Thursday, June 30, 2005

March 22, 1997

I had spent a good chunk of my 30 years thinking about relationships, seeking relationships, obsessing over whether I would ever have a serious relationship. In 1997 I decided that I was through with it. I had spent too much of my time and energy seeking something that just wasn't happening. In my journal entry dated January 1st I said that my New Year's resolution was to remain date-free.
If I really meant that, of course, I would have taken my personal ad out of the paper. But let's not quibble over small details :)
I had placed a personal ad the year previously and kept it in, checking my voice mail box every week or so. If anyone out there has done this, you know that sometimes you meet some very... interesting people. After going out on a few dates with a woman who wanted to marry me so I could pay her bills, who visited me at work and called me every night, who smothered me in every way, I gave up. I checked in every month or so, but never thought much about it.
In March of 1997 I checked in, out of curiosity more than anything, and heard a long, rambling message by a woman who ended the call by leaving her phone number but not her area code. I was intrigued and decided to track her down. Her name was Laura and she lived in Medina, OH. We talked... and talked... and finally decided to meet. We set a date- March 22, 1997.

A day which will live in infamy :)

We had some pizza, walked around a local mall, and got lost when I tried to drive her home. But I got the all-important second date. And a third. And eventually I had a girlfriend out of the deal. So much for "date-free 1997" :)

I was still attending Metro Church South, but she attended a Baptist church. She had attended the same church all of her life, Chippewa Lake Baptist Church, deep in the sticks of Medina County, where a dozen tiny townships all call themselves Medina, where people still pumped water from wells, where if you wanted to get the necessities of life you had to "go into town." I was satisfied with my church, but I wanted to be with Laura, so on our third date I went to an Easter breakfast and church service and faced a mob of curious Baptists wondering if Laura's gentleman caller was worthy of her affection.

I'm still not sure if I passed the test :)

Several weeks went by where I went to Metro one week and Chippewa the next. As my relationship with Laura progressed, I wanted to be with her as much as I could. It was apparent that things were getting pretty serious between us, so I made the decision to leave Metro and attend services at Chippewa. For the first time in my life, I was a hardcore, King James Only, "independentfundamental" Baptist.

Services at Chippewa were pretty bare bones basic. Hymn-prayer-hymn-hymn-offering-solo-sermon-invitation-announcements-close. Rush to the cars and go eat lunch. The sermons were good, solid, meat and potatoes kind of messages. That was attractive to me. And being a good, conservative, fundamentalist church, I also got a good solid dose of conservative, God and country, love it or leave it kind of preaching. That wasn't so attractive to me. But for my weary soul there was something appealing about the simplicity of the whole thing, and the innocence of Laura's soul was attractive to me.

So attractive, in fact, that on August 8, 1998, we made it legal :)

Monday, June 27, 2005

As I was saying

To sum up... the years between 1990 and 1997 were the seven lean years prophesied by the ancient wise men. 1996 in particular was a year in which I hit rock bottom. Use any metaphor you want- the swamp, the forest, the black hole- my desire for God was lost. It was gone.

Or so I thought.

Deep in the vast expanse someone sent up a flare. I felt a spark arise. I began to think of the ways in which I once felt close to God, the days when the Bible sustained my soul, and I wondered if there was any way those days could be revisited. After all, if God is eternal, then he could do the same work in my spirit now that he did then, right? It might take a little longer to break through all the junk that had attached itself to my psyche, the wall that had developed around my heart, but it wasn't impossible, was it?

I began to attach myself to that thought. I hadn't attended a church regularly for a few years, I really had no use for the church anymore, but I decided that I wanted to go. The Catholic/Protestant discussions would have to wait for another day to seek their denouement. I needed to see if God was still willing to touch the surface of the pond so I could see the ripples.

In 1994 a religious revival began in the city of Toronto which was dubbed by a soundbite-eager press "the Toronto Blessing." Thousands of people flocked to Toronto to seek revival, renewal, a spiritual a**-kicking, whatever you wanted to call it. Supporters raved, critics raged, but neither side really had a handle on the history of religious movements in North America, which can be summed up in four words- "this too shall pass." But I digress. The reports of this movement and the testimonies of changed lives took hold of whatever desire for God still remained in my spirit. I wanted what these people had. If the "joy of my salvation" really existed, and wasn't just King David's clever turn of phrase, then I needed to investigate this thing. And in the fall of 1996, I had my chance.

Metro Church South was(is) a church pastored by one Steve Witt. Steve was on staff at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship as an itinerant speaker, but moved to Brunswick, Ohio to plant a church. I stumbled across a radio commercial for this new venture, in which Steve described it as a "Toronto Blessing-style" church. The hook had met its goal, and I wanted to check it out. I went for two services and enjoyed it, but as was my pattern at the time, I didn't go back. But now, with 1997 still in its infancy, I decided that I wanted to go back. I made the 30-minute drive every Sunday morning to the Strongsville Recreation Center, walked past the pool and the gym equipment to the assembly hall, and immersed myself in acoustic-led worship music, preaching by Steve that was void of $20 theological words, and a congregation which was quite at home with jeans and the occasional body-piercing.

Metro Church South introduced me to things I had never seen before. Part of the draw of the Toronto Blessing were the (supposed) manifestations of the Holy Spirit present there- shaking, crying, laughing- whatever the imagination could dream up. Go back to my description of the prayer meeting of November 18, 1988. Psychological or spiritual? The same question arose here. I didn't want to entertain these thoughts, but that's the way my brain is wired. And besides, God wasn't visiting me in the same way. I was jealous. We would have meetings in which people were (supposedly) being prophesied over, and they were all the same. The youth would be at the vanguard of a great revival, the token black guy was going to have a ministry to Muslims, the women were going to be set free of the pains and burdens of the past. That last pronouncement was usually accompanied by moaning, shaking and screaming, which was par for the course- the women in the crowd were usually the ones to (supposedly) manifest God's presence the most. Whether this was truly God's presence or just an avenue to express emotions that had been bottled up for years I really don't know.

But all of this armchair psychological analysis is hindsight on my part. At the time I was drinking it up like a beggar in the desert. I had found a church that I was comfortable in and I had every intention of staying.

Until March 22, 1997.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hang on to the clear light

I, for one, realize that now I need more... There is a need of effort, deepening, change and transformation... I do have a past to break with, an accumulation of inertia, waste, wrong, follishness, rot, junk, a great need of clarification of mindfulness, or rather of no mind- a reurn to genuine practice, right effort, need to push onto the great doubt. Need for the Spirit.

Hang on to the clear light!
---Thomas Merton, Woods, Shore, Desert, pg. 48.

What do I want God to do for me?
I want to return to the zeal and desire for Him that I've had in years past.
I want the Word to become my daily bread; I want it to be living and active in my life; I want it to become my most precious possession.
I want to feel loved by God. I want it to move from my head to my heart.
I want Jesus to be my best friend.
I want Jesus to forgive my sins and purify me, to take this heart of stone and give me a tender heart of flesh.
I want to feel the fire of God burn in my life, from my intellect to my will to my emotions.
I want God to unite me to His church, and not just a congregation, but a select group of people that I can look to for support.
I want to actively desire God, not just know in my head that I need Him.

Lord I groan
Lord I kneel
I'm crying out for something real
Because I know deep in my soul
There must be more

Lord I'm tired
Yes, I'm weak
I need your power to work in me
'Cause I can't let go
I keep hanging on
There must be more

River flow
Fire burn
Holy Spirit breathe on me
---David Ruis, "There Must Be More"

Living embers, lying dormant
Fan into flame revival fire again
Sacred promises, seek fulfillment
Fan into flame revival fire again

Cleansing your house with the power of love
Holy repentance through your blood
Fan into flame revival fire again
---Brian Doerksen, "Revival Fire"

I am here to buy gold
Refined in the fire
Naked and poor
Wretched and blind I come
Clothe me in white
So I won't be ashamed
Lord, light the fire again
---Brian Doerksen, "Light The Fire Again"

---journal entry, February 11, 1997

Friday, June 24, 2005

Psalm 151

Lord, purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Search me, Father, and know my heart; try me and know my mind. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to your word. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, able to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow; and able to discern the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Blessed is the man who walks not after the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he will meditate day and night. He will be like a tree planted by a river of water, bringing forth fruit in due season. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Thy word, O Lord, is forever settled in heaven.

---Journal entry, March 26, 1996

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I'm Back....

September 17, 1995

guess i wasn't the best one to ask
me myself with my face pressed up against love's glass
to see the shiny toy i've been hoping for
the one i never can afford
---Indigo Girls, "Love Will Come To You"

I've become the epitome of what I oppose
---Six Feet Deep, "Angry Son"

Mike is getting married. One more, and my only response is anger. I can't force myself to be happy. One more person who has attained the goal to which I aspire. Love. Happiness. Some sense that what I do in life has a purpose, that it matters to someone. It could be a lover. It could be a friend. It could be a church. It could be God. I have no idea what it means for God to love me because I have no idea what to expect, if I have the right to expect anything, from someone who says they love me. People say they love me, and then I look at their response to my life- passive disinterest, until I contact them and they claim to love me once again... and the cycle goes around. The only energy expended is that needed to produce the words.

So when I consider God, I' not consumed by positive feelings. Not anymore. At best, I'm apathetic; at worse I'm angry. If a father was as neglectful to his son as God the Father, Mother, thing or it is to me they would have him in jail. But God's ways are mysterious and we shouldn't attempt to understand them; everything that happens is because of his (hers? its?) providence.

So why are we expected to praise God when good things happen but refrain from blaming him when bad things happen? If God has the power to stop something from happening and stands idly by, is he not as guilty as the person who knows a child is being beaten and doesn't call the police?

When I think of God now, I think of a concept, an idea; I no longer think of a person. If I believe in God at all. That's a paradoxical statement coming from someone who has surrounded himself with the trappings of Christian culture, I know. And I'd really like Christianity to be meaningful again. But if God is there, then he dropped the ball. He took his ball and glove and went home.
December 7, 1995

So what next, God? Am I being punished? Do you want me to become some Southern-talking KJV fundie babbling on about the end times? Do you want me to do the Latin Mass thing? Do you want me.... ? Interesting question. I know I want you. Do you want me? Or am I the court jester in the kingdom of God, forever batting at the carrot at the end of a stick?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I had a very vivid dream last night that it was my wedding day. I woke up thinking it was real, and for the rest of the day I meditated on the idea of being in love and having someone love me. The idea of getting married is so far beyond my imagination that I have no ability to conceive of it. I can't believe that it would actually happen for me. But just being in love with someone, actually having a girlfriend... that's possible, right? Even having a girlfriend is something I have a hard time thinking of now. But it's something I want. Badly. Not sex, but intimacy; I'd love to know what it feels like to have someone to talk to, who will be understanding. Someone whom I can hold hands with on long walks in the park. Someone to cuddle up with on the couch. Someone who will draw the smiley face for me.

Someone whom I can shower with love.
Someone who will love me.

What does that feel like? What does it feel like to know that someone has reserved a look just for you? What does it mean to stand entwined in a long embrace, holding your beloved as if the heavens and earth of your world would collapse if you let go, yet standing as firm and as strong as she needs you to be? What does it feel like to engage in a lingering kiss, as if by doing so you could send her away with a part of yourself so she would never be lonely or afraid? What does it feel like to gently wipe warm tears from her face, fully believing that by doing so you could wipe away all of her troubles and fears?

What does it feel like?

How does one describe blue to a blind man?

---journal entry, September 1, 1995

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Give me love

I am sitting in the balcony of Berea High School, at the 13th Annual Cleveland Charismatic conference. This morning I sat in the main section of the auditorium, cramped, hot, and sitting next to a fat woman who should have had an extra half seat. And the whole time I was wondering, "Why am I here?", and trying to concoct a ruse to get out of coming tomorrow.

My last entry was to the effect that I was giving my life to Jesus for a complete overhaul. Well, here I am. Jesus, forever Friend, eternal Dude, forever someone to hang with... DO SOMETHING!!! Because things are not getting better. I vowed that I wanted things to get better and they aren't. It's not happening. I'm at a conference where the Spirit is supposed to be flowing like beer at an all-night kegger, and I ain't got a stein. Instead I'm following the movement of long legs under short dresses. At a Christian event.

But I can't pretend. Something has changed. I listen to Christian music because something in my life should be semi-positive, but also because I can get it cheap. That's about the only remnant of Christianity left in my life. The love of God? I don't see it. Lord, if you really do love me show me. I repeat the Prayer of Tom- bring someone into my life who can love me in a similar, albeit imperfect, manner as you (supposedly) do. After all, did you just talk about the Redeemer? No, you sent him. You didn't just talk about your law, you wrote on the tablets. When Moses stretched out his rod you didn't forsake him. When Samson prayed for one more chance you didn't leave him hanging. So don't leave me hanging. Does a child learn how to talk without having someone speak to him? "It is not good for man to be alone"- OK, let's see the proof of the pudding. Show me love.
---journal entry, August 12, 1995

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Losing ground

Just as I am
I am needy and dry
Jesus is for losers
The self-made need not apply
Just as I am
In a desert crawl
Lord, I'm so thirsty
Take me to the waterfall
---Steve Taylor, "Jesus Is For Losers"

Hey mister heavenbound
Help me to find the way
Get me up off this ground
What more can Christ can be found
---Michael Knott, "Deaf and Dumb"

where are you tonight i don't seem to know you
no i'm not all right
where are you tonight and my heart is nearly gone
there's not much left to offer
if i could somehow know i could stop the burning down
where are you tonight are you even really out there
i won't put up a fight
where are you tonight and the world keeps spinning round
a vicious cycle turning
some of them know love
some of us know the burning down
---King's X, "The Burning Down"

and my bitter pill to swallow is the silence that i keep that poisons me i can't swim free the river is too deep
---Indigo Girls, "Ghost"

i'm losing ground
you know how this world can beat you down
i'm made of clay
i fear i'm the only one who thinks this way

don't tell me that you care
there really isn't anything, is there?
---Nine Inch Nails, "I Do Not Want This"

journal entries, June-July 1995

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Ides of April

Bury me softly in this womb
I give this part of me for you
Sand rains down and here I sit
Holding rare flowers in a bloom

Down in a hole and I don't know if I can be saved
See my heart I decorate it like a grave
You don't understand who they thought I was supposed to be
Look at me now a man who won't let himself be

Down in a hole, losin' my soul
Down in a hole, losin' control
I'd like to fly
But my wings have been so denied
---Alice In Chains, "Down In A Hole"
(From April 19, 1995)

I can feel it
Oh yes, I can feel it
The blood of the redeemer
Only its still my heart beating
Yes its still beating me
The blood of the redeemer

I prayed for it
Oh yes, I've prayed for it
The blood of the redeemer
On my face
Down on my knees
Forgive the thief
Next to me
The blood of the healer
is never enough
---Prayer Chain, "Never Enough"
(from April 28, 1995)