This is chapter one of part one from “A Life Unplugged”; for additional chapters, you can click on a chapter index at the bottom of this post.
Part One: My Life Unplugged
Chapter One: Holy Hippies!
In my time of prayer and contemplation in preparation for the writing of this book, I decided it was a bad idea to make it too much about myself. My reasoning is that most of us, including myself, cringe at the thought of sitting through another’s life-story; like viewing someone else’s family vacation photos, we weren’t there, don’t really have a frame of reference, and certainly can only empathize with parts of their presentation. Unless a person’s life is chocked full of exciting travels and adventures, we try to be courteous, but deep down it feels like Chinese water torture. Honestly, when someone starts showing you pictures of his/her family that you have never met, how interested are you really? But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least brush-stroke the highlights. My hope is that some of my experiences will ring true to some, shock others, and inspire most. But alas, the reality is that I don’t want to run anyone off! If you can survive this part of the journey, then you will be better equipped to handle what follows. I can assure you this is not a cathartic exercise, as I have given my testimony in public many times, previously written about most of it, and have effectively “gotten it out of my system”.
Most pastors and evangelists will tell us, “Witnessing to others is best done by simply sharing your testimony. Just share what Jesus has done for you and how He has changed your life.” Fair enough. My problem is that I literally despise being tossed into a category; it is almost cliché to have a “gutter to God” testimony or the testimony that starts off, “I went to church all my life, but never really knew Jesus…” I presume the twist I can add to these categories is that I have traversed both sides of the proverbial fence. I want to toss in this disclaimer right from the start: I don’t want to “cheapen” anyone’s testimony by doing to them what I personally despise by putting them into a “typical” category. Every person’s testimony is beautiful and powerful in and of itself, and should be shared with as many people that need or want to hear it. The problem lies with me. I simply do not like categories or stereotypes or enjoy starting my testimony with people in the front row nodding their heads and dropping “amen” and “praise God” before I even get to the good stuff! I realize this is a pet peeve and maybe, probably, most assuredly, is a vice that I should repent of immediately. Because in reality, we all have more in common than we have differences, and it is crucial to relate to one another in order to heal together. So I will confess my sins, speak of my journey, relate the hope and joy of release, and provide my readers with a compass to navigate the rest of a story that is still being written.
Even from a very young age, I have sensed deep in my being that something is wrong in the universe. As far back as I can remember I had this 6th sense of everything in life being a little skewed or off-center. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I perceive that not everyone is plagued with such a disposition. Seriously, who at the age of 6 years old contemplates mortality, the meaning of life, and the possibility of the infinite? One could make an argument that in many ways, this could be a nurturing issue, but I am convinced that the nature of “me” is hard-wired for a contemplative default mode. Most of us understand the “nature vs. nurture” debate: how we see the world, or our paradigm, is a result of an intrinsic predisposition as some would say, or a result of the environment in which we were reared, or a combination of the two. From where I am standing, I can confidently plead the case for both. Regardless of the origin of my deep-seated notion that something in the world is assuredly off-kilter, the fact remains that it has haunted me most of my life and to be quite honest, it crops up every now and again to whisper memories of paradoxical events in my life that go unexplained.
Our first experience with God was in the seventies amidst the backdrop of a Los Angeles completely turned on its back, like a turtle that God flipped over and waited for the turtle to cry “mercy!” I was 3 years old at the time (just gave away my age). My parents were what are now referred to as “seekers”. Los Angeles at the time was a tumult of drugs, experimentation, challenging the status quo, revolt against any form of authority, and also a time when the Spirit of God was working radical miracles. I remember going to a strange and mystical temple with my father and manipulating a string of lovely beads in a ceremony that required the rubbing together of said beads, chanting and meditation. I was proud of my young, chubby fingers being able to work the beads to what I perceived to be perfection and actually received a “shout-out” from the guy leading the service. He said I was surprisingly adept at the art of working the beads. My dad was proud. But alas, this was just an experiment that failed miserably. My dad relayed the experience to my mother as I stood by waiting for my opportunity to tell mom how awesome my bead-work was, but the conversation never progressed that far as mom collapsed in the floor from laughing so hard. Either finding God was funny, or one cannot find God with beads and chanting…oh well. My parents did a lot of seeking, and I tagged along for the ride.
My parents became Christians in a miraculous fashion. I am the oldest child of three children: first there was me, then my brother, and finally the birth of my blessed sister. When my brother was born, he was born with an extreme case of asthma. He was called a “bubble baby” which never made any sense to me because it looked more like a tent than a bubble. A bubble baby sounds kind of fun really; before I saw what a bubble baby actually was I imagined my little brother bouncing all over the hospital with a huge smile painted across his face, giggling as he floated into objects and people. I wished I were a bubble baby. This wish was quickly vanquished as I stood beside the mess of a plastic tent, as I heard the sound of hissing and the pump rhythmically churning life into the tent, and as I witnessed my little brother on his back with a look of misery cruelly plastered on his red face. It was awful. This was one of the first times in my life when what I imagined something to be turned out to be a nightmare. The condition of my brother was bad: he was trapped inside this sick playground of plastic, he could not come out from the confines of the infant prison because his lungs were unable to breathe the air of this planet, and I can’t imagine how my parents felt about not being able to hold him, touch him, love on him, or plant kisses on his dark, curly mop of a head. This brings to mind a truth about life: we only recognize our need for God when our lives have been dealt a horrific blow. So it was abundantly clear why my parents were avid seekers at this point in their lives.
I think it is inaccurate or at least misleading to state that we seek God; it is more like He seeks us. And yet we all know that a relationship with God is like a divine dance where we each (God and us) get a turn at “taking the lead”; He seeks us out and we in turn seek Him out. How this works and why this is important is one of the paradoxes in life. In other words, I have noticed that there is a method to God’s madness if you will, a divine M.O., or an order to things that most if not all of us would admit to after careful reflection. It is like we are all floating around in the dark and one day when darkness has just overwhelmed us, we turn on a light that flashes like a beacon in the blackness, and then God cuts through the darkness to seek out the flashing beacon. This was the case for my parents; the beacon began to flash when they realized they had no control over life, that their child was imprisoned, and that there was nothing anyone could do or promise. In one stroke of fate, life got extremely complicated. After the futile but comical escapades of seeking in all the wrong places, God sought them out. God came to my parents in the form of a man named Hamid. According to the testimonies of all parties involved including my parents and based on my young memories, here is how it all went down:
At the time my parents worked together at a hair salon and that salon was just a couple of blocks from the hospital where my brother lay gasping for every breath. One day while my mom was having a smoke-break outside on a busy corner of downtown L.A. (honestly, “downtown L.A.” is a misnomer as there really is no such thing), a man with a massive afro, dressed in the uniform of a dyed-in–the-wool hippie complete with studded jean jacket, bell-bottom pants, and sporting the aviator sunglasses so popular at the time, walked up to her out of nowhere and said to her, “The Lord wants to heal your son.” My mother was not only surprised at the statement but also a little frightened that a man she had never met had approached her in such a manner. She was unsettled by the whole affair and returned into the salon to get my dad. Dad was in the middle of working on someone’s hair but begrudgingly excused himself to hear what mom so adamantly had to convey. She was explaining what had happened as they exited the salon to the street only to find that the man had disappeared. They both decided it was a freak occurrence and dismissed it even as they found it quite mysterious. About three days later, my mom was shocked by a repeat performance by this guy with the epic afro repeating the statement, “The Lord wants to heal your son”. After asking the man to wait while she retrieved her husband, mom hurriedly snatched my dad from a client. They both were astonished and unsettled as this black, Christian hippie simply repeated the statement to both of them. Here is where it gets weird. The man named Hamid (ha-MEED) gently laid his hands on both of them at the same time and spoke something in a language neither of my parents could understand; what they did understand immediately was that they had just been transferred into another place, a place of peace, a place of electric energy, a dimension where the supernatural superimposes itself onto natural reality, a state referred to as being “slain in the spirit”. Now, before you go all “skeptic” on me, let me finish the story! After what they both described as an unexplainable experience, in the middle of a work day, in the bright sunlight of southern California, they agreed to take this man up on his offer to intercede on God’s behalf to heal my little brother. Neither of them returned back into the salon to alert the others of their serendipitous departure. Upon entering the hospital room, the hippie named Hamid began to gently weep as he observed the helpless child trapped in the plastic tent. He reached into his pocket and brandished what we now know was oil, he anointed the tent with said oil as he spoke these words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I speak healing over this child.” That was it. No long prayer, no religious ceremony, no casting out of demons, no flashes of lightning…just a tangible presence of peace. After all of this, the man finally introduced himself as he had not had occasion to do so up until this point. He invited my parents to a home-church a couple of blocks away, gave them an address, blessed them, and quickly departed. My parents were left standing there not knowing what to do, how to respond, or how to process what had just transpired. A few days later, the hospital called and reported to my parents that their child miraculously had no signs of asthma and to please come at their earliest convenience to take him home. That is how my parents came to believe in this mysterious man named Jesus. I guess I would have to give up on my dream of being a master of the beads…oh well; it was a fine fantasy while it lasted!
Life as a Christian family in the mid-seventies in Los Angeles proved to be quite the adventure. We of course ended up taking Hamid up on his offer to visit this home-church and the rest is history. The home-church eventually grew into an entire neighborhood, into what is referred to as a commune (I know, cheesy but true!). Our little band of charismatic Christians morphed into what was affectionately named “Green Pastures”. Those times were so very magical. The Holy Spirit was rampant and pounced around like a big, black Labrador Retriever looking for someone to play with her. I had my first taste of supernatural reality as a young man. Being slain in the spirit, experiencing strange phenomenon during our worship jam-sessions, and folk speaking in “tongues” was just par for the course. I really enjoyed the Bible classes that my parents hosted twice a week in our little home. It was glorious to say the least. You never knew when one of the brothers or sisters would call and beckon us to worship. One of the houses on our communal block would host by opening up their garage door, plugging in the amps, and cranking it up any time of the day or night. The tapestry of memories seems like a distant place now, but at an early age, this is what I knew to be Christianity. But wait, there’s more.
I think it would be impossible to progress any further without interjecting my current understanding and perspective of this time in my life. The bad news, or what I perceived to be bad news for a long period of time, was that this portion of my family’s walk with God was short lived. In fact, the whole communal life, spiritual experience, life in paradise, and “kumbayah” moments came to a heart-wrenching end when the “wheels came off”. At first glance and in limited retrospect, it seemed a shame to my parents and me that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit had ended for us and the others that we called our brothers and sisters. What I now know is that a purpose was accomplished. In His unfathomable depths, God knew what He was doing. The mini revival of the mid-seventies was for a reason and the end of this manifestation of the Spirit was for a reason as well. Although for many years (actually until I was into my late twenties) I mourned our failed “experiment” of living in peace and harmony and bathing in the presence of the Spirit, but I now realize it was part of a grand scheme. I don’t want to wax philosophical on you and I don’t want to go spelunking into theological caves, but I must hit a couple of truths that the Lord has shown me about this time in my family’s life and in the lives that were affected by this very important time in the history of the American Church.
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord always has reasons and an end-game in mind; we rarely understand the why and only in hindsight do we even approach the how, for most of us are victims of “not being able to see the forest for the trees.” One thing I notice is that God builds on brokenness, He is a master of taking what appears to be destroyed and resurrecting something beyond exquisite, and He rarely goes about His business in a way that makes sense to us mere mortals. Here is the evidence that I set before us: the early church (speaking of the ancient church recorded in the New Testament) was persecuted and by that persecution a galvanization of faith was produced, and by that same persecution came a dispersal of the church to different regions; likewise, the commune we lived in imploded and we thought we had somehow “screwed it up”, and by that same implosion, many powerful men and women of God were transplanted all over the city, the state of California, and the entire nation! I won’t mention any names, but if I did, you would surely recognize those names. Suffice it to say, the honeymoon ended, but it did so in order to spawn a network or capillary system of growth in the kingdom. God uses the principle of ebb and flow not only in individual lives but also in His corporate body. In other words, to make us stronger and able to contain more of Him, He periodically has to “break” us. This process is painful and also very confusing, and that is why it is so important to “lean not unto your own understanding”, for “His ways are not our ways”. I will surely bring this up later when discussing process, but for now let us rest in assurance that this was above all, a blessing. Because of what the Lord has shown me, I do not pine away for the past glory of what once was but rather look forward to what is to come!
So taking God’s master plan into account, I view this moment in time as one facet in the diamond of what is my life so far. But as we all know, diamonds start as mere black coal! I must now expose the second lesson shown to me by the Lord. I must excavate the mistakes and the narrow perspective of our early days as a Christian commune. We were mere babes in the kingdom. The main problem with our motley crew of believers was that the Holy Spirit became our drug. The only thing that mattered was His Presence. Here is where we must differentiate between the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit. Throughout the history of Christendom, God has anointed (meaning, to be empowered by the Spirit) a person or persons to accomplish a task or what we refer to today as ministry. Just because one has been anointed for a season, does not mean they are mature. Many Christians have been anointed for an immediate purpose in relative immaturity and think somehow they have arrived! I’m sure you can think of many people throughout your personal history that have shown great power through the Holy Spirit and then stumbled because of pride. The fruits of the Spirit, on the other hand, come through discipline and faithfulness, and the fruits also require a process to reach maturity. Depending on your commitment to spiritual growth, this maturation process can at best take years and at worst take you into eternity! The gifts of the Spirit are sometimes permanent and sometimes temporary empowerments to accomplish a kingdom purpose (like witness to someone, minister to one hurting, or intercessory prayer for instance). We must not confuse the two. Personally, I have learned this lesson the hard way; maybe I can be of some help to you by warning you of this pitfall. I will share with you my disaster of confusing the two shortly, but I don’t want to get off-track here. Concerning the immature commune, the fact is this: the anointing accomplished a purpose but lacked the fundamental maturity for a sustained movement. For example, Biblical knowledge was limited, power struggles became evident, the spiritual experience was mistakenly viewed as exclusive and therefore not shared, and people really didn’t know how to pray. What is almost humorous (“almost” being the operative word) is that the anointing and the experience of God’s Holy Spirit was guarded and protected like a stash of some drug, which, in the wrong hands, could be abused. And consequently, most were completely unwilling to “take it to the streets”. It was like somehow we had found the supernatural like a hidden treasure and we didn’t want anyone to come crash our party. We all know this is counter to everything Christ taught; Christianity is intrinsically a group sport and meant to be shared!
From where I now sit, the purpose was a divine counter-measure to a counter-culture. It was almost like God saying to this particular generation, “You think drugs are great and liberating eh? Well, try taking a ‘hit’ of Me!” I know that may offend some, but I won’t apologize for telling the truth. The fact is, these young men and women were caught in a maelstrom of drugs, experimentation, and social revolution; God simply stepped in and made a statement showing them that the ultimate “drug”, the ultimate experiment, and the ultimate revolution always has been and always will be Him and Him alone. He stated poignantly that true freedom and justice and zeal for life was found in relationship with the God of the universe and not in temporal, earthly concoctions. In essence, the Lord showed enough of the iceberg to warrant a second glance in His direction from a generation that thought they could re-invent God. The progression from this point took on a whole different flavor.
My parents used to lament the fact that things “got too organized” and that is what ruined it for them. When it started, it was dynamic and fluid, but then people wanted to take ownership of it, organize it, and control it. For instance, so many people were being slain in the Spirit that a church leader decided it was dangerous for people to be “free-falling” backwards onto the floor, so they instituted the placing of large pillows behind those who were drinking from the fountain of the Spirit. Another proposed failure was the organizing of specific worship times instead of the random “jam session”. Another observed failing was the proposal of having a “pastor” to teach at least once a week. Now you and I both know that these are legitimate concerns; however, the immediate results were catastrophic. First of all, once pillows were placed behind folks, they assumed or expected to be “slain in the spirit”. Second, once the worship times were set, everyone expected the Spirit to be on our time schedule and just “show up”. And lastly, to have a teacher/preacher effectively ushered in a “blind-leading-the-blind” scenario, as no one among the ranks had much in the way of an education or working knowledge of Scripture! People began to lose faith and wonder what we had done to “grieve the Spirit”. When He didn’t show up at 11:30am on a Sunday morning, people began to get really disturbed. When the pillow behind them sat mockingly behind them never having the company of their slain body, people were beating themselves up with guilt wondering how they offended His Presence. And things really spun out of control when the teacher/preacher could not explain the absence of the Spirit. This period shows why it is so important to have a working, living, breathing knowledge and steady diet of the Word. Plain and simple, we had experienced God but hadn’t a clue as to Who He really was! The opposite can be true as well. In fact, I would confidently state that now most people know of God, but dangerously few have actually experienced God or actually know God. One without the other is having an incomplete gospel!
Click to go to Chapter Two