I am a pastor, and our culture (especially in Vermont) openly attacks Christianity and its followers as a sort of sad fad. It is important then that I explain what my faith is, how it arose, and how it infuses my life.
I was not raised Christian -- at all. I understood the world as material only, embraced evolution as explanation, and had little interest in spirituality. Yet, as an avid backpacker and person who has seen much in life, I was never able to completely embrace atheism. I was a self-described “agnostic with atheist tendencies.”
But in 1997, I endured a lengthy ordeal caused by Lyme Disease which caused me incredible, relentless pain. I had not been to a doctor in twelve years, was very healthy, and went to the gym almost daily. Very quickly I deteriorated, and soon I could barely walk, and slept almost not at all. The pain in my muscles (fibromyalgia syndrome) was beyond anything I had ever experienced -- times ten.
When I was finally diagnosed, I was informed I had something called ‘fibromyalgia syndrome.” (Later it was clear I had Lyme Disease, which may have caused my symptoms). I learned about fibromyalgia and realized that my life as I knew it had ended. My business was thriving, as was everything else -- but the pain was unbearable and inescapable. One day when I could not get up off the floor, and I’d been in unceasing extreme pain for many months, I prayed very earnestly for the first time in my life. And my prayer was to die. I was suicidal. I was done -- broken. And in the midst of the prayer, the pain went away. I was stunned.
In that moment, I prayed to God to help me recover sufficiently that I might help others with my condition. I already did a great deal of pro bono legal work, but this prayer was to help people in chronic pain -- especially women, for whom this condition is quite common, and who are often dismissed by others.
I was compelled to close my law practice, in fairness to my clients. We moved to Vermont, and for the next five years I could only sit in a rocking chair. For eight years I could not wear a T-shirt because it caused my muscles to spasm. I did not drink a single cup of coffee for almost nine years because of the irritable bowel syndrome that accompanied my condition.
When I was well enough to attend church, we began to take our children to a local Barton church. Gradually I learned more about Christianity, and I began to read -- GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, TS Eliot, the Bible. I found that Christianity made a very great deal of sense, and had been embraced by some of the most intelligent people in human history -- including also Dante, Augustine, Thomas Kempis, Thomas Aquinas, Evelyn Waugh, JRR Tolkien, Bob Dylan, Charles Dickens, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and many others. It is shocking to me that many people denigrate Christians as ignorant -- are they calling Harriet Tubman and MLK stupid?
Then one day I did something really strange. I suspended my disbelief, and read the New Testament as if it were true. And I saw immediately it was true. Pilate asks: “What is truth?” Christ is truth.
And so my journey began. My wife and three children and I were all baptized in Lake Willoughby, on my 40th birthday. That is my birthday now.
We were involved in a number of churches, always trying to serve in various ways. But as I continued to learn what it was to actually walk the Christian walk (Oswald Chambers was very helpful!), I felt called to do more. In 2006 I published a book criticizing George W. Bush for falling short in his Christian walk -- especially by invading Iraq, and for disgracing our nation in Abu Ghraib, and renditions of prisoners to foreign lands.
About five years ago I befriended an elderly Catholic priest who gave me a book about liberation theology. I am not Catholic, but was impressed by the core theology -- that Christ and the scriptures must be “liberated” to rule our lives fully, and that if we do not help the poor, we do not know who Christ is.
I prayed for God to provide an opportunity for me to help the poor and sick, and he quickly responded -- through facebook. I was contacted by a Ugandan pastor named Simon Peter Otudo, who asked if I would help him create a school in Uganda for orphaned children (mostly girls, mostly orphaned through AIDS). I did my research to ensure he was legitimate, and then launched an effort to support him -- in Vermont’s NEK, one of the poorest areas of New England.
My own church had much debt, and the collections were insufficient to support a school. So I began to hold “sermons” to raise money. The first sermon I gave was in a Catholic Church that had been shuttered for twenty years. We raised over $700!
Eventually we approached the caretakers of the First Congregational Church of Westfield, a lovely building that had been unused for eleven years. They permitted us to hold services, in which one half of our collection went to utilities and church repairs; one half to Uganda. This began in spring 2016, but my wife and I had to move from our rental, and soon we were falling behind financially, so we were forced to move into our unfinished off-grid house, which is two hours away from Westfield. We commuted most every weekend (closed part of winter because the church is uninsulated and the furnace is almost 60 years old), but by August of this 2019 we just couldn’t do it anymore. Our car had 337,000 miles on it; every Sunday was a physical ordeal just from all the travel.
I have learned to be more loving because of my faith. Pastoring has improved my heart attitude, grown my faith, improved my understanding of Scripture. No money salary -- just a priceless one in spiritual growth and humility.
I have studied biblical counseling (ACBC) for about 15 years now, and engage in counseling with people for marriage, addiction, depression and anxiety, and other issues. As a lawyer I divorced people; as a pastor I try to help marriages heal. Or, if the relationship cannot be salvaged, I seek to help people use Christian ideas as they part -- especially to nurture their children. Too often people rely on courts to solve their problems for them.
My wife Jackie returned to work in 2018 as a nurse, despite her own health struggles (Lyme Disease also), in part so that she could pay for me to attend seminary. I was admitted to Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in 2018, and continue to work to earn an M.Div.
Nothing dissolves racism more than Christianity. Not that Christians can’t be racist, but Christ isn’t. Racism is irreconcilable with the Christian walk. But also, Christianity is where women’s rights, and the very idea of universal equality, arose in Western Civilization. That is an historical fact, ensconced in our own US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I do not seek to impose my faith on others. I am a staunch Constitutionalist, just as I was as an atheist. The United States Constitution is itself the product of compromise.
It is not Christians who are employing government to impose their views on others -- it is the toxic new secular evangelists, imposing their chaos that they make up as they go along. I am free to shape my own moral values, and I should be free to influence my children’s views without public school indoctrination. The war on Christ and Christians is evident around us everywhere -- hardly the other way around.
So to non-Christians I offer simply this. I care about the poor and sick, and I’ve proved it repeatedly. I keep my word, and say what I think. So if I promise to abide by a platform, and to try to help Vermont’s poorest by reducing government bureaucracy and taxes, nurturing local schools, improving economic conditions, and combating the opioid crisis more effectively, then that is what I will do. If people want those things accomplished, perhaps they will consider “tolerating” a Christian to do so.
I have written articles defending the freedoms of Muslims. I have Muslim, Buddist, and Jewish friends. I work ecumenically to bring comity between Catholicism and Protestantism. I help people everywhere regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their criminal history -- that’s what I have always done. Now I do it for God.
I know the job we face is complex and difficult. It is intimidating. I can’t possibly say I can solve all of our state’s problems. But I will try if you let me, and I invite all of you to join us to bridge the red-blue divide and focus on what will really help everyone.
In Christ, I wish to serve those most in need. That is my Christianity.