I was 22 years old. I had been back from Vietnam for a little over a year . . . living in Los Angeles, searching for God among the hallucinogenic aromas of Sunset Strip. I had tried it all . . . scientology . . . . satanology . . . zen Buddhism . . . Alan Watts . . . and anything that promised me to get in touch with the Wholly Other.
I was exhausted and run down with all these "cereal box religious experiences". It sounded like this: I am God . . .you are God . . .we are all God . . .every thing on the planet is God. I couldn't tell if I should raise my hands in worship to the heavens or look down at the sidewalk to make sure I didn't step on God in whatever form He appeared in.
I was told by some religious groups that to get holy, I had to give up just about everything. For example, Buddhism teaches all suffering is the result of our cravings and desires. So If I could stop desiring, I would stop my personal suffering.
Suddenly, i realized I wanted to suffer. I liked to suffer. To become nothing, selfless, and float into nirvana didn't touch any buttons down inside me. I didn't want to walk around in a saffron robe acting like I had no sex drive nor the tools God gave me to go to go along with it. A sexless holy man was too much like watching silent films with no picture.
I enjoyed life and religious thinking made me feel that I should not enjoy life. I should only enjoy God and people who love God and individuals who wanted to please God. I was made to feel I needed to join the "stop sinning" club. I was told to stop smoking dope, stop dropping LSD, having pre-marital engagements with women and the list went on and on. Instead, I was to read the Bible, pray, attend church and prayer meetings and then presto . . . I would find happiness.
To be honest, taking drugs sounded more exciting. Sitting in a church pew as opposed to swaying to the music of the Doors at the Whiskey didn't move me at all. I was not a church-going guy!
After all, I didn't think I was that bad of a person. It was the summer of 1969 - the Manson murders - when all this was taking place and I was nowhere near the likes of Tex Watson or Charlie Manson. I wasn't murdering, or stealing or committing adultery. I was a clean cut, long-haired, wild guy who thought he wasn't as far away from God as everyone told me I was.
Christians were starting to drive me crazy. According to them, I needed to accept Jesus and then I could be holy. But I kept arguing back that I wasn't do bad. So . . . I had a drug habit. Big deal!
I went to Vietnam . . . didn't that count for erasing some of my bad karma? I figured 2 years in the Army was not a bad trade off for getting stoned for 6-7 years of my life. I even visited Buddhist shrines in Japan and Shinto ones as well. I helped South Vietnamese people find jobs on the Army base where I worked, drove our 2 1/2 ton Army truck to orphanages and gave out food.
I even got Bar Mitzvahed at age 13. I might be closer to God than people would agree with. Why in the world did I have to "Make Room for Jesus"? Besides, I'm Jewish and I had no spare rooms in my life for another deity (as I assumed He was).
One hot summer August afternoon I went into the Mojave desert with a few friends. A guy, his wife and my date. We had taken a lot of LSD . . . probably enough to send a horse on a three month drug trip. I was dumb and stupid and took a gamble on my life.
We stopped the car out in the desert heat. I wanted to climb to the top of a ledge I fixated on. Somehow getting to the top of the summit made me feel I would be connecting with God. Yes, it was a contradiction. If I was so good and holy, what did I need God for?
As we climbed the Mojave rocks, we headed straight for the top of this elevation. I did not have hiking books or any of the rock climbing gear. We were too stoned to even think of that.
I placed my foot down on a rocky ledge to get to the next level. But when i put my foot down, I smashed the fingers of my date's hand who had used the same ledge with her hand to get a grip on the rock wall. She yelled out in excruciating pain.
I quickly lifted my foot and kept going. I didn't say I was sorry. I was on my way to the top of the mountain; I was on a spiritual high. I was holy and full of divine light. I could not stop for such mundane obstacles like pain.
When I reached the summit, I expected to see the hand of God, instead I saw the hand of my date. She was nursing the hand I stepped on. But in my drugged state I had transcended the fleshly level; I was pure spirit or pure bull shit.
What turned my life around that day? My date' hand. I think her name was Denise. I stepped on this poor girl's hand and I didn't care. The flesh was evil in my mind and pain was not real not real. All that Eastern crap. But I realized I was pure crap as well. What a selfish, insensitive person I was. All I cared about was this God of my own making but I didn't care about this girl's throbbing hand.
In that moment I saw a dark heart . . .a heart that did not care about anyone but himself. I loathed my selfish heart. Yet I still have that heart. It's not as dark. Jesus has scrubbed it down in the past 37 years. And I don't step on girl's hands anymore. I would rather hold them. And I hate breaking or wounding anyone's heart. I can barely live with myself when my darkness is exposed.
On that day the twisted, wretched selfish chamber of my heart was revealed to me. I hated what i saw. Into that empty, selfish heart I realized I did have room for Jesus. I had room for Someone with a heart greater than myself who didn't step on people's hands.
Yet everyday I still step on someone's hand metaphorically. I am still selfish. I am insensitive.
I cry when I step on people's hands. But Jesus wipes my tears and reminds me who I am without Him. He reminds me that I will never love people like He does. But I have every opportunity to ask Him to keep me from stepping on hands and to learn how to nurse the hands I damaged back to health.
Denise, wherever you are . . . . I'm sorry I stepped on your hand. But know this . . . your throbbing hand allowed the pain in my heart to throb so much that i cried out to Jesus to save me from own selfishness.