My first obstacle was accepting that God was something to consider. Growing up agnostic in a small Missouri farming town and going to a Baptist Sunday School on occasion, I was left with the idea that church was free daycare and a school for morals. I gave next to no thought to God—that is until I had what could be called a mental break at 24.
I spent my free time playing in a band and living a lifestyle reflective of that choice. I set myself up to have an early existential crisis, wondering what the point in anything was, behaving in a highly anxious, paranoid manner. In my desperation, I asked God, whom I never spoke to before, to help me. I lifted up my hands, as if to place all my cares into them and gave them to Him. I can only describe the next moment as lightness and peace. Finally.
That moment changed my life. So much so that I moved away from my small Missouri hometown to Portland, “chasing” after God. This move helped reconcile a broken relationship with my estranged mother, healing me from a great amount of childhood trauma. I mingled with Pentecostals for two years, not really understanding what was going on, and questioning their interpretation of the Bible.
I left there and landed in a young adult’s group that did a Friday night church. I met my wife, Jess, there and we began trying to unravel what being a Christian meant. We helped start a Protestant church in North Portland and began work on a coffee shop/culture cafe that was meant to be a bridge between the church and the culture at large.
This venture ended in an unfortunate way, with more questions about Christian character and distrust with the church leadership. We stopped attending any church for a very long time. This time away caused me to question a great deal about what a church was, what salvation is, and who Christ is. But ultimately it made me an atheist, angry with God.
For the next 8 to 10 years I wrestled with meaning, purpose, and God. Our family was growing. And while I was taking my cues from the New Atheists, I was wrestling between a materialist’s worldview, (where science is king) and the unexplainable wonder when looking into my children’s eyes and hearing them laugh.
In my darkest hours, I happened upon a Canadian psychology professor whose free lectures convinced me that religion is a natural and necessary part of human existence. It wasn’t long after that when an Orthodox icon carver named Jonathan Pageau, convinced me that all of reality is a microcosm of the Kingdom of God (see St. Maximos the Confessor’s On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy).
I was intrigued with the Orthodox aesthetic and drawn to how death and salvation was seen. Jess insisted that we go to an Orthodox church and talk to someone. We showed up randomly during Holy Week and talked to Thomaida. When she gave us a tour of the nave, both Jess and I were in awe of the beauty and excited to see paintings!
It didn’t take me long after that to decide I needed to be Orthodox. I went to a service during Holy Week and couldn’t ignore how I wanted to both run away from the “religion” and yet stay put for eternity.
The next few years were filled with frustration, amazement, humility, and question after question. Not to mention a pandemic, a lockdown, and twins! By God’s grace, here we are.