The year was 1980. I was 21.
I was studying music at Palomar College in San Marcos, CA. Five students who went to the same Calvary Chapel church were in my five music classes. At least one in each class, but in one class all five of them were present. For a five month period we had been debating religious topics almost daily. For the most part they were not very good at debating, and seemed to think of debating as some kind of hardness toward God. (Perhaps Holland Davis was the exception to this.)
I had been brought up in the Christian Science Church as a child, so that was what I knew about Christianity. The late Walter Martin had summed up Christian Science well: it was like Grape Nuts - no grapes and no nuts, it is neither Christian nor science. It is in fact a mothering church to the New Age movement, and a strange amalgam of eastern religious views with the Bible. (Yet, I must say that I am grateful to my grandmother for taking me to her church when I was young. It was an introduction into believing that there was a God Who did supernatural things.)
At some point early in the first couple months of 1980 my five friends decided together that they would not talk to me any further about theological issues. They did not tell me this, they simply avoided talking to me. They had determined that I was becoming "more hardened" to the Gospel.
Yet during this same time I began to experience some dramatic phenomenon. The two most radical experiences are the ones I will relate here.
I was driving on Highway 78 coming into Escondido, CA minding my own business thinking about nothing in particular as I passed the Center City Parkway exit. Suddenly, I sensed (which is the only way to explain this because I did not see it, and I did not hear it) what seemed to be a large invisible hand moving towards me - it was moving from outside the truck window on the driver's side. As I sensed this hand moving towards me in a what seemed like a slow but solid motion,the invisible hand passed through the truck window and met my face. I felt a sensation - not painful, but like a slap nonetheless, and my head snapped sideways like I had been physically slapped. I was able to keep control of my little Ford Courier and stay on the road,but my body was shaking, my ears were ringing, and the word "God" popped into my head with a ping just like God speaking to Noah in Bill Cosby's comedy routine about building the ark.
I discovered the next day that the father one of my five friends was praying for me about that same time.
The Backhand of God
My little brother Rob had been attending church for a number of months with a friend of his. One Friday night he asked me if he and his friend could get a ride to concert in Escondido. I wasn't busy, and said yes. It turned out to be a church provided concert being held int he auditorium of a grade school. The Daniel Amos Band, a Christian Country-Rock Band was playing that night. (I only just discovered that they are still together and are touring this summer. Please read this touching story about the singer/songwriter Terry Taylor.)
My little brother asked me if I would join him at the show, and having nothing better to do (no girlfriend to hang with on a Friday, and not being a partier at that time) I decided I would check it out.
I don't remember the show very well, but one event during the show caught my attention. Sometime toward the second half of the show the bass player stepped up to the mic to say a few words. I do not remember a word he said, but that now oddly familiar invisible hand made itself "sense-able" (I certainly can not say it "appeared or was made "visible") to me again. This time I sensed it coming towards my face with that same ominously slow pace from my right side, when it had come fromthe left side previously.
Once again it reached my face, (and of course I did not duck! For heaven's sake! How does one avoid an invisible hand?) and the same painless, but firm slapping sensation snapped my head sideways.
Over the previous couple week's I had been struggling with the phrase "Jesus died for you." I had thought that perhaps it was like a friend who dove on a grenade in time of war to save his buddies, and died in the act, but because my five friends had been repeating "Jesus died for you" like some kind of mantra, I knew it had to be more significant than even a war time act of sacrifice. It was somehow central to the whole message of this Christianity they followed.
As this invisible hand met my face and snapped my head sideways, my body shook, my ears rang, and even while trying to pretend nothing had happened and doing a good job, because no one else noticed a thing (well, I don't think they did) the words "Jesus died for you" ran through my ears as if written over and over on a long narrow piece of ticker tape being shoved in one ear and pulled out the other.
There was no theological explanation with those words, and there I could not have related it in theological terms at that moment, but I now knew that Jesus had died in my place as a substitutionary sacrifice for my sins. I should have been the one dying, but he died in my place.
Two weeks later, after thinking hard about this experience and the words "Jesus died for you" I decided to make my life one of serving this Jesus Who had given everything for me.
My Introduction into the Realm of Supernatural Phenomenon
I am not sure that this would be called my initiation into the realm of supernatural phenomenon, but it was most certainly my initiation into the work of Christ in spiritual phenomenon, and has evidently been instrumental in the development of my own theology and praxis of faith.
Just as I have seen people in these days in which we live having divine experiences, I too was initiated into a realm of the supernatural my an experience neither sought, nor initiated my my own action.
I am aware that this story reads like something from the Book of Acts, or perhaps even from anthropological studies on the initiations of Mongolian Shaman or Native American Medicine Men, but it is my story and it forms some of the theology I hold in respect to the supernatural and God's work among the people of this world.