Anyway, this middle aged guy (maybe 35) in the VW beetle who gave me a ride was kind of hyper and he repeatedly told me about this “Jesus House”, So, of course, I was an expert on the place. I told Stan,’”Don’t go to the Jesus house, man. I’ve heard about these people. Do you know what they do? They ask Jesus to come into their bodies!”
But Stan, against my wishes, investigated these people (who knows, maybe he drove by their house and waved )and as a result (and his L.S.D trips) decided he needed to be baptized. He told me that they were conducting an outdoor water baptism in Santa Cruz, so, after staying up all night doing drugs, we drove from Burlingame to Santa Cruz.
We arrived in Santa Cruz late morning and the spring weather was ideal. The site of this baptism was on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. But what struck me about the whole setting was not the scenery. It was the people. There were perhaps 3 dozen young people my age. The guys had long hair like me and were dressed in the style of the day. The girls were all my age and looked like the boys, hip, casual. But there was something eerie about everyone there. They were smiling. All the time. There was joy here. And nobody was getting high.
Stan walked down the hill with a small group who were taking the plunge. I stayed behind along with a few others who perhaps had already been dunked. There were only two people who seemed out of place, a middle aged couple (in their thirties) who I later learned were Mr. and Mrs Cliff Livermore. This was the pair that had opened their house to the druggies in town. The Jesus House.
Cliff looked to me like an accountant, although I didn’t actually know any accountants, and his wife looked like a librarian, petite with horn rimmed glasses, kind of shy. This couple rubbing shoulders with people like me made as much sense as a pair of Cops at a Grateful Dead concert.
I looked up and straight ahead at 12 o’clock was Mrs. Livermore heading my way. So, let me think, sure I’ve been up all night but I’m sober now. I can do this. OK, here’s the strategy. “Uh, sorry I can’t be baptized. I was already baptized ( I think) as an infant.” “No, I’m not really interested in all this religion, I’m just here with Stan”.
“Hi”, she said shyly. She asked me about myself and was so soft spoken and friendly, my antenna did not pick up the signals. You see, it was obvious to Mrs Livermore that I was not with the program and she was here to change all that. Have you ever left a department store with a purchase and wondered how you ever got sold? This woman was the velvet hammer, and soft spoken as she was, she was not leaving until she made a sale.
She asked if I believed in God. Negative. I told her I was an agnostic. Heck, I probably couldn’t spell the word, let alone define it. It just was something that people like me said who didn’t have a clue what they believed.
We talked a bit more. That is to say, she talked and I nodded. I noticed that while she had been talking, I had been unconsciously backing away, a few inches at a time. After telling me about God and Jesus and not getting anywhere, she finally asked THE QUESTION. “Jim,” she said. “Do you consider yourself an open minded person?” I backed up a few more inches and felt something hard against my back. I had backed up into a redwood tree. This woman had literally and figuratively backed me up as far as I could go.
“Jim, do you consider yourself an open minded person”? There is only one answer to that question and she must have known it. If I had been in a car dealership, this is the point where the salesman takes his pen out of his shirt pocket and hands it over.
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “I do” She had me.
“Well then, ” she said. “Since you consider yourself an open minded person, why don’t you ask God if he is real to let you know.”
So, at this point I thought that I just might be out of the woods. “Ask God to show me if he’s real? No problem. If that’s all I have to agree to do, I’ll do it. Anything to get away from this uncomfortable conversation with this very nice, very persistent lady.
I made a move to leave. Too late. She reached out her hands toward mine and said, “Just ask Him in your own words, if He is real, to show you.” Then she bowed her head. She had me! How had this happened? I thought she had meant sometime in the FUTURE. Ask God on my death bed, maybe, who knows? But right now, under a redwood tree, out in the open? I was cornered. I was beaten. I bowed my head.
If you’ve never been touched by God, what I am about to tell you may make no sense. But when I bowed my head, that beautiful spring day in Santa Cruz under the Redwood trees with a stranger I had just met, I said….”God….”
All I said was “God.” That is as far as I got. As I write this today, I am weeping, like I do every time I tell this story. All I said was “God.” That’s as far as I got, because at that precise moment, I felt a hand reach down and squeeze my heart. I began weeping like a little girl and people, you may not believe in my Christian viewpoint, you may not believe in God, you may not believe me, but there is no way to explain what happened to this agnostic that day unless God is REAL. From that day until now, I have known that there is a God and he hears my prayers, even if that prayer consists of only that one word,“God”.
Stan arrived, soaking wet and we headed for home. What a day. I had been a druggie agnostic with absolutely no plan of having anything to do with a Christian God. Stan was getting baptized although I’m not sure he knew what he was really doing. And here we were, on our way back to Burlingame, he dripping wet and me a God believer. OK, so now I knew that God was real. Now what? (Later I read in the Bible that “The devils believe and tremble”.) Sure, I now knew that God was real, but I was not a Christian, not even close. I just knew that God was real. After a day or two, I started visiting the dreaded Jesus House, trying to figure out this thing. Before long, I became a regular, dropping by even more than Stan. I would bring a small pad of paper and a pen and would write down all the things I thought must be phony about these people, convinced that they were not genuine. How could anybody be so happy all the time?
On one occasion, I was chatting in the living room with some of the Jesus people when a couple of Jesus guys brought in this young fellow and, boy did he look rough, even by my standards. He looked completely miserable. The Jesus guys escorted him into an adjacent room and closed the door behind them. A few minutes later, the door opened and there stood the two christian guys along with this new fellow. The only way I can think of describing this new guy was, he was shining. For a second, I wondered where Mr Miserable had gone until I realized I was looking right at him. This guy was so radically changed, I hadn’t recognized him. He had been “saved”, I guessed.
After several visits to this Jesus House, one of the guys looked at me kindly and said, “Jim, you will never understand this thing from the outside looking in”. I had been perched high on a wall I had built around me, hoping for a “gotcha” moment where I could prove these people to be the hypocrites I suspected them to be, and yet…
A few days later, I had a born again experience with Jesus and I can guarantee you that you’ve never heard a conversion story like this one. It started at a bar. Actually, let me back up a bit. It really started with a couple of friends of mine, Tim and John. They were visiting from Florida, we met at a local park where young people gathered to hang out ( buy dope) and became friends. One afternoon, bored as only healthy young time wasters can be, I had a brainstorm. “Let’s go bar-hopping”. Sure we were underage, but I had a plan.
The plan was to dress like adults, no bell bottoms or fringe jackets, long hair pulled up into watch caps and, the coup de grace? Fake beards! But not the cheapo kind that attach around the ears like eyeglasses. Oh, no. We drove to a gag shop and purchased beards that looked real because you glued them to your face with spirit gum, just like actors in plays.
We visited our first bar, and although we had no idea what to order, it didn’t matter. We were getting away with it! We were being served as if we we mature adults, not like the stoner knuckleheads we actually were. We left bar number one and proceeded to bar number two. Again, no problem. My plan was working! When you are an unemployed druggie living in your parent’s home with no plans for the future, any plan that works makes you feel like an Einstein. The last bar we came to was in Belmont. At this point I should probably mention that Mescaline had been passed around sometime during the evening, but I digress.
This barroom was long and narrow, like a box car. The grown-up’s animated talk grew louder as the night wore on, and the Air Conditioning wasn’t keeping up with their body heat or ours. In that increasingly warmer atmosphere, I learned something that night about spirit gum .When not applied in generous amounts, spirit gums tends to lose it’s adhesiveness. Oh, yeah, my beard started to slip.
I looked over to my chums to see if they were having similar problems. No, they were OK. When the bartender came my way, I placed a palm against the right side of my face, pushing up the errant wad of hair. When he left I would try to take a sip from the shot glass, while holding my beard in place. My friends looked straight ahead, either trying not to laugh, or paralyzed with fear that the jig would soon be up. Push up beard, take a sip, place palm on face, watch out for the bartender. Repeat. This went on for a while, but drinking (along with mescaline) doesn’t help one’s alertness. Eventually, the bartender, bottle in hand, noticed my fake bear dangling an inch off of my face, gave me a quizzical look and…kept pouring.
We closed down the bar, then drove around town for hours. As the sun rose over the San Francisco Bay area, Tim repaired to his Dad’s house, I to mine, and because neither John nor I was tired, we sat up for hours, just talking. The mescalinehad worn off, the booze as well, and we were just two guys shooting the breeze.
The more John talked, the more it became apparent to me that this guy had a myriad of problems, mostly personality defects. He was confused, unsure about life in general and his life in particular.
As John talked, I thought, perhaps I can help this guy with his problems. Then, I had another thought. Now, I was still not a Christian, not by a long shot, but I had been glancing through the Bible. (To this day, it amazes me how powerful just one verse in the Bible can be.) Anyway, I remembered the verse that says,“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?” I thought to myself, “how can I help John with his problems, when I have so many issues of my own?.” I couldn’t help anybody until I had my act together and in twenty years on the planet, that hadn’t happened or was likely to happen in the foreseeable future.
The only other Bible verse that I knew says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. Maybe, the reason I was so ill equipped to help my friend, maybe the reason I had so many problems of my own, maybe that reason was because I had simply not asked for help.
As these thoughts tumbled through my brain, I had a revelation. I saw a fork in the road ahead. Turn left, and continue the way I had been going, the path of gullibility where my belief system was as fragile as a spider’s web. Or turn right and ask for help.Turn right and look to Jesus. Turn right into the life of light, and turn from the path of darkness.
While John was watching, I turned right. I turned to Jesus. I felt a heavy backpack filled with rocks fall from my shoulders and I began to weep. I was born again.