Several lifetimes ago I was a different man. Right after I was honorably discharged—yes, I fooled them all—from the Air Force I headed west to live with my service “buddies” in an urban commune in Oregon. That was around 1975. Two years later I looked like this.
As I said, I was a different man then.
At the commune we engaged in the usual things that men our age engaged in. We called it “sowing oats,” “partying” and other such things. Christians call such activities “occasions of sin.”
Gradually all of that became tiring. Always giving in to the demands of the flesh wears one out. A man either demands harder and harder activities or he quits them entirely. I quit them entirely.
No, that is a lie. I decided to quit them—which is not at all the same thing as actually doing so. Truth be told, they stayed with me like an abandoned and angry girlfriend. No matter my resolve to be a better man—which I realize now was not that strong—I kept falling again and again into the same old habits.
When I later read Augustine, what he wrote hit me like a brick in my hard head—and in my hard heart. He as well wanted to stop his old habits. So he went to God and asked for help. Augustine could not understand why God seemed not to answer him. He came to understand that he was not really asking for help. He was really saying to God, “Please make me chaste—but not yet.”
There was more. Even when I felt as if a new man was being born inside me, it simply could not arise when I spent time around my old “buddies.” They were a problem. They refused to see anything but the old corruption that was who I had always been to them. The temptations they presented always—always—dragged me back into the muck.
There was only one thing to do, and that was leave. Permanently. I had to run away to become clean and remain clean. A man cannot stay in a sewer and expect to smell good no matter how much soap he has on hand. And so I ran away. Unlike Lot’s wife, I never looked back.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
A few years ago I happened upon one of my old “buddies.” I had not seen him in over 20 years. He was very happy to see me. He looked old. He began to recall our times with those “buddies” when we had let the good times roll. I stopped him, and said, “Steve, I am a Christian now.” He did not skip a beat. He smiled widely with an toothy grin, and said, “I’m not!” He kept up the grin for some time, though I said nothing, just stared at him.
We talked for a bit, and I had the sensation that I was in the presence of a talking corpse.
I left him after a few minutes with the promise that I would give him a call. I lied.
It is common and all too easy to say, “A man cannot run away from his problems.” Not so. If those problems involve a person or a place he certainly can run away from them.
I have done it. More than once, actually.