This morning I awoke to the sounds of sirens mingling with my alarm. The urgency of the two created a momentary panic as I turned over to look at the time. I’m not a morning person, and I sighed as I noticed the time…5:05a. Again, the sirens made their way urgently past my house soon followed by the sounds of helicopters. I stumbled out of the back bedroom, down the stairs and made my way to the front window as two more fire engines flew past my house with lights blazing and sirens blaring. I looked up and noticed 3 or 4 helicopters hovering overhead. Something big was happening.
I stepped outside to take a look, but could only make out a thin line of smoke heading out over the ocean. Naturally my curiosity took over and I flipped on the TV just in time to catch “Live! Breaking News!” The morning traffic guy was very seriously describing the scene below as the camera zoomed in. And that’s when I noticed that my favorite waterhole appeared to be going up in smoke. Only six walkable blocks from my home was this great sports bar and restaurant called Legends. It was filled with priceless memorabilia, Plasma TVs and had just celebrated its 25th Anniversary. It was truly a legend in this town.
Unfortunately morning duties called and it was several hours before I had the house to myself. I even managed to find the bathroom where I washed the sleep out of my eyes, tamped my hair down a bit and headed off for my morning jog. It didn’t take long before I found myself heading in the direction of the early morning commotion – the big fire! As I ran, I thought about something a friend of mine wrote recently regarding religion, particularly organized religion. She is finding that it doesn’t hold any meaning for her and is just ritual and form…something she would probably just as soon do without. She seemed to be in a place I’m quite familiar with.
Within minutes, I found myself in front of Legends and was awed by the total devastation. The fire had completely gutted this neighborhood haunt leaving nothing but a blackened outer shell. As I stared at the gutted mess in front of me, I thought about my experience with the loss of religion and how similar it was to this fire. Just like the fire, my experience left me a blackened, burned-out shell of a person struggling to find something – anything – that would provide some kind of solace to the pain I was suffering.
Then, another thought occurred to me. During the big fire, Legends lost a lot of memories of the past. A Babe Ruth personally signed baseball bat – a Laker’s championship jersey signed by the 2000/01 championship team. It also lost Plasma TVs that were designed to provide a form of escapism for its patrons. By the time the arson investigators arrived, those relics and forms of escapism were mere whisps of smoke.
As I thought about my own fire, I realized that lining the walls of my life were momentos I had kept a firm grip on. Memories I could point to and say, “see, now you know the real story!” or “see, now you know why I hate God and why church sucks!” But, as the fired burned hot, something perfectly normal took place; those memories of my past slowly began to disintegrate. The facades I had constructed to escape the awfulness of my religiousity began to fade leaving…yes…a shell. Much like Legends, with its caved in ceiling, I stood there as a shell. As a shell, I was broken, battered, with no roof – allowing the elements to come in. Religion had left me with more questions than answers and suddenly everything, including the questions were gone and I was left with nothing but a smoking pile of debris!
As I began my jog back home, I began to realize that it was in that moment of complete nothingness that I, for maybe the first time, found that I wasn’t alone. A gentle rain began to fall and in that rain, the smoke and soot was washed away. In their own time, builders came and hauled away the rest of the debris. At some point, a realization set in that I didn’t hurt any more. As I picked up speed, through some weird twist of fate, I heard the distinctive sound of Michael Stipe of the band R.E.M. The words stopped me dead in my tracks.
That’s me in the corner.
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion.
You see, that fire this morning at Legends was much like my experience with religion…at least losing religion. The process left me hurt and left gaping holes and ugly scars and lots and lots of debris. And if that was the end of the story, it would be awful. But it’s not the end…not by a long shot! You see, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me! Yes, I lost my religion but somewhere during the process I found God! No, I didn’t find Him in another church edifice with more church [read man-made] rules. I did however find Him in the beauty of a rose, the intricacies of a hummingbird. The sparkle of the sun on ocean waves. In fact, I’ve found Him just about everywhere I’ve looked. It was like He invaded my world. Truth be told though, I would have never found Him had I not lost my religion!