally define critical thinking in this way:

The way to knowledge is not to find reasons why a given idea is true.  The way to knowledge is to find reasons why the idea is not true.

Back when I was dating B----, I had ignored every warning sign that our relationship was headed for failure.  I was swept up in overwhelming, passionate infatuation, and I instead clung to the many reasons I could think of why our relationship could work.  But ultimately it did not work and it was a devastating blow.  As lovely, smart, exciting, and wildly imaginative as B---- was, our relationship became a disaster simply because I refused to see the warning signs.  I refused to focus on reasons why our relationship could not work.  I was not a critical thinker.  Instead, I did the romantic thing and “followed my heart”.

I put critical thinking to the test with Rosemary.  As unromantic as it sounds, I inwardly tried to think of reasons, any reason at all, why our relationship would not work.  I vowed to myself that if I could critically evaluate, and find any reason at all why this relationship could not work, I would have to put an end to it.  I never told Rosemary at the time that I was evaluating her in this way, because I was trying to be logical and critical about a relationship that she was so passionate about.  In the end, there was only one thing I could see that could possibly cause a problem, and I faced it as honestly and rationally as I could.  It was only when I believed that the hurdle could be crossed, that I relaxed my skepticism a little.  I could think of many reasons why our relationship could work, but I could think of next to no reasons why it would not work.  There was just one small thing that we both talked about often and were both willing and open-minded enough to deal with.  We did not hide from it.  We did not keep silent about it and hope it would go away.  We confronted it head on.  We were both ready.  I left Rosemary speechless when I finally asked her to marry me.

That single hurdle that needed to be overcome was living with our different religious traditions.  Despite all the anti-Catholic propaganda that I was raised with, and all the demonization of Catholics that I had heard as an adult, I was convinced that Rosemary was just as much a Christian as I was.  I had matured enough to see that she just expressed her Christianity and her love of God differently than I did.  She helped me to understand that my religious tradition was different from hers, but that I followed a tradition nonetheless.  We both believed in the same God, both had Faith in Jesus Christ, and both relied on His shed blood to justify us before God Almighty.

Rosemary was an amazingly open-minded Catholic.  She had never been to a Protestant church before moving the United States, but met several people at her work that encouraged her to attend a liberal, independent Baptist church.  We alternated each week attending St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, where she sang in the choir, and La Puerta del Cielo Baptist Church where we came to know Pastor Alvarez.

Pastor Alvarez was not a fire and brimstone preacher, like the other Baptist preachers that I was used to from my youth.  Pastor Alvarez rarely preached on Sin or Salvation, his sermons were more geared to nurturing healthy marriages and relationships.  It made for a less stressful Sunday morning with a girl that I was hoping to impress with reasonable religious convictions.  I must confess that at the time we were dating, there was a bit of a silent competition.  Which church would win out in our relationship?  Would Rosemary become Baptist, or would I become Catholic? 

Her Catholic services took a bit of time for me to get used to.  I had read about the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation.  The elements of the Catholic mass, the wafer and wine, were not mere symbols of the sacrifice of my Savior, as they were in my Calvary Chapel denomination.  No, the elements did not merely represent, but literally became the actual substance of the blood and body of the Savior at the Priest’s invocation during mass.  I did not believe this; I never could believe this because I was not raised in this Catholic tradition.  I still clung to my belief that the elements were mere symbols of Christ’s sacrificial actions on the Cross.  I tried to listen and participate in the Catholic ritual of the Mass in a way that would allow me to incorporate them into my own beliefs.  I did not allow myself to become enveloped in the theater and mystery of the liturgy and ritual of the Mass.  I ruined it by analyzing the Mass more than I was supposed to, without first disconnecting myself from the rational world.  Analyzing the Mass ruins it in the same way too much analysis would ruin a good magic show.  I thought about everything.  I dissected it.  I tried to apply some kind of rational mechanism to the Mass to figure out how it worked. 

When the priest raised the chalice to the sky while invoking the blood of Christ, and the robed boy at his feet range a set of altar bells – I recognized the theater.  The Priest recited his chant, held the chalice of wine before him, the bells rang – all of which was designed to trigger something in the brains of the worshipers and allow them to believe that the wine was consecrated.  This is the point where the magic happens, and the wine turns to the Blood of the Deity, or so the worshipers allow themselves to believe.  The Priest held the wafer up before the congregation of worshipers  said his invoking words, the altar bells rang, presto-change, the wafer turned into the Flesh of the Deity.  After the transformation, the Priest would call out, “Let us declare the mystery of Faith”, I would chant, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”.  I was supposed to ponder this mystery; the mystery that He had shed His blood and died at the invocation of the Priest.  But my critical brain told me that the chant, the ceremony, the ritual, the invocation, the audience participation, even the ringing of the bells at the moment of Transubstantiation, were all theater.  They were triggers for my brain to react to, that would allow me to accept this invocation as a real mystery, even a real miracle.  I never believed the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation.  Like I said, I was not raised with this tradition.  But the Priest did believe it.  After all, he was up there doing something when he thought he was transforming the elements into the essence of a god.  He was performing in a theater.  This was a magic show that we were not to analyze too harshly.  But I had ruined it with my criticism.  The fog drifted away and the illusion was revealed.  The dim was sharpened and the dull was focused.  The whole Catholic ritual was supposed to put me in a state of mind for worship.  I did not want to say that this was hypnotism, but I came close.  To this day, the invocation of the Priest reminds me of a magician saying “abra-cadabra” before his astounded audience.

I tried to make up ways to transfer the Catholic ritual into something that more closely resembled my own Protestant tradition.  I was accustomed to my Protestant tradition of communion, where tiny individual cups of grape juice and thinly diced pieces of Wonder Bread were passed out to all the worshipers for us to partake in unison.  In the Catholic Mass, the elements were dispensed from the front by lay ministers, with all the wine drunk from a single, large chalice.  No matter – the method by which the elements were dispensed was not too important to me.  I believed the wine and bread were mere symbols, and I decided to take the elements seriously in that manner.  I once felt like collecting the bread to eat privately in the pew while saying a prayer.  I took the wafer back to the seat, kneeled to pray, and I was interrupted by one of the lay ministers.  “What have you done with the Host?!!?”  She saw that I had taken it back to the seat, and had to investigate what I had done to that most holy sacramental bread.  I learned that day that this host was to be eaten before the lay minister or priest who dispensed it, and was not in any other way to be tampered with.  It also struck me as strange that there was never a line of people to partake from the chalice of wine, or the Blood of Christ.  The long lines were to the wafers, or the Body of Christ.  I personally viewed the wine as more important than the bread, since the Blood of Christ was what imparted salvation to us mortals.  I asked Rosemary why so few people, including herself, ever drank of the wine from the chalice.  “I think people are afraid of germs.  Everybody is drinking from the same cup.”  That never crossed my mind.  I figured God would protect everybody from getting sick after drinking form the Blood of His own Son, and I was surprised so many people thought the consecrated Blood of Jesus might have kooties.  I have never been queasy about such things.  I always drank from the chalice.  Silly people….

In the meantime, much to my satisfaction, Rosemary was becoming more enamored with La Puerta del Cielo Baptist.  Pastor Alvarez kept his sermons relatively short, insightful and humorous, but still more substantial than the inane Catholic homilies I had to endure.  Rosemary was impressed that the people in La Puerta del Cielo were generally more friendly, more personable, more likely to become friends with.  And become friends we did. 

Pastor Alvarez emphasized that home groups and Bible Studies were the backbone of his church, so I started hosting them in my house.  It was not long before I had a dozen or so people coming to my house once per week for prayer and study.  I had initially wanted to stick to expository Bible Study as I was used to doing in Calvary Chapel, but I was discouraged from doing this.  Pastor Alvarez warned us that studying the Bible verse by verse, with no guidance or structure, could lead to trouble.  This made little sense to me at the time.  Wasn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to guide his Faithful in our instruction of Scripture?  Wasn’t there a single interpretation to the Scriptures that the Spirit would point us towards?  If we simply put our faith in Jesus, and trusted the Holy Spirit to guide is in His Word, what could we possibly fear?

No matter.  I was given a series of tapes from the church recording library that would help our home Bible study.  The tapes came with workbooks and self-instructional guides.  I was already suspicious of these things.  It is funny looking back at it now, how those old residual fears of extra-Biblical influences that were pounded into me in Calvary Chapel over ten years before were creeping back into the forethought of my brain.  I had spent several years in University; I had exposed myself to all sorts of diverse ideas and traditions; I had even learned important critical thinking skills that I never had when attending Calvary Chapel.  Yet despite all that exposure, I suddenly found myself again surrounded by Fundamentalist Christians, and that company of believers began to pull those old triggers again.  If I was to study the Bible, I did not need workbooks or guides.  I just needed the Bible, prayer and the Holy Spirit to guide me.  But in the end, I did not make waves in my new Baptist church, and I went reluctantly with their program.  So I started hosting my home Bible study with a lecture tape series from an Evangelical pastor that was taking the Evangelical sub-culture by storm in 2003.  It was Rick Warren and his 40 Days of Purpose taped curriculum.

I had never heard of Rick Warren, but suddenly his book The Purpose Driven Life seemed to be everywhere.  I recognized it as the latest Christian fad, and I had tried very hard to keep passing fads and gimmicks out of my Christian walk back when I was in Calvary Chapel.  I vowed not to buy it, but I was surprised on Christmas 2003 with a gift from Rosemary.  I undid the wrapper, and there it was.  My Catholic girlfriend Rosemary had also become enamored with Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Life.  Her handwritten note on the inside cover began:

“To the man I love dearly – May this book be an inspiration for you to discover how special and wonderful you are…”

So I led our home Bible Study group with selections from Rick Warren’s tapes, books and the Bible.  I thought something felt disingenuous about putting Pastor Warren on such a high pedestal when I felt we should have been studying the Bible at a Bible Study.  It was like he was our surrogate pastor in our home, and we could not allow the Holy Spirit to guide us instead.  I felt uneasy, but I decided to learn from Pastor Warren what I could.  I also mingled it with attendance every other week for Mass at St Michael the Archangel to listen to Rosemary’s choir singing and participate in the Eucharist ritual.  The Fundamentalist that had been dormant inside me for over ten years started to reawaken.  I had learned so much, I had vowed to become more open-minded, I recognized the traditions in my own brand of Christianity, but in the end I had to retreat to that only tradition of Christianity that I knew.  I was no longer completely comfortable with it, but it was all I had and the only thing I could believe. 

Since we were not exclusively studying the Bible in our home Bible Study, I decided to once again, for the first time in over ten years, go to the Source of all my Christian belief and knowledge.  I needed the Spirit.  I needed Jesus and only Jesus.  I knew Jesus only through the Bible.  I needed the Bible that I had neglected for the better part of a decade.  I had previously read the Bible twice in its entirety, but I had done this back in the height of my religious fervor, as a follower of Skip Heitzig in the denomination of Calvary Chapel.  Watching Rick Warren videos during Bible Study left me feeling parched and dry.  I picked up my New King James Bible.  I started in Genesis.  “In the beginning….”