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Friday, April 08, 2005

My Damascus

So I went and asked the question, "Where were the pivot points in your faith?" and Charles wisely threw it right back at me: "So what about you, Christian?" I promised him an answer, and I'll do my best to give it now.

It's hard to know where to start, or how much to say. First, because my story is a long and painful one. Second, because there are people who read this list - my mom and dad, brothers and sisters - who are part of it, and that last thing I want to do is hurt them by rehashing old wounds. So I will say just a little, and I'd ask you to not to jump to any conclusions about anyone other than me.

When I was 10 years old, my mom divorced my dad and remarried less than 2 weeks later. My dad in turn remarried less than 2 years later. My sister and two brothers went to live with my mom; I stayed with my dad (which actually meant I went to live with my grandparents in CA for a year because my dad was a traveling salesman at the time).

I cannot tell you how much divorce sucks. I was devastated. Not just because the family was wrenched apart, but because it got glued back together again with different people, and once that happens you realize you aren't ever going back. Ever.

And I am ok with that now, but it hurt like a banshee at the time. And that was when I started wondering if God exists.

Not so much wondering, really - I don't think I ever doubted him at all. I couldn't afford to, because I desperately needed a way to make sense of this world. There's a time in life where every child loses his innocence, where you realize that the world is not this nice, warm fuzzy place where everyone thinks your cute. It is a cold, harsh, dog-eat-dog reality where actions have consequences and mistakes are costly. No wonder people long to return to their childhood.

So I tried to escape. For me, fantasy was a refuge. I read voraciously. I longed for someplace different. Of course it didn't work, and sooner or later you realize you have to grow up whether you like it or not. Fantasy makes for great story, but great story ultimately has to be backed up by reality or its just a cheap novel. It's like looking at porn - sooner or later you realize that mere pictures, no matter how graphic, just can't compete with the real deal.

I desparately wanted reality. And I wanted a reality where the good guys actually won - where wrongs got righted, and the stuff that was broken in life got fixed.

The only place I have ever found anything close to that is with this Jesus guy in Bible.

I remember reading it in 7th or 8th grade, thinking, "Holy crap, if this stuff is true it's absolutely amazing!" But then I looked around at my peers (who all said they believed it too) and I saw absolutely no difference in their lives. They were getting drunk on weekends, they were screwing one another just like everyone else.

It seemed like the whole thing was a stinking sham, and I came very, very close to bagging it entirely. But I didn't because of a man who became my youth pastor and actually lived like he believed this God thing was for real. I used to hate going to youth group, because it was a social club. And I still remember to this day how he announced we were canning everything social and starting bible studies - "And if you don't want to study the Bible, don't bother coming, because I will kick your butt out of here" (and he did!). He taught us how to study God's word, and he encouraged us to be passionate about it.

I think I would have made a good crusader. Or martyr. Or zealot maybe. That's just my personality - I've always been very passionate, very intense, especially about things I believe in. You see, I desperately wanted to believe in something strongly - and up until a couple hundred years ago, that was a good way to get yourself killed. The alternative, however - to live when you don't believe in anything - that to me has always seemed far, far worse. I honestly don't think I could take it.

Maybe that's why Paul's statement has always resonated so strongly with me: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:17).

That packs a powerful punch for me, because I have seen death - not just physical death (anyone can die), but living death, the kind that happens when you take families and rip them apart, and then make them live with that for the rest of their lives. I'm not just talking about my parent's divorce here. You see, as I grew and looked around, I realized that their experience was much closer to the norm than I had ever imagined.

I have lived long enough to watch people screw one another, make bad decisions with money and drugs and relationships, willingingly sell their souls to be sucessful even though it cost them their families, their marriages. Everyday people all around us make decisions that they will have to live with forever - and your conscience is not like a hard drive; you can't just wipe it clean. You think it's bad out here? Wait till you spend some time in the church; people are REALLY messed up there.

And in all of this, I've come to realize that I am not very far from any of these people; I am fully capable of doing many things just as bad, some things far worse. You may not be as messed up as I am, but I'll bet dollars to donuts you're not much different than me at the core.

So those are some of my own pivot points - recognizing that life is brutally hard, recognizing that I am right there with all those sinners, but also realizing that God is real and that he is just and righteous and yet passionately for me.

You might ask me how I know God is real - I don't know. That's like asking how I know you are real, or better yet how I know my wife is real. I have been through a lot of very hard times in my life and there are only two people who have never abandoned me: Marilyn, and Jesus. I can't imagine any circumstance that would cause me to believe that Jesus exists any less I am convinced that Marilyn exists.

I know that the way I met Jesus was through Scripture. I know that no one will ever find Christ apart from Scripture, because at the end of the day there are only two Jesus' available to you: the Jesus of Scripture or the Jesus of my imagination. And frankly, the last thing I want is another fantasy world. Like I said before, I desparately want reality, and I'm convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I've found it - not because of some doctrine I've learned, but because of a person I know who has made a real difference in my life.

That's why I'm at seminary today - because I believe God can make a difference in the lives of other people too. And that is something I will gladly give everything for.

So...there you have it. Very partial, very incomplete, but that's the best I can do in a short amount of space. Hopefully it will give a glimpse of what makes me tick...


At 3:08 PM, April 09, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Christian, thanks so much for this wonderful gift, though I know it brought you some pain to share it with us. This gives me so much more understanding of you, in particular your intense passion. Glad for every opportunity to get to know you better.


At 7:45 PM, April 09, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Mark, I appreciate your comments. Nice to have you reading...

At 7:49 AM, April 10, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Thanks man. I don't think that I learned anything new, but I now understand more how the pieces fall together. I was having trouble seeing how the whole puzzle interlocked, and now I do.


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