My name is Zachary Brigante, and I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Aberdeen here in Aberdeen, Scotland. I have been waiting many years for the authority to put my thoughts and theories down on paper, and I finally feel like my 3.5 degrees in various theologies and Christian ministry is enough! Huzzah!
So, the point of this blog is to share what I have learned in my lifetime of learning and to present some of my musings and confusions about Christianity. For that purpose, let us begin with a bit of information about my journey!
I was not born a Christian. None of us was, we were all taught. My journey begins where many do, with my mother and her Christianity. She came to Christ when I was young, and her enthusiasm for it translated to many visits to church when I was growing up. She would read me the bible as I was going to sleep. Thus, it is my recollection that I was about 7 years old when I began to rebel.
As my mother read me the stories of scripture, I began to ask questions for clarification, or for things that didn’t make sense to me. I can’t recall specifically what I asked back then, but I know that the questions were such that my mother referred me to the regular church-goers that had become her friends.
Their answers did not satisfy my curiosity or sense that something just wasn’t sitting right. Thus, at a young age, I determined that Christian’s didn’t really know what they believed in, or at least that it didn’t seem reasonable, and began to detach myself from the identity. This did not, however, change the sense I had of a creator, or guiding presence that existed above and outside myself.
Whether this was due to my mother’s influence or some “sixth sense” I don’t know, but I’ve never lost the sense that there is a consciousness larger than imagination somewhere out in the universe. Attachment to this consciousness may be because I felt very isolated from others. I spent much of my time in daycare with other children who constantly mocked my stutter and my other odd behaviors. My cracking voice, my ability to be frustrated by injustice. My childhood playmates taught me the lesson that you can trust no one but yourself. This was solidified by my best friend, who over the course of our youth would befriend me when we were alone, and mock me in public.
Thus otherwise alone, it was the unknown presence that I sought for the next 14 years as a teenager, from Wiccanism to Druidry. I attended summonings of elements and Ba’al, tarot readings, psychics, and haunted houses. Anything that remotely hinted at the presence that waited for me just beyond myself. All that I learned in those places is that most people seem desperate to find that greater presence and will convince themselves and others of anything in search of it. People would feed off of each other’s desperation and need for significance. In some ways, I had my own little cultish following because I have the level of intuition and the charisma to sell it. I realize now that I was manipulating myself as much as everyone else.
Let this be a warning. You are more powerful than you know and can cast a spell as strong, if not stronger, over yourself than over anyone else. I see this now as the spiritual influence given to us by our Father God, but it isn’t limited to those who believe. Each human has the free ability to use their spiritual influence within their ability. This means that people seeking God in places as I described, can experience unexplainable phenomenon and then come to believe that what they are seeking is power when it was the power within themselves the entire time.
I was 20 years old and failing out of my first college when I decided I simply had nothing else to give. I had loved and lost, been burned, hurt, and hurt others. I had had thoughts of self-harm and certainly participated in the downward spiral of self-sabotage. I had sought the power I had felt from childhood through so much, it was time to take another look at Christianity, but not the Christianity of the masses. I needed to make my own determination whether the God of Christ was the being I had known. So I started to read the bible again, starting, of course, at the beginning.
Genesis is an interesting place to begin your journey into Christianity because as I have described in my blog, it is not entirely reasonable or coherent. I had a friend who wanted me to come to them with my thoughts, which I did. They didn’t have answers, but they were fascinated to hear my thoughts. I eventually came to the story of Moses in Exodus, and I found myself incensed that pharaohs magicians could do all that Moses could do up to a certain point. Oh, a staff to a snake!? Psh, I do that in my sleep. What’s that? Water to blood, yeah okay, what else ya got!? After everything I had been through, seeking such power, even the enemies of God were able to perform the miracles being presented to prove the power of the Hebrew God!? What was I missing? (This is before I came to the above conclusion about spiritual authority.)
I feel like this next part is going to sound very strange coming from such a liberal mind, but what really tipped me over the edge was the Left Behind series. Not because their fundamentalist literalist view of revelation was compelling, nor because I was scared to faith through a fear of hell or tribulation, but rather the realization that God gives those who believe in Him power, just as those deities I had been seeking do. If I had to ask myself, I had always believed in the God of Jesus, and if that God could bestow power as well as any of the others, wouldn’t it simply make sense to believe in Him again?
So, before I would ever consider myself a Christian, or ever was one as I didn’t really know who Jesus was, I decided that I was open to the God of Jesus existing. And that was the beginning of a stupid, imperfect, human journey to discovering who God really was.
So what’s the first thing I did as a young twenty-one-year-old man? I prayed to my new God for his guidance on love. I had been with a girl for 6 months or so, and I called her up to tell her of my revelation, and she dumped me. As you might be able to tell, she was not open to the idea of religion. Rather than bemoan this occurrence, however, I simply considered it a sign from God. Oh, how many signs from God I saw back then. Every happenstance, coincidence, broken light, or chance meeting seemed destined. I can tell you now, I was a fool. God does guide us, but He does so much more subtly, through human intervention, and through meditation upon His will.
At that time, though, I did not know this and continued for 2 more years believing that the slightest whims of chance were divine providence. As a result, I dropped out of college, joined the military, and got married within a month of that day. In retrospect, I can’t claim that any of those things were not providence. We have a tendency to look back, see our hardships, and determine that our ability to overcome obstacles is indicative of God’s guidance, but I tend to see it as more of God’s forethought. He created us to be both extremely fragile, and undeniably tenacious. We persevere, and through perseverance, we learn about ourselves and God. As a result of that first marriage, I had a beautiful little girl. As a result of my dropping out, I felt compelled to continue my studies rather than work with a previously earned degree, but this time in the name of God instead of myself. As a result of my military duty, I learned that I was physically capable of much more than I previously imagined. I learned that hard work and practice really do make a difference if you stick with them long enough. Essentially, through my belief that God was transforming me, I had begun a process of transformation.
I learned something important about Christianity during this period. It can only be what you make of it. Your relationship with God can be as pure as a prophet’s, but what you do with it, and how you interact with others who claim a similar relationship can vary wildly. For instance, Basic Training is a great place to go if you want to see people who have been stretched to their mental and physical limits. A BT church service is intense, it’s full of free flowing emotions, it’s humanity open to influence, and it has almost nothing to do with God. It’s human, it’s visceral, it’s the result of being broken down mentally and exhausted. Once Basic Training was over, none of those young men and women felt any differently about God after such an experience than when they went in. What does this mean? That people get out of church what they bring into it.
It is this realization that has made me extremely skeptical of attending church. We, as humans, can meet God anywhere we wish, all we have to do is open ourselves up to being contacted by Him. This means more than simply saying it, or testing Him, it means honestly leaving yourself open and vulnerable, willing to hear His voice even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. However, if this is true, what’s the point of church? My wife continues to try to teach me that it’s about community, about getting to know people traveling the same path, but I have learned in my life that humans can’t be trusted. We like to manipulate, to lie, to present a false self, all of which is directly against the openness and vulnerability required to meet God. I came to the conclusion, then, that church can only happen in small groups of no more than 10, in a safe space, where everyone has opened themselves up to vulnerability. More than 10, and no one can feel truly heard, understood, and comfortable. I still haven’t found a group I can do that with, and it certainly isn’t an easy group to find. I wish you all luck in attempting to find it yourselves.
So, what happened when I got out of Advanced Training and finally went home to my new wife? I realized that my human concept of Providence was just as flawed after I accepted God than before. I had no idea who my wife of one year was. We had barely spent a month together before and then again after our wedding day. In the misguided attempt to “repair” a relationship that had never begun, we made the error many struggling young couples make. We had a child. Our first, unfortunately, sounded the end of our marriage when she was still-born at 28 weeks. We had to go through the birthing process for a baby that was no longer alive. Fully mature relationships struggle after such an occurrence. Our primitive union didn’t stand a chance.
As we struggled to figure that out, however, we also jumped into the idea of having another one. There is something about losing your first child that makes you feel inadequate as a human being. You want to prove that you are capable, not a failure. I found it both a fortunate and unfortunate occurrence that the day that my first wife and I agreed we should part ways, she discovered she was pregnant again. Fortunate, because I believe that was the right decision, and because I love my first daughter very much. Unfortunate, because it caused increased stress and tension between us, and has linked two people together for the rest of their lives that probably should not have been.
I say should not have been as though God did not ordain our meeting, in retrospect I’m not sure he didn’t. I say should not have because the last 8+ years in a tentative and difficult relationship with her have lead me to believe we would both be happier without the other. However, my first daughter has been a blessing to both of us, so we tolerate one another for her sake. I write these things not because they had a direct bearing on my understanding of God in the world because they didn’t. I never blamed God for the stillbirth, I still don’t. It’s just the statistics of survival in the universe that God built. I tell you this because you need to understand that I am not someone who has come to God easily, through wealth and comfort. When I tell you I know God, it’s because I have been to the bottom of my tolerance with life, and there I got to know Him.
It wasn’t until after all of this. After my daughter’s birth, after the divorce, after I continued to desperately seek to fill my need to be needed, that I first entered the Kingdom of God by giving up that which gave me the most control and authority in my life. My power of persuasion.
To be continued…