Table of Contents


"Mostly harmless." I was so lucky to grow up in the Methodist Church. In small-town north Florida in the early 50s, I was gonna grow up in some church, and Methodism was a brilliant choice, if I may be so forward. John Wesley may have been some kind of firebrand in his time, but the First Methodist Church in Marianna Florida was like nothing quite so much as oatmeal: bland and mostly harmless. I did get offended by the miserable fantasy of hell, but I can hardly complain; it was probably some visiting preacher at a revival; I got dragged to a few of those. I don't think I ever heard a fire & brimstone from the pulpit of that church, praise god.

Nickel cokes. I didn't actually do any growing there, except the inevitable kind, aka aging. I did enjoy junior choir, and there was a nickel coke machine in the fellowship hall. Nickel cokes, in the old style small bottles that were all scratched up on the outside from decades of use, thousands of refills, most definitely tasted better than any other kind of coke.

Methodist gothic. The First Methodist Church building was a place of wonder & mystery. I found a secret passage that led from the Sunday school building to behind the pulpit. I got into the passage thru a door in the back of a closet; I think it was a way for the choir to sneak around behind the preacher without going through the congregation. The passage was dusty & neglected. Walking through it made me think that people must've been way shorter back then.

I found another secret passageway: steep stairs, covered with dust, leading down to the dirt floor under the sanctuary. There were fire-blackened wooden pillars down there still holding up the church. I wondered, did they get burned in the Battle of Marianna? Don't laugh, it was a nasty battle; nobody liked it except the slaves who got liberated. Nah, the Episcopal church was the one that got burned in that battle. The burned pillars remain a mystery.

Hell. The only other thing I can recall from my days as a Methodist was being really, really scared of going to hell. That's one helluva dubious burden to lay on a kid, jeez. Speaking of whom, I expect he'd agree.

Church and underwear. When I was 14, we moved to Nairobi and started attending a Methodist church there. Church on Sunday morning had always been a done deal: you went to church unless you were sick. I summoned my courage and made my announcement: I'm not going to church anymore, and I'm not wearing underwear. Then I waited for the explosion. They said OK, sure. I think they figured that was the kind of teenage rebellion they could live with.

The Angel. But my declaration of independence freed me up to start considering spiritual matters more seriously. Soon after that I found myself gobstruck and humbled in the face of Rilke's First Duino Elegy, contemplating the Angel:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic Orders? And even if one were to suddenly take me to its heart, I would vanish into its stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear, and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.

Plunder. Since then I've given religions a wide berth, but I've cheerfully plundered their ancient wisdom. When I majored in comparative mythology, the Anchor Bible, a colossal work of scholarship, was one of key resources.

Essence. Since college, I've gradually gotten more & more serious about spiritual growth, self actualization. TH taught that everyone has an essence, which is who you really are, the seed in you of who and what you can become. I resonated with that, still do. To become that essence, I first have to deal with all the bad habits, traumas, and cultural distortions that have messed me up, distorted me along the way. Religions and charismatic leaders are among those hurdles, TH included.

In 2006 I finally stood up for myself and said no, I don't need more teaching. I need to be my own teacher. And just by saying that to myself, I was able to get help from my wisdom. Since then, my focus has been on becoming the essential me. I've had all kinds of misadventures along the way, but my direction has never wavered. There's a teaching that says if I take one step toward god, god takes a hundred toward me, and I say amen, bruthas & sistahs; I'm here to tell ya I've gotten some extraordinary help.

But first I have to take a step, and the next step is always whatever I most don't want to do. Like stop drinking, stop drugs, or start eating a really healthy diet of natural whole food, no junk and no overeating. But I always knew in my heart of hearts those were the right things to do. I really do have to find god in me: my essence, my wisdom. I have to self-actualize; I have to become my own authority.