In September, 2001, I was living in a hotel, going through a divorce, drinking and smoking too much. A week after 9-11, when so many of us were grappling with such an example of pure evil in the world, I found myself outside in the woods for work as the sun rose.
The sunlight played across a spider web with beads of dew on it — the web was both incredibly delicate and unbelievably strong to hold all the dew.
In that place, at that moment, everything I knew intellectually— that the spider evolved through natural selection, how dew is formed, all of it— was overcome by the complete beauty of the moment. The early, EARLY morning sun shining through the trees, the dew looking like diamonds on the web, the unbelievable strength and delicacy of the web. The moment made me believe that all of it, in totality, was more than coincidence or chance. All of those things couldn’t have come together to create such a beautiful moment by chance. There was a force in the universe greater than me and certainly greater than the sum of the parts of the moment.
So, that night, in the hotel where I was living, I thumbed through the Bible.
I’d read about the world’s main religions in college. I’d been to various Christian churches fewer than a half dozen times in the previous 25 years because of invitations from friends or to weddings.
Over the next weeks, I read probably 40-60 percent of the Bible there in the hotel before I ventured out to a church.
I went to church, and listened to Christian radio, and quickly learned what was going on in Christian radio and what I was hearing in church wasn’t what I was reading in the Bible.
I worked my way through the Bible, through Sunday school classes, through several churches, and eventually went to seminary – because that’s where the teachers are.
I’ve read extensively about the early days of Christianity and the time before the Bible was assembled.
I’ve also read extensively about the birth and growth of Fundamentalism in the USA.
And what goes on in most churches is just short of a travesty.
I’d like to imagine them to be well-intentioned Christians, but too many of them are cultural Christians who are nearly Biblically illiterate. And their ignorance makes them easy to manipulate. Of course, their kids can sit in pews and flip through the Bible and see for themselves that what’s written there isn’t what’s usually being said from the pulpit. And that’s why people are leaving mainstream churches – they know there’s a disconnect between what’s being said and what’s actually happening.
I don’t blame non-believers for not believing. I wouldn’t either. I didn’t either.
But, because of my humble, slightly hung-over state, I was able to see the Creator in Creation, just long enough for the Creator to get my attention.
And the story of Jesus is just that . . . the Creator trying to get our attention.
So, God, the Creator, got my attention when I was standing out in the woods that chilly fall morning.
The Bible is the history of the relationship creation has had with the Creator. . . a lot of it myth and ancient historical traditions. With an open mind and an understanding of historical context, it’s difficult to believe but equally difficult to dismiss.
Is Jesus my “savior?” My relationship with the Spirit of God, as introduced through Jesus, saved me from myself. I honestly don’t care too much about being saved from hell… I’m more grateful for being saved from myself.
The story of Jesus, as I first read in the Bible and as I believe even more today, is the story of God’s kingdom, God’s spirit, God’s presence on Earth, right now, here. Today. Or as Jesus said, “at hand.” Jesus tells us God is here and now. That’s what I experienced in the woods, that’s what I read Jesus saying in the Bible, and that’s what I don’t hear nearly often enough from other Christians.
I’m a follower of Jesus who understands the concept of Evolution – that’s why I get a flu shot. I know the Earth is very, very old, and in the grand scheme of things, the Bible is very, very new. I know the Bible is a history book of a people, not a manual on how to live… it’s a manual on how NOT to live, frankly. The people written about in the Bible are messy, often horrible people… and doesn’t that make the Bible as current today as the day it was written?
Why Christianity? Christianity was 600 years-old before Islam was born. Islam is a set of rules to guide your life, it’s not a connection to the living God. Judaism is the story of a people… a story that continued beyond those people being conquered by the Persians.
Standing out in the woods that morning, I experienced the presence and the creation of the Creator, and the history of that Creator is best found in the Bible and the person of Jesus.
I would also say that the Creator is as accessible as the nearest park, or tree, river or ocean, or cloud in the sky or breeze on the wind. Too many people fail to stop and experience the Divine when it’s right in front of them.
Doubts? What could cause me to change my mind?
My relationship with the Creator isn’t dependent on the Bible or a preacher or anything I did.
I can’t un-hear a Grateful Dead concert or un-see a painting by Degas. I can’t forget how key lime pie tastes or unlearn how it feels to walk on sand.
The more I learn to listen and experience creation, the closer I grow to creation. And to the Creator. I just had to learn to see what was already there.
That’s why I started my blog, to try to help others see the presence of the Creator, not only in creation, but in themselves. (And to try to counter so much of theutter nonsense propagated by the patriarchal, misogynist, mainstream Christianity.)
We are all spiritual creations in physical bodies in a physical word. But just on the other side of the world, lies the spiritual world – cultures throughout history have known the spirit world was very nearby.
The teaching of Jesus is no different than the tradition of the native Americans or ancient Celts – the spirit world – the Holy Spirit of Jesus and the breath of God – is right there, on the other side of a pane of glass.
This is probably a whole lot more than you care to read or were asking about. But if you make it this far, my M.Div. is from Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology, at Virginia Union University – one of the oldest seminaries in the USA, at one of the oldest historically black colleges in the USA. It was a fantastic experience.
Thank you for sharing your story, it was truly a blessing to read. My journey is similar in that I saw the evidence of the Creator when I saw the deep blue sky when it presented itself in an opening on Central Ave. in Brooklyn NY. You see, the infinite beauty was blocked by the buildings. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, fell away when I could not “be good enough” for God, and discovered sex, drugs, and rock and roll. In my thirties I had a “born again” experience, and swam in the evangelical stream of the faith, without boring you with the details, i leafy this bubble several years ago, and have come to the conclusion that I am a Franciscan at heart. Your encouraging words, remind me of Ben Corey, and have inspired me to live in the moment. I still severe as the faculty advisor to the Christian Club on the campus where I work on Long Island, NY, and share articles like your recent one on Patheos to challenge my evangelical friends. Blessings to you and yours Pax et Bonum—Lou
Jim- Your story is similar to my own in many ways. I’m more of a ‘high-functioning sociopath’–INTJ in Myers Briggs terms–than an evangelist or anything similar. I came to Christ in my twenties, some 40 years ago, having been raised an atheist. I’ve always been aware of the disconnect in churches; it’s only been the last several years that I’ve attempted to address the disconnect by way of my own blog, and in social media. My digital self is far closer to the person I’d like to be than my natural self is.
Keep up the good work.
Beautiful story, Jim. Jesus saves us from ourselves – something I wrote not so long ago… Yet so often the gospel is presented as a get-out-of-hell-free card.
Your story is a breath of fresh air and deeply encouraging. I left mainstream Christianity years ago but have felt pulled back not to religion, but towards a deeper knowledge of God. It’s difficult sifting through the noise, but always a joy to read words that resonate with I’m finding to be true.
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It seems to me that you got “conversion” right the first time just by looking at nature and reading the Bible for what you could find in it for yourself and for what it actually says, rather than what a lot of preachers and wannabe preachers tell you it is, and so now unlike a lot of others you don’t really need to “rethink” your conversion or reconvert or any of that nonsense. This is one of the better “conversion” stories since I read C.S. Lewis’s “Surprised By Joy” years ago and I think I like your story better since it’s a little more accessible and down to earth.