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All About Me

All I have so far is:

A Short Spiritual History

I was born a middle-class white child in Bethel Park, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh, PA. My illustrious dad played the organ and directed the Junior Choir each week at our local Episcopal church, which was probably the only reason we went. One of our local TV stations (perhaps Wheeling, WV or Youngstown, OH) used to play the first half of each Batman episode on Saturday morning, which would end with Batman and the Boy Wonder trapped in some impossible situation which they were sure never to recover from, and the second half of each episode would air on Sunday morning, which we never got to see!  Although Im sure this did not traumatize me and leave me with a feeling that I would never be able to get out of tough situations when I grew up, actually it probably didn't affect me at all. (I only even mentioned it because it occurred to me while I was writing this.) Although I did always wonder how they got out of there.

Anyway, we went to church, where the elderly minister with the low voice droned on each week, people were nice and we sang "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" in Sunday School, and attended coffee hour afterwards, where everyone would gossip and act churchly in their nice clothes. Anyway, it was something we did. As I grew up I had some pretty boring Sunday-school teachers. We used to count the number of times one of them said, "uh" each week, and a couple of the few kids who attended that class called me "Bucky" just for laughs. 

In ninth grade, Mr. Collins was trying to teach the few of us who still attended Sunday school at that age, and was actually making an honest, earnest and very commendable attempt at facilitating an honest discussion about what Christianity is really supposed to be all about. But we were ninth graders and, well, frankly too concerned about being cool and disinterested to really participate in the discussion, so poor Mr. Collins pretty much had to talk, have us read from the Bible and try to ask us probing questions which we tried our best not to answer with any hint of interest.

Here I need to set some background.  I was a really, really shy kid, sensitive and supposedly smart. In first grade I was elected to the student council by the popular vote of my peers, but I don't think I said a single word at any of the meetings. One day in the middle of the school year my parents and the school had tried to move me from my 2nd grade class to 3rd grade, but I cried so much that they didn't do it. I was still attending reading class in the grade above me though. I don't think I appeared to be that shy, I mean I got into trouble for goofing off with my friends, getting hit on the head with a pencil or dragged by the ear by Mrs. Ogden or forced to sit up front by Mrs. Torres, and I remember talking enough, but I just remember being deathly afraid of everything and not feeling like I had a clue what was going on. Some abuse that was going on at home, although mitigated by a lot of love and support, didn't help either. Anyway, by the time 9th grade came along, I was that much more shy and afraid (along with everyone else at that age, but it didn't help seeing other kids being "popular" and "outgoing," while I was having my lunch stolen, getting picked on, pushed around, and intimidated by the usual retarded suspects).

Back in nursery school, I had had a crush on the cutest little girl in the class, but I don't think I ever said a word to her. One day I decided that if I put my hand on the chair next to me while we were sitting down for juice and cookies, sooner or later everyone else would sit down and the cute little girl would have to sit by me. Well obviously she sat down somewhere else, but I kept my hand on the chair and then some kid came and sat on my hand. I told him I was saving the seat but he said, "I can sit anywhere I want." We were arguing about it and the teacher made everyone put their heads on the table. I put my head under the table and he kept saying to the teacher, "I didn't do anything, I didn't do anything," like a freaking parrot or something. But that was the sorry-assed beginning of my inauspicious love life. In elementary school, I remember seeing a girl the first day of school and thinking, man I hope I'm in that girl's class. Later I had actually become friends with that girl, Connie Biggs, but one day when Billy Nagel saw us playing together, he began to kind of tease me -- "I know who you like, I know who you like" -- and I think Connie overheard me denying it and probably got mad, because I don't remember talking to her much after that. And then during 4th grade she moved to Iowa. So much for my "childhood sweetheart." I'm sorry; geez I didn't know what I was doing. What the hell? I wrote her a scribbled letter about 27 years later but she didn't write back. Boo hoo.

And back to middle school, the most incredible, wonderful girl ever, Terri Dunmyre, who moved in  while we were in fourth grade, would say Hi to me in the hall, but I was too afraid to say Hi back.  I've never been able to forgive myself for that  (especially for the last time I saw her, when I was older and should have known better). One day in Mrs. Debuchere's 6th grade science class, some kid I didn't know came up to me and said that Kyle Krien (possibly the prettiest girl in the school, even though she was a couple of feet taller than me), wanted to know if I would "go with" her. I imagined just for a second what that would mean: What would I say to her? Would we hold hands after class? What would I do? I was completely clueless so I just panicked and said no. I guess I couldn't imagine what she would want with a skinny, clueless geek. Aaaaaaagh! If I just would have said yes that day, and winged (wung?) it, my whole life could have been different.  Somehow, out of the blue I did do a stand-up act for the 7th grade talent show though.  I don't have a clue how that happened.  I don't know what all of this has to do with theology, but this childhood stuff set the tone for everything that happened afterwards.

Anyway, the bottom line of this sad story is that I was just a big wimp. ( "L") But when asked how to solve the problem of shyness, all the teen advice columns in the newspaper had to say was, "talk to people about themselves" and stuff like that. But how the hell are you supposed to talk to people at all if you are too afraid in the first place?!  Huh?! That's like Steve Martin's two-step process to becoming a millionaire: First, get a million dollars. The bottom line, again, being that I felt shy and alone and like nobody understood me.

Then one day in Mr. Collins' Sunday-school class, we read from Psalm 139, which begins:

1 O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!
2 Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
thou discernest my thoughts from afar.
3 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
 and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
 lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou dost beset me behind and before,
 and layest thy hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
 it is high; I cannot attain it.

After reading verse 4 -- "Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether" -- a light suddenly went on in my brain and I felt a wonderful, mind-opening presence of certain and definite warmth and deep understanding coming from "above" me, in my head; a presence that I instinctively knew was God (I mean look where I was -- at church, for God's sake). Call it enlightenment, or whatever you want, but at that moment I know that "God" KNEW me, and it changed my life. I guess that gave me some self-confidence, and as I learned more about what God really meant I became part of something bigger. Around that time our church was being revitalized by some younger assistant ministers, and we became more involved with the youth movement around the diocese. That gave me a larger community to be a part of and it led to leadership positions in some of the local retreats, including a wonderful thing called "Happening" that was based on the Catholic "Cursillo" weekend retreat format. So now I was a born-again Christian, and that much more outgoing, happier and fulfilled because of it.  Even though deep down inside I was still fairly clueless. And then came college.

At college I went off and on to several different churches with various friends.  Catholic, Methodist, Baptist. The Catholic Chapel on the drill field was great. Then somehow I got involved with the so-called "Church of Christ." A friend of mine in marching band invited me to one of their Bible studies, where I unwittingly became the accomplice of my own undoing, although it opened the door to my eventual enlightenment and a much deeper understanding of God and all it represents. The Church of Christ's point was that you had to be baptized by immersion, not just having a trickle of water poured on your forehead when you were a baby, in order to go to heaven. In other words, since Jesus got baptized by immersion, and that's the way it was done, if you didn't get baptized that way you weren't really doing what Jesus said, so you weren't really following him, and you couldn't get to heaven. I went to Bible studies and argued and argued, along with other people who were there, including some Catholics, because I (we) knew that God wouldn't keep anyone out of heaven just because they were baptized a different way.  However, I eventually came to believe that they were right according to what the Bible actually said, but since I knew in my heart that God wouldn't keep someone out of heaven because of the way they were baptized, I realized then that the Bible wasn't some sort of infallible, perfect document that could be taken absolutely literally.

Around this time, as I was becoming disillusioned with Industrial Engineering as well as the sobriety I had known since I was a baby, I took a class called "Topics In The Creative Process," where we read the incredible book "No Boundary" by the incredible Ken Wilber.  Through that enlightening book I came to understand to some degree the concepts of "oneness," the possibilities of the true meanings of the creation stories in Genesis, the Gospel of Thomas, and just the idea that good does not exist without bad, which required quite a few years of re-evaluating the meaning of being "born again" and the whole idea of Christianity in general. I was never able to look at reality the same again.

Bong story short, I didn't drink in college for a few years, trying to be good and everything, but my brother and sisters back home had finally begun rebelling against the abuse that had taken place throughout our childhood, and when I came home one summer they were different: being bad, "acting out" I guess you call it, smoking cigarettes and just rebelling.  I felt angry and betrayed by them (because in my mind I had been trying so hard to be good, they way we all certainly thought it should be), and eventually back at school I started drinking and then smoking pot; not necessarily as a direct result of my siblings' behavior, but that might have been the crack in, well, the crack.  (I was being very self-righteous about my attempts to be righteous, and I give my brother and sisters all the credit for having the courage to give a voice to our collective feelings.) Later, my brothers and sisters all went to counseling and eventually got better. I attended a couple of sessions where my dad apologized and stuff, but everyone thought I was goody-two-shoes-OK, so none of us were prepared for my self-destructive descent into drug hell a few years later.

By this time I was usually drunk most of the time, but I had met some awesomely cool, fearless, fun people who really brought me out of my shell, and also turned me on to sweet lady cocaine.  Though these were some of the best times of my life, eventually I ran out of money, completely out of Industrial Engineering, motivation and any idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and how not to do it.  It occurred to me that Californy was the place I oughta be, so I loaded up my shit and I moved to Beverly, well, Pasadena, that is. Grandparents. Party time. Out here I just got drunker and did more coke. Living with my grandparents was no cakewalk, believe me, mainly because of me, but not to mention the double generation gap. Finally, living on my own, my life was competely messed up and I almost died from a battered, abused and self-inflicted literally broken heart, so after several futile attempts I finally quit smoking crack, then blow, and then later drinking and smoking.  (I had already quit smoking pot because it made me so damned paranoid all the time. And the last thing I needed was more paranoia! :)

I was introduced to A.A., C.A., N.A., Al-Anon and A.C.A. along with all the other 12-step anagrams and a whole new way of looking at God. A new way, free of prejudice, doctrine, theology, bigotry, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, dress-up, exclusion, delusionary fantasy, cliqueyness, ignorance and prejudice.  I still love this way of looking at God. If you read the story of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the "founders" of AA, you cannot help but know that God was involved. The AA way allows people to come to God whatever way they know how, even people who hate "him" or don't believe in it can come to him this way. And the people who stay sober that way know and need God like nobody who doesn't need him that badly or depend on him for their very existence and survival can. Some so-called Christians might say that since these people don't believe in Jesus they won't go to heaven.  But those so-called Christians really can't know the mind of God, according to the Bible. Second, if alcoholics and addicts are living each day believing that God loves them and wants to help them, living by the principles of complete honesty and truth to the best of their ability, knowing that their very survival depends on helping others, then they are living the truth, the way and the life, and isn't that Jesus?

For a long time I stayed away from organized Christianity, based on my feelings that it bore the bad fruits noted above, and not wishing to be guilty by even remote association with self-righteous, hypocritical, extremely vocal but "eloheemely" yokel  fundamentalists.  Finally, after not going to "A" meetings for years either, trying to find my way between just God and me, praying all that time on my own and using the book "24 Hours A Day" as my Bible, I finally realized that I was praying to the same God, and feeling alone in that, and that I wanted to join fellow believers. I still feel like an outsider at "church," though, and although I've found a cool place called Christian Assembly, where the Spirit fills my heart every time, I am still looking for a church that is more in line with my beliefs. At least somewhere where they see that Genesis is telling the story of how God created the universe through the big bang and continual evolution of nature.  That it is a story about how creation is, not how it happened. At least! I like the idea of Theosophy but it seems a little too intellectual and not sufficiently emotional.  But as long as I feel the Sprit at Christian Assembly, that is good enough for me.  Until God, whatever it is, shows me the next step.

Feel free to check out my current thoughts on the True Nature of Christianity.


 

© MM Tom Minkler  All Rights Reserved

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©MM Tom Minkler
Last updated 11/23/00
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