Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 1

THE WHOLE STORY

I would like to fully explain why I converted from atheism to Christianity. I have shared bits and pieces of my conversion story in previous articles, but I want to tie it all together in this two-part series. Here, I hope to clarify for people who may relate to my testimony just how powerful God truly is. Needless to say, Part 1 will be darker/heavier because of context that this took place before I understood what to make of my past, emotionally and spiritually. Part 2 will complete the story and bring us to the present where I can now see God working in my faith, and I will share more on that with you as well. 

By writing this, I hope to bring clarity, hope, and direction to others who are in the position of searching for life’s answers without knowing which way to turn.

THE BETRAYAL OF TRUST THROUGH TRAUMA

My parents’ divorce left me reeling, drowning in questions and denial. Growing up, I’d grown extremely fond of the security of familiarity, of placing all of my trust in my family’s presence, the memories we made, and the traditions that made being a part of family so special. For example, we were told to wait upstairs on Christmas morning until our dad turned on the foyer Christmas tree lights in order to come downstairs and see the mountain of presents in the living room. They would dim the lights, and we would never think anything of my parents’ droopy eyes as they had been up an hour earlier preparing the eye-popping display.

In another example, my family was active—we would go outside and play ball after dinner as the sun went down. We did this frequently, and it fed me the passion for exercise, activity, adventure, and fun.

When my parents divorced, the very cheerful, optimistic, positive part of me became very serious, quiet, reserved, and exclusive. My thoughts burrowed inward, trying to grasp with profundity the depth of my own pain.

My dad would urge me to keep going to church, since we were raised Catholic—but I refused to attend over the course of two church invitations. The notion of any kind of God was not only unappealing, it was detestable. How could a God allow this suffering to take place? I was sure there was no God because no God would allow me or anyone to experience this excruciating emotional pain and familial division. But that was only the beginning of the pain.

SUICIDE AND PURPOSELESSNESS

When my questions following the divorce became unbearable and everything I’d believed seemed to be wrong, I felt myself imploding intolerably. This new reality where my mom slept in another house and everything was drastically different was utterly nightmarish and terrifying to me, emotionally. The rules had changed and life had become more about survival. Nothing I had believed about life seemed real anymore. I couldn’t find myself embracing this new reality with my family torn apart and unfamiliarity at every corner, and I also couldn’t wrest the old reality back from its grave. This realization birthed the deepest, darkest feeling I ever thought was possible: I wanted to kill myself.

For 11 years, this wasn’t even a thought. Suicide was not even a vocabulary word that I was capable of conjuring. But suddenly, out of absolute nothingness, death became a possibility; a desire. I’ll never forget, because wanting death was the most degrading feeling. I’ve learned there is nothing darker than wanting death, and that death’s invitation is consuming.

MENTAL BREAKDOWN

I was in my teens, 13-15, lying on the floor of my room with the door closed, crying until I could barely breathe through my nose. All I could think of was how nothing was the same anymore; there were no remnants left of my past reality, everything was over and there was no going back.

My mind tried to get creative about how to end my life, and I took myself to my bathtub. On more than one occasion, when the water pressure began choking me, my mind was screaming to find a reason to live to avoid the pain of air emptying from my lungs. My chest was growing tighter and I had to decide if I was going to die this way. I started seeing stars and I could hear my own heartbeat; time was drawing close and I didn’t want to let in—I wanted to die. Alone, my family outside somewhere, clueless to my intentions, I was merely moments away from breathing my last, when I came out of the water. I breathed, looked at the walls of the tub, and begged myself for justification as to why I had chosen against death. I didn’t have a good reason: I was afraid of the pain of losing air—my lungs screaming for me to save myself was horrifying. Living in a house full of people who didn’t know me or my pain was also horrifying. There was no escape. The misery drew anguish and bitterness.

No, there is no God. A God wouldn’t allow this suffering. God would be evil to allow this. These were my thoughts and I got out of the tub to continue living, although without certainty; wondering how else I could end my life.

PARALYZED RELATIONSHIPS

My relationship to my mom was strained after the divorce. As soon as she left home to move to another house, I had to begin learning to pack bags for sleepovers. Every week I would pack necessities to take back and forth. There was more than one problem with this. The first was that right after the divorce, the presence of my mom was very different than from before the divorce; her new presence was something I did not like, nor did I want to be around. Because of her attitude and behavior, I did not want to see her often, and I felt guilty for not wanting to see her. After all, she was my mom. Not only did this seem contradictory, but it was causing me mountains of stress, guilt, anxiety, and racing thoughts. I would constantly analyze everything that was said and how it was said to pick up on anything I could in order to placate the disagreements we had. Mom had picked up on my lack of desire to spend more time with her and became angry and hurt. Her anger made me withdraw even further, and I quickly learned that our new relationship dynamic was terrifyingly different from the way it was growing up. This change haunted me—what was to become of my mom and me?

More confusing was the way my dad seemed so uninvolved with me. Our relationship seemed to have retreated, which lasted about a decade. Throughout all of my adolescence, I didn’t talk to my dad very much. In every sense of the word, my relationships with both of my parents were paralyzed. We weren’t moving forward, no one seemed to want to move back, and we were not on the same page. The horrors of the divorce crippled us and made everything that once was so beautiful into something unrecognizable, dilapidated, obsolete, disappointing. My heart was throbbing with fear, but there was no closure.

KORN/CLOSURE/VALIDATION

When I was 16, I found my first Korn album, “The Untouchables.” Upon playing the first song, “Here To Stay,” I was hooked. Never again would I find a band as interesting and addictive as Korn; their lyrical expression of rage, pain, depression, and self-mutilation were spot on with that of my own thoughts. I quickly learned that I not only related to Korn, but that they spoke into my experiences. Korn became my musical “Gospel,” in that I would listen to them for hours on end, embracing their anger, resistance, and ability to fight pain with rage and hate as my own. I soon believed that anger and hatred were ways to find strength in my darkness of despair and trauma. My desire for death was still present, but Korn was like a strong dose of morphine; they would speak into my darkest place and tell me my feelings were valid.

LAST RESORT

Along the way of finding myself tortured by the questions challenging my sanity, I found myself drawing closer to girls. Their attention gave me energy and I desired to impress them and earn their loyalty; their relationship. I ended up bringing my search for purpose to my girlfriend my senior year of high school; someone who I would learn later on could never have fulfilled that part of me. No girl ever could have, but I didn’t know where else to search for closure from all the pain. I didn’t know where else to search for purpose. I was living for me, and hating every second of it.

FINAL ULTIMATUM

After all those years of heavily contemplating my life and its brokenness, topped off by resorting to lust and infatuation—I decided to pursue film studies in Florida when I was 21 to make something of my life while I continued my search for something beyond the pain. By moving to Florida to study film, I was intending to also leave behind all of my memories in Michigan. Like a placebo pill however, my mind wanted to make believe leaving Michigan would numb the pain (my past). But, after many years of being away, I’d learned that the kind of pain I experienced wasn’t solved by geography, but by the spirit. My spirit had been plagued by anger, bitterness, selfishness, and resistance to any sort of aid—and in turn, my mentality, maturity, and belief system were closed-minded and shallow. More on this will be elaborated upon in Part 2.

JUST THE BEGINNING

What is important to note here and now is that this isn’t the end of my story. This is just the first step in the path. All of this, as it were, marked by darkness, bitterness, and despair–this is not the end of anyone’s story. This is the reason for Part 1 and 2; I need you, as the reader, to fully grasp this picture as its own image, because when you understand the rest of the story, you will come to see where the transformation is, where God’s hand was, and how it’s a matter of taking a leap of faith to see what even our physical eyes cannot. In Part 2, I will explain all of this so that you can see for yourself that our pain and our questions have answers and solutions, even if it doesn’t seem like it yet. I can tell you right now that despite my pain, God is still good!!

LET’S CONNECT

If you resonated with this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me at my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. I’ll do my best to respond as promptly as possible. May God bless you today!

Jolt

Rock Music and Spiritual Awareness

How careful are we with our minds? Do we ever consider how what is received by our eyes and ears directly affects what emanates through our words, actions, thoughts, and lifestyles?

During my adolescence, I found and grew to love the rock band, Korn. To this day, they are my all-time favorite band. Now, perhaps before I go too heavily into explaining this, it would be wise to offer context.

I have written at some length about my traumatization as teen experiencing the pain, drama, and depression associated with the stress of my parents’ divorce, my family’s dismemberment, and the death of two of my grandparents, all within one year. Needless to explain, my self-image and desperation for something meaningful to save my heart from an ultimate downfall was at an all-time high, and I began finding solace in music, first beginning with open ears to a rock band called Godsmack, when I was 12.

For four years I was receptive to the sound of rock, and the anger that was expressed in such music matched my own. I didn’t have to wear a guise with the songs I listened to because they spoke directly into my darkest secrets—especially the rage and depression I was sucked into from the pain and stress of loss, resentment, bitterness, and hating my own existence. My emotional state became so intense that I even put theology in question, pushing the very idea of God off His pedestal and into an uncharted, bottomless pit in my mind where I didn’t have to think about it. Atheism closed in, and my choice was to replace the concept of a loving Messiah with something more seemingly “tangible” than the invisible, questionable theology derived of a two-thousand-year-old history that I had never personally experienced, nor cared to learn about.

When I was 16, I was in the music store at the mall in my hometown when I came across Korn’s album, “The Untouchables”. I found song titles curious, thought the cover was a bit strange—and therefore I was drawn in to discover what sort of music would come from the mirage of ambiguity the disc holder displayed. When I put the disc into my car’s CD player, the very first song, “Here To Stay”, immediately immersed me with raw emotion; this time, the words not only matched my own feelings, they surpassed them. The words were more than just relatable, they spoke for me and to me. I found myself listening to these songs repeatedly with absolute certainty that this band was exactly the music I was looking for. Every day I would listen to Korn and get blown away by the feeling of validation which came from the dark, melodic guitar riffs, heavy bass, and brutal lyrics. They spoke into my darkest pain, eliminating the idea that I was alone, and also replacing–although temporarily–my emotional void needing God.

Years passed by, more Korn albums were released, and sometimes their lyrics would offend me a little (I didn’t appreciate nor resonate with the use of the word “rape”–but I also understood this lyrical style was the Jonathon Davis’s (the lyric-writer and singer of Korn) way of representing horrific emotion and opening up about his own personal traumatizing life events. The offensive portion of lyrics got lost in the background and I continued paying attention to the feeling of validation I received while listening to Korn, and the way the rage within me felt mitigated through someone else adequately speaking for and through my excruciating experiences.

That was my musical input for 5 years. When I became a loose** Christian at 22, I was still listening to Korn and loving it. God was still a foreign concept to me while I began reading the Bible very slowly through a life group at the church I was attending during my college years. I did not feel my heart grasping for Him right away. And I was still lost in my emotional past with the baggage of what had happened to me and my family. “God, if you really exist, how could you let this happen?”, I would ask Him. For a while, there was nothing but silence. I figured that was commensurate for the years of denying Him, like punishment for being so stubborn. Later, I discovered that that was not true at all, but at the time, the explanation made sense.

**(I write “loose” because, though I was attending a Christian church weekly, I had just come from 7 years of atheism, and I was not interested in practicing everything Christianity preached and taught was necessary to grow close to Christ through faith, trust, and surrender–including but not limited to loving myself, because I had hated myself for about 11 years at that point, and when I loved others it was through stoic, gritted teeth and this feeling of self-betrayal. Christianity is freedom from the temptation to live in sin, and I was still very much invested in the guilt of living alone spiritually for so long; blaming God, myself, and my life for being so hard for me. Loving myself, and therefore loving God even more–was more alien and esoteric to me than neuroscience or astrophysics. Therefore, I would now, looking back— have considered myself a loose Christian at that time because I wasn’t practicing my faith in the sense that I am now, both emotionally and spiritually)

My questions from my time spent as an atheist becoming desperate for meaning came to the surface and I began using this as fuel. I figured if God wasn’t real, I’d definitely figure it out because I would find a loophole in the Christian faith and deny it, too. Funny, the bluff I was ready to call on God was eventually called on my disbelief. But, see, through this entire time of loose Christianity and testing the faith before taking it seriously—Korn was my go-to music. They were the band that stood out because they never spoke anything but brutal honesty in their words—the message was always relatable to me in an almost startlingly refreshing way; the way they would speak into my heart and not even have to mention divorce.

Have I been warned about listening to such heavy music? Yes, I have. And I have considered those words. But I want to be absolutely clear about something: We are not what we listen to unless we choose to deify the message of the lyrics, or to worship the rage and the anger rather than the God who allows such music to be relatable, and therefore helpful for those who find it as such. Do I believe God can speak through heavy metal rock music? Absolutely. There’s also other rock bands that I love, one called Red and the other Love and Death; the singer and one of the guitarists of Love Death is actually one of the main guitarist’s of Korn as well, and they are all Christian bands without actually claiming to be a Christian bands. They speak about God without being explicit about Christian faith, allowing the words to speak for themselves without drawing directly into any one faith system. This may consider them “safe” (instead of being cast aside by the secular listeners who don’t want to hear the terms “God” or “Jesus” in lyrics) , but that doesn’t change that they are singing and still praising/praying/talking to God. So their music is still inspiring for me.

Back to my previous point. We are not what we listen to unless we begin to worship those messages instead of the God who provides them. Korn may not be a Christian band (they are not at all Christian–despite how two of its members are), but they speak to me as a Christian. I believe God speaks to me through Korn, yes. Does that sound crazy? I can understand why for those who feel that it might think it to be crazy, because, “how could a band who sings about such dark emotion possibly bring someone back to Jesus?” Well, let’s be careful here. Korn didn’t convert me to Christianity, but listening to them does not deter my faith or make me feel more secular inside. The message and influence of music depends solely on the ears receiving the message, and the softness of the heart accepting the message– or rejecting it. My heart is for Jesus, and Jesus alone. Whatever words offend my faith against Him I rebuke in Jesus name.

Some would argue the safety the mind and heart by advising to simply stay away from anything that is not of God, in order to stay pure and clean in mind and body. I would never argue this point. What I add to that is that for me, it’s entirely possible to hear such heavy rock music with dark lyrics and still praise God and worship Jesus all the same. Can everyone do that? It depends on the context of where you come from. Remember, my childhood trauma led me to need validation. When I converted to Christianity, I realized I only needed Jesus’ love, but that didn’t mean Korn didn’t still resonate with a part of me that God had also touched. I continue to understand to this very day that God can reach me through metal music. In fact, I even wrote a previous blog post while listening to one of their newest singles, “Rotting In Vain”, and the post I wrote was strictly a Christian message. So, while I’m not trying to claim everyone is able to do what I do, what I am explicitly intending to get across is that music is what you make of it; if you are allowing music to influence you the wrong (negative) direction–music isn’t to blame, but your interpretation of what you put in your heart. If the music you listen to is hurting you and/or others, perhaps that is the most tell-all sign that you need to change the musical input you are letting yourself be exposed to.

Korn does not offend me, they still validate me. My experiences in life now are not nearly as traumatic as they were when I was 11, mostly because I am a much more mature adult man with control over myself and my life situation. I didn’t have that when my parents divorced. I was dependent and starving for something meaningful and purposeful to fill me up, but I was simultaneously rejecting God because I blamed the idea of pain on Him.

Interestingly, along my path of conversion from atheism to Christianity, I discovered a fascinating truth: Blaming God for pain and then disbelieving Him–one might think–would cancel out the pain itself by undermining its original cause of understanding. However, my mind didn’t think that way at the time. I basically bluffed myself by saying God didn’t exist, and yet hating pain while claiming if it was done by anyone, “It must have been God.” How could God be in control of the pain in my life if He doesn’t exist? And if He doesn’t exist, how could I be angry at Him for controlling it? If He doesn’t exist, and the pain still does— where does someone like an atheist aim their anger and censure?

You call your own bluff when you cancel out both ends of the equation; one side being God as the cause of pain, and the other that God doesn’t exist. For the atheists who are angry at the world for their pain, how do you separate yourselves from the rest of existence, seemingly claiming your experience of pain is as if no one else has similar experiences–when all humanity is the same species under the same worldly rules and consequences of pain and suffering? Furthermore, placing blame in the neutral position (that is, claiming God didn’t cause pain and that He doesn’t exist) cancels out the causality for any and all pain inflicted (which is insulting to humanity as a whole because there is no denying the existence of pain), either requiring, in effect, to wipe out the idea of pain itself–or the blame for which pain is placed. But the retention of both while claiming disbelief in God is not only irrational–again–it calls your bluff: To rationalize disbelief in God is to claim a worldly replacement for the void pain creates, which consequently would not resolve the problem of pain, nor correctly fix the position of causality towards any viable existential component–but would instead claim that nothing is the cause of pain and that pain must therefore not be a problem to resolve. And anyone who has been alive for more than a few minutes would tell you that notion is absolutely ludicrous.

In saying that, allow me to reiterate: Korn does not offend me, and it does not take me from my faith in Christ– but it is also a reminder that I cannot call God’s existential bluff if I feel angry at Him; therefore, whatever validation I’m receiving through listening to rock music–like Korn–is not validating any hatred toward God (there is no hatred from me towards God), but rather validation towards the discontentment of pain inflicted in life.

To follow through with that thread of thought, one must have a belief in the causality of pain, and if we follow the thread to its source, we culminate with evil, and evil cannot exist without love (not in this world), and love cannot exist without God because love is supernatural; supernatural being the very DNA of love—the DNA of God. God exhales the supernatural because He is the Source of all creation: One or multi-dimensional, tangible or intangible; spiritual or physical, metaphorical or literal. He is the Source of it all. Love would be impossible and nonexistent without God.

How does a person without faith in the supernatural even explain love? That might be a great idea for another blog post. For now, I will leave you with the understanding that if we choose to accept the existence of love, we must express faith in the existence of evil, because one does not exist without the other in this world. They are dichotomies which lead us back to the causality of existence itself, where the spiritual world unfolds in-between the choice to follow love or to follow evil—where evil breeds corruption while love engenders growth, change, opportunity, freedom, joy, and relationship. Without one or the other, the lack of comparison to argue the schism would eliminate the equal sign of our life equation and cancel out the equation of their existence altogether–again–eliminating both God and pain, which is impossible to construe based on all of life, history, and experience expressing otherwise.

Love cannot be without evil (or hate) to counter its personality and reason to exist, and evil cannot exist without love to counter its immorally corruptive fallacies. God is the instigator of existence, and simultaneously the mediator between both worlds: love and hate (evil); spiritual and physical. To claim one doesn’t exist means neither exist, but that is preposterous. Concordantly, to claim they both exist automatically opens the door to morality and theology, the source of opening the conversation for God and Christ. And if we open the case for Christ, there is no closing that conversation because the opening to that conversation would mean the elimination of our denial in admitting love and hate are two dichotomies requiring us to choose between God, or death. We cannot face this conundrum and simultaneously deny God. God’s face is the all-dimensional face of both worlds, where Jesus invites us into the light and the Devil tries dragging us back to darkness, all the while we’d rather claim there is no tug of war at all–but that is rubbish if you still want to try arguing the belief in the existence of morality without theology, especially arguing the dissension between faith and non-theism regarding purpose and meaning.

Coming full circle, I find Korn as a means of expressing myself, but I would never, for example, use Korn to worship at church. They do not deify Jesus as Lord. But I can listen to them without claiming Jesus is not Lord in my heart, and still appreciate their gift in melodic hard rock music. This means I can believe in love and hate (evil), the existence of morality (good/bad, right/wrong) and still appreciate music when it clearly does not exult the faith which I wholeheartedly put all of my faith into. Korn can be a translator of my rawest, deepest emotions, while my heart persistently and adamantly praises the goodness of Christ as my God and Messiah. Hard rock music is not evil unless you worship its message instead of the one who allows you to listen to it. The dark combinations of angry music do not have to trespass our moral compass unless we give it the keys to do so. Our ability to know who to turn to with decisions and life problems is a choice based on spiritual maturity, and if listening to angry music turns you away from belief in common sense and morality/theology, then perhaps you need to consider the truth that that kind of music is harming you. If you can listen to it and feel validated while still believing in God and worshipping Jesus as Lord over your heart, you have successfully separated the message and sound of the music from the faith in your heart, differentiating between music and worship; appreciation and deification.

What music do you listen to? Does it bring you hope, validation, faith in the good of what’s to come—or does it bring out your rage and make you feel more hopeless inside? Are you an agnostic, questioning whether or not you believe in what you think you do—and if so, does your music help you through the maze of your heart, or is it blurring the line of  clarity between your emotions and faith? What do you think is better for you and your mental/spiritual health? Does music create a bridge from one side of yourself to another, or does it close the door and make you feel trapped? Be honest with yourself. Where do you feel your music is leading your heart?

If your music is hurting your ability to have faith in God, I strongly urge to you consider what changes would help you walk away from that separation between you and your faith life. I spent 7 years hating religion, and distancing myself completely from any theology. Faith in Christ is different from religion. Perhaps I can delve further into that in another post. Feel free to comment below on ideas you’d like touched upon. I’d be happy to write about topics you would like to understand better. For now, please consider what music is doing to your heart, be careful with what you feed your mind with, and revise as necessary until you feel liberated from the temptation of emotion to hold you hostage from faith life.

My conversion from atheism to Christianity is the best decision I’ve ever made, and I urge you to discover what that Truth means for you.

Careful