TO CELEBRATE THE OCTOBER RELEASE OF MY BOOK THRASHING ABOUT WITH GOD, AND TO EXPAND THE CONVERSATION BEYOND MYSELF, I HAVE ASKED 31 BRAVE PEOPLE TO SHARE A GUEST POST WITH THE THEME OF #IAMTHRASHING. THESE ARE PEOPLE I HAVE PERSONALLY DIALOGUED WITH, PEOPLE WHO I KNOW HAVE RISKED A LOT TO WRESTLE WITH THE HARD STUFF THAT COMES WITH SPIRITUALITY. OUR FAITH MAY NOT LOOK LIKE YOURS, BUT WE WELCOME YOU TO THE DISCUSSION.
Since I was very young, I've heard a voice. I used to sit in my closet, with my Snuffleupagus doll, and listen to it. I could hear it other places too, but only now and then. Not like in the dark. In the dark, it was always there. Because I was raised in a Presbyterian church by faithful believers, I called the voice God.
I can't remember when or how I learned not to talk about this voice, or my friendship with it, but I somehow came to equate God with Snuffleupagus- a secret friend that no one could know about.
The ironic thing is- I was at Bible school and church every week. My father was (and still is) the music director for his church, so I was there at least 2 days a week- at rehearsals, turning pages, playing in the empty sanctuary while the choir sang in the basement, singing and playing handbells in children's choirs, etc. I loved the church people and they loved me. I also loved the building itself, as over years or playing with other church kids, I explored every nook and cranny and possible hiding place. The potluck dinners and picnics were some of my favorite events. The church people were my extended family.
Still, as comfortable as I was in this second home- I never talked about my relationship with God. The voice never talked about Jesus, or really anything that I heard at church (or so it seemed), and slowly my association between the two dissolved.
As I got older, the voice talked more and more about who I was and my calling in this life. In dreams, my long-past grandfather (who was a Presbyterian minister) came to me over and over to reinforce these messages. He told me that I wouldn't be a preacher, as he and his father (and his father) had been. I wouldn't even work in a church, like my father does. I would also never associate exclusively with a religious group or start my own. I would be out in the darkness, collecting lost souls and spreading light, love and wisdom.
The more clear this message became, the more I realized that the agenda of the church conflicted with it. The message on Sunday was that accepting Jesus was the ONLY path to salvation. I knew this wasn't true. I knew that God was in ALL men and women, in ALL things around us. I knew that the Sun shone on the entire world each day, not just my part of it.
And so I tuned out the message. Again- I loved the people, I loved the building. I loved the potlucks and the organ and the music, but I ignored the curriculum. (just like high school, really)
But then one Sunday, something happened. I was about 12 or 13, and I had taken to sitting in the very back row of the balcony, where my head could lean back against the wall and my father (who sat facing the congregation in the choir loft) couldn't tell that my eyes were closed. This was how I survived what I considered to be the most boring hour of my week.
But this week, the Bible stuck there in the pew in front of me jumped into my hands. As I looked on curiously, my hands flipped it open to Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. My eyes poured the passage into my soul. As they did, I struggled to keep water from coming down my cheeks. This was God! God was HERE, in this book! Jesus WAS speaking the voice of God!
I wanted to dance! I wanted to sing and shout GOD IS HERE!!! GOD IS HERE!!! I wanted to cover everyone with the flood of truth that had just drowned my assumptions. But I held it in, just as I always had. And in a matter of minutes, this joy turned into sadness. As I looked around the room, I realized that a terrible thing had happened. Jesus had been sold out.
I read all of the Gospels in the next few days and this feeling only grew. I believed Jesus would tear up most of the churches I had seen in much the same way he tossed the temple tables. The more I read, the more this sadness turned to the type of anger he showed then.
I left home after high school and left the church with it. But since that day, I've done my best to live by the Sermon on the Mount and its commandments. And of course, the voice continues to speak to me. It's given me songs to sing. It's given me stories and words to share and constant guidance and encouragement.
It's also given me patience and a strong heart. Because unfortunately, the message in Matthew is as radical as it was then. We spend most of their time listening to market-driven voices rather than to God, so someone like me is a nuisance, just as that Jew was to the Romans 2000+ years ago. The powers that be have realized that it's easier to call the messengers crazy and drown them out with counter-messages than it is to kill them, but the conflict is still as strong as ever.
My thrashing- my “Why, God?” moments- have been about this conflict. “If you can fill my head with this truth, why can't you do it for everyone? Why would you allow your planet to be destroyed? Why do so many people claim to follow you, but fail to follow through in action? Why do I get called crazy when I share your message? Why? WHY?!?! WHY?!?!?!?”
There have been many days of depression and defeat, when I've felt so small against the hate I've been asked to fight. Maybe it's getting better, but it seems so slow. Too slow! And if I watch TV, I'm convinced it's getting worse. (so I've learned not to watch)
I've tried to quit a thousand times. I've tried to divorce the voice and relent to the ways of the world. I've also pondered leaving society and becoming a hermit without sin, living off the land in sustainable peace with nature. God refuses my resignation every time, and refuses to release me from society.
“You have to stay,” it says. “It's the humans who need you. Not the trees.”
“But the trees don't call me crazy!” I shout, to no avail.
You can't win a wrestling match with God, because God never tires. I can tell you that for sure- from experience. After I stopped fighting back and relented to my journey, I began to meet people who hear the same voice I do. They don't call me crazy. They hug me, as glad as I am to find another ally. More and more people everyday. People like Mandy. People like you too, maybe.
When you awake, you will thrash- like a fish out of water. This is only natural, but through time and faith, you tire and calm down. And then it's time to get to work.
After all, we need all the help we can get.
Ryan Glass is a musician/poet/teacher currently living in Asheville, NC. Using the stage name Slim Dixon, he has performed both solo and with bands, including his Brooklyn-based band The Waywords. (thewaywords.com) His musical youtube video series is called Sundays with Slim. While in NYC, he also wrote and produced plays, including Just a Reading and Shards Volume 1. As a teacher, he has worked with all ages- from his original baby music classes (called What's Shakin?) to high school job readiness to performing arts of all types. Currently, he is shopping a children's book and preparing to record his first solo album.