When I was ending my ten-year drug run, I had a few items left to accomplish. Think, like, a junkie bucket list. One of these was to shoot up Holy Water. So I went into a local church, filled up a vial, brought it back to my room, and injected it. Now, never-mind that I'd willingly shot sitting water rife with bacteria in which countless dirty hands had dipped dirty little fingers. The only important part (besides being incredibly stupid) was how much I hated the mere thought of God. I thought atheists were too soft, such was my disdain.
So how is it, eleven years later, I've returned to my faith? How am I getting married in the same church where my son was baptized and I now write for the monthly newsletter?
Before I answer that burning question, let me first say a few things. One, I've been planning to write this particular piece for a while but have hemmed, hedged and hawed, because let's face it: admitting to being a Christian these days, especially in the SF Bay Area? Doesn't exactly engender feelings of cool. About as hip as saying I've joined a country rap band. Then again, as Mike "Soupy" Supinksi once told my wife-to-be and I in Colorado, "Actually, that's pretty punk rock when you stop to think about it."
Well, only if you don't think about it too hard.
That's kind of religion in general, isn't it? Can't think about it too hard. Because that shit is an intellectual stretch. I mean, virgin birth? Rising from the dead? Walking on water? Tough to swallow. For even the most fervent.
If politics can be divisive, what about religion? (Seriously, what about religion, Jimmy/Duane? Am I OK on this one?) Let me me get something else out of the way: I am not associated with the Bible-toting Cast-thee-out-of-Eden denizens. If heaven really takes all the people who claim to get to go there, trust me, that is the last place I want to be. Most people who call themselves Christians sort of suck balls. I don't want to be associated with the Fred Phelps or Pat Robertsons of the world. Christianity has been commandeered by rich, old, white dudes. Which is extra fucked up, since they already own damn near everything in this life, which apparently isn't good enough; they want the afterlife too. It's a twist on the Groucho: I don't want to be part of any club that would have those fucktards as a member.
So what do we have? A faith that doesn't hold up to scrutiny, that can only be copped to without he greatest degree of trepidation, whose constituency I generally deplore, and I get to inherit a lineage of oppression, barbarism, and persecution?
Not exactly. I'm Episcopalian.
For those of you not familiar with what being a Berkeley Episcopalian entails, I offer this chart:
OK. Not exactly. But Episcopalians don't do a lot of finger waggling; we ain't too big on the whole "sinning" part. Think: Catholic Light or I Can't Believe It's Not Catholic. The rector at our church is gay, as is the pastor marrying Justine and I in a few weeks. Reason and Logic are strongly encouraged, atheists, non-believers, and thinkers welcome. Sort of like a giant AA meeting: take what you can use, leave the rest.
And there is a lot I am going to leave when it comes to mainstream Christianity, namely the condemnation of homosexuality, which has always been a load of hate-mongering horseshit. Anyone who knows the Bible can tell you, there are a fuckton of contradictions, and when they occur in different Testaments, New supersedes Old, and Jesus doesn't talk about being gay, so you can drop that shit right now. All that "men laying with men" stuff (of which, I think, there are, like, four brief references) occurs alongside passages saying if you wear a shirt of mixed fabric you're going to hell (Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Using a book that preaches acceptance and redemption for the most marginalized and oppressed in support of further oppressing and marginalizing said group is all kinds of fucked up. Besides, taking the Bible at verbatim is sort of like this
OK, I'm about to answer the question. Why do I now include myself in a group that has (besides my wife and I) exactly one cool member (Anne Lamott)?
Or, rather, lack thereof. As in, I ain't that fucking lucky.
I've got it pretty good, man. I lived a reckless, wild, (largely) immoral life, and I escaped with my looks, no diseases, and this award-winning sunny disposition (well, two out of three ain't bad). I've been given a second chance, with a beautiful wife, terrific son, and a house high in the hills. I do what I want every day. Aside from not having my book deal, I couldn't ask for more (and my agent, Michele, swears that is just a matter of time, but even if it doesn't happen, so what? I get to write every day, and some people even like this blog. And I don't think "gimme gimme" is what it's all about anyway). I got tired of taking credit for my good fortune. I got tired of proclaiming my hatred of God, and yet when I'd find myself in the State Police Barracks, felony warrant out for my arrest and looking at serious jail time, I'd be the first to drop on my knees and ask for help. Just like I'd ask for help with the various junkie disease tests or when there were complications with the pregnancy or when there was a chance I could lose my leg after the accident. I'd ask for help. And help was always given. And if there's one thing I despise more than organized religion, it's hypocrisy. In fact, that is why I hate religion. It is populated with hypocrites, the Do As I Say While I Go Get Blown in the Men's Restroom types. I don't want to be a hypocrite. I am bringing being a Christian cool back.
I am not a rah-rah proselytizing kind of guy. I'm not interested in converting jackshit. That's your soul, man. But it is the height of hubris to assign random chance or personal prowess to wins and losses, so I now return from whence I came, where I never really left. Because I've always felt...something, however misguided I got.
The truth is, I give my lovely wife-to-be, Justine, a lot of credit on this one.
Justine tells a story of being on the Camino Santiago in Spain, a 450-mile pilgrimage, she took a couple years before she met me. On her own, walking on severely blistered, raw and infected feet, Justine found herself many weeks into her journey at her breaking point. She stepped into an old Spanish church. She talks about pleading with God to be accepted. This is the part that always gets me. She said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I know I'll never be the kind of Christian you want, but I want to believe," and at that point she says she felt a terrific warmth come over her, and a voice that said, "I love you as you are."
Now a cynic would say that was merely self-fulfilling prophesy. I mean, that's what I would've thought years ago. And God knows I've never felt that warmth, which I've been searching for all my life. I so want to feel that. There is a quote from Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham that I love:
"His cheating and his bitterness were the revolt of his will against (...) a deep-rooted instinct of holiness, against a desire for God that terrified and yet obsessed him."
That's me. That's why I lived the way I lived. Pursing the same thing I was running from.
Not that the reunion has been all sunshine and puppy dogs.
I liken my return to the faith of my youth sort of like having dinner with your ex. There are a lot of wounds that still fester, some conversation topics you can't yet broach. But after years of bitter acrimony, there you are again, sitting together for a meal, talking again with someone who once meant everything to you, growing, repairing the damage, and it feels good to let go of some of that anger that's been eating away at you...
And I'm hoping I'm accepted for what I am. Because I am still a fucked-up, hardheaded oddball, and I hurt as many days as I don't. And it is never easy. I'm just tired of pretending I've been fighting this battle on my own. Because I ain't that good.