Sunday, June 7, 2009
To briefly recap, I had been released from Banning Road Camp (a Riverside County Jail facility) in May of 1971; went to live with my dad in Mira Loma, a rural area of Riverside; met an attractive 17-year old girl who was one of the new Jesus People; had gone with her to one of their gatherings; had been challenged by and old school acquaintance regarding Jesus and the Bible; and had determined to look into the issue for myself.
I had never seriously considered the teachings of Jesus or the claims of Christianity. Now I had been challenged to do so. I imagined this exercise would be an intellectual slam-dunk and that I'd easily find confirmation for my already formed opinions. After a day of job hunting, followed by late afternoon chores around my dad's place, such as cleaning out the stalls and putting the horses' hay in their crib, I was ready to take my first crack at reading the Bible. Shutting the door to my room, I sat on the bed, put the Moody Blues on the turntable and pulled off my dusty boots and sweaty socks. As the first notes of Nights In White Satin bagan to play, I laid myself out across the bed, dropped the paperback Bible I'd been given onto the floor and tentatively peeled back the front cover. I had a pencil at the ready, there for putting check marks in the margins whenever I found a contradiction, flaw or logical fallacy.
The first thing I encountered was a long listing of names of all the ancestors of Jesus, afterward summed up by Matthew saying, "The genealogy of Jesus Christ may thus be traced for fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen from the deportation to Christ himself." No contradiction jumped out at me there--and I wasn't about to read all through the Old Testament looking to see if this Jesus family tree I'd just skimmed over was accurate. I'd have to take Matthew at his word on that one. But, how'd he get all this genealogical information anyway? That too was not something I really cared to look into just now. I wasn't out to nit-pick, I was on the hunt for big, fat obvious contradictions.
Next I came to the Snoopy Christmas Special birth of Jesus story. Angels appear to people and you're told an unbelievable virgin birth story, but then I already knew these unbelievable miracles were in the Bible. I had bigger fish to fry. In the Baby Jesus story I found mention of a king named Herod. Here might be a possibility. If there were no historical record such a king ever existed, I suppose that would be a pretty major flaw. I'd have to look into that. Already, in five-minutes of reading I'd discovered that this Jesus character wasn't portrayed as having lived once upon a time somewhere in some vague Middle East, but in a real and specific place at a particular time in recorded history. Certainly skeptics and historians before me had done some serious fact-checking of the gospels. What had they found? I'd have to look into that as well.
Every other verse in Matthew I found him saying that this or that incident fulfilled some prophecy from somewhere else in the Bible. Here was something else for me to check out--at some point anyway. By the time Jesus got himself baptized I'd had enough reading for one session. In this my initial Bible excursion I hadn't bagged any good contradictions, but then again, I'd just begun. There was always tomorrow...
It was getting late, and before going to bed I went out to the back of our half-acre horse ranch, lit a cigarette--a habit I'd begun at around age 14--and put one bare foot on the bottom railing of the corral. Taking a deep inhale of the Marlborough, I began to think about the beautiful young guitar-strumming girl down the street. She said Jesus was her personal savior and Lord and that his love was real and could change a person's life. As I very slowly exhaled the soothing smoke, my horse, Joplin, looked up from the last bits of her hay and began to amble over to me.