Category Archives: My Testimony
A year and a half ago I wrote this post, and this one subsequently ending “Stranger In Rebellion” (until last December when I rebooted it). They were about an opportunity we had in Denver and all the fallout that came therein. Recently, I have been troubled by having many dreams about living in Utah; moving people I knew there, living in houses I have a history with, planning meetings with people, walking or driving the streets. It seemed a constant barrage and I began to wonder if I was being told something.
The same group of discipleship friends, the ones who told me they’d do everything to make me stay if they believed God was telling them it was wrong, gathered last Sunday night – and there was a similarity of conversation. I told one of my dreams and hope of interpretation. He told me that biblical interpretation of dreams was done by a person of God to someone who did not know God, so perhaps I should know my own. Another thing he said was that God seems to communicate to me in the going. In the possible move to Denver, I had to go there in order to feel God stopping me. Maybe this will be the same?
I had suggested in the past that I would like to take an all day/night drive to Utah with these friends, and, show them around a bit. The places I lived, went to school, restaurants I enjoyed, people I knew, are all a part of who I am that not one of them will ever know or understand. Who am I but where I came from? And now, just last week, my friend confirmed that perhaps we ought to do that, and have a good conversation on the way back about what God may be telling me. I delighted in the idea and began thinking of places to go. And then I had a great idea… Write about the places I would go. I like writing and I really like writing about my history, so why not begin a series about the places I’d take my friends. Most of these probably won’t be places we’d actually have time for, but it is more of a record, for good and bad.
I am writing this on “Former Stranger In Rebellion” instead of “Undeniably Mayo” because it seems right. This is where it all started, and this is where it may ultimately finish.
Mount Calvary Cemetery
The first place I’d like to write about is about the end. The place where all come to rest: a cemetery. You’re told to be quiet in church, quiet in school, quiet in the library. But a cemetery is a strange place. We need to be respectful. We need to be reverent. We need to be quiet. My Grandpa’s grave was located near the eastern most point of the entirety that is the Salt Lake Cemetery and more specifically, Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery. As a child, my family would visit his plot every Memorial Day, washing the bird poop off the tombstone with small tupperware containers filled at the little nearby shed. We’d walk up and down the hill in the hot sun getting enough water in the bowl and walk carefully back up trying not to spill too much so as to limit our excursions. As we stood around, waiting for my parents to feel whatever they were supposed to feel, I got a wondrous tickle deep down in my tummy. I wanted to run. What a perfect place to practice the dodge and weave, through the tombstones over the little trees, up the hill and back down. But that was all forbidden here. We were to be reverent. We were to be quiet. “Don’t step on the graves,” we were told. “Don’t lean on the tombstones,” we were reminded. We knew how to act, it was just hard to in such a beautiful environment.
Later, we’d walk up to the trees that lined the many roads within, to look at the graves of… my possible sister and brother, or my dad’s sister and brother? I never really quite understood, nor did I try to clarify, and it seemed mythical to me that I might have had two older siblings, or, that I might never existed. There were four of us kids and I was the third. If my parents were shooting for four, and the first two survived, would I exist at all? Those trees along that road held great reverence and quiet for me. The small inlaid stones were shabby and broken up, barely any writing on them at all. The memorial within the Mount Calvary Cemetery for those who were killed by abortion is larger and more intricate than all those little stones that marked the memory of those children who died very young. These small little tombs made me quietly sad, and yet filled me with a philosophy about who I was, and that I existed and they didn’t. What kind of God did we claim to know that left me alive and allow those others to perish? And why was there some sort of life there where we had to not walk upon them? Would they feel pain in the afterlife if we trod on their grave or shifted the stone? Sure, it is all respect for the living in that all this is done, but as a child we wonder why, and the smaller ones always held such sway over me.
I never knew my Grandpa, but buried there now is my Uncle Mike, his parents who are my Nana and Papa, subjects in many of my dreams. My dad is buried there too. They are all in and around the same modern mausoleum. Families divided in life by divorce, now united in death. These people define me. The place they now rest defines me. Here is where we shared tears when my Papa succumbed to old age, and too long after, my Nana. All the people who gathered at their home many a Sunday, now so geographically and emotionally and spiritually divided, coming together to mourn the loss of why we came to be. We will soon be gathered there, united in death. For death defines and succumbs to us all.
And yet, with the life I now live for eternity, do I go back and share this life, live it in such a way that they must see Christ in me? Or do I stay here? It seems that in the going I must find out.
Strange Confessions: This opportunity in Denver and the subsequent reactions of my church family here in West Plains has affected me greater than I first thought.
I have been part of a discipleship group with three other men here for the past month, and have been discussing many things with them. The congregation that I am a part of now does not see discipleship as I always imagined it: sitting there with a book of doctrine in your lap or on the table and going over again what we have known but occasionally forget, forcefully trying to slam it into your brain for good. We take walks, and talk. We ask each other questions about what we would do in certain situations. There is discussion about how we are leading our family and ways we can do it better. We talk about long term relationships, careers, and ministries. We consider the immediate and grasp the consequences of the past. The Holy Spirit flows through our assembly as we do our best to honor Him in all our contemplations.
“Why do you call your blog ‘Stranger in Rebellion’?” I was asked the other night. I am quite proud that I came upon that name and all its connotations, stemming from the “Strange Confessions” and other strangeness that encompasses who I believe I am. Earlier that night I told them about my difficulty in writing over the past few weeks. I tried writing about the sermon regarding Friendship three different times. It seems as if I’m stuck in trying to convey the importance and value of what being a true friend in the full biblical sense really is. I get caught up in thinking about how I was so interested in getting out of West Plains, that I forgot about… relationship: family and friends that I’m not sure I’ve really had until these last couple of years. I don’t want to devalue our church family in Utah in any way, but this is so much different from what I knew back West. We also discussed the Youth Group that is starting up with me at the helm, and how I want to go beyond what is the other standard fare offered here in West Plains. I think about all the “wasted” time that has rushed by in the past and how now I see the world, God, and the gospel in such a brighter light, and I want to share that with these young adults so that they at least have the opportunity to understand all that before their life is in their sun’s declination phase. There is a passion inside me that wants to reveal the God that I now know, the gospel that is all about freedom, and glory that shines in us every day. I’ve missed the times when I taught Sunday School years ago, that is when I fully got into the Word. Yes, I struggle with giving my God the time He completely deserves, yet in teaching the desire comes fully alive.
The question posed to me lied more in the fact that I am no longer the “Stranger” I once was, and might be part of the reason I am struggling to write. They say people don’t change. We know, as Christians, that this is completely false. Others understand this in some superficial way. Sure we change our minds, our habits, our style, but fundamentally we are the same. I am new. In many ways I am the same. I stay quiet when I don’t feel what I say is important enough or smart enough or considered enough. I get very opinionated and loud when discussing our societal woes. I enjoy movies and pop-culture. I love my family and I miss the ones I am related by blood, who are far away. Yet, I am new. There has been a switch that went off inside me that I need to explore. This something is more… mature, you might say. It is more willing to Be where God has me. Resolve is changing to contentment.
I think my friend hears all this in me and, considers the Stranger to be no more. And to tell you the truth, I believe he is right. Change is inevitable. This considered move to Denver revealed how much I am attached here. Prior to these occurrences, I saw us moving and forgetting about all that we knew here, in West Plains, deleting contacts in our phone and on that one site. Now, as I ponder these possible actions, it almost brings me to tears. This place has become so much a part of what I am, who I am, that I can no longer consider forgetting it all once we are geographically gone, if that ever happens.
This change is not a new idea in my mind, for over the last few months I have thought things needed to change about the blog. Make it more about life and the gospel and our culture as it relates to us all and step a little bit away from it being about my experiences. Not stepping away entirely, because my experiences are about who I am, but in a more… generic(?) way. I don’t know, perhaps you’ll understand once I start going on the new name/site that I will develop… eventually, when I am ready. Writing is a desire in me that I can rarely contain when the spirit is upon me. So after 125 posts to this site, farewell. I will post a link here when all the newness comes about.
Thank you all for reading Stranger in Rebellion, I hope to see you all in my future endeavors.
Matthew 9:36 “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Being a sheep can be very wearisome. And, in the second half of my youth I had discovered new ways to stray as far as I could from my future, true shepherd. I had found many wolves to follow, to be a part of, to give my life over to. I had no purpose, no path lit up guiding me, showing me the way. My parents never forced me to finish anything. I failed at school, sports, music. Whatever was attempted was never important enough to see through. So those things never became important, never became purpose. Yet because of what I learned growing up Catholic, I knew there was a God. Perhaps He wasn’t impressed by the ceremony of Mass. Maybe, He wanted us to find out for ourselves the way we should go. I had heard many things about how drugs opened up parts of our mind we never even use. This was the way for me to go, to figure out a prime purpose. I had always believed myself to be destined for some amazing purpose. I had narrowed them down to two choices: to be abducted by aliens, or be in prison my whole life. Some picks, eh? But, drugs offered me so much more.
I started in with the cool kid in elementary school: smoking weed before baseball practice in 6th grade. Moving on to hanging out at the mall, carrying paraphernalia, getting busted. High school was well met with more divergent groups, leading me further astray from school, from family, from what was decent and right of my moral learning in the private schools I’d attended. They were all seeking some way to escape from lameness or to be badder or it was just who they were. I was seeking a purpose, seeking solutions, trying to expand my knowledge, in very many ways to escape from what I saw as a hopeless life leading to abduction, imprisonment, death, or worse: priesthood.
Failing out of Judge Memorial High was a conundrum of the highest proportions. I had failed where everyone else in my immediate and extended family had succeeded. The connection with this Catholicism was broken. My God was gone from me. He no longer had this hold on me that kept the slightest check on my behavior. Yet, where was He, why had He allowed myself to go this deep, this far away from Him? Maybe I needed it. My parents were definitely upset, but it didn’t seem as earth shattering as I thought it was supposed to be. It was some sort of release. I had more freedom. To go where no one else in my family had gone: public school. (I believe part of my parents attitude was relief: JMCH was expensive, and sending four children there was quite a drain on their meager finances.)
I began at Brighton High School meeting a friend from St. Vincent: Kenneth F. He was a slight outsider at St. Vincent; people thought he was dirty and shaggy. He was called the Bushman. I don’t know why he left, I liked him, but forgot about him when he was gone. He only went to school there to about the 6th grade. It’s strange how people disappear in our lives. I didn’t think about him for years, and now here he was, needing a friend as much as I did. The experiment in expanding understanding continued in new and unusual ways. This was soon a part of who I was, my identity. We’d get high before, during and after school. His mother had rented a room to someone who turned out to be a drug dealer. We’d break into his room and steal stuff. He’d have weed and mushrooms. Getting high and staying high was my main goal this year, this single year I had with Kenneth. It was marked with drinking, with wandering the neighborhood at night, with climbing the nearby mountains in the frozeness of night, but we didn’t care. We had no feeling. We were getting rid of feeling. No discussions, no learning, no building, or growing occurred this year. All memories fade from this time. It was all a frenzy of acquiring and consuming. Then Kenneth moved to Maine.
In this time I soon started perfecting the art of my depression. All depression is, is the art of self gratifying inwardness. At least it was for me. With Kenneth gone and not much drugs to be had, all I had, was myself. I had no God. He had deserted me. I went from full awareness of filling my time with a friend in need of me as much as I was of him, and the drugs and alcohol that kept us laughing, ignoring what I sought through the beginnings of drugs, to complete awareness of what a failure and how lost I truly was. My time in high school continued, with a friend here or there that provided me what I needed, never continuing the pursuit of meaning, of purpose. I got drugs or alcohol from them or my brother. My brother saw what was going on inside me, at least I think he might have gotten a glimpse, but he had his own life to lead.
Going to Utah State University, entering into the Forestry department, didn’t help matters much. When I was in high school, the mountains were my true escape. I would go up there with the intention of getting high, then feeling all paranoid and getting depressed, I’d go home and seek solace with food. It was the times that I went hiking, without any drugs, that I truly felt something fit, that I belonged there. I filed it away in the lock-box of my selfish brain, not really knowing what to do with it. What could I do with it? What purpose did it fulfill? Besides solitude, it gave me some exercise, some challenge. But, to fulfill what? It wasn’t until the college choices came up that I thought, I like hiking, I like the mountains. Maybe Forestry is what I ought to get into. Besides, USU was some distance from Salt Lake City, but not too far. So, I went. Deeper in to self I dived. I needed people, yet no one needed me. I was disillusioned by the Forestry department, I was depressed and isolated in the dorms. I went to the place where I could find people: the Fraternity my brother was a part of. It was a brotherhood, right? So, I did what I knew. I took drugs when I could find them, drank whenever it was offered and isolated myself in my room. Here all sense of purpose was gone. My main focus was finding something to eat, someplace to sleep, and get away from all the failure in my mind that I knew this was headed toward.
No part of this University experience was right. It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong me. College was not a gateway to a brighter future for me. It was a confused place of darkness and mockery. Where people pretended like they cared, then they left you lost, alone, depressed, directionless.
From the 6th grade to a few years after losing my grant at Utah State University, I was so deeply involved in who I was, I had forgotten there was a world outside. Year after year grew more wearisome then the past one. My mind was scattered and I needed guidance. I needed purpose. I needed God in my life. And this is where Part 3 will take up. Hope comes home at last.
Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lay sit on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
- My Life, My Testimony: Part 1 (strangerinrebellion.wordpress.com)
I was born July 22, 1969 in Salt Lake City, Utah, two days after Neil Armstong took his first steps on the moon. We like that: to be born around the time of a great day in history. Just think of it: the beginnings of our journey into the universe began with those steps. Look how far we’ve come now… Well, we really haven’t gone out into the universe. In fact, all we’ve really accomplished is a deeper, more relentless journey into self. Technology comes full circle. Small televisions the whole family gathered around to squint into, trying to glean the information of the day, to huge screens that filled every part of our vision, with enormous sound and crystal clarity, back to everyone gathering around small screens to glean the infor… scratch that, to see the cute kitties all gathered in a row, meowing their way into our hearts. But, that day in 1969 filled people with hope for a future of peace for mankind. And my birthday was pretty spectacular in my parents eyes too.
I had a sister three years older than me, a brother born a little over a year before me, and another sister, not to be born for a few years after I made my momentous journey outward. We were born into a Catholic family. My Dad was fully Italian, His father emigrated from Italy with two of his brothers, and his mother was the oldest of 13 brothers and sisters. My Dad was an only child. My grandfather died a couple of years after my oldest sister was born. My grandmother lived at the top floor of an old folks apartment complex. We’d go over there every other Sunday or so, opening up the basement entrance into the complex, to the delightful smells of her Italian cooking. I use to think how jealous everyone probably was, smelling that on those days we came over. Oh it was wonderful. But, my grandma, she was a bit of a cold one. We were forced to give her a kiss on the cheek every time we visited. She never hugged us, or kissed us back, she just laugh uncomfortably until the whole ceremony was done. Then we go into her closet, pull out one of the couple of games she had for us, go into the extra bedroom, and play and watch TV on a little black & white, until it was time to eat.
The rest of the clan, on my father’s side, I didn’t know very well, nor did I really want to. We’d see them once a year for a family reunion. They were loud, and off-putting, never let us kids play in the softball. Us kids would go off to play bocce ball, or frisbee, or steal some cold fried chicken or a cake my oldest sister called chocolate mess. It wasn’t bad, it was just weird. We didn’t know these people, and they didn’t seem to know us. Nor did they want to get to know us, at least it seemed to me. Even at a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the group, the team, and share goals, accomplishments, our lives.
My mother’s family was much different. My Mom’s dad, my Papa, was half Navajo, and the rest, some German and other ethnicities thrown in. My Nana, my Mom’s mom, was of North American Indian descent, with Portuguese and other stuff mixed in the pot. My Mom was the second of five children. She was the oldest daughter and I believe took on a motherly role in the household as her and her siblings were growing up. The oldest of my mother’s siblings ended up being my Godfather. This is a role not taken lightly in the Catholic church, and I believe he felt it was an honor, but I never remember any guidance or counseling they, him and his wife, gave me as I grew up. I remember an old picture bible they gave me, it just had some bible stories retold with pictures and summaries. He was an extremely quiet man who I admired greatly. He took us out on his dune-buggy, taught us how to shoot a bow and arrow, and had a smile, that when revealed, would light up the room. When I was really young, probably about 4 or 5, they moved to Casper, Wyoming. We spent time with them, it seemed every year. I remember they first lived in a trailer home, off the side of a busy highway. To this day, I still love to go to sleep to the sounds of large trucks traveling by on the freeway.
Sundays at my Nana and Papa’s home were glorious. All my cousins would show up and it’d be a raucous time of running through the house, out the backyard, into Papa’s junkyard behind the garage, and out on the golf course behind their house. We’d have room to play, people who loved us, and were interested in our lives, and gave us hugs and kisses. They joked, laughed, had household projects everyone joined in, football games to watch, games to play. It was so much different than my Grandmas.
We went to a private, Catholic school, K-8, called St. Vincent de Paul. I thought everyone there was just Catholic, and since I was Italian, I was a Roman Catholic. Being a Roman Catholic was a special privilege and honor for me. We had to be altar boys, say extra confessions, and, I always believed that one of us, my brother or I, had to grow up to be a priest. I, being the more pious, or more quiet one, was most likely destined to follow this path. I had an Uncle, (my Dad’s cousin) who was a priest, and I didn’t like him very much. He was always poking me in the gut, saying I had to lose weight. Saying, I didn’t like him very much, is a little light: I actually hated him. I really didn’t want to grow up to be like this man, always with the fake grin, presenting himself to us with a self-assured holier-than-thou attitude, then seeing him in public with other people, holding a quiet solemnity and wisdom, made me want to smack him, call him a faker. His father, was of a reserved type, he didn’t hide who he was, he was just quiet about it. He smiled, gave us claps on the back, welcomed us into his home. Much more agreeable than his son. He was the assistant deacon to the bishop of Utah. Our family name was known in Utah in Catholic circles, and when I occasionally met people who knew the name, they’d bring up my obnoxious Uncle, and have glowing praise for him and what he had done for their family. It was all I could do not to grimace over this devotion to him. I could not be a priest. Now, just so you know, I was never told I was to be a priest, it was all something I had made up in my head. And when I decided I couldn’t be a priest, I wandered my life with a small guilt in my gut knowing how disappointed my parents, my extended family, would be that day they turn to me and ask, “How come you never became a priest?”
My whole young life revolved around this Catholicism and I understood and knew that there was a God in this universe and that He could hear me. I just couldn’t comprehend how He related to us through all this ceremony. Mass was uncomfortable and confusing, confession was annoying and fake, and all those prayers we had to repeat over and over again for penance made not a lick of sense to me. I never ventured to know this God further than what I was told He was like. For I was completely and utterly involved in myself. I remember the times I truly prayed to God. On several occasions I made true confession to Him, based on what some travelling nun told me about God. One specific time I was so angry that I had to wear glasses, I wailed and moaned and threw them across the room, pleading with God that I needed to have perfect vision. This prayer was completely based on faith and an understanding that God will provide, if He wants to. I’d occasionally wake up, with sleep in my eyes and see clearly across the room. I’d praise God and then blink a couple of times, making my vision come back to its normally poor performance, and then morn over lost sight. I saw God as a careless deity, who may or may not look down on us from above, with love or impatience or anger, all based on the slight whims He may feel at the moment; much like my father. He didn’t really care, but He could do what He wanted, all for His amusement at the time. My vision, He liked to tease me with. “Here you go!” He’d say giving me perfect vision, then take it all away, all with a knowing little grin.