The Burning Bookshelf


When I was 18, I read the New Testament, from beginning to end.  After I finished reading it, I gave my life over to Christ.

I went to church every week.  I joined the youth group and the church band.

I read the Bible every day.  I threw out all my rap CDs, because I only wanted to listen to Christian music.

Like this:

And this, which I would listen to while praying.

I prayed a lot.  I jerked off a lot, so it was hard running out of things to ask forgiveness for.

Didn’t date much.  Some of that had to do with my Christian code of ethics.  Most of it had to do with being terrible with women.

Things changed once I went to theatre school at NYU.  Except for the being terrible with women part.  And the jerking off.  I kept right on with that.

I tried finding on-campus Christian groups to be a part of, but I didn’t have much luck.  The most promising faith community I found ended up being a cult.  But I did end up meeting the woman who would later become my girlfriend and then later become my ex-girlfriend.  So it wasn’t a total loss.

By my junior year, my closest friends weren’t people of faith.  They were mostly theatre folk, and mostly non-Christian. And according to my beliefs, most of these people were going to hell.

This was a hard pill to swallow.  I didn’t see how I could enjoy heaven knowing that the people I loved were suffering in hell.

The spring of 2001, I did a study abroad program in London.  One night, I was alone in my dorm room.  My roommate was off doing something or other, so I had an opportunity to settle things with God in private.

“God,” I said.  “The Bible is your Word, but I’ve heard it said that the Koran is your Word, as well as many other holy books.  How can I know what is truly your Word and what isn’t?”

I waited.

“Father, I want to serve you,” I said.  “I don’t always do a good job of it, but I try.  And right now, I need something from you.  If you want me to believe that the Bible is your Word, I need you to send me a sign.  I want a burning bush…like the one Moses got.  Or an angel.  To be honest, I’m not too particular on the details of this vision, as long as I get a vision and I hear your Voice telling me what’s true and what isn’t.  Because right now there are too many holy books in the world claiming to speak for you, and I don’t know which is which.”

I waited.

“It’s important to me that you talk to me, God, because there are people in my life that I care about and love.  And according to the Bible, they’re going to hell because of their lifestyle, or because they don’t believe in you, or they follow another holy book.  To be honest, God, it doesn’t matter to me what people believe.  Just as long as they’re good people.  And I honestly don’t know if it matters to you.  Honestly, at this point, I don’t even know if you’re still there.  So show me a burning bush or some other sign.  Because if you don’t give me a sign, I’ll take that as a sign that you don’t exist.”

I sat in silence for about 20 minutes, waiting for that burning bush. I suppose it was a weird expectation because there weren’t actually any bushes in my room to begin with. But that seemed like a small obstacle for someone as powerful as God.  Besides, I wasn’t committed to it being a burning bush.  I would have been fine with a burning chester drawer or a burning bookshelf or a burning toilet seat.  A burning anything really.  Just as long as it was burning.

Nothing burned, so I got up and left the room.

That weekend, I went to a pub with some friends.  We met a friendly American businessman who bought us all two rounds of Red Bull and vodkas. I followed that up with a Long Island iced tea and a beer.  The beer was the only thing I drank that I’d actually heard of before that night.

It was a night of two firsts.  First time I got drunk and my first night without God since my conversion.

I woke up the next morning in agony.  Body and soul.


2 thoughts on “The Burning Bookshelf

  1. We have similar themes in our stories. I’ve asked for burning bushes a bunch of times. I should try the burning toilet seat. Maybe that will work.

    Like you, I’ve prayed and waited and heard nothing and then went off and did the things my Christian culture told me are anti-God (drinking, etc.) and it felt so good and so free, and very soon it felt so empty and so cold. And I keep feeling pulled to both, to God and not-God. I wonder if you have that feeling, too.

    What a peculiar life.


    • “And I keep feeling pulled to both, to God and not-God.”

      I absolutely have that feeling. There’s definitely something to be said for moderation. Even Jesus liked a good party; the Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a wine-bibber. I like to think God created wine, food, and music for us to enjoy. It’s all about context.


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