Troublesome Questions

       "Where are you, God!" I threw the words at blue sky. A storm raged within. "Do you know Jay Christian exists? Do you care?"
       Gulls screamed.
       I ran again, my long legs beating the sand. Questions, as vicious as El Ninyo waves, crashed into my mind. What does "the fall" mean? When will it happen? Why? Why has it harassed me so long? Will I ever find answers? Will my life ever make sense?
       Crushed in spirit, I collapsed on the beach. A breeze cooled me. Gulls zigzagged the sky. They skittered about the beach or rose and fell on waves. They floated freely on the breeze.
       Wouldn't I love to take off! I thought. To fly!
I shook my head. Fly? Why did I even think it?
       Flying raised the other issue that haunted me. Or was it a separate issue? Were they related?
       I ran back toward my car, unable to outpace the questions. They stalked me. Here. Everywhere.
       As soon as I got home, I washed and polished my green '68 Camaro Super Sport 350. As much as I loved the beach, I wasn't about to take any chance of the salt air damaging one of the very few things that brought me any joy. While I shined the mag rims, an older couple from an apartment near mine walked down the sidewalk. Our eyes met as they neared. She smiled. He dipped his head and greeted me.
       "Good afternoon," I responded.
       They stopped. We chatted a bit. Small talk. Something came up about the evening.
       "We're going to a class," she enthused. "Self-hypnosis. It's helping me tremendously!"
       "You should o' seen the difference," her husband added. "She was totally crippled. In a wheelchair." He smiled and motioned proudly toward his wife. "Look at her now! Out walking!"
       "So, what made the difference?" I asked.
       "I use self-hypnosis to will my mind to heal my body," she explained. "You can see it's working."
       "Do they teach anything about former lives!" I questioned.
       "Yeah, they talk a lot about reincarnation. Why do you ask?"
       "Oh .. ." I sighed. My thoughts drifted off. Just remembering, terror built inside me again. The experience had haunted my childhood. It was more vivid than a dream. I sensed it as a real experience. Was it sometime in my past? Will it happen in the future? Is there some way to figure out what's going to happen to me before it actually occurs?
       I'd searched for answers. At tvelve, the troubling questions and my insatiable curiosity made me eager to join my church's class to study the Bible and church history. Two verses into Genesis, the pastor acknowledged my raised hand. "What does 'without form and void' mean?" Before the chapter was out, I asked, "So if God created us in His image, how can we have a body and Him not have one?" Shortly, "Who did Cain marry? Where did she come from?"
       Before long I noticed that whenever I waved my hand, the pastor rolled his eyes, then took a deep breath. "Yes?" he asked. But each time, the message in his sigh grew clearer--"Oh no! Not him again!"
       I felt put down. But I wanted answers. Didn't God have them?
       I persisted. But often the pastor's answers didn't make sense to me. And when I asked another question to try to understand, he sighed deep and long and in a firm, exasperated voice, answered, "You just have to believe." That was OK once in a while. But over and over again?
       Finally, we reached the Gospels. I believed Jesus was the Son of God and I had a picture in my mind of what He was like. Had I misunderstood? The Jesus I heard about here was a weak, weird doormat. I wasn't impressed.
       I'd learned from childhood that God could help people make sense out of life. Why wouldn't He help me?
       The man cleared his throat.
       Startled, I brought my thoughts back to the sunny afternoon in Long Beach, California. "Well," I said, "a lot of years ago I had an experience I've always wondered about."
       "Why don't you come with us to the class?" the husband invited.
       "Cant hurt," his wife added. "Tonight's the beginning of a new class."
       "I'm off work tonight," I said. "Why not?"
       While I finished polishing the rims, memories pushed in on me again.
       As a teenager, I had prayed for answers to the haunting experience. But answers didn't come and the questions left over from the Bible class needled my sense of reason. How could God direct the slaughter of innocent people just because they worshiped other gods? Why didn't God just wipe everyone off the earth and start over after Adam and Eve sinned? How could God condemn people to burn in eternal hell just because they didn't do exactly as He wanted?
       By the time I hit six-foot-five-inches, my questions had grown too. What kind of a God is He, anyway? Selfish? Self-centered? On some kind of ego trip?
       On Sundays I sometimes went to church with various girl friends. But the differences bugged me--all these religions claimed to follow the same Bible, but different churches surely got different things out of it. Then I noticed that sometimes a preacher would talk about a Bible text as if it said one thing, but when I read the verses before and after it, it really said something else. Sometimes just the opposite. I asked several different pastors about the discrepancies after the service. They fumbled, then came up with justification from doctrines. But their answers didn't make sense to me when I compared them with what the Bible said.
       Questioning preachers became my Sunday morning entertainment. "How can Jesus make and drink wine and yet talk against it?" "If God is love, how can He condemn people to eternal hell?" "If life goes on after we die, were we alive before we were born?"
       Later I'd laugh. But it was a hollow, sad laugh. God, if the answers aren't in church, where do I look? I prayed.
       By the time I went into the army, I was mad at God. Through Fort Ord, Camp Roberts, and Korea, I left God alone and guessed He did the same for me. Whenever the frustrating memories surfaced, I buried them as quickly as possible.
       After disc jockey school in Atlanta Georgia, I'd scoured Southern California for a job in radio. KJLH-FM, an adult easy listening station, had an opening. I cringed when I discovered its broadcast studio was in a Long Beach mortuary. "We're Number One among the dead," the manager joked during my interview.
       And tonight, the first night of a new self-hypnosis class, is my night off. Even though I haven't paid any attention to God for several years, maybe He hasn't forgotten me. Maybe He remembers my questions. Maybe this class will provide answers ... solid answers that can lead me into the future with confidence instead of fear.
       That evening I rode with the older couple to a home in a nice neighborhood in North Hollywood. Thirty people gathered in the study. The teacher--a man about sixty--sat behind a big, imposing desk. The lights were off, but candles glowed from everywhere--bookcases, windowsills, end tables. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. It felt eerie, but exciting.
       "The purpose of these classes," the teacher started out, "is to help you learn self-hypnosis. Through this wonder, you'll be able to get in touch with your soul, to gain control of your life, and, if you are so inclined, to experience former lives."
       I was so inclined. But I also felt skeptical ... and nervous. "When I experience a former life," I told my new friends on the way home, "I'll believe it."


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