Tuesday, December 15, 2009

16 If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

My junior year was also when I began in earnest the two disciplines that have defined my life. A few years later I would graduate in college with a BA in Theology and a BS in psychology, but my junior year is where I started thinking about the two with honest research. I started looking at faith as it affected people, the way this evidence of things hoped for, this substance of things unseen interacted with people. I was fascinated by the way it filled and defined people and the way they in turn filled and defined it.
There was Pastor Cruz. He was the chaplain of the academy and the guy that I probably most looked up to in high school. He was a man who was capable of faith in both simple terms, not needing to question it but able to. The faith he had in the divine echoed throughout all his life. He trusted us inherently in our Bible classes; in order to demonstrate this he would walk out of class every time we had a test shortly after he had given it and told us to simply leave it on the desk and he would come and get them at the end of the class. The vast majority of the class did the right thing and took their tests without compromising their integrity. A few - and I can clearly remember who - would take out their notes or their books and cheat. I judged them then and do still now as people I would trust with very little. If you can’t pass up the opportunity to cheat in a class that’s supposed to teach you about faith and honesty, then there are probably not many areas of life where you would be honest given the chance to be a fraud. I can’t say I’ve always been honest when no one was looking or always done the right thing but I hope to never become someone who only does it when people are looking. Cruz’s faith interacted with his humanity. His mother passed away that year and I remember talking to him after he was gone for a week. He wept in my presence with no shame, no attempt at covering that death may one day lose its victory and its sting but that day was not today. He never came across as over bearing or holier than thou. He came across as a father figure, a reason many of us called him Papa Cruz.
There was Gil Cayabyab, Ellen’s boyfriend that year and the next. He would eventually be the best man at my wedding and still to this day one of the best men I know. He was not eloquent in public, but he always had a dry wit and a sarcastic remark. Gil was real and human, showing annoyance when he had it and laughing with sincerity no one doubted. He was musical, able to play piano, guitar, saxophone; athletic, decent at sports and incredibly personal. In all of these aspects, his faith was a quiet factor, a polite faith that contained a quiet part, the frame of his house, the lining of the cloud. It never screamed for attention but it also was not hidden from display. If there was any type of faith I could instill into myself; it would be something akin to Gil’s, a quiet force, the type that Jesus described when he spoke of the wind, a presence you feel and aren’t quite sure where it comes from but you certainly do not doubt.
The person who made me think most about psychology and theology that year was neither of those men, but rather Eugene Lee. Eugene Lee was a freshman with a personality you couldn’t have fit into a cruiser. He was immature, obnoxious and hilarious. He once shaved one of his legs and shaved the opposite one in stripes. Just for balance, a week later he shaved one of his eyebrows and the opposite one in stripes. A few days later he shaved them both off. This bothered so many people that a group of the seniors pinned him down a few days later and drew some on. He embraced the idea and bought some eye liner and started painting his eyebrows on. At first he did standard eyebrows, and then he started doing the funky eyebrows that people sometimes have, very thick ones, very thin ones, then a unibrow. Each day was a different kind of eyebrow, but he still had not yet reached his full potential. He eventually started drawing Vulcan ones and cartoon ones. His mother was wealthy so he didn’t have to work so he would spend the non class times jumping into classes and just messing with people. Mr. Huff, the stern military teacher, would have people chase him down. Once again, the seniors once tied him to the flag pole for a couple of hours.
There was an old door frame right in front of my room where the building had gotten expanded. We all used to run down it at a light jog, jump onto it, kick the ceiling and come back down like teenage boys should. Eugene once ran down it at a full sprint, jumped up but had way too much momentum. I was in my room at the time and a few seconds later I saw him flying through the hallway upside down. An ER visit came a few minutes later. I wasn’t there but we would later hear from the faculty member how he pulled out his finger like a gun and told the doctors to stop messing with him. The doctors thought maybe he was developing neurological problems but it had to be explained to them that he was just quirky. They gave him a neck brace he was supposed to wear for a couple of days. He wore it for over a month because he liked the attention it got him but as soon as he got in his room he flung it across the way and complained of how much it itched. At the time, he was dating a girl out of sheer peer pressure. He would look at pictures and say “what I’m dating her?!? No way” and look at me and say “Do I know you?” I think it was all in jest, but you could never tell with Eugene.
About halfway through the year because he had all but driven many people crazy, Dean Esquivel assigned him to my room. He thought I would be able to help him in some way. Eugene was also an atheist. I often wonder whether the few months I lived with him alone wasn’t the reason that I studied both psychology and theology, just to try to get across to him. We would have these long conversations where he made the atheist argument and I would make the creationist ones. Most days in all frankness neither of us made much progress but I think we both enjoyed the discussion. I eventually started making progress when in frustration one day I exclaimed, “Fine, believe what you want, you can just end up in hell.” For some reason that really got to him and he asked me not to repeat that to him. I asked him why he cared since he didn’t believe in hell. That was the crack and eventually the arguments started being less about theoretical stuff and more about what I think is the crux of Christianity: that humanity is broken, that it resonates the character and nature of God, and that Jesus became human to both fully understand those cracks and to be the cement that fixes them and make sure that the harmony that existed between God and humanity synchronizes and sings once more. The idea that God’s universe had fallen into disaccord and that He would rather die for us than live without us appealed to him even if it seemed that theism failed.
Herein lies where I would like to say that Eugene accepted Jesus and God’s work was vindicated. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but he pulled off some prank where he originally suggested staff were being too harsh with him and then took it back. That eventually fed up his mother and she decided to pull him out of the school and take him back to Houston. The last night he was there we talked about the matters of faith and he semi-acknowledged that we had made progress; mostly he was emphatic that this was a fairy tale that was romantic but still a myth. He also said he would keep thinking about it. In one of the rare times that he agreed to do so, we prayed together and he left the next day.
He was someone I prayed about for years. His questions of disbelief stuck with me and I continued to deliberate on the science and accuracy of the Bible and the very nature of the existence of God. I would however be mostly concerned with his soul.
It would be years later before I finally tracked him down. By that time, he was actually hanging out with an Asian religious group. He had become a lot more receptive to these ideas. By this time, I had walked away from being a pastor; faith and I had failed each other. Since then, mentors, pastors, conference presidents and family members including my mother have talked with me about why I was no longer a minister and attached to my faith. Of all the people who I had to look in the eye and tell them I had failed to remain a pastor, none would be harder than to do it with Eugene and he had both eyebrows.

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