What role did the first visitor outlined in the Preface play regarding my wrong choices? His was merely a gentle confrontation, as follows:
Who was he?
Sometime in July/August 1989, young Peter knocked on the door with an invitation to go and hear the world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham at Earls Court, London. We could be taken in just one coach trip from our house. The fare from west of Reading? Nada, entirely free!
I turned down the offer but my almost-teenage son piped up that he’d like to go because a classmate had told him about it. So I said I’d take him.
Were it my choice alone, however, I definitely would not have accepted. Experience had made me extremely wary of churchgoers. But never did I suspect my personal life hung on that moment.
Why the problem?
I was brought up in the Catholic Church yet attended non-secular state schools with their Anglican ethos. Back in the 1950s this was a sensitive issue. In those days a lot more people attended church of one sort or another than nowadays. Religious beliefs are a relatively minor concern today even though attendance at faith schools is highly prized for educational purposes.
Note well, I did not receive the expected, proper Catholic education. What was gained was merely through church attendance – which doesn’t do anything when in a dead, foreign language!
In those days, Sunday Mass involved a lot of liturgical Latin. So when English was spoken, this boy could comprehend a little from frequent snippets from the Gospels. I recall once pondering how awesome it would have been to witness everything Jesus said and did.
Fifty years ago the hypocritical conflict between denominations was the reason I turned to ‘New Age’ ideals. In view of what Christian priests say and do, how could what they preach be true? For example, Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another” but, in my experience, churches apparently did not!
Also, they weren’t doing similar miraculous works to Jesus, as he said they would. So, churches had failed on both counts to live up to Jesus’ commands. Although I was only a boy it was patently obvious that they missed the mark. Therefore, I strongly suspected they’d probably also lost a lot of what Jesus had taught.
So in my late teens, I went looking for truth elsewhere and practised yoga, meditation and Eastern religions long before that became popular through the famous Beatles and their maharishi. In seeking deeper instruction and abilities I joined an ancient, mystical brotherhood. Thus, I gained direct knowledge of ‘higher’ esoteric teachings, including a belief in reincarnation and karma as well as experiencing invisibility and nirvana, the ecstatic state sought by Buddhists.
All this was well before such New Age concepts became as popular and widespread as they are today. Twenty-odd years later I’d find myself attending an evangelical meeting! Utterly unbelievable!
In those days I regarded most clergy as outmoded. Their preaching couldn’t compare with what I’d discovered in the New Age. So, you could imagine my astonishment upon finding myself agreeing with everything Billy Graham preached! I was flummoxed!
Afterwards, as a follow-up, those who’d been on the trip were invited to an informal meeting at a local church. They explained we could have introductory teaching and discussion at home and I agreed to be on-hand for my son, but I wasn’t personally interested. A youth worker, Peter, was assigned to help him but, in practice, he ended up discussing the material with me.
So, what went wrong?
The evening of Wednesday 13th September 1989, is Peter’s third visit to talk about Christianity. I have not yet divulged my firm opinions to him, but this time he goes too far!
This session is entitled, ‘Yoga, Eastern Religions and The Occult’ – all of which I’d been involved in since before Peter had been born!
Peter shows a diagram of two cliff-like objects facing one another. One represents heaven and the other, earth, with a large deep gap separating them from one another. Over this Peter then places an overlay depicting a large + sign over the gap. The horizontal ends of the + touch each object, thereby bridging heaven and earth. He explains that the cross of Christ is the bridge between both realms.
He then says the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. This statement implies my ideas are incorrect. Without giving the game away I gently question him on this. But he insists there are not many paths leading to the same supreme God.
What’s to be done with a young man half my age who unwittingly points out the error of my ways?
I’m thinking, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. How can he, who’s not done anything I know far more about…just how can he tell me it’s wrong? He’s wasting my time!” Peter’s ideas are not only mistaken but also intolerant. Before the end of the evening I’ve had enough!
So I bring our discussion to an early close, politely bid him farewell and excuse myself from any future meeting. Peter is most gracious about it – as ever, he smiles politely and goes on his way.
Little did I know that I may not make it through the night!