Leaving aside the issue of jargon, or as I quickly came to call it, "Christian-ese," I pressed on to bigger and better things. It seemed to me that so much of the Christian life was to be experienced. That was an obstacle to me that I decided I had to get past: much of my life up to that point was lived deflecting first-hand experience because, psychologically, it meant being vulnerable to disappointments and pains that I wasn't prepared to endure.
Surving a broken home, I was entirely unequipped to wrestle with the realities and responsibilities that came with what I perceived, at that time, as being a functioning family of believers sharing a common experience. And most pointedly, opening myself up to the experience of a perfect relationship with a perfect Father was a completely alien concept to my mind: how could I even begin to appreciate such an experience when my biological father and I got along so poorly?
Nevertheless, I plugged in to the church with doggedness. I volunteered my guitaring skills to the youth worship band, the pit orchestra, and special music occasions. But not just with one church. I had a girlfriend in another church, so I offered the same musical support at her church, too. My time in church was staggered between two assemblies such that I was out of my house every night of the week, and most weekends, too.
So much exposure so quickly had its upside and its drawbacks. Being so prevalent in the community of believers, I was able to gain opportunities to play music in public venues (outreach events, and even a major concert at a local university). That increased my connections to people who would later become much closer friends than I had ever anticipated they would, and it also opened up new possibilities, such as attending a local college for a baccalaureate in theology and religious studies.
The drawbacks, however, were manifold. For example, it meant that my relationship with my father grew even more chaotic and tense than it already had been. His contentions were two-fold: I was never at home so the apartment wasn't being cleaned, and he was using his gas money and time to continually drive me around the city to different church functions and that was setting him back in his own personal life.
I've never been a moron (at least, not on my better days), and I could see some legitimacy to his issues with my new Christian life. Namely, he was telling me in his own distant, English manner that he would like to see his son a little more, and that he couldn't afford to keep transporting me about and that I should do something about that myself if church-going was that important to me. And it was! So I purchased bus tickets with some money the church had given me for participating so much in their various ministries.
That still didn't solve the issue of my father's implied admission that he was missing me. But my adolescent brain -- so much smitten with my then girlfriend and feelings of being important and needed in my chosen church families -- felt somewhat offended by being told that the apartment wasn't being cleaned because I was off making a life and family that I understood, very keenly, wasn't provided for me growing up. What was it to me that an apartment I only ever slept in, hardly even had a nibble in, wasn't being cleaned? Was my father not capable of doing his own dishes? Picking up his own clothes? Dumping his ashtrays?
Despite being able to read between the lines of my father's contentions, I wasn't yet wise enough to hold my tongue and be present with him a little more, show him that despite the chaos of my early childhood and teenage years, I still very much loved him and would enjoy to spend more time with him. Instead, I spat out my questions and rejoinders with a sarcasm and bite that drove a wedge even further between us, and as I now reflect, prompted a deep and unwholesome sense of dependence on my church families.
My involvement in church-life grew even thicker, busier, and was supported by congregants volunteering to pick me up and drive me home whenever needed. To them, they were doing what they could to minister to other congregants; they were entirely well-meaning. I stayed weekends between Tony's house, and in a somewhat dissonant and ironic twist, Randy's home (an openly atheist friend I role-played with in highschool).
It was at Randy's home that I was given my first tastes of respectful challenge about my new-found religious ideologies. Issues concerning the absolute claims of Christianity were met with the harsh but honest accusation of arrogance. I was forced to defend what I claimed to know were the underlying truths of reality: that God really did exist, that Jesus saves people from their sins, that Christianity was the whole truth and meaning of life and the universe, and that all other religions or points of view were wrong.
More, I recall quite vividly the struggles I kept private while role-playing at Randy's house: how could I justify allowing various pagan pantheons in my gaming sessions while professing that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life? How could I allow my play to mock the pure message of Christianity? Shouldn't my play reflect my alleged real-life purpose to evangelize the truth of Christ? It really bothered me. The only way I could deal with it was to ignore my internal misgivings and pretend that there really was no God to be bothered with, and that I could simply have my fun and enjoy it, too.
Oddly, that conclusion didn't really strike me as ironic until much later on: pretending there was no God was an amelioration because it more closely resembled reality.
That time in my life, the time between 18-21 years old, was a confusing but super-charged time of change, challenge, and confusion for me. At 19, I moved out of my father's house. Our relationship had degenerated to the point of utter hopelessness and futility. He was convinced I wasn't worth his time or attention (which is putting his position mildly), and that my religious point of view was a phase I would outgrow. He was right on one count: I outgrew my "phase" after 18 years.
My relationship with my girlfriend ended after about 6 months, and that really put me to wondering about God's designs on love and marriage. And it wasn't until I was 21 and had made up my mind to enter a local bible college that I started to really study up-close and personal issues to do with love. My social life took full-bloom at college, my future paths were made clear by the inspiring teachings of a kind-hearted professor, and some small but nagging doubts about my faith worried away at my brain.
More in Part 3...