A few years ago, I was reading a strategy guide for the video game Dino Crisis and came across a quote near the back of the book. In the section of the game, the main character is fleeing a tyrannosaurs rex and has to fire grenades into it's face to slow it down. At the end of the section, the book says "After three or four grenades to the face, he'll (the T-rex) come to understand that some partings are inevitable, that even fleeting friendships help you grow as an individual, and that Regina's (the protagonist) haste to leave Ibis island is in no way a rejection of him personally."
That book was one of the funniest things I've ever read, and at the time I did not give much thought to that particular paragraph. But now, years later, I can see how truthful the general statement of that is: That sometimes partings between individuals are inevitable and that friendships, no matter how fleeting, help you grow.
Why do I bring this up? Because on the 24th of August, 2006, I said goodbye to someone I have known for six years.
During the month of august that this piece is being written, I had a great many mornings when I would wake up in the morning, go through my days, and have a feeling that I was not doing something I was supposed to be doing, as if I was being given a warning that something was wrong.
As you can imagine, walking around with a constant sense of dread and uncertainty will inevitably wear and tear away at your emotional health. And when coupled with the fact that throughout the coming and going of days, I was coming across Christian ideas, books and propaganda wherever I went. Even on vacation, I came across those insulting bumper stickers that say "No Jesus, no peace". I even saw billboards that had the words "If you want me to save you, I will…Jesus".
As an ex-Christian of two years, the thought that perhaps something beyond the senses is trying to bring me back into Christianity inevitably comes up. I did sometimes wonder if Jesus was trying to bring me back into the fold, and that the feelings I had were signs that I should come back.
Day after day, it began to build on me. Until finally, on the 24th, I snapped.
It was a fairly ordinary day. I woke up, got dressed, got into the car and went to work. Then, afterwards, I drove to college for the day's classes. At that point, the thoughts of what I had been coming across, especially with regards to Christian fundamentalism, was beginning to anger me. When it comes to spiritual matters, I am the type of person who just has to look and see what others say. I can't really help it, because I'm a curious person and I want to know.
Yet…sometimes it can be too much. I kept going over what has been said about Jesus by many different sources, that he was the prince of peace, that he came to earth to show us how to come back to God and to show us how to live. About how he is the great leader and the great teacher of all spiritual seekers.
Yet…I couldn't help but say to myself, "No he's not." So many see Jesus as a kind and friendly man who wants to save you and be your friend. Simply take a copy of the bible, open it up and you'll see that Jesus is far from that. Bible-Jesus is, in all honesty, not the kind of person I would want to make friends with. I'm not sure I'd even want to be with him, or even near him.
Why is that? Because of his in your face attitude, because of how often he uses threats and even how he insults people at time. How he seems to mock people by saying "Oh ye of little faith." several times. Bible-Jesus is not the wishy-washy, friendly being who is seen so often in paintings and drawings. Bible-Jesus is direct, in your face, and threatening. Don't believe what he says? According to Bible-Jesus, you're pretty much fucked. Don't believe what he says? According to Bible-Jesus, you're a fool. Don't believe in Jesus? Then according to Bible-Jesus, "woe to you."
Jesus, at times, resembles a cult leader more then anyone else. He tells his followers to go out and do things for his sake, to leave their families for his sake, and to be glad to be persecuted for his sake, for great would their reward be. He says that if you deny Jesus, he will deny you before God. If you are ashamed of Jesus, he shall be ashamed of you.
Me, me, me.
No wonder I admire the Buddha, Ghandi, and the Dali Lama, just to name a few. They won't damn you for not believing in them, and the lifestyles they lead inspire me to do more then Jesus's life did.
Looking at Jesus' words was an eye-opener for me, but not in the sense of "Wow, I need him!" It was more like, "Wow…Jesus isn't a very friendly guy." Perhaps Jesus' most infamous statement can be found in Matthew, where he says that if anyone does not hate his family and those who love them, they cannot be my (Jesus') follower. Yet even this statement is starting to be white washed. In the study bible at my house, the verse has been changed to "Anyone who does not love" instead of "Anyone who does not hate" Why are people changing Jesus' words?"
Jesus' guidelines on love, possibly the single greatest virtue in the human race, are very odd. The most famous of course, is Jesus’ famous command that we “love one another” (John 15:17). Yet he also “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In other words, Jesus tells his listeners to hate their families and themselves before they follow him. When you compare that with “honour thy father and thy mother” and John’s words: “he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen” (Exodus 20:12 and 1 John 4:20,), and Jesus begins to get a raised eyebrow of suspicion.
Jesus's teachings are so well known that there is no real reason to go over them all. But they eventually boil down to "The end of the world is just around the corner. Get yourselves right with God now before you're thrown into hell. And you can only come to God through me."
Yet the end of the world did not come. Jesus told his followers and others that the son of man (Jesus) would return within their lifetime, their generation, etc. Yet he did not return. He did not come back. He failed to show himself. As time went on, his disappointed followers were forced to adapt and change some of what they believed.
Today, hundreds of years later, there are, in general, two camps of Jesus followers. Those who see the bible liberally with many metaphors and stories meant to make a point then tell actual history, and those who see the bible as completely literal and infallible, and that Jesus is THE ONLY way to heaven and to God.
Guess which group is more well known? Guess which group is more present in everyday life?
And behind it all is a man who claimed to be the son of God, the son of man, and the person who was going to help bring the kingdom of God to earth at the end of the age. He's dead. All his disciples are dead. All the towns he condemned, all the groups that didn't believe him, are all dead. Judgment day has not come, even though Jesus heavily implied that it would within the lifetimes of his followers and those around him.
I was once a follower of this man. I believed what I had been told, that he was the son of God and the only way to heaven. That without him, you were doomed to an eternity of hellfire. I followed him for four years. And then, even after I left Christianity, I still hung on to him, believing that I could get something from him. And I did this for two years.
But that time has come to an end.
How do you say goodbye to someone you've followed for six years? How do you say farewell to someone you trusted more then any human being?
I don't know. All I know is that it ended with cursing and anger and bitterness.
When I was driving to school that day on the twenty fourth, I couldn't stop thinking about all that was being said about Jesus by so many people, how great he was even though when I look at the bible, I see otherwise. I thought about how so many said he was wise and perfect when to me it is clear that he was not.
The cult of Jesus worship. That was what I saw. The liberal, more easygoing voice was nowhere to be found, buried and crushed under the feet of Billy Grahams, Greg Laurie's and others just like them.
I can't remember exactly how it came to it, but eventually my anger began to overflow. And when I reached the parking lot of college, I was raging. I was furious at how so much attention is focused on this…this…this idol that is not a man I'd want to be with, or perhaps even associate with.
What I do remember, all too clearly, is what happened. I had parked the car, I had turned off the keys, and I told Jesus how much I hated him.
I raged, and I told him how much I hated what he said. I raged, and I told him how much I hated his self-superiority, his own self-authority. I raged, and then I told him how much I hated his teachings.
I hate you.
It was the first time in six years, in my entire association with the man that I insulted him out loud. It was the first time I spoke out loud my true feelings about him, where I told him how I felt. Where I had once adored and worshipped him, I now just told him how much I didn't like him. The illusion, the idol, was gone.
Eventually, I was hunched over in my car, my fist pounding my backpack. "Damnit." I cursed. "Damnit, damnit, damnit." Over and over I said it. I had let my true feelings out, and there was no turning back, no denying how I felt.
Eventually though, I stopped. I slowly picked up my backpack, silent from the abuse it had gotten, and I got out. When I left that car and walked across the parking lot to class, I simply said one thing to the man I had once worshipped.
"Leave me alone."
I felt different in school that day. We watched a movie in class, "Some like it hot." I didn't pay much attention to it. What I did notice was that I felt…hollow in a way. It was not an unpleasant hollow, perhaps more like the feeling you get when a watch that you've worn for five years is suddenly not on your wrist.
And when the movie was over, I slowly walked across campus back to my car. I noticed how the sky was blue. I looked at the chalk drawings of history someone had drawn on the sidewalk. I let myself go through the grass.
I felt different.
The feelings of dread, of uncertianty, that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing...were gone. And to date, they haven't come back.
And when I got in the car and began to drive back home, my focus turned to God. I told God in my car that I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. I told God that I never wanted to go back. Never again. I didn't want to go back to what I once believed because it would be like falling back into an addiction that had taken so long to break.
And then, for the first time in my entire life, I yelled at God. I yelled at him that I was never going back, and that I would no longer tolerate all the Christian material that I would encounter in my life. I yelled at God that if he was going to try and send me messages, could he please be so kind as to send them in any other way then through religion, and especially through Christianity.
But mostly, I just yelled at him how I wasn't going back. "You got that God?!" I yelled. "I'm not going back! NEVER! DO YOU HEAR ME GOD?! DO YOU?! NEVER!"
And then…it was over. It was done. No lightning bolts came down to destroy me, no car suddenly appeared out of nowhere to crash into me. I was still driving down the road, still driving home.
I pulled over. I got out, found some rocks, and chucked them off the side of the road into a small gorge below. I imagined I was throwing bibles, throwing them away so that no one else would ever find them, ever read them. I threw three rocks. The last one, a heart shaped one, cut my little finger as I grabbed it. I didn't even notice the blood until it had left my hand.
And then I got back into my car and kept driving. And I drove. I drove and drove until I reached a small valley road, away from the cities and the hustle and bustle of life. I drove past a flower stand. Something made me stop at the next parking lot.
Perhaps I was being guided to say my final goodbyes.
Getting out of that car, I just knew that this was it. It was the end of six years of following Jesus. In a sense, I was still hanging onto one piece of my past, one thing I refused to let go of. I had left Christianity, I had left it's doctrines, but I had not left Jesus. I was still hanging onto him, refusing to let go.
But now…now I just couldn't hold on any longer.
As I left the car in the parking lot, I began my walk down the road. The sun was at my back, low to the horizon. It would be dark in another hour or so. My family was expecting me at home, but they would have to wait. This was more important.
I didn't speak at first. I didn't talk for a while until I had crossed the street and was walking next to a hill that I said my final goodbyes to Jesus.
"Listen Jesus…I just don't want you in my life anymore. I don't want you to be in it. Please, just leave me alone. Just…just leave me alone and don't bother me."
I reached the flower stand. I got a small bouquet of flowers for no real reason, other then they looked good. I paid for them, and I started to walk back to the car, the sun setting in front of me, it's light making the top of the trees grow.
Maybe in life we're meant to follow some people for a time, then leave when we longer need them, or when they can no longer help us. Perhaps, as the video game strategy book said, friendships, no matter how fleeting, help us grow as an individual.
Perhaps…perhaps I had come to the end with Jesus. I no longer needed him. I had taken from him what would be useful and helpful to me in my life. For although he did say many threatening things, he said some good things too. His commandments to love God and love your neighbor as yourself are very good guidelines one can use during life.
I had known him for six years. We had some good times together. I did grow when I was still with him, but there is only so much room to grow in with one individual, one book, one way of believing. Does the Christian bible not say that when I was a child, I played with childish things. But now I am a man, and I put away childish things?
I am ready to move beyond the need to depend on someone else for everything in my life. I am ready to take responsibility, to learn and grow from my own choices, my own actions. I am ready to make my own decisions based on my own values and my own ideas. I have read about Jesus found in the bible and in Christianity. And I have come to the conclusion that what we have today is an idol who will solve all our problems for us…all in exchange for worshipping him and following him of course.
Follow the herd, or become a lone wolf? That is the question I face. I am a spiritual seeker. I do not limit my search for what is right and what is true to only one source. And in order to have this freedom, you must be willing to give up the security of having a home base, a belief that tells you what to believe and what to do.
Is it a price I'm willing to pay?
Yes…yes it is.
As I walk towards the setting sun, to my car and to my family waiting at home…
I see myself walking down a small path in a garden somewhere. The grass is thick and lush. There are flowers in the fields that sparkle and shine. A bird sings somewhere. Mountains, tall and majestic are nearby.
The path I am on is made of smooth wood. It is wide enough for two to walk on it. Looking back, I can see it stretching for miles. Looking in front of me, I see a small platform in the field, also made of smooth and soft wood that is pleasant to my feet. It has a bench on it, and on the other side there is another path, one leading far ahead.
But there is only room on this path for one person.
As I come to the platform, I see a man sitting there on the bench, calmly waiting for me. I recognize him immediately. It's the man I've followed for six years. It's Jesus. He sees me coming to the platform and he slowly stands up, waiting for me.
I walk up to him, and look at him eye to eye. He looks at me as well. I turn to look at the path ahead. It is leading to a wide, open field beyond the mountains that is green and lush. It looks beautiful. Jesus looks at it too. Then we look at each other again.
I talk to Jesus. I thank him for all that he has done for me in the six years that we have been together. I thank him for all the help he has given me. But, I tell him, I can't go any further with you. I wan to walk this path by myself.
He smiles. Looking in his eyes, I know he understands.
I hold out my hand, offering it to him. He looks down at it, and then he takes it softly in his hand. Our palms meet, and we give a gentle shake. And then we give a hug to each other. This is the end of our path together, the path that we have walked.
We hug each other for a long time. But eventually, it ends. It is time to move on.
I do not know if we will meet each other again. I do not know if our paths will cross. I cannot see the future. I do not know what it holds. I may meet Jesus again one day, or I may not. I may be leaving him, but perhaps I will encounter the spirit that was in him along the path.
I take a deep breath. Jesus slowly steps back, giving me room. I look at the path ahead of me. It is so long…but deep down in my heart…I know I want to do this. It is time for me to walk this path by myself.
And then, raising my foot…I take my first step onto the path.
I walk. I keep walking. The path ahead is long and I have a long way to go. But even as I walk, I pause. And then I turn around and look back one final time. Jesus still stands there in his white robe, watching me. He is not angry, nor is he sad. For I know he understands.
He slowly raises his arm towards me, in a gesture of goodwill. And then I hear his voice in my head.
The path is before you. It is yours to walk, yours to enjoy, and yours to see.
Looking back at Jesus, I give one more smile. A deep breath of air enters my lungs. And then I turn back to the path, and I keep walking, each step taking me further away from my past, from all that I have held onto. Inside me, I feel sad in a way.
But there is hope as well.
As the sun sets, and the path continues on, I keep going.
I don't look back…
I keep walking.