Wednesday, December 17, 2014


6. What credentials do you have for writing this book? You're not a priest or pastor or minister, nor even an Anne Rice, whose novels are so popular people were intrigued by the idea of her turning her pen to the story of Jesus. 

Who do I think I am, anyway, writing a gospel? Right? It's a fair question.

Well, the "academic" answer is that I do have an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies (I did a double major in that and in English). Having been brought up in a non-religious household, I totally fell into this by accident. There were distribution requirements for graduation, so I had to choose between either philosophy or religious studies. I picked religious studies for the sole reason that I had a friend, another English major actually, who raved about a certain professor. So, I took her course, and something was awakened in me. I think, now, it was a spiritual craving. But I think back then I would've just said it was an intellectual interest.

I went on to graduate school in English, and then later on I did another master's degree in creative writing. I published here and there along the way, freelancing projects as I got time. I did publish a nonfiction book, a biography, back in 1997.

But the better way to answer this question is to tell a story. It rambles, but I swear it has a point. So here goes. I teach, but I'm an introvert, so I have to admit that teaching wipes me out. Social interactions in general exhaust me. I go home, and I have to take an hour or so to simply recenter myself. Now, I never had lost my interest in religions and spirituality, and over the years I had spent time reading about various spiritual practices, but nothing had ever really stuck. I embraced just about anything as plausible if I saw it helping people--so I have friends who are pagans or witches, friends who are Buddhist, friends who are very orthodox Christian, friends who are Jewish, friends who are Muslim, friends who practice Native American spirituality. There are beautiful things in all of these religions or practices. Still, it was all rather academic to me.

I had never found peace. I knew in my heart I needed to serve others, feel that my work was meaningful in some way, so that need was met in teaching, but I still felt an emptiness, an unsettledness. And the world around me seemed so crazy--get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Live for the weekend. More than half the people I know hate their jobs. They do them only because they have bills to pay. We spend all this time worrying about the future, too--are we putting enough, if any, money aside? Are we even able to? How will we live? Will social security even be there? Is this what life is supposed to be? Others, meanwhile, are screaming dire warnings that the End Times are near. Religious fanaticism had brought down the Twin Towers, yet I saw the sweetest young woman, a student, at work being harassed and her car vandalized for her wearing hajib. The United States is screaming "freedom," but we are invading Iraq. Nothing made sense to me. If there was God, where was God?

I ceased being able to center myself. So I did the worst possible thing a person can do: I let myself fall into a bottle of booze. Pretty cliche, right? I'd been teetering there on the lip of the bottle anyway for years, and I finally just let go. I lived a good three years of sheer hell and anguish in that dark place. Eventually I thought I was probably going to die, either from a fall or from alcohol poisoning. I just couldn't stop. I could not drink away the unhappiness or drink enough to fill up the big, gaping hole that felt like my heart.

You know where this is going, right?

I'm afraid I can't say, "I saw the Light!"

All I know is that I went to bed one night in a blackout, which was not rare at all, and woke up not remembering a thing except that I had decided to check myself into a rehab and get sober. I apparently had had an entire conversation with my wife about it the previous night, but I remembered nothing of it. All I could remember was that I'd made this decision, and to this day, I can't tell you why.

The other thing that sticks with me is another night, when I was home alone--my wife was working late--and I was drunk as usual, and I realized that I'd had too much and was likely to get sick. I was sitting up in bed, sipping water, fighting to stay awake until I'd sobered up some. I didn't want to pass out and wind up choking on my own vomit. Well, I nodded off. Suddenly, as clear as a bell, I heard a loud voice in my ear: "Wake up!" My eyes snapped open and I looked around, but no one was there. I stayed awake a while and then went on to sleep.

I don't know. Perhaps it sounds crazy. But it seems to me now something out there--something not me--was trying to intervene, trying to get me to snap out of it.

So, I got sober. And a part of being sober, at least in AA, which is where I started, is finding a spiritual practice. I didn't want a religion. I simply wanted God. There are as many ways to find God as there are people, I think. I began meditating. And, ultimately, I joined AMORC, which isn't a religion, but more of a philosophy--really a kind of non-religious, non-denominational mystical path. It's not expected that you'll believe any particular thing. It is expected that you'll find the answers if you ask the right questions and seek within yourself. Jesus became, to me, not a god, but a hero of mine, a man who found a way to God in the madness of his times.

Who am I to try and write a book inside the mind of Jesus? Not me, by any means. No, that's yet one more reason the book is from inside the mind of his nephew, Joseph. Being inside the mind of a human being trying to understand it all, and who finally reaches a kind of understanding and peace: that, I am without question, qualified to write about.

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