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From Here To There and Back Again

By The STeWpId MoNkEy ~

"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

These are words, 30 yrs. ago that you might have heard coming from my mouth if you were on the 6 train between the hours of 10am and 2pm on a Sunday. This was the train that my mother and I would take down to Times Square in NYC. We were either going to church or coming back from it. The Times Square Church was one of the biggest mega churches of its time. With artist like Keith Green making appearances on a regular bases.

I was one the brightest of young stars being brought up in a Fundamentalist, Evangelical and international ministry. How many six year olds are on the train quoting scripture to the ignorant masses? God bless their souls, even at that tender age I had a reverent love for God. I had replaced my drug addict, convict father with a father who I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt would never, ever leave me hanging. Never leave me feeling alone with unanswered questions.

By the age of twelve I was in full swing in faith. I recommitted with my mind, body and soul by renewing my vows to Christ and being at the spiritual age of responsibility was re-baptized again in front of a congregation of thousands. Talk about excitement.

I was so adamant about the truth of my beliefs and the strength of God that I remember one of my first jobs when I was eighteen. I worked temp for Bedford Hills Women’s Correctional Facility; records department. You have to remember those eighteen years ago, technology was not what it is today. As you entered the building, your right hand was stamped with a symbol that could only be seen via black light. Every day and evening as we came and went from the building you were required to pass you hand under this black light for verification.

Here I was this young man. Strong in the Lord. Firm in my beliefs, entering the workforce as a true professional. I entered the building for the first time ever and stopped by the main door, horrified. The blood boiling in my veins. My head getting dizzy and my vision narrowing. What was going on? I watched people walk in get their right hand stamped and move on. Could it be? Here at my very first job on the very first day of work, I am being assaulted by Satan and his ways. Had these people never read Revelations? Did they not see how the bible had predicted this?

"Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."

Here they were. The workers of Satan. Marking me for the want of a paycheck. No I could not do it! I refused it! When it was my turn in line, I stuck out my left hand. I still remember the Correction Officers look of disdain. Was it my age or as an agent of Satan, could he smell the Lord on me? I was nervous and scared, yet wishing I had a shining sword to strike the enemy down. "Um...other hand please." He instructed me quietly. I quickly saw through his polite demeanor to the devil he was inside. I could see it in his eyes. Not to be misunderstood, I shook my head. "No sir. You WILL NOT put Satan's mark on me. I refuse and rebuff you."

Forty-five minutes later, after much discussion and imposing my right to my belief, my left hand was stamped and I strolled smugly into the building. Satan has lost another battle!!

This was my life for another couple of years until a new year’s night a horrible accident happened and I ended up with my best friend's brain matter splattered all over my shirt. Now you have to understand. This friend was my brother. One of the few males that I could openly say I love you to. The guilt in me was immense. I had put myself and my friend in a situation that as a Christian, we should have never been in (anyone from the projects of New York would understand about people firing off guns on roof tops). My life took a downward spiral for several years. Although, in my Christian mindset, I knew I was the guilty party, I blamed God. How could he let my best friend, my brother die? Shouldn't we have been protected? After this I wanted nothing to do with God. I started smoking bud. Gang banging, etc. I mean what was the point if any of us could die and there is nothing that will help us if it's not "his" will. If I had only known how close to the truth I was at that point, I could have saved myself and others much heart ache. I dabbled in Paganism and the occult.

Fast forward. My mother constantly preaching and praying with me until the point when I felt that she was right. I am the sinner. I recommitted my life to Christ and even joined a group called The Covenant Players. An international ministry theater group. We spread the word via improve theater. We traveled in an Econoline van for months at a time. Living of a small weekly stipend and the generosity of churches and organizations we performed at. At this point in my life, I was once again in my glory. Why shouldn't I be? I have mended my ways. I had known that God had forgiven me. All was right in the world. Yet in the back of my mind, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I was missing something.

One day on mission we were in Chatham VA. We stayed at the house of the pastor to the local military academy there. He was a great guy. Warm, understanding and ready with answers. I had expressed to him that I was considering seminary and would like his point of view. I knew my calling was with the Lord. After about an hour of conversation, he gets up, leaves the room and re-enters about 3 min. later with a book in his hands. "Read this. Afterwards, if you still want to be a pastor, call me." I took the book from his hands and looked at the title. "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification” By Michael Martin. I looked at him very confused? I had heard of atheism and their "weak" arguments. I knew that they were just being rebellious and they knew God existed. I was familiar with some aspects of Christian Apologetics. Could this be a test? Still confused, I took the book and later that week when we parted ways and my group and I left for our next destination, I could have sworn as my pastor friend said by to me, he had a very strange look in his eye. "Remember" he told me, "If you still want to be a pastor after reading this, give me a call. Just let it lead you where it will." I was still confused but promised to give it my best and I promised I would call soon so he could tell me about seminary and I could start the process.

Mission lasts several months. As I was still new enough that I could not go overseas, my mission was hear in the US. And as we drove from state to state, church to church I found myself being engrossed more and more into Michael Martins book. That little nagging voice that I had in the back of my mind was growing louder and louder. In the months that passed, not only did I finish this book, but I was able to get my hands on some others. Christian apologetics and other secular works. He did say, follow where it leads me didn't he? I was so determined that the next time he and I spoke, I would be a bastion of knowledge for Christ. I would know my faith inside and out. I knew for a fact this is what he wanted from me. A strong warrior in Christ. How else could I be that if I did not know all the arguments? Did not know the enemy.

At the end of every mission, we all get together in Oxnard CA. for training in theater and gospel. This time of year always delighted me. Full theater make up and costumes. And all for The Lord. This year was a bit different for me. When I arrived in CA. I did not have my usual sense of elation. Instead, it was a strange feeling of irritation. I had never been very studious before that. Academics where never really a big thing in my home. You went to school mother said I had to. During my time on mission the academic side of me was lit. I became an avid reader and all the topics I read where on religion, skeptism and the natural sciences. I couldn't get enough. Now, I had to sit with people when all I wanted to do was study. But...I had to be a good Christian and I was going to seminary training I went.

The loss of my faith, for a very long time, almost broke my heart. It was all I had known for the longest time. It was about eight o’clock at night. Everyone was watching a play about Christian musketeers. It was quite funny, but I couldn't laugh. I couldn't smile. Instead I cried. Quietly. As I looked around the room at all the beaming faces I instantly realized something. I did not belong there. I was no longer one of "them". My skeptical mind had been awakened. I no longer believed. Quietly, with tears streaming down my face, I got up from my seat and walked out. A couple of the Elders must have seen me because ten minutes later, my mentor found me outside smoking a cigarette. In quiet words I told her my realization. We talked and walked for about two hours. Later that evening, she dropped me off at the airport, flight back to New York.

I spent the next decade delving through any and all information I could get my hands on. I ran the gambit from Christianity to Paganism (yes again), agnosticism to finally atheism.

It's been a strange and interesting journey. There were many times where I questioned my choices. What rational human doesn't? The loss of my faith, for a very long time, almost broke my heart. It was all I had known for the longest time. But I said almost; not it did. There was a small flame in my heart that had ignited and started to grow that year when I was on mission. Since the night I left the Covenant Players, I have done my best to feed that flame and help it grow. Never directing it, just feeding it. Following where ever it was that it lead me.

Here I am today. 36 yrs. old. Married, quite ironically to a theist (although she is more of a Deist than a Xian. Shhh..don't tell her that. Lol). I am a father of two wonderful children. I am a Naval Vet. I volunteer my time to charity (when I get off my lazy behind to actually do it. ;)). I am no longer confused. I no longer hurt inside and haven't for many, many years now. My life and my mind are free! I take responsibility for my actions. I can look at every single human being, although I may not like you, and understand that you are beautiful because you are me, a human.

I am many things to many people. Some good, some bad. But most importantly, I am a person that tries to look at things objectively. I want proof and facts. For all aspects of my life. Even if I don't like the answer.

Of all the things that I have been. That I am. That I have been called. There is one wonderful title that I have.

I am an atheist.

I never did call my pastor friend back. I’d like to think he had some idea that I wouldn’t. I think him for showing me the door. I just hope he made it out himself.