Almost Joined a Cult

Album: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Deja Vu

My stepfather Mark was from blue collar Wisconsin and he knew how to fix things. He could rebuild a transmission, rewire a home, weld a broken swing set, reupholster a vintage chair and generally build a car or a house from the ground up. He’d dropped out of high school around 1960 and, like many men of his generation, bounced around the country doing odd jobs, started and walked out on a family, and pursued the ever expanding personal freedoms of the era. He was a good guy at heart, but that goodness was often hidden by alcoholism and an existential anger. Suffice to say that you never knew what to expect from him at any given time, so you walked on eggshells and did your best to throw fuel on the good moods and take shelter from the bad ones — typical behavior for anyone residing in an alcoholic household.

So it was in 1992, when a 19 year-old me began pursuing a path not so different from a younger version of my step-father: dropping out of college, getting fired from a retail job, lazing around and getting stoned, bailing out on a girlfriend in need, and generally making selfish and shortsighted decisions based upon a perceived need for freedom and new experiences.

My step-father knew exactly what was going on, most of it anyway. He knew what incense and tie-dye meant. He knew what coming home at sunrise with gigantic dilated pupils meant. He knew that there was only one reason a friend would drop by for a minute then leave and return an hour later. In short, he recognized the signs of drug use and an impending drop out.

Another of those signs was hours spent alone (or with stoned companions) in my room listening to music. This was nothing new — I’d been doing the same thing since the 4th grade, minus the weed — but now, thanks to a unexpected calculus (Dead Kennedys/Black Flag + L.S.D. x Pink Floyd + marijuana + Jimi Hendrix + Jack Kerouac + Bob Dylan = THE GRATEFUL DEAD) my musical tastes had intersected with those of my step-father. He had never understood my punk music — ironic since he would have appreciated its anger, and even more ironic since he was often the reason I was blasting records and seething with hatred — but he certainly understood music from the 1960s, and in 1992 that’s what I was listening to. As I lost my job, quit college, grew a beard and stopped brushing my hair it became pretty obvious that I was making some poor life choices. He tried to discuss it with me a few times, and yelled at my mom about it a few others (“your son has bells in his hair! BELLS!”), but in the end he just went with the flow and handed me an old record he had picked up at the El Cajon swap meet: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Deja Vu.

December, 1996. After a manic 4-year run of hitchhiking adventures and sporadic employment, I found myself back at San Diego State University working towards a degree in Religious Studies. On the last day of the semester, as I walked across campus to take the last of my final exams, I noticed some bearded fellows with bicycles hanging out with a handwritten cardboard sign that asked Do right and wrong exist?” I ignored them just like I ignored everyone else who set up shop to try and convert impressionable college students.

A minute later I heard a voice behind me ask so do they?” One of the young missionaries had followed me and we engaged in a brief conversation about the nature of right and wrong, and the source of morality and law, both inner and outer, that govern our behavior and conscience. His basic premise was that if right and wrong exist, and as an idealistic young man I assumed they did, then these rules must have a source, and that source was God, with a capital G, or, actually, Elohim, with a capital E, and his son Jesus, or Yeshua, with a capital Y.

He explained that everything would soon go down in flames, and that the only way out was to turn your back on Babylon and serve the Lord. I nodded in partial agreement. As someone who had spent thousands of hours listening to Bob Marley records, I knew that civilization was on the verge of collapse. The signs were everywhere: oligarchy, overpopulation, corruption and greed, environmental degradation, global warming, media lies, and the impending end of the millennia. All of it clearly pointed to a big conspiracy to usher in a horrible new world order and the enslavement of humanity, accompanied by Doomsday, with a capital D.

What I disagreed with was the believing in Jesus part. After all, the Christians I had known and seen on the television were beholden to the same lies as everyone else, and none of them actually lived the words of Christ or even pretended to actually follow his teachings.

His answer to this, of course, was that he represented the True Christian Church. That he and his fellows — The Brethren, as they called themselves — had turned their back on the world and were living as the earliest Christians had, as laid out in the Book of Acts. He told me that I was right to be skeptical, since all the other Christians around the world had indeed lost their way and were serving the Adversary, with a capital A, a.k.a SATAN, but this was different. He told me that the only way out of the impending apocalypse was to turn my back on EVERYTHING, drop EVERYTHING, and follow The Lord…just like he and his fellows had done.

I thanked him for his time, told him it sounded pretty good but that I wasn’t ready to quit college (again) at this time, and continued on so I wouldn’t be late to the final exam in my — get this — NEW TESTAMENT class.

48 hours later, I was ready to drop everything and become a disciple.

How could this happen? Five Reasons

First: There were no suits and ties. Lest you think I was being swayed by a bunch of cheeseball Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, clear your mind of whatever clean cut image pops into your head when you hear the words “Christian missionary”. These guys had dropped out of their former lives entirely, and now roamed the country spreading their peculiar version of the gospel. They were homeless, and had set up a hobo camp amidst the reeds and eucalyptus trees along the San Diego River. They had few possessions — bikes assembled from random parts, hand stitched camping gear, Holy Bibles, pen and paper — and no money, and they raided the college area dumpsters for food. They were surely the Least Among Us, humble and poor, striving to follow the actual teachings of Christ and his first apostles…sharing all things in common, reading scripture, striving to shed the sins of their former lives and serve God. It was hard to find fault in any of this, and, unlike virtually every other so-called Christian I’d ever met, they appeared to be walking the talk.

Second: I’d seen the light, or at least caught a glimpse. I’d grown up in a borderline atheist household. My mom sent me to Sunday school a few times (she stayed home) and spending Saturday night at Scott Ducummon’s house meant attending a Baptist sermon on Sunday morning, but that was pretty much the sum total of my religious upbringing. At a young age I embraced rational thought and scoffed at virgin births and resurrections. Religion was a tool used to keep the simmering masses in check and pay the motel tab for philandering televangelists.

Then, at age 20, just a few months after my step father turned me onto that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record, I had my own religious experience. My first big hitchhiking adventure had brought me to a Rainbow Gathering in Colorado, where 20,000 folks had camped in the woods to eat beans and rice, meditate, do drugs/yoga, dance and play drums around bonfires, strum Beatles songs on the guitar, and pray for world peace. It was anarchy in the best sense of the word — decisions were reached by chaotic consensus, and everyone shared what they had brought and did their part to keep things running smoothly, i.e., boil creek water for drinking, carry food, wash dishes, cut firewood, dig “shitters” and perform the tasks necessary to keep this temporary city in the woods from spinning out of control.

They also yelled “I love you” to each other all the time, and hugged strangers. At first I kinda chuckled and went along with it — “hey brother I love you too man” — but by the end of it all something clicked. Almost all at once I was filled with an overwhelming sensation of Love with a capital L…Love for myself, Love for everyone around me.

It’s hard to describe this sort of thing without sounding like Charles Manson, but suffice to say that I felt totally connected to the world around me, like I was one piece of the vast puzzle of the Universe, and that my piece was as vital as every other piece. I was firmly in the moment, present and awake, and the people, trees, rocks and sky — even myself — were imbued with a power that I’d somehow managed to overlook for my entire life up to that point. Suddenly it all made sense…this was the “One Love” that Bob Marley sang about, the “Holy Spirit” I’d heard about at sporadic Sunday school. It was real, and I had experienced it firsthand.

This intense feeling of inner peace and connection to all things lasted for a few days, during which time I hopped on a hippy school bus heading to the Oregon Country Fair and received a crash course in all things spiritual: meditation, yoga, fasting, healthy eating and prayer. Books appeared out of backpacks: Be Here Now, the 100th Monkey, Black Elk Speaks, the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn and the revelations of Edgar Cayce. It was a transformative experience, and I knew that my life had changed forever, and that I would be a Bodhisattva just like I’d read about in Kerouac’s book the Dharma Bums…traveling around, spreading the good vibes, changing the world simply by being in the moment until everyone was in the moment with me and all was well forever and ever.

Of course it didn’t last. The God buzz wore off, the money ran out and the summer adventures ended, and the world didn’t seem to change at all. Rather than put in the hard work and utilize the tools I’d learned — the aforementioned meditation, yoga, fasting, healthy eating and prayer — I mostly just blabbed a lot about spirituality and got stoned. Four years later, when the homeless Christians showed up in my life, I was officially studying religion in college yet had become jaded and depressed. I’d lost my faith, and was ripe for the picking.

Third: The lifestyle, while exotic to most, was familiar to me. The Brethren spoke of the liberty of a faith based life — trusting in the goodness of God to provide for you as you threw caution to the wind — and I knew what they were talking about. A fair amount of the past four years had been spent living hand to mouth in search of adventure and a rediscovery of the Big Love I’d felt at that first Rainbow Gathering in Colorado. I’d hitchhiked thousands of miles and spent many nights sleeping alone under the stars in desert canyons, behind dumpsters in ratty alleys, on lonely sunset beaches, under freeway bridges, on rocky ridges while lightning flashed about and more, much more…rolling out the bedroll where darkness found me and awakening each morn to a fresh new world.

I’d even seen miracles, or the kinds of coincidences that seemed statistically impossible. Here’s just one of many: lounging next to your tent at a hippy gathering deep in the piney woods of Northern Arizona, at least 30 bumpy miles from the nearest town, pondering the long hitchhike across the sun blasted Mojave Desert summer so you can get to San Francisco in time for the next happening…and casually mentioning to your crew that wouldn’t some ice cream be nice right now?…and not five minutes later an old graybeard walks past and hands you TWO pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and, with a wink, tells you to be sure to share…and you offer some to the first couple who passes by and they just happen to be driving the 500 or so miles to your next destination and will be leaving IN A FEW MINUTES so you, your travel companions and a couple of dogs pile in and head west…arriving just in time to catch the P-FUNK ALL-STARS for an all night concert at a hole in the wall bar in San Francisco, followed by a run of Jerry Garcia Band shows.

Ice cream magically appearing in the woods and opening doors to the next big adventure…call it coincidence if you want, but it sure seemed like something more.

Those moments happened randomly but often enough while traveling to keep you going just a little bit further…until they didn’t. Again, maybe it was just me and my lack of “faith”, but the problem was that eventually I’d get burned out, run out of money, get sick, and generally lose my trust that everything would work out. Feeling down and out, I’d slink back to the concrete of Southern California and get a crappy job or settle back into a semester of school and generally be miserable until I could travel again, and then the whole cycle would repeat itself.

The Brethren seemed to have transcended this. Their faith really was seeing them through, and they were seemingly living the life that I’d been striving for…trusting in God, not giving up on the promise. That seemed pretty good to me.

Fourth: The arrival of the Christians happened just as winter break was starting. Campus was quiet and potential sources of good sense were not immediately available. This included a roommate named Hoffman — a big fan of Albert Hofmann — who would have bludgeoned the Christians with his Nietzsche books and kicked them out of the house had he not been visiting family up north. Instead of being cruelly persecuted and possibly dosed with LSD, the Christians found a welcome mat for their message in the form of a mostly empty house and a handful of confused but well meaning-seeking college students with time to kill.

Five: God was on their side. I mean, it really seemed that way. I’d met them on the way to my final exam on the New Testament, then kept crossing their path, as did two of my like minded friends. Just a few hours after meeting the Brethren, I got a call from one of those friends, Patrick, who had just graduated with a biology degree, and in honor of this achievement, his parents had gotten him two things: A Bible and a sleeping bag. He spoke of The Brethren, and he told me that he felt like he’d met godly people, like something powerful had entered his life…like these weren’t just another bunch of white bread Jesus freaks but actual modern day prophets. I agreed that they were intense. That something unique was going on there, but didn’t quite feel the full force of his words.

I hung up the phone, and then God intervened in the form of a loaded 4 foot bong and one of my all time favorite movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’d seen that movie a few dozen times in my life — including 10 times at the theater as a kid — and as the kind bud worked its magic I settled in to watch it again.

And then it came to the part of the movie where Indiana Jones is visited by the Army Intelligence duo to prep for his big mission to find the Ark of the Covenant…the sacred chest that the ancient Hebrews used to tote the Ten Commandments around as they roamed the desert. Dr. Jones opens a Bible to a full color drawing of one of those horrific Old Testament battles where the Almighty laid waste to thine enemies sort of thing, and there they are: The golden rays of an all powerful God issuing forth from the Ark like, well, golden rays of an all powerful God.

I burst into tears as the words of my friend’s phone call seeped in. This is real. This is it. Six prophets of old had appeared right here at San Diego State University and were beckoning me to follow the path of righteousness. The Zion Train is passing by my house, RIGHT NOW, and I need to get on board lest I be left behind, lest I miss my chance at meeting The Lord and FINALLY making good on those hippy flashes of enlightenment.

There was a reason why my friend had just received a Bible and sleeping bag: God was prepping him for the journey.

There was a reason I’d always loved Raiders of the Lost Ark so much: it was leading up to this exact moment.

There was a reason we kept running into these guys: they’d been sent here to find us.

There was a reason behind it all, and that reason was the guiding hand of God.

How it Almost Happened

Three of us — myself, my friend Patrick and a fellow named Jay — spent the next few weeks stuck at a metaphorical/spiritual Crossroads deciding our fate. The Brethren rode their bikes to our house in twos and threes and told us more about themselves. There were about a hundred of them scattered around the country. Mostly men but some women and even children. Some of them lived in houses whenever sympathetic landlords offered them up for free or work trade, but most wandered from town to town according to the direction of a man named Jim Roberts, supposedly a former Marine drill sergeant who had started the group in the cult laden 1970’s. Of the six I met in San Diego, three had once been college students, one a homeless rave kid, one a wandering young hippy with a didgeridoo, and the sixth the founder of a famous 1990’s streetwear clothing brand called, of all things, Pervert — Janet Jackson herself had sported one of his jerseys in a music video (check out short documentary about this guy here). As a symbol of their salvation and renewal, they’d taken on Old Testamenty names like Yoezer and Avdiel. They had long beards, wore handmade, tunic-like shirts that dipped a bit below the waist as a symbol of modesty, and stayed quite neat and clean considering the fact that they were homeless.

They quickly set up Bible study sessions in my living room that purported to show us how it all fit together. It was your standard fundamentalist doctrine but taken to the extreme:

1) Humans were wicked, so

2) A loving God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross and redeem us, so

3) Better believe that or burn in hell forever. Also,

4) Believing includes giving up entirely on your life so far and spending the rest of your days as a servant of God. And, watch out because

5) The Devil is always trying to ensnare you, and he really likes to use your friends and family to trick you, so best to turn your back on them, at least for now.

6) Questions? See #3.

The three of us were majoring in biology, psychology and religion, and I’d just spent a semester delving into Christian scripture from a scholarly perspective, so we peppered them with questions ranging from the age of the Earth to the rights of women to the history of civilization to small nuances in the sayings of Jesus or the letters of Paul…trying our best to poke holes in their faith based logic, if you can call it that, so that maybe, just maybe, the whole thing would just go away and we could go back to our lives.

But we found no holes, at least not at the time. All the answers, big or small, could be found in the “Scripture”, every word of which was to be taken literally…and you’d better be using the “THOU”-heavy King James Version or you might as well be reading Hustler magazine. Yes, you’ll need to turn your back on your family, and here’s why. Yes, you’ll need to give up all your possessions, and here’s why. No, there is no other true religion, and everyone in the world who doesn’t live like us is going to burn in hell, and here’s why. There was even a sentence akin to “living off the waste of the fat” that they took to be an ancient form of dumpster diving. Utterly life altering decisions might hinge upon a single sentence of scripture, even the meaning of a single word. They knew exactly which pages taught which lessons, and how to instantly undermine a persuasive argument by pointing to a specific chapter and verse.

Like everyone, I’d crafted a cosmology that fit my needs and made sense to me: All religions were basically talking about the same unknowable thing. There were many paths to “God”, or whatever you wanted to call it. My life, (perhaps even my lives) was a gradually unfolding path leading to understanding and wisdom — and my version of “enlightenment” was a hodgepodge of psychology, music lyrics and first hand experience involving heavy doses of Mother Nature, travel and the occasional ingestion of mind altering chemicals. Everybody, even the worst among us, was gradually evolving towards goodness, and an all loving benevolent force was patiently waiting for us to figure it out. There was no hellfire or punishment (except maybe for corporate CEOs chopping down the rainforest), just the gradual meandering towards compassion for all beings and becoming One With Everything.

The Brethren disagreed. They called this a “religion of convenience” and they were probably right. They told me that everything had to be judged “by its fruits,” suggesting I look at where my personal religion had gotten me. Was I a good person? Was I kind? Was I putting others before myself? I had to admit that I wasn’t. I had to admit that my spiritual path wasn’t making me a better person. I had anger issues. My intimate relationships were inevitable dysfunctional failures. I was often depressed. I was selfish and stressed about money, even though I pretended not to care about it. I drank too much beer and smoked weed everyday, even though I knew they were causing problems in my life. I talked a good game, and appeared to be a mellow hippy, but deep down I knew much of it was a fraud. I was falling far short of my own ideals, let alone those of God.

Christmas came and went, and the Bible studies got more intense, focusing less on Jesus and his Love for us all and more on the end of the world and avoiding eternal damnation. There weren’t many paths to heaven. There was one. Only one. “Narrow is the gate and straight is the way”. Humanity was so evil that God had been forced to kill his own son to atone for that evil, so either hand over your life to serving that gracious God or burn in a lake of hellfire. They tied Biblical passages, usually from the Book of Revelations, to current events in the Middle East and kept reminding us that the end times could come “in the blink of an eye.” Oh, and by the way, we’re not sure just how long we’ll be in town, and could leave at any moment, just saying…so you’d better make a decision soon.

Of course, they weren’t going to leave. Not when they had three potential souls right in the palm of their hand. Not when they could expand their minuscule numbers by 3 percent in one fell swoop. They smelled blood, and they were on us like cult members on idealistic college students, checking in every day, cooking us tasty and nutritious meals culled completely from sorority house dumpsters (it’s amazing what people throw away), inviting us to check out their surprisingly nice hobo camp down along the river, patiently answering all of our questions and promising that all we need to do is take the leap and then we’d understand everything.

How it Didn’t Happen:

We agonized right through New Years, each of us on the brink then drawing back. We had teary conversations with our families and what it would mean to turn away from them. We imagined a new life of Biblical asceticism and what it might be like to put God before everything else. I began taking small steps to prepare…cutting off nascent dreadlocks, throwing away perfectly good weed and smashing hand blown glass paraphernalia, making sure my mother would take care of my loyal dog, and handing over my most prized possessions — my books and record collection — to my worried sister.

Eventually, word got out and friends started checking up on us. A classmate pulled into my driveway and refused to leave until I accompany her to a nearby Carmelite monastery so I could talk to the Nuns and get a different perspective on what it meant to serve God. A Methodist preacher who had mentored one of us stopped by and got into a heated debate with the Brethren. My mother, who lived a thousand miles away in Oregon, had kept her cool when I told her all about everything over the phone but immediately called my mentor professor in a panic. He promptly organized a sweat lodge ceremony for the three of us, then introduced me to a Russian Orthodox friend of his for, again, some perspective on Christianity.

Voices of reason had reappeared but still we wavered. Maybe we could just try it out? The Brethren were all for this. They knew that a trial run would allow them to shuffle us out of town and away from the bonds of family and friendship, both of which they saw as nothing less than tools of The Devil bent on manipulating us at this crucial time, something they kept warning us would happen. Everyone else was dead set against it, for they felt that these guys were dangerous, and that if we left they’d never see us again. Everything hinged upon this single decision; not just the rest of our lives but our eternal salvation, and our loved ones nervously watched and waited.

Then, quite suddenly, the spell began to break, and in a matter of a few days everything the Brethren had spent weeks meticulously building up came crashing down.

It started when Jay, who’d just graduated with a double major in psychology and religious studies suffered a nervous breakdown over the fear of damnation…repeating over and over again that he didn’t want to burn forever. Friends drove him to the safety of his parents in Los Angeles, giving the Brethren one less possible soul to save.

Then came the archetypal naked hippy chick. Our backyard was officially “clothing optional” and one of our roommates felt that this rule applied applied to the whole house. She’d been out of town for the holidays and was blissfully unaware of everything that had transpired. Also, she’d given birth a few months before, and her mammary glands were plump and the rest of her yoga body tanned and firm. Her unexpected appearance instantly turned a solemn living room Bible study into a den of iniquity as she innocently walked right up to the Brethren and introduced herself. They were trapped, literally stuck between the wall and a beautiful stark naked Earth Goddess who wanted to give each of them a big hug. I watched in amusement as the Brethren tried to act normal and be polite…tried to just shake hands…tried not to gaze upon this Whore of Babylon. This event injected some humor into what had been a rather dour month, and after that it was hard to take the Brethren 100% seriously.

The very next day, my roommate Hoffman returned from up north, and henceforth the Brethren were banned from our house. When they showed up he met them on the front steps, baseball bat in hand, and told them to “get the fuck out of here NOW!”, something we’d not have the gumption to do because, well, a Bible verse about the apostles of old shaking the dust off their feet after leaving a city of unbelievers to fire and brimstone, and we didn’t want THAT to happen to us…so we timidly let our roommate do the deed for us.

A few hours later, an apostate showed up at our door. It was one of The Brethren, a young man named Aaron, but all alone and wearing a button up shirt rather than the tunic looking thing. He was carrying a big backpack and the “REPENT” patch had been removed from his baseball hat. He asked if he could stay with us, stating that he’d left the Brethren because he “wanted to live like a pagan again.” He was looking for some shelter while he figured out his next move, and evidently our house, complete with marijuana and a naked lady, seemed like the best option.

Finally, Patrick hooked up with my girlfriend. She too had been out of town as this drama unfolded, and we were on the outs anyway — obvious since she hasn’t been mentioned so far — but it still stung. One day Patrick and I were male bonding over whether or not to serve Jesus, and the next he was banging my girlfriend on the living room floor — the same living room where pious Bible studies had unfolded just a few days earlier. Within hours, the two of them skipped town together, leaving me lost and lonesome…the last remaining potential saved soul.

The Breaking Point

It had been a tumultuous few weeks, and I felt like the rug of reality had been pulled out from under me. Jay and Patrick — the only people who knew what I was going through — had moved on. Chastened by baseball bats and the loss of one of their own, the Brethren had made themselves scarce, but they still rode by the house every few hours, hoping to draw me out for some conversation and conversion. A big part of me still wanted to walk out there and talk to them. I knew where they were camped. I could still walk down to the river at any time and join them. I’d already given away most of my possessions, and the thought of just jumping back into another semester of college like none of this had happened seemed out of the question.

Massive confusion. Then my roommate threw a party. Someone shared a big bag of non-culinary mushrooms. Things soon got weird and I disappeared into my room. Everything was in disarray. My possessions were gone or boxed up to give away. My thoughts and feelings were spinning wildly out of control. My path forward was unclear. Everything felt like it was falling apart. And this: I had heard the call of God…was I truly going to ignore it?

I sat down at my desk and instinctively pushed play on the cassette player. A battered cassette copy of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Deja Vu came to life…a copy made from the record my step-father had given me a few years earlier. Almost instantly, the racing thoughts and fears and chaos gave way to perhaps the most perfect music I had ever heard, backed by words that seemed to make everything seem like it would be okay.

I lay on my back on the floor and let it flood over me.

Blue, blue windows behind the stars, Yellow moon on the rise.

The voices melding together like a choir.

Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

The scattered revelation that keeps us going, even when we aren’t sure how or why.

But I’m not, I’m not going to give an inch to fear.

The music played. It was beautiful. I cried in waves of sweet release. There was no way sounds like this could be anything but good. There is no evil here. I was going to be okay. And I didn’t have to run away with the Brethren, no matter how fucked up I might be.

When I finally get myself together

I’m gonna get down in that sunny southern weather

And I’ll find a place inside to laugh

Separate the wheat from the chaff

I feel like I owe it to someone

A year after gifting me that CSNY record, my stepfather and mother divorced, and none of us ever saw or heard from him again. Two years later, burdened by alcoholism and depression, he took his own life. A bullet in the head, outside of a bar no less.

The cult I almost fell into believed that everyone who didn’t adhere to their strict interpretation of reality was a doomed sinner, but they admitted that sometimes God used those same sinners to achieve his beneficent ends. He used the Roman administrator Pontius Pilate to ensure that Christ would be crucified and fulfill the Big Plan. He used the English King James to craft the version of the Bible they venerated. Over time, individuals, even entire civilizations, have unwittingly played a part in God’s long term plan.

I’m not sure about that, but I do know this: when my flawed stepfather saw me sailing straight for troubled waters, something inspired him to reach out to me in the only way he knew how: through music. When he handed me that Deja Vú record he was trying to impart some wisdom. Trying to share a bit of the beauty that had helped him through the dark chapters of his life. Trying to help me kindle the hope that had too often eluded him. Trying to help keep the demons at bay.

And it did. At a critical moment in my life the sounds on that record provided just enough of a shove in the right direction to stave off disaster. Maybe that was part of God’s plan all along: my stepfather flipping through old records at a swap meet, thinking of me, and gifting me music that would shed just enough light for me to deny God with a capital G and, eventually, accept that big mysteries and small graces are just enough to see us through.

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