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2/12/2006

TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY

I picked at the flaking white paint on the guardrail and forced a smile for the passing room service lady pushing an overstuffed cart of towels and toiletries. I crouched with my back against the cinder block and left Greg a message. "Hey, this is Shaun. Uh, I'm sorry to bother you on a Sunday. I hope I'm not waking kids up or anything, but I have a...theological, um, problem I guess I'm hoping you can help me out with. It's sort of urgent but not life or death really. Uh, you can call me at this number. I'm in L.A. at a hotel and my reception's not the greatest so leave me a message if I don't pick up and I'll get back to you when I get better service. I have a gig in three hours so, um, yea, if you can call me before that I'd really appreciate it. Alright, talk to you later."

I stood and looked out over the gray California skyline, the cars full of people passing by unaware of my present drama, unaware maybe of anything beyond getting to and from wherever. Ignorance really is bliss, I thought. If I'd grown up without God and Jesus I wouldn't be so confused right now and I'd probably have figured out a way to make life work without them. People do it all the time - drive here and there, marry, divorce, have kids and jobs - and without ever thinking about gods or picking one out. I scanned the sky, out over the rippled surface of the swimming pool below and the empty deck chairs at its edges. A storm was coming.

I sat again on the concrete walkway outside my room, slumped into the cinder block, my head resting heavy in the humidity hum of the city. My eyes closed and I slept.

I was exhausted. The crowd surrounded me again the night before - the second night of nightmares leaving me with what felt like only a few minutes of unturbulent rest. Then some time in the early morning hours, as Sunday was just beginning, I felt a tiny hand press into my back. Gabriella, age five, is scared of the dark these days. She often runs into our room, taps Becky awake since she sleeps closest to the doorway, and admits through tears that she's afraid. Becky holds her and reminds her of a verse Gabriella learned at church, "God is my helper. I will not be afraid." Her tears dry, her eyelids grow heavy again and she's carried back to bed where, when the sun comes up, we she wakes unafraid and happy again.

And so Sunday morning when I felt her tiny hand on my back I woke from my nightmare and rolled towards her touch ready to rock and sooth and carry. But Gabriella wasn't there. No one was.

As the silvery sky slowly twirled over the City of Angels my phone rang, waking me from my short nap on the balcony.

It was Greg. I told him that even though we don't talk often anymore I still thought of him as one of the fathers of my faith and the only mentor I felt I could be this honest with. Then, without thinking, I tearfully admitted I was scared. The last couple days were my darkest, I told him. I needed help. In unchronological order all the events and thoughts of the last forty-eight hours or so burst out of me: the great dinner on Friday night, the nightmares, the paragraph, the accusing crowd in my dreams, the depression and the hand. The hand that had me fearing I'd finally cracked. I'd finally gone insane.

I told him I could see myself being that artist cliche soon, the madman rocking in the corner of a pink room in some place called "Shady Pines" or "Happy Acres" - my arms strapped to my torso, my hair tussled, eyes bugged and bleary, mumbling to myself about hands that weren't there and crowds in my brain, voices no one else hears. I was certain my dam had finally broken. Too many books read, too much history and facts swimming in too small a pond. It all finally spilt over and flooded my frontal lobe with crazy. A tidal wave of crazy - out of nowhere.

I doubled back to the beginning, to explain in detail the accusations against the origins of Christianity I'd stumbled upon Friday night by accident. I gave him dates and names and snippets of history. I explained how I'd grown disenchanted and critical of the modern version of Christianity we cling to in America and how that had sent me on a search - beginning two years ago - for a better understanding of the ancient Christianity Jesus left us - before Constantine and Catholicism and reformations and political and personal agendas tainted and twisted our faith. I told him how these new accusations lined up so perfectly with the history I'd discovered on that search. That Christianity was a copy, contrived and derived in equal measure made sense to me - after all the lifeless churches I'd been to, all the vicious and selfish people I'd ministered to, after all the impotence and profanity my life had been. I'd seen no proof, I told Greg, of the supernatural, of a God greater than man's imaginations and story telling that couldn't be written off as self-convincing or psychosis, insanity, gullibility, the power of traditions and upbringing, the palpability of emotion or the blinding fear of a life without God.

"I've never felt this much...despair and...hopelessness, this much...doubt. I want facts. I don't know. I still think there's a God but I don't think Jesus is real maybe or that he's the Jesus we read about today in the Bible. But even if you gave me supposed proof, facts that prove these accusations wrong, I don't know if I'd trust myself to determine that. I'm biased strongly toward belief in Christ because I've spent my life believing in Him and I stand to lose everything - marriage, work, life purpose, face - if I dont' believe he's real. I'm damned either way. If he's not real I'm obviously screwed. If he is I won't trust my belief in the evidence of that fact as anything more than my wishful thinking, believing what benefits me most. I'm stuck," I lamented.

"And I have a show in a few hours where I'm supposed to get up and teach and play about this God I doubt and I'm supposed to do it with a smile on my face and I can't smile. I'm so tired. And I'm supposed to teach IKON this Tuesday and I haven't wanted to study or read the Bible and I can't make much sense of it right now anyway. I can barely have a conversation. I can't teach like this. I can't."

"What are pastors supposed to do when they doubt or get depressed or crack up? There's almost no one for us to talk to. There's no one who would accept that their pastor is this jacked up, you know? A small part of me thinks this will pass but most of me thinks it's over for me and I'll never feel anything good or believe again. Now if the small part's right and this blows over and I come out OK I'll always feel like a fraud, like I'm not fit to talk about God to anyone and I'll always be afraid that this'll come back - that I'll get depressed out of nowhere again. Because this literally came out of nowhere. One day I'm great and the next I'm dying."

Greg just listened. Then he got mad. He went off in a way only a guy working on his doctorate in theology can - using words longer than my brain can digest and attacking the scholarship behind these accusations. Then he calmed down. He took a breath and he told me his own story of doubt and despair. He had been worn out by two churches that didn't see things as he did. The resulting battles took a toll on him, made him cynical and critical and shook his focus. He struggled under anxiety, doubt, fatigue and depression eventually.

He told me about Francis Schaeffer who reportedly, after mentoring hundreds of Christians and being dubbed a revolutionary leader of the Church, was struck by deep doubts about everything he'd ever taught and based life around. He was about forty Greg said. And Schaeffer retreated and started at square one, asking Himself if there was a God. He decided there was. Then he moved on to Who is He or She? And over much time he rebuilt his faith this way brick by brick, one truth at a time. And he became stronger than before, Greg said.

I wanted to believe I was Francis Schaeffer. I believed it when Greg was saying it. I believed I would be OK, stronger than before, when Greg told me his own story. But as I hung up and walked back into my room even that belief was drowned out by my inner dialogue - so relentless and confusing. Believing anything had become like hearing a whisper on the floor of the New York stock exchange. Too soft a voice to cut through the noise.

A few hours later I soundchecked at Calvary Chapel in Pasadena and then sat down for an interview before the show. I tried to smile, to be upbeat and positive, but I'm sure I was unconvincing. I'm a bad actor. Asked what one thing I'd like to leave readers with I fought the mess in my brain that made every question next to impossible to hear and understand, let alone answer, and I answered. "Be the proof," I said.

That was two weeks ago today.


TO READ THE ENTIRE "TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY" SERIES FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW:
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: FRIDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SATURDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

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