In describing my Christianity, I often reference that passage in Huckleberry Finn when Miss Watson is talking to Huck about Heaven. Explaining to him that it is full of harps and angels and such:
“Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.”
I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
I am a Christian.
The former has nothing to do with the latter - well, sort of - but given the trend in my blog, I figured I would start with that lead.
I gave my life to Jesus when I was in college.
Well, I was barely still in college.
Just weeks before graduating.
Ironically, it was a Catholic priest who led me to that point.
It was ironic because after being raised Catholic, I distanced myself hard from that faith once ‘Confirmed’.
The distance came for many self-created reasons but one of those was because at the Confirmation I was ‘expected’ to kiss the Cardinal’s ring.
And I refused.
I would still refuse.
And would still swear at the request.
Another self-created reason.
They no longer ask for that to be done.
But after that request and ceremony, I became an ‘atheist.’
Because I was an idiot.
And full of myself.
Conducting a running third person narrative of my life to anyone who would listen.
And loved argument more than relationship.
Or more than anything, really.
And then I attended Saint Michael’s College.
A Catholic college in Colchester, Vt.
Because I thought I would have more people to argue with.
All those Catholics in one place.
And I was ready to dissect their faith.
Well, that and because St.Mike’s was the only school I got in to.
At eighteen my entire life dripped with irony.
Gosh, what I mess I was.
The lone, splayed bale in a field of tightly-stringed rectangles.
The one that could not be neatly stacked on the ‘67 Chevrolet.
The farm truck with the green, chipped-paint side rails.
And 68,000 miles.
All hayfield miles.
And some sawdust miles.
My goodness, I loved that truck.
Regardless, the culture at St. Mike’s wore on me.
Despite my self-created angst.
And my self righteousness.
And any other ‘self’-ish adjective or verb you can think of.
They were all present in me.
Because it was all about me.
All the time.
I was my biggest fan.
An awesome guy.
All you had to do was ask me.
And I would confirm.
Despite the corrections of Professor John Engels.
And Professor John Reiss.
Aside #1: I cried so hard and for so long on multiple bike rides at your passing, Professor Reiss. Life can be so unfair. As you often said. There was not a more gentle man on this earth and I still use your thoughts on As I Lay Dying when I teach that book.
“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That's how the world is going to end.”
― William Faulkner
Both John’s loved me enough to call me out for hiding behind false humility (and really bad poetry).
And for acting way beyond what was developmentally appropriate egoism and behavior for a college student.
And then, as a senior, my girlfriend broke up with me.
The best thing that could have happened to me.
Twenty-six year hindsight.
But not the best thing for her.
In immediate hindsight.
A really good human.
Just connected, at that time, with a physical man but an emotional boy.
A child, really.
I was way too immature to handle that relationship and the eventual break up.
I am so sorry, Joanne.
Thank God there were not cell phones then.
My dysfunction, immaturity, and mistakes would have been ten times worse.
And waaaaaaay more public.
But after that breakup and a resulting three-day-binge-drinking experience and a loss in a boxing match, I met Father Mike.
My three concerned roommates approached him with their worries about me and my behaviors.
So Father Mike reached out.
And invited me to his office.
Aside #2: I should have won the boxing match but didn’t because I was angry.
Anger doesn’t win.
Particularly in boxing.
And in life.
Father Mike didn’t care about anger, alcohol, obsession, boxing, or atheism.
He just loved me.
And told me how much God loved me, too.
And it was hard not to believe him.
Given his example.
He was not a salesman.
He did not stand at my door with a briefcase full of gimmicks and one liners, trying to sell me something.
Not at all.
He never offered to demonstrate the product.
To vacuum the carpet in my living room.
He knew that was not necessary.
God did not need demonstration.
God just needed connection.
A chance to touch fingertips with me.
Yes, Father Mike was quite the man.
He was the product.
And showed me that picture in the Sistine Chapel.
Knowing I loved art.
And he didn’t care if I was ever a Catholic again.
For a Catholic priest.
Or maybe not.
Twenty-six year hindsight.
He just wanted me to have a personal relationship with God.
Knowing, at that time, that God was the only thing that was going to bring me back.
I was so far gone.
So. Far. Gone.
And I was only twenty-one.
Aside #3: I was ‘Gone’ again at age 25, 35, 40, and 46.
And God always brought me back.
So Father Mike brought me to a ‘non-denominational’ (whatever that means) church in Burlington.
In the basement of some building off of Pearl St. where the music was loud, people’s hands were raised, and the Holy Spirit was present.
And I did it.
I gave my life to Jesus.
Praying the sinner’s prayer.
With strangers who smelled like overcrowding, silage, and work clothes.
My kind of people.
And Father Mike’s, too.
As they all knew him.
And hugged him in greeting.
And after the sinner’s prayer and the giving of my life, it all began.
Of being a ‘Christian.’
At times, it seemed a harder struggle than being a heathen.
Because even though I ‘gave my life to Christ’, I struggled daily with what that meant.
My heart was pure in the ‘giving’, but my struggle did not necessarily change.
My behavior did.
But not the struggle.
It didn’t take long to notice that my way of connecting and experiencing God did not match with how I was ‘supposed’ to connect and experience God as a ‘Christian.’
I was not fluent in Christianese.
The verbs and phrases of that unique language baffled me.
“Sing your own song to the Lord.”
“I’ll pray for you... “
“Let’s transcend what is here….”
“If it be God’s will….”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“You just have to put it in God’s hands.”
“Go into your prayer closet.”
“Just enjoy the Fellowship.”
“I’ll pray a hedge of protection around you.”
A what kind of “closet”…..?
A “hedge” of what….?
I did not know what any of that meant.
I just knew and experienced God in the woods.
And the rink.
And the classroom.
And didn’t quite understand the Sunday purpose of listening to someone talk about God instead of experiencing him with a fly rod in hand.
Staring in wonder at the miraculous colors of a Brook Trout.
Or feeling the shoulder comfort of a hunting rifle while pushing through the puckerbrush.
Or walking through the Fall moss losing its mallard-head green but gaining its earthy-brown odor.
Or recovering the front tire of a mountain bike as it dove unexpectedly into the dirt filtered to the side of the single track.
Or hearing the ice chips sail across the rink from the rip of the ½ radius of the skate blade.
Or listening to a student righteously admonish Huck for referring to Jim as a ‘Nigger.’
All unique in their beauty.
The different languages of God.
The language that I spoke.
That is the way it was.
For twenty-six years.
Trying to reconcile the ‘expectation’ from the experience.
Aside #4: I know now that the former was anxiety based.
And not true at all.
Despite my blame.
That it was a church.
Or a pastor.
Or a person.
Or my childhood.
Until at forty-seven years, by chance, I reread a journal entry from when I was twenty-one and had just met Father Mike and asked Jesus into my heart.
There were a lot of words in the entry but the quote from Father Mike that stuck out simply said, “God wants a relationship with you.
As you are.
Speaking your language.
He will still love you.
If you give your heart to him.”
So I simply said ‘Fuck it.’
I am who I am.
So very flawed.
(Obviously, if you have read this far).
Aside #5: I love whiskey.
But have not been drunk in twenty-five years.
A hockey player.
A mountain biker.
And sometimes a non-church goer.
Aside #6: My current church and my current pastor (of nine years) are incredibly awesome.
So very awesome.
And so real.
And appreciate how I experience and hear from God.
So yes, at forty-seven, I am now comfortable in how I speak to and hear from God.
Father Mike would be proud of me.
And that makes me proud.
Bless you, Father Mike.
Thank you for helping to save me.
When I most needed saving.
And indirectly helping to save me again when I was ‘Gone’ at age 25, 35, 40, and 46.
And all the future times.
You were right.
God loves me.
Despite my flaws.
Despite my sin.
Despite my roughness.
Despite still not knowing how to speak proper Christanese.
Despite all the struggles of this life.
Including my daughter’s health.
And accepting people’s kindness.
Yes, Tom Sawyer is still my kind of ‘Christian.’
As are those who smell of overcrowding, silage, and work.
But I am happy.
Knowing that God just loves me.
He just loves me.
Lines that did not make it into this entry. The outtakes, if you will:
And yes, I read the Bible.
And use its guidance every second of my life.
But I do not worship it.
I worship God.
Likening the Bible to a Shakespeare play.
Not being written to be read.
But rather seen.
The stage of life.
And yes, I see God on my bike rides.
When I can barely breathe.
And am able to process being a mediocre husband.
In that processing God shows up.
When the #circleswithmyfeet are not at the RPM of the circles in my brain.
And yes, I experience God when reading.
Getting lost in Billy Collins’ poetry.
Poetry Professor Engels would love.
“You will always be the bread and the knife, not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.”
― Billy Collins
And yes, I do pray.
I pray every day.
Referring to the handwritten list in my right-hand Carhartt pocket to do so.
A list that is renewed and added to every day.
Despite its wrinkles and crumples.
A list that includes my daughter, my wife (I write their name down daily), my students, and my teammates.
Because life can be hard, eh?
So my list also includes anyone who I meet on the street or in public.
Including the awesome Julio and Mackenzie and Durell and Rand at the Mobile on Route 5.
They are such good people.
And deserve prayer.
But I do not pray with them.
Or with others.
Or ‘over’ others.
That is so very hard for me.
Even if it is with my wife or daughter.
I do not know why.
They are the apple of my eye.
My definition of love.
Yet, I prefer to pray alone for them.
Hands cramping on the handlebars.
And breath lost.
While my feet make circles.
And my nose fills with the smell of mud.
Whenever I can ride.
Stumbling over my words.
Not knowing what to say.
Feeling the words in my heart.
And in my hands.
My jittering, shaking hands.
Making my front wheel a bit unstable.
Jittering and shaking every time I come before the Him.
Because he is with me.
I am not a typical Christian.
And it shows.
Not only in my prayer life.
But also in my job.
In my fathering.
In my husbandry.
Despite my brutal, ugly mistakes in all three.
Yes, I in large part, I am still a mess.
Like I was when I was twenty-one.
A more focused mess but a mess nonetheless.
Struggling with my flaws.
But not my love.