Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Old

My second novel, The Awakening, comes out in less than a month.  The idea for the novel came to me one morning while I was in the shower.

If you were raised in many of the Christian denominations here in the United States, when you attended Sunday School you were most likely taught that God loves you and sent His angels to watch over you.  The adult Christian experience is often slightly different.  Childhood could easily be summed up through the song, "Jesus Loves Me;" adulthood is framed with the phrase, "Repent and be saved."

Having grown up in several churches (we moved a lot), I remember being taken aback when I transferred from Sunday School to Youth Group and the message I was being offered changed as well.  The experience was very similar to having a parent constantly hug you and tell you, "You're doing a great job and I love you," before waking up one morning to find them saying in a serious voice, "We need to talk..."

When I asked why things had changed, no one could provide me with a satisfactory answer.

So I began to search for my own answers.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had read the Bible cover-to-cover nine times.  I'd gone through both the Old and New Testaments one verse at a time using the Greek and Hebrew lexicons.  Not only did I study the history of the time periods that were covered in the Bible, but I studied the culture.  What I discovered illuminated the Bible in a different light.

For instance, in Mark 10:25 Jesus says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  It's a metaphor.  "The Eye of the Needle" was a small door set in the massive city gates that could be opened after dark to let a traveler pass through without having to open the larger city to danger.  For a camel to pass through this man-sized doorway, it would have to be unloaded of all its cargo then get down and crawl through the door. What was being said here is that the attachment to wealth was so strong it was preventing the rich person from embracing their spiritual path.  They would have to first shed all of their wealth and then humble themselves in order to full rid themselves of this attachment.

As I began to dig, I slowly filled a notebook with questions.  To these I added questions that arose as I studied the history of the early Church as well as the history of the Bible itself - how it was compiled and translated.  After my ninth pass through the Bible, I was ready to ask my questions.

What I discovered was that I had a notebook filled with questions that no one could answer.

I was asked to no longer attend one church where I asked the questions to the clergy behind closed doors.  In another, people who knew me came up to me after meeting with the pastor as they'd been told they needed to pray for me.  These weren't crazy questions that a conspiracy theorist would ask, but things that were laid out in the Bible in black and white.  In church after church I was told the same thing - "You shouldn't be asking these questions."

A week after my seventeenth birthday, having no one else to ask, I knelt in prayer and made a pact with God.  I'd go anywhere I was led, walk through any doorway that opened for me, but I wanted to know the answers for myself.  No middle-men.  No interpretations.  I wanted to know and be able to make my own decisions once I held the data in my hands.

And then I went out into the world.

I was the only Caucasian attending an African American Pentecostal church whose pastor embraced my questing spirit, studied Eastern paths (from modern Taoism to Tibetan lore that was last recorded more than a century ago), was trained as a traditional shaman, and walked down roads I would have never considered even had I known they existed.  Many of my questions were answered by an old Rabbi that I became friends with; other pieces were found scattered on other spiritual paths.

The journey took my writing down two separate roads.  One leads to a series of non-fiction books that are coming out a little later this year: the other leads to a trilogy of novels that begins with The Awakening called "Rebirth."  Like any work of fiction, the story focuses on characters and their journey through the events around them.  The world that frames their journey is woven from the synthesis of each path I studied.  Rather than being a story about the end of the world told from a Christian perspective, it draws upon Hopi beliefs, what we know of the Mayan calendar, and current advances in quantum theory.  Many of the questions that I asked are pivotal pieces of the plot.  While it is suspenseful and tragic, the trilogy is also a story that there is hope to be found even in our darkest times - hence the name Rebirth.

As I stood in the shower, reflecting on all I had learned, I wondered about angels.  We're taught in Sunday School that angels are benevolent beings who watch over us, who love and protect us at every turn. Yet the Revelation of John from the Christian Bible states that it is the angels who will pour out God's wrath on humanity, murdering billions of people.

If you were an angel and truly loved those you watched over, could you destroy them, even if God commanded you to do so?

It was purely a logic problem, not a reflection of anything that I'd learned on my path.  But it got me thinking - and those thoughts became the seeds of the Rebirth trilogy.


  1. And now it is evident to me why we get along so well and why I have found in you a brother. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Renee: You're very welcome. Just from what you've shared with me so far, there are a couple of non-fiction works coming up that I think will really speak to you. :)

  3. Questions are dangerous don't you know? I was kicked out of Sunday school (I was around 5ish 6ish) for asking too many questions and upsetting the other kids with my questions. They could not answer my questions and I think that eventually led me onto other paths (which was a good thing).

  4. Excellent Jeffrey! I frequently find my questions answered with the words of a 3rd party(usually Chesterton, who also contradicted himself a good bit!) I keep hoping to find people who think on their own! :)<3

  5. I hope you're doing a huge blog-tour to promote the upcoming book, which sounds interestingby the way ;)

  6. I believe we should always question things. We need different perspectives to gain greater understanding. Unfortunately, too many people wish to cling to what they have been taught and fail to see the blessing that questioning can be.

    Wonderful blog, as always! :)

  7. Seems to me, you can only ask questions if you promise not to query the answers! Fascinating writer's journey, though, and thanks for sharing it.
    Excellent trailer for the book by the way :-)
    All best

  8. Good for you. I love to hear about anyone who's willing to ask the hard questions and to seek the answers for himself. For a number of years, I taught the the high school Sunday school class, and when I complained about the lousy teaching materials the church had available, I was told I could teach whatever I wanted to teach. The kids and I decided to study comparative religions. We even did a number of field trips to learn first-hand about other religions. The kids loved it, but the sad thing was, the parents didn't. I was asked to kindly cease and desist, so I went back to teaching the younger grades again. But the point was then, and remains today, inherited faith is virtually meaningless. So, hats off to you.

  9. This is really interesting. I did "church shopping" when I first got to Chicago and ended up briefly in a cult (because they were willing to answer my questions with SUCH conviction--although it left little room for anyone else's way of thinking). So hard to find the things that speak to us. I look forward to your book.

  10. Congratulations on your new book! The trailor looked very interesting! What an amazing life you've lived! It's interesting how many religions lay down rules and want you to follow them, without question. I love your determination! Looking forward to The Awakening! Julie

  11. I'm certainly looking forward to this one as I'm enjoying Escaping Destiny so much, already. :) I had a similar experience growing up in a mainstream Christian church... my own question was simply dismissed as nonsense, so I never asked them again and found my own path.
    Naturally, it's a pleasure to have met you along the way. :)

  12. Hi, Jeffrey. I've just discovered your blog and am so interested in your books. The Awakening sounds fascinating! Excellent post, I loved reading it.

  13. I slip out to edit for ten hours straight and apparently the world keeps moving without me... ;) LOL

    @Dezmond That's only the second time in my life I've heard the word "blog tour" (LOL) so I'm going to have to look into it and figure out what it all entails.

    @Karla Thank you. I'm big on asking questions and, if someone can't give me the answer (and it's weird how Google has become the first stop for so many things) I'm not afraid to go out and find them. It was an interesting journey and one I'm looking forward to sharing through the blog and in other places.

    @Susan What a wonderful story! How I would have loved to be in a Sunday School class like the one you taught. :)

    @Christa I've done my share of church shopping as well with some very interesting experiences. And then I suppose you could say that I went "religion shopping" in a way. There are a bunch of crazy people out there - and some unbelievably beautiful souls. Oh the stories! :)

    @Julie (Empty Nest Insider) Thank you! I'm pretty excited about sharing The Awakening with readers. While I'm loyal and driven (sometimes to a fault) when I understand something and believe in it, I don't blindly follow rules very well. My parents were both Pentecostal missionaries, so let's just say there was some "resistance" to my choice to find the answers on my own. lol

    @Becky You're awesome and I'm so glad we're connected on Facebook as well as here. (Same goes for the rest of you FBers that I'm not overlooking, I'm just catching you there.)

    @Julie Welcome to the blog! I actually try to get around to commenting although it tends to happen in big chunks when I get busy. I have a policy that if you comment on the blog, I follow yours as well. Best of luck with the short story contest - yours sounds amazing! :)