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Article: "How I Got Here"




How I Got Here
by Rev. Roger Disbro


This writing covers a personal history of my Army years and thankfully coming to a right understanding about Jesus. All responsibility for my youthful misunderstanding lays on myself and nobody else. Theologians call the problem "opinio legis" (legalistic reasoning), common to all humanity including mature Christian believers. In brief it refers to falling into being motivated by religious law and fear rather than grace, although volumes have been written in search of a proper balance.

I was born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and my parents had been born and raised there as well. I can't remember attending church much when I was young. If at all, my own recollection is that it was usually at a nearby Methodist church where my brother, sisters and I really only attended Sunday School occasionally. As I got along to 8-9 years old, our "Aunt Eileen" encouraged our mother to start listening to a radio program called "The Lutheran Hour." It interested my Mom enough to have our family start attending the nearest neighborhood Lutheran church. My parents then went through an adult confirmation program and we became regularly attending members. That's where that dangerous "opinio legis" took hold of my own understanding and led to countless inner trials. - The bottom-line impression I got of Christianity through my teen years, though, was that "God is enraged with our sins being responsible for killing Jesus, so we'd better straighten ourselves up if we expect to escape hell's eternal punishment!" I attended a small Lutheran high school rather than the public school that had an attendance of several thousand. Yet, even at the Lutheran high, my general impression of Christianity only seemed to be reinforced.

A year-and-a-half of college then knocked the props out from under me in terms of ANY Christian understanding I had. As far as I could see the student life was really all centered on member recruitment by fraternities/sororities with constant drinking and smoking parties. The science curriculum in which my classes were concentrated was utterly rife with evolutionary theory, which was pretty foreign to me until that time. Getting by in Physics required familiarity with several of the early sorts of computer languages like Fortran, but now long forgotten. A religion course tore away at core Christian beliefs such as Christ's virgin birth and literal physical resurrection. So, despite my earlier misunderstanding of Christianity, here my whole "basis of existence" was entirely challenged and thrown for a major loop.

A strong interest in medicine had begun when I was still pretty young and had read a book called "Project Hope." It was about a ship that some doctors turned into a hospital, and they would go to poor ports in South America to help all kinds of sick and injured people who were brought there by family members by any means possible. Another factor in my medical interest was an experience I had as a young teen, performing a piano solo in a school program. As I was playing, I suddenly became profoundly awed at whatever mechanisms must be involved in barely paying attention to the pages of music, and yet having my fingers produce this wonderfully intricate melody on the piano keys. I was fascinated with what processes must be involved in the brain and nerve transmissions and complex muscle actions, and resolved then and there to become educated about it all.

My grades were generally straight C's in college, and I knew I would never be admitted to medical school with that kind of academic record. I lost a full-time scholarship and for the rest relied mostly on a "National Defense Student Loan." At that time the military draft was still active in the U.S. and we were still involved in Viet Nam (1971-72), and the loan gave me an added sense of patriotic obligation. Draftees were selected through a lottery system and I pulled a very low number. I could have been deferred from the draft being a full-time student, but I realized I was really only wasting my time at college. Rather than be drafted and end up who knows where doing who knows what, I therefore enlisted in the Army for medical training and work for three years. I signed-up to become an "Operating Room Technician," figuring it might put me in a better position for trying to get back on the medical track at college after my time in service.

U.S. involvement in Viet Nam was just beginning to wind down as I entered basic combat training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in January 1973, followed by basic combat medic training in San Antonio, Texas in the spring. All of the training was quite realistic, and I learned that I would have real trouble pulling a trigger to kill a person should I ever be put in the situation. Just shooting at people-shaped targets made me quite ill. - Well, I protested about the combat medic training, asking why I wasn't being trained for the operating room. I was told every person in the Army medical corps started with the simulated combat experience, and the other training would come later. - But that was not so!

When the medic training course was done, the three-thousand or so other young men and women I had trained with ALL received orders for their permanent duty stations. (Many enlisted not for particular training, but for a specific duty location - such as Hawaii or some base close to home.) I was the single person who received NO orders, and so I thought that I would continue on with the operating room training. My Commander then asked if some recruiter said I could get such training. When I said "yes," the man just laughed in my face. He put me to work for 10 days scrubbing sinks and toilets and pushing a broom in some old wooden barracks that were being remodeled. During that time my life hit a real LOW. I didn't know what purpose my life served. I didn't know if there was a God, much less if He cared. I was concerned about any possibility of being sent to Viet Nam where everyone knew that "medics" were the first targets, unaware that we were then involved in a large-scale pull-out. Thus at one point I buckled to my knees on the steps outside an old barracks building with my heart just screaming inside: "O God, if there even is a God out there - Won't you please straighten out my life by the time I get out of the Army?" Little did I know at the time that it was a sincerely desperate quest for God and a true prayer!

After the ten days I got orders to go to Panama. Having no idea what to expect, I arrived to be assigned to the medical platoon in an Infantry Battalion that constantly spent its time training for jungle warfare. The Medical Platoon Sergeant sat me down for an interview about my background, schooling, etc. Being the only medic with any college time, I was given a cushy job as the base "pharmacist" in the air-conditioned clinic we had there. I ordered all the medicines and supplies, supplied the other medics who had to go out with the troops into the jungle every day, and filled prescriptions for the soldiers who came through the clinic on "sick call." Meanwhile I took a course and became an officially certified pharmacy technician - Well, the Sergeant got to the point where he asked about my hobbies, and I could only think to reply that I played piano and organ. He got a little smile on his face and asked if I ever played for a church. I told him that, as a matter of fact, I had played at churches all the time since early teenhood. He asked what kind and I told him all kinds - Baptist, Methodist, etc., but mostly "Lutheran" because that's what my family was. He then asked what "brand" of Lutheran (because there are different branches and official theologies), and I told him mostly what's called "Missouri Synod" and asked if he had ever heard of it. It's not too well-known outside the mid-western United States. By then the man was grinning from ear-to-ear and said, "That's what I am!" We have a church just a couple miles from post here and we need an organist. Would you?" So I stammered, "I guess so."

The next morning, a Saturday, the Sergeant took me to the little church, and members had all shown up that day to paint the outside of a new little wing that had recently been built on it. One after another, each person came up to me and said, "We understand you're going to be our new organist. Did you know our last organist just left Panama this week? We've been praying for a month for someone to replace her, and HERE YOU ARE right in time! YOU are the answer to our prayers!!!" Needless to say, perhaps, I was astounded. Never in my life had I ever heard lay-people be so openly bold as to venture that they actually prayed, and ESPECIALLY never did I hear that God actually answered any prayer so dramatically! I didn't know how to take it, except deep inside I was pretty impressed and had to honestly finally begin wondering about the actual existence of a God in a way and to a degree I had never before contemplated.

Becoming that little church's organist gave me other opportunities I would never have dreamed about. Soon I was being asked to give piano lessons to children all over our military bases in Panama. I also got a Saturday night "gig" playing at a Navy service club, for example. But too, drug traffic among soldiers living in barracks was unbelievable, and the quantities and types of illicit drugs available were phenomenal. For fear of becoming targeted as a snitch I almost never volunteered information about all I saw and knew. Some guys thrilled over slipping me unknown substances in drinks or food, and I'll never know everything I may have been subjected to. Additionally most unmarried guys would head to the gambling and "strip joint" bars after duty hours and take chances at brothels. The Panamanian government actually sponsored the brothels (in order to try to keep a handle on venereal disease, so it was said). The women came mostly from Colombia, victims of the sex-trafficking slave trade. (Such corruption led to our 1989 removal of Manuel Noriega from power in Panama and a personal sort of "anti-porn" quest in later years I served in pastoral ministry.)

Perhaps needless to say, I led a somewhat double life appearing as a fine, upstanding young Christian man to the church people and piano students and their families, but just appearing as "one of the guys" the rest of the time, sometimes getting drunk or unwittingly drugged myself. I suffered intensely in my conscience over it all, but I just was too fearful to take a strong moral stand. Meanwhile, however, that little church was doing everything in its might to train me to be a Christian witness, actually going out and openly talking to people about Jesus. Attempts were made to train ALL the members in a specific method of evangelizing. There were times I was essentially ordered to "Come on, knock on some doors with us and let's try to talk to people about Christianity."

My Platoon Sergeant was the one who first explained this witnessing business to me. I wasn't at all thrilled by it, being shy and untalkative by nature at the time, but I submitted to the indoctrination nevertheless. As time passed I actually became quite proficient in using the method, though, and I even saw people converted by God's Holy Spirit using His Word through me in some very emotionally-charged situations - - - but none of it had any effect on me personally at the time. I just didn't completely get it, and didn't think I WANTED to get it. -- As the weeks and months continued to roll on I got a reputation in the barracks as being someone the guys could safely talk to about their problems, however. I started witnessing ON MY OWN WITH THEM, and it saved several from suicide, I'm sure. (In particular was one guy who had been acquited in a court of law in Florida for allegedly killing his baby child by shaking it, but he confessed to me that he knew he was really guilty and was living with the pain every day.) His amazing response to my message and total life change still didn't touch me, however. I was too burdened with my sinful side and mad at a God who, while supposedly being "loving," allowed all the tragedies and hatred and things I was exposed to in my regular work days among many veterans of war. Besides the pharmacy work I served as a kind of Emergency Technician and drove an ambulance. More than anything else I had to deal with drug overdoses. Sometimes it happened with my own buddies, and I watched a number of them go from reasonably intelligent people to burned-out zombies through my time in Panama. Sometimes the overdoses were accidents, and sometimes deliberate suicide attempts. Sometimes we saved the guys, a few times they couldn't be. I had a couple personal friends and knew about some others shipped home dead or drastically affected, and not as war casualties. All the medics dreaded pulling the special EMT duty on pay-days, because that's when the addicts would race to the Panamanian pharmacies to get their chosen drugs. Prescriptions weren't necessary in the country itself, outside the Canal Zone, except for actual narcotics. Barbiturates and amphetamines were "over the counter," simple, cheap and easy.

I'm sure you can begin to see what a mixed-up mess my mind and heart were. All the witnessing training and involvement, while being notably effective with some, just didn't reach me personally. I remember openly admitting that to the Pastor at my church after a long time, and his response was very gentle. He told me that only God's Holy Spirit could make that difference for me, and he promised to be praying for it. I'm sure he did exactly that, but it still took a long time to "click" with me.

As time went on I got less and less dependable as a piano teacher simply through loss of interest. I also had a couple of cars while I was in Panama, neither of which was very dependable, either. When my "best" little student finally could play an entire piece by heart I took her family out for ice cream treats, and then decided that was my last lesson for anybody.

Several times a year the medics were responsible for giving flu shots throughout the Battalion. It astounded me to sometimes see the syringes I issued to the medics end up in the hands of those who took cocaine. They would dissolve and "mainline" it, shooting it directly into their veins like heroin users. It's one of the things I kept quiet about, because everyone knew what a "blanket party" was. If you were suspected of being a tattle-tale, the threat was that a blanket would be thrown over your head sometime in the middle of the night and a gang of thugs would beat the tar out of you - perhaps even killing you. Those syringes supplied to the medics for free brought about $20 apiece.

In the year-and-a-half I was there, the last six months also brought a lot more craziness among the other guys in the barracks. Some would hallucinate from eating "psychedelic mushrooms" that grew wild everywhere and they'd try to jump out windows or otherwise injure themselves. Guys would show up with terrible knife wounds and things, having gotten high on drugs and getting mugged in their compromised condition. I especially remember one who came into the clinic early one morning, having been attacked the night before. He had been too stoned to defend himself, and his right bicep muscle and left shoulder blade bone were hanging out. I was afraid it was probably too late for doctors to try to do anything to re-attach his bicep, entirely cut loose down by his inner elbow. Instead of opening the pharmacy that morning I had to take him to the hospital. One guy broke his hand, slamming it into a wall in frustration over his wife having an affair back in the States. (Another time this same guy had an accident with a sheet of steel, nearly losing his leg. It had to be tourniqueted and I had to take him to the hospital.) Another guy became a REAL problem for me specifically. He was a medic under possible consideration for assisting me in the pharmacy(!). He got news that his wife was having an affair back in the States, too, but in this case also that the guy she was seeing was beating up their children. This fellow then went absolutely berserk! He had nightmares and got into sleep-walking where he seriously vandalized things and even injured some other guys. One Saturday afternoon, carrying a full new case of beer (24 cans) under his arm, he got me to unlock the clinic and pharmacy under the guise of having a question or two to ask. Then he sat down, blocking the doorway, and proceeded to drink the entire case in that one sitting as he poured out his woes to me. By the end of it all, he was seriously proposing that he would pay me $5000 to take some leave time back to the States and kill his own wife and the man she was seeing. That's something I DID report to my superiors, and then I honestly feared for my own life afterwards.

Although he worked at a different base, a Doctor and his family that I knew from church then arranged for me to have a private room in their own living quarters, which was at my own base and nearby, but at least out of the barracks themselves. Through my entire time in Panama he and his wife treated me like a fellow human being, with regular invitations to "family" meals and such. They trusted me to babysit their two young children, maybe not fully suspecting what a mess my own life was. I was never any threat to them, though, as I was so grateful for what they were always doing for me. I didn't feel I deserved their friendship, but they intentionally PRACTICED their Christianity and it slowly affected my perspective about it. The wife had actually been the first to personally WITNESS to me with the method in which we were trained. (My Platoon Sergeant had "explained" it, but she actually "presented" it to me.) She has always thought of me as kind of a "spiritual son" even though she's only 5+1/2 years older than I am, and indeed it did finally turn out that way after a LONG time. The friendship of my Platoon Sergeant and his wife and of this Doctor and his wife has held together all through the years, and they are beyond doubt among some of the most important people in my life! The Doctor is a native of Puerto Rico, and the entire family is bi-lingual (Spanish and English). A later interest I developed in possibly going into Hispanic mission work came through my acquaintance with them, as well as from picking up a little bit of "street" Spanish myself while in Panama. (That's now pretty much long forgotten and a ministry to which I was never sent, although certain experiences emboldened me to later become involved in quite a bit of prison ministry.)

Well, for my last month in Panama, a new man was assigned to our unit for the specific purpose of receiving some on-the-job training with me in the pharmacy, then to take over as I was re-stationed back in the States for my own final year of active military service. This fellow was extremely intelligent, probably quite literally a "genius." He was also really weird, though. - One evening he and I were out together sitting on the edge of a little cliff overlooking the Canal, dangling our legs and chatting. He then engaged me in a deep debate the likes of which I had never heard. He was essentially trying to make two main points. First, he took special notice of what a nervous wreck I always appeared to be and claimed to have a "cure." The answer, he felt, was in "Transcendental Meditation," just then becoming quite a fad in America. It was true that I drank coffee non-stop through the workday and chain-smoked several packs of cigarettes a day since the Army provided them free at times or extremely cheap at the PX. I was "bouncing off the walls" nervous! Secondly, he claimed he was well-studied and experienced with many of the world's main religions, and he claimed he had learned that, bottom-line, they were all ultimately about the same thing. I tried to challenge him and assert that I thought Christianity had to be different, but he asked what I knew of other religions like Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. He had me over a barrel and I couldn't answer. I didn't know a thing, so he bluntly told me I had no business challenging him, therefore. He encouraged me to get educated as he claimed to be, then produced a book that he asked me to read. - It was entitled, "Be Here Now," written by a self-proclaimed guru named Baba Ram Dass. Well, it turned out that Baba Ram Dass had been a college professor in psychology at Harvard (whose real name was Richard Alpert), and he was a colleague of an ill-famed professor named Timothy Leary. Leary was a major instigator in trying to get LSD and other illicit drugs legalized in the U.S. in the 1960s. Later Alpert went to India and was trained to be this guru. - I felt that the book was a lot of psychedelic gibberish! It seemed to me like the incoherent ravings of a madman! It had a lot of "op-art" drawings, and just one page near the center seemed to make any sense at all. It espoused a life philosophy of simply "being here now." We can't do anything to change the past, so forget it. We don't know what the future will bring, so why worry about it. Just live in the present and take it for what it is, coping as best you can. I finally decided I could try to adopt such an attitude and look into this "Transcendental Meditation" business - and then I was relocated to California for a year.

Although my personal and spiritual life was in such disarray, I nevertheless was regularly cited and commended for exemplary performance of duties. Typing skills made me indispensable to several Battalion offices besides just the medical part of things, and I set a record score on occupational testing while in Panama. These things led to attaining the rank of "Specialist 5" (a technician role equivalent to Sergeant) within 21 months of having entered the Army.

There are innumerable stories that could yet be told of the year-and-a-half spent in Panama, about my personal experiences and those of many other individuals. As a couple examples, I brought some military discipline down on myself through a miscommunication at one point, and my father came for a 10-day visit near the end of my time in Panama. Perhaps such examples are for another telling another time. They seem to me to perhaps not be so directly connected to my being brought to a clear understanding of God's grace in Christ and His guiding my path to that end. - One other thing that left a powerful impression with me from Panama, however, was the horrific poverty of so many of its citizens. We Americans do indeed take some of the most incredible blessings for granted and really have no concept of how poor and lowly this earthly life could have been for us.

In being restationed at Fort Ord in Monterey, California in January 1975, I was assigned to a newly reactivating Medical Field Hospital Battalion that had been dormant for a couple of decades (very much like a "M*A*S*H" Unit and quite different from the Infantry Battalion I served in Panama). A bit of the Activation Ceremony in late February was televised on national news, and because of my exemplary service record I was privileged to be made the standard-bearer (flag carrier). Also, being the highest ranked individual assigned to my barracks, I was appointed as Sergeant (an acting supervisory role). - As with Panama's poverty, there were several items of historical note that left intense impressions with me during my time in California, whether or not they played a direct role in my ultimate spiritual change.

In April of 1975 our unit was placed on alert and told we were going to Viet Nam. The south Capitol city of Saigon was about to fall and we were told that our unit had been activated in order to take care of the masses of anticipated civilian refugees in excess of 40,000. Our unit was granted a multimillion-dollar open requisition status for immediate ordering of medical/surgical supplies and medicines. Although I was no longer doing pharmaceutical work, I was made the Battalion supply officer's personal aide because of my experience with military and medical requisitions. We were advised to also order a lot of disposable diapers, and we set to a non-stop no-sleep work schedule that had truckloads of supplies already arriving at our Post the very next morning and being readied to fly out as I continued entering many thousands of orders via "teletype" (forerunner to e-mail). - In the meantime, our alert status was changed to meeting with evacuated refugees on the Pacific island of Guam. Saigon had fallen and the last possible evacuees were out. (Later many thousands still continued to try to flee without much success and became known as the "Boat People." Countless tragedies and sinkings occurred.) - Neither did we make it to Guam, however. Our orders suddenly changed, all within a 30-hour period, to taking over an abandoned old Army outpost in central California where all the refugees were then going to be brought. - This last change precipitated a conflict within the State of California, as a number of radical "fringe" groups organized in protest of that State bringing in still more immigrants. It resulted in an armed stand-off between our Battalion and the mass of protestors gathered near the gate to the old abandoned Post, called Camp Roberts. Then California's Governor Brown decided not to accept any Viet Namese refugees there, wanting to avert another tragedy like Kent State. Within days of Governor Brown's decree a new song by Neil Sedaka called "The Immigrant" was heard on radio. The particular song's refrain had words to the effect that "there was a time when strangers were welcome here," and I took it as a ringing indictment against the hatred of California's citizens. I was profoundly moved when I first heard the "Strangers…" song, so that I was in hysterical tears as I listened to my car radio. I always hoped that my supply requisitioning maybe somehow got sent on to the people it had been intended for. {**See inserted paragraph right below.} Having been appointed as "Unit Historian," I never wrote a word in my time there because the refugee relief effort was considered "Top Secret" for the very life safety of many of the Viet Namese refugees as well as because of the millions of dollars of medications and supplies which I had ordered. Later doings during some domestic bomb threats (described soon following here) were labeled the same, Top Secret, all which I was sworn to keep so for 25 years after my discharge from active duty. It has long since been declassified, therefore. - My sympathy for legitimately endangered refugees at that time by no means translates into any similar sympathy from me for the irresponsible sort of "open borders" policy espoused by some, although I do continue to have a strong heart for true "victims" of illegitimate and terroristic political and military regimes.

{**Later information advised me of this following: U.S. Marines took/got the bulk of Viet Namese refugees at Wake Island at first, then Camp Pendleton, San Diego (50,000+ processed there over time at "Camp Talega Tent City") and Ft. Chaffee, Ark. (Army?) in that order at the fall of Saigon, 30APR75. Some were already at Pendleton prior to the fall, but with some local civilian help they built 958 tents and 140 quonset huts and plywood flooring/walkways in record time there to process and start resettling the masses. - And they did at least get "disposable diapers" - something completely new to them there! (Recall that I was advised to include lots of those with all my medical requisitions, but I can remember being told to include lots of plywood also - and I had rather thought that it might be meant for tent flooring. So just maybe some of my ordering got rerouted to there???) Later on were upwards to 4 million "boat people" over years also from Cambodia and Laos, and most who managed to survive eventually made it to the U.S. via Hong Kong or other SE Asian countries. So they DID come through California, but just not where or when I was expecting them. (I had no access to news besides whatever I may have heard on car radio sometime in May '75, so I never knew all this till decades later.)}

For a brief time I did substitute organ-playing at our church in Monterey and LC-MS Army Chaplain James Shaw (who later became Chief Army Chaplain till retirement) was substitute preaching there. Gen. Shaw's aide SFC Wenk was about to move or retire and so he tried to recruit me to become his personal "Chaplain Assistant." I declined for a number of reasons, but primarily because my follow-up with Transcendental Meditation led me into a bizarre world of cults where I got further from God than ever for a time. (Sons of both men attended Seminary near to the time when I did myself in early 1980s and are on the Missouri Synod "Ordained" roster.)

The other big "historical" event was associated with the operation of several domestic terrorist organizations of the time, known as the "SLA" (Symbionese Liberation Army, which the famous newspaper heiress Patty Hearst had allegedly joined after it kidnapped her) and "SDS" (Students for a Democratic Society, also known tongue-in-cheek as Students for Dissident Society and later as the "Weather Underground"). Fort Ord came under direct threat of bombing from these groups in September 1975, and I was assigned to post a guard detail at points around our base one night. We all had our M-16 rifles with three rounds of ammunition each. The first bullet was to fire as a warning shot if necessary, the second to be aimed at any assailant's legs, and the third aimed to kill. It provided little solace or sense of security in the face of such serious bombing attacks with which we'd been threatened. A shoot-out in 1974 in Los Angeles found in excess of 5,000 rounds having been fired by a group of just 5 SLA members. Some of the troops were only young girls who were just 18, and they sobbed in terror as I quite regretfully dropped them off at their stations. I didn't blame them one bit, but I also had other things on my mind that night and very nearly committed suicide myself. - Patty Hearst was apprehended that night or soon thereafter (on September 18) and came to be sentenced to 7 years' prison until she was given a commuted sentence by President Carter in February 1979. President Ford was also in our area near the bomb-threat time, and his visit to San Francisco right afterwards is when an assassination attempt was made on his life. (Actually, there were two attempts during his term of office, but I can't recall all the details.)

My originally intended job while in California was as the Company A "Unit Training NCO," which meant that I researched at the Post library what types of training activities a unit such as ours was supposed to be engaged in, then I had to set up schedules and assign trainers to lead the sessions, subject to the Company Commander's approval. This covered everything from setting up huge hospital tents to sterilizing surgical instruments in autoclaves. In addition I served as a general clerk-typist and mail clerk, barracks supervisor and unit Drug NCO and Safety NCO. These job assignments were all based on particular training I had myself, plus several functions I had served in Panama such as once completely coordinating a full-scale Battalion training exercise in first aid for non-medics that included realistic "bleeding" dummies, etc. That effort was put under my coordination and supervision as a result of setting the record on "Medic" occupational testing in Panama. I also took a Monterey Community College "EMT" course and volunteered with the Monterey fire department's emergency squad, mostly covering nearby Laguna Seca drag car races on weekends.

Because I was also the Company mail clerk I became friends with the Battalion mail specialist who had just come from being stationed in Korea. He called himself "Gus" when I first met him. Gus was Mexican-American and had been raised in Los Angeles. - I began a quest in learning about various religions and cults (following up on the "challenge" presented to me by the guy in Panama I mentioned earlier), and Gus became an adherent to certain strange teachings of a couple of "mystics" named Gurdjieff and Ousspensky. Gus believed that humans were all "robots" controlled by the gravitational influences of the moon, and soon he would only refer to himself as "It." He constantly said things like "It's going to the store. Want to come along?!" I couldn't help teasing him mercilessly for such ridiculous behavior. Gus faked a marriage so that he could live away from the Post, and I actually spent most of my off-duty time at his ocean-side shack and kept my personal groceries there.

It wasn't long after my arriving in California in January 1975 that I began experimenting with Transcendental Meditation. The training involves continual and repetitious use of a "mantra." Usually a mantra is just a simple single-syllable word such as "Om," and a person is supposed to keep slowly saying it over and over, drawing it out, either out loud or silently in one's own mind. Advertisements touted the method as being a proven stress-reducer and therefore therapeutic for various metabolic functions of the body. There was also the claim that people's thoughts are generally erratic and non-directional (which is often quite true), and the process of using a mantra was an aid towards the goal of people being enabled to "think what you want, when you want." - These assertions were quite attractive to me and sounded reasonable, and I jumped into experimenting with the mantra wholeheartedly. In the meantime I began to also frequent libraries and bookstores, voraciously reading everything I could find on various religions and cults. Soon I discovered that many world religions have branches that practice "meditation" in similar ways as just described here, and that this was often claimed to be a doorway to either psychically or spiritually controlling one's environment and life circumstances. I also visited with a variety of cult groups located on the west coast and heard some of their teaching and took part in some of their meetings. Again and again I heard that practicing a mantra or similar mind-focusing method was the path to attaining a certain "oneness" with God and/or that it could lead to heightened powers of consciousness, "ESP," and occultic powers. Much of what I read and experienced didn't convince me, though. A well-known Japanese Buddhist sect called "Nichiren Shoshu" had a particular chant using the words "Nam, Myoho, Renge, Kyo." I don't recall the precise meanings of those words, but they were something akin to "Peace, Prosperity, Health and Joy." The sect's devotees claimed that continually chanting the words brought these experiential qualities to their lives. Meetings consisted of people standing up and giving testimonials such as, "I was in a car accident where the car was totaled, but I walked away unscratched because I was doing the chant." Or, "I wanted a certain expensive home and doing the chant brought it to me." -- This kind of sheer quackery repelled me and also had the effect of "turning me off" for a while to much of what I had been discovering about the teachings of the various religions, cults and occultic groups.

I maintained my regular personal practice of the "Om" mantra, nevertheless, usually as soon as the "duty day" was over at 3:00 P.M. and I could hide away in my personal room in the barracks. I discovered three things people may experience with such a practice… 1.) A person has so much trouble maintaining concentration on the mantra itself that he or she soon gives up the practice. 2.) A person is able to maintain enough concentration to use a mantra as a tool for relaxation and even putting oneself to sleep, but the abilities and effectiveness vary from one individual to another. (For some this is highly effective, and in time I became quite expert myself.) And 3.) A person remains disciplined enough to ultimately experience a phenomenal inner-mind event that is seldom directly taught about, but which is the real goal of fully knowledgeable trainers for their students. - The third category is what all the readings I had done and teachings I had heard were REALLY pointing to. Anyone who has the experience invariably claims it to be almost indescribable. It might be likened to what some have claimed about near-death experiences. There is a sensation of immense tranquility and being bathed in warm, inviting and bright light. One can feel "this must be what God is like," and that's the precise reason why some religions speak of meditative techniques as being paths to "communion" or "at-one-ment" with God, who is understood as more of an impersonal "force" than Being, and which permeates every point in the physical universe - FINALLY leading to the outright teaching that everyone and everything is a part of God and therefore IS in fact God he/she/it-self, but which supposed truth is "hidden" because the physical universe is said to really be an illusion. The Hare Krisna cult of Hindu origin specifically aims for this experience, for example, through its own particular chant. It was the basis for the well-known song from George Harrison of Beatle-fame, "My Sweet Lord," and the chant keeps being intoned in the background of the song.

After some time I finally had the experience and was subsequently able to repeat it. I didn't accept that it was the path to God or any religious connotation concerning it, however. I rather became intrigued with it from an objective scientific viewpoint in the beginning. My way of describing my initial experience has been to say that it felt like "all my life up to that point it was like my mind could be compared to a tiny closet, and when I had the experience it was suddenly like I discovered and opened the door. Outside was not just another room, but a whole universe! It was a mind-expanding sensation - to the point of infinity." I was able to clearly understand how others interpreted the experience as becoming "one with God" in a sense, therefore, yet I didn't see that particular "interpretation" of it as necessarily true. --- [From this point I feel compelled from experiences over the years to issue a certain disclaimer. Some who have heard my story have been mesmerized and seemed ready themselves to jump right in and begin experimenting with the things that will follow here. Some have been unduly frightened with the possible influence and power of Satan concerning it all. Some have scoffed at every bit of it with what have seemed to me to be self-wise opinions ranging from not believing my personal claims to not believing in the possibility of any such inner-mind experience, to not believing there is any power such as will be described, or to believing that what I have to share is a product of my misperception or even mental derangement. - I very long ago myself RENOUNCED all use of the ways and means to be described and aim only to point to the truth, power and glory of the One Eternal Triune God of Christianity and concerning whom the truth can only be ascertained by the power of His Holy Spirit working through His Word written down in the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments. What I will continue to explain IS simply WHAT I experienced and HOW I experienced it. Any reader's or hearer's understanding or interpretation contrary to my stated aim and straightforward explanation is his or her own responsibility.]

The repeated mind experience I have described led to a renewed flurry of research on my part, and I began an obsessed quest to pin things down from the scientific versus religious point of view. Many have often heard it said that we all use only 10% or less of our brains' power. Only a few elite persons, like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking perhaps, are thought to possibly have been able to use more. It became my suspicion that the key to real "genius" exhibited by specific people like Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Shakespeare and others just might be through some mind-exploring technique such as the mantra, and I was determined to find out. My continued study did lead for a time to some degree of acceptance on my part of certain religious principles such as Mahatma Gandhi's teaching of non-violence and personal pacifism, although I went to an extreme he had never intended. I even became so radical in that regard that by mid-1975 I experienced serious conflict between my personal belief and my job insofar as it involved supervising any other people. I came to believe that attempting to assert my own will towards anyone else was the most immoral thing I could do, and so I came to a point of refusing to supervise others. My Company's First Sergeant accepted my explanation and cooperated with my desire, but others did not. I came very near to being court-martialed for refusing to follow orders to lead some troops through "P.T." (morning run and physical exercises) on one occasion. My willingness to suffer the loss of rank and any other consequences rather than obey stymied the officers threatening me, however, which only served to confirm the effectiveness and moral rightness of pacifism in my own mind. (I have since realized serious flaws in that thinking however, and especially in comparison to God's ordaining of various authorities as taught in the Bible. As a specific example, it was inconsistent of me to "force" my will of not complying against those who ordered me to lead the other troops. Gandhi would have hoped to accomplish precisely what I did, however.)

Well, the day finally came along that I heard a certain advertisement on my car radio that sounded exactly like what I was looking for. I had essentially been frustrated by all my research until that point. An organization known as the "Rosicrucians" claimed to be able to lead followers to enlightenment about use of the mind in conjunction with certain scientific and physical principles. I furthermore learned that there was a meeting house or lodge right in Monterey and that the international headquarters for the organization was in San Jose, just a brief drive north. Meetings are held every Thursday evening wherever lodges are located, and I showed up for the very next meeting at the lodge in Monterey.

Upon walking through the door, a very attractive young woman approached me and almost immediately began explaining to me that the Rosicrucians had had such eminent members as Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare and others through the centuries. I felt flattered to be engaged in conversation with someone I thought was so beautiful, and I felt like the woman was literally reading my mind and knew what I had been suspecting all along. Then she gave me a copy of the Rosicrucians' introductory pamphlet, and right inside the front cover is the list of those same renowned scientists and geniuses. I remember absent-mindedly mumbling that I thought I had finally "found home."

There are several adversarial Rosicrucian organizations, but this one that I found is the largest and probably has the most authentic historical claims. It also claims to NOT be "religious" while yet being "compatible" with ALL religions, but which is a blatant lie. The more one is taught and indoctrinated, the more one learns what is essentially Hinduistic theology and especially specific teachings regarding reincarnation and the nature of the human soul. Jesus and the Bible are even cited as being accepting of the reincarnation teaching, most notably in the Gospel of John, Chapter 9, which speaks of a man being born blind. And Jesus is said to have used a particular knowledge of physical principles to perform what were regarded as His miracles. - The San Jose headquarters has a large campus with three parts, or so I was once told:à 1. A museum of mostly ancient Egyptian artifacts (to which the organization claims to trace its roots), 2. a set of laboratories dedicated to experimentation with such things as "Kirlian Photography" and how certain creatures can regenerate injured or lost limbs or other parts, and 3. the administrative section. (Kirlian Photography will be explained later here...)

I very quickly and readily took an oath of membership quite similar to that used by the Masonic Lodge. Because I easily recognized that the oath was contrary to the professed beliefs of Christianity, I wrote to the Pastor of my Cleveland home church and asked to be removed from the rolls. (He first hesitated and then completely declined to do so, for which I was thankful later on.) I also declined to play organ at the Lutheran Church in Monterey any more and resisted all attempts by Chaplain Shaw to recruit me as his aide. I renounced all Christian affiliation and removed the LC-MS Cross from my dogtag chain. - Anyway(!), the Rosicrucians' primary activity is a weekly mailing of 10-page lesson pamphlets called "monographs" to its members. A person gradually proceeds through various levels and degrees of training and has a mentor at the headquarters to write and report to (like Mork calling Orson?). Local meetings involve lectures given by the most advanced members, and which present or review much the same material as is found in the monographs. In addition, members may purchase any of a vast library of publications and books on virtually any of Rosicrucianism's teachings. I grasped after all I could as quickly as possible and was very soon familiarized with most if not all of the foremost principles and teachings. To do so required a pledge of absolute secrecy on my part and which I gave at the time, but which I now am exposing as a specific renunciation of much of those things in which I was instructed or learned through personal reading or research. Besides, the Rosicrucians aren't the only ones to teach a lot of it.

The most fundamental teaching revolves around the idea that all life processes are essentially electro-magnetic in nature. Plant photosynthesis involves a chemical exchange of electrons triggered by light-wave energy. Digestion and oxidation of food is a series of chemical exchanges with transferring movements of electrons. The way our brains, nerves and muscles work all involve the same, as does our respiration and transfers of oxygen and waste products through the bloodstream. - This teaching is followed by one that asserts that the human "mind" is not some kind of thing or process operated by the brain, but it is rather this same electro-magnetic force of life and which permeates every single cell of the body. - Then it is suggested that this "mind" and the human "soul" are really one and the same thing. In other words our individual human souls are not really separate, but all are part of the universal life-force --- referred to by the Rosicrucians and some religions as the great cosmic "Oversoul" (that is, "God" - a non-feeling "force" sort of, rather than a separate and sentient Being). In "THAT" is said to reside the answer to every question and mystery, all necessary power, the purpose of any manifestation of existence and so on. (This is QUITE typical of the teaching of eastern/oriental religions!)

The acceptance of these teachings is coaxed through the offering of a number of brief and possibly achievable experiments. One of the first of these deals with a person's concept of time. Our bodies exhibit certain bio-rhythms that are also in tune with much of nature, just like the moon's gravitational influence on ocean tides and certain creaturely behaviors. We really have an innate sense of "what time it is" because of all these rhythms, the sense of how long it has been since we woke up in the morning, the direction from which the sun's or moon's light is coming at any given time, etc. - The suggested experiment is to "let nature" tell you what time it is when you want to know. Clocks and watches are unnecessary and their use is to be avoided in fulfilling the experiment. -- Well, it IS just simply true that, given more and more practice, a person can get good enough to almost pin down the time to the very minute. Our metabolisms and senses DO have this "hidden" tuning. I know this personally from practicing the experiment for several months. The fact is eventually used in support of the teachings just described, however.

A little later on it is suggested that "if" the mind or soul IS the same as our bodies' electro-magnetic forces, then there should be certain ramifications that would legitimize a belief in things like "psychic" healing, mind-reading, levitation (moving objects by mind power) and other powers or phenomena that have now generally come to be labeled as "paranormal." It is claimed that different points or parts of our bodies radiate different strengths of electro-magnetic energy, which happens to be another simple fact. A kneecap may only radiate energy up to a fraction of an inch away from the body, for example, while the fingertips are said to be able to generate the energy to up to six feet because of the great concentration of nerve-endings in them. The energy IS genuinely and objectively measurable with scientific and electronic instruments and can even be photographed through the use of infrared light and specially chemically treated film (Kirlian Photography). Similar principles are used in pictures that show where houses or buildings lose thermal energy or with the night-vision scopes now used by the military. The same is observable with plant-life as well as with humans and animals.

Given all this, it is then essentially taught that any electro-magnetic or life force may have an influence on any other, depending on the distance between the bodies or objects generating them and therefore whether these energy emanations actually come in contact with each other. Compasses operate magnetically, and a very sensitive one may be made by penetrating a cork with a magnetized metal needle and floating the apparatus in a glass of water. "If" the assumption is correct, a monograph might say, then a person ought to be able to at least slightly move such a compass needle through conscious effort and very close proximity, but without touching, bumping or blowing or otherwise physically moving it. If you try it, it's liable to appear to work! I believe it did repeatedly for me. Whether this involves a true property of nature and science or not, though, it in no way proves that the human mind and soul is the same as the energy involved. That is the conclusion pointed to by the Rosicrucian teaching, however.

In a similar way, the experiment is given to try to "mentally" influence the color of a candle flame. Fire is also a release of (heat and) energy through a chemical process of transferring electrons. A person is directed to focus completely concentrated attention on a flame just inches away. This one I tried many times without result, except I finally thought that just once a little spurt of green may have shot out for a fraction of a moment. It could easily be explained by supposing that a speck of magnesium or other substance had just been consumed in the flame, too, though. -- Here the connection with the mantra-type technique of meditation became more clear, however. A well-practiced mantra produces purer and purer focus of mental concentration. A variety of techniques may do the same, such as gazing into a flame or crystal ball, repeatedly chanting a group of words rather than only a single syllable, engaging in certain repetitious motions and/or breathing exercises as with yoga, or following certain prescribed rituals such as may be done by witches, warlocks, Satanists or devotees of various religious sects or cults. There is no "magic" in any of the words or motions, but any such repetitive practice may produce the precise clarity of mental concentration by which some seemingly paranormal feats may be achieved. Actually, any "word-thought" itself stops at that point, and just "will" seems to be involved - and in a passive way at that - a concept difficult to explain outside of just conjuring some sense of being "receptive" to a desired result. (Some might perhaps correctly suppose that an individual actually "surrenders" mental capacity and will at this point, so that other spirit-powers may take control and hopefully follow the person's bidding. It is in fact the belief of mediums and some practitioners of various occultic phenomena. Rosicrucians and others would perhaps seem to teach that the individual is still in control and merely manipulating the "impersonal" cosmic force, however.)

A whole system of teaching about healing has been developed by the Rosicrucians. Not unlike the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, it is taught that illnesses are all a result of an imbalance between positive and negative energy in a person's body. Certain illnesses are taught to be associated with excessive positive energy in an organ or area, while others are taught as being due to excessive negative energy. Cures are claimed to be effected through applying the opposite charge from one's fingertips to the affected area of the ill individual, and there are techniques for building positive and negative charges in the hands and fingertips, or energies may be affected through the use of certain foods and ingested fluids - most notably water. (I will not spell out all the details here, but only state that the techniques for building up the positive or negative energy "over-charges" in one's hands do work and are objectively verifiable in the ways I explained previously with instruments and photography. Whether their application actually brings about any "healing" may be a matter open to debate, as would the matter of what precise energy imbalance can accurately be claimed about any given disease such as measles or whatever else.)

A supposed science of "aura" reading has been developed by some groups. While I don't recall exploring this area through my Rosicrucian training, I did read about several individuals or groups that claimed a proper sensitization could be developed, or that instruments could detect different energy "colorations" emanating from people of various personality types. Mother Teresa would be described as a serene blue, for example, and Adolf Hitler as scarlet with black speckles. I never put much stock in this train of belief. Maybe there is a grain of truth to the changing color of "mood rings" that were once a fad, however. - The power believed by some to emanate from certain kinds of crystals may be related to this whole subject area. I don't have any personal comment to make about this, though.

Levitation, the supposed power to lift or move objects with just the mind, was only advocated by Rosicrucian teaching to the extent that a well-disciplined and trained mind could affect a small nearby object with electro-magnetic properties as far as I know or recall, like the compass needle. More intriguing was the possibility of mind-reading that was suggested. In a similar way, one person would have to be within close proximity to another, and the Rosicrucians would say that one would not be able to discern another person's thoughts word-for-word, but general and strongly felt concepts or emotions should be detectable to some extent by a well-trained and practiced person. An experiment offered was that, while sitting directly behind and close to another individual, one could direct concentration to the other person's brain stem area and expect to see the person begin to fidget. The other person would have some vague sense of being "invaded" in other words. - This is another experiment with which a well-practiced person may experience a seeming measure of success. The young woman I met with the Rosicrucians MAY well have also sensed what was already so deeply impressed within my own thinking and feeling when I got engaged in the conversation with her(?).

Periodic international conventions are held by the Rosicrucian organization, and it so happened that one was held at the San Jose headquarters during the summer I was there in California. I was able to attend and entered a very large auditorium where a variety of speakers and "experts" lectured on various Rosicrucian tenets. Although I don't recall his name, a certain man was introduced as an eminent neurosurgeon and part of the Stanford University Medical School faculty right there in San Jose. (One tends to respect such high intellectual credentials!) This doctor then proceeded to direct everyone in the audience to pick out a person nearby in the audience, but who was not personally known. Then we were told to take some metallic object from the person, hopefully having magnetizable qualities such as watch, glasses or belt buckle, and place it across the fingertips of our left hands - that being the "most" receptive area of our own bodies because of the concentration of nerve-endings there. I chose a woman sitting one seat ahead and to the left of mine who said she was from Australia and had the accent, and she gave me her watch. Then we were instructed to relax and clear our minds through our personally preferred meditative technique (which I was able to do very quickly and expertly by that time) and then just passively allow any impression that may come into our minds. Sometimes our dreams are so vivid as to cause us to exclaim how "real" they seem. Very shortly I had a similar experience, getting a very strong impression or vision in my mind's eye of a man wearing a tuxedo and a woman in an evening gown waltzing together next to a grand piano. I described the scene to the woman, and she was stunned. She stammered back that she had a daughter at home who took piano lessons and had been trying for months to learn the Blue Danube waltz, but she could just never get it right. The picture I described was the same as the cover of the sheet of music, and I must have discerned it because it was such a heavy concern to the woman! -- Well, if I wasn't a devoted Rosicrucian before that, I certainly became one at that moment, and I determined to heighten my efforts still more to learn all I could and as quickly as possible. (Soon after the convention I wrote to my mentor and explained that I was due to be discharged from the Army the following January, and I asked if any job might be available for me there at the headquarters - even if only pushing a broom - so I could multiply my learning. He wrote back and told me there were no employment opportunities, but that I should just patiently continue with the weekly monographs and local meetings.)

I was only aware of one more major subject area to be learned, called "Astral Projection" by a number of cultic groups. It's the supposed ability to have one's mind or soul leave the body and "travel" to other places and/or times. It's called an "out of body" experience. I read everything I could find on the subject both from the Rosicrucians and otherwise, and everything seemed to teach the very same points. It wasn't that a person's consciousness actually moved from one space to another, but that a certain level of consciousness had to be attained in which the dimensions of time and space were no longer relevant or "really" existent. Furthermore, the experience was not something that could be actively induced, but one had to be "passively receptive" to its occurrence to an even greater extent than with other mind experiments. And too, it was claimed that a person may experience surprising loud noises inside the mind or bright colored flashing lights or other seemingly bizarre events just briefly before being enabled to "project out of one's body," but the odd manifestations would quickly fade and the necessary state of consciousness would immediately follow.

I got it all down pat, and over and over again. Then I determined what I was going to do. My duty-day generally ended at 3:00 P.M. every weekday, and I was able to find quiet and comfortable privacy in my barracks room. At that same time it was 6:00 P.M. for my family in Cleveland, and for years the family sat down for supper precisely at that time because of when my father got home from work. I honestly thought I would "project" my mind back to the family kitchen, observe what was being served, get "back to myself," and then get on a phone and tell them what they just ate. Day after day I "tried," yet knowing it couldn't be "forced," and I failed every time to get any sense of being back home. No bizarre events took place in my mind, but I did eventually become utterly obsessed with seeing the thing through! No matter what I did, though, I couldn't "intentionally/passively" bring it about.

Meanwhile my posting of the guard during the bombing threats took place, along with another incident of deep spiritual impact for me. My conscience was in turmoil from all the cultic experimentations and I got to a point of severe mental anguish and depression. I guessed that God was perhaps causing me to be punished for my rebellion and departure from Christian roots, and I felt more lost than I had ever felt before in my life - even more than back before Panama when I was alone and waiting for the orders to come and had prayed so intensely. And when evening came that day I was obliged to post the guard detail, deploring IT with everything in me as well. - Once done taking all the people to their stations, I sat for hours with the barrel of my M-16 in my mouth, with those three rounds set for fully automatic - like a machine gun - and my thumb on the trigger. The thoughts filling my mind were full of guilt, worthlessness and self-incriminations. The one thought among them all that prevented me from shooting, though, was to wonder if there really is a hell and if I might therefore send myself to an even worse situation - and for eternity. I wasn't sure, but the possibility was just enough reason to make me hesitate again and again.

I wasn't called on to post any more guard details with Patty Hearst having been arrested, but I did have to pull what was called "Staff Duty" once or twice afterwards, carrying a loaded .45 caliber pistol but thankfully past the point of such driving suicidal thinking. At those times I was required to stay up all night, do hourly security checks of the Battalion's buildings myself and monitor the phone. I had to do it the night after Christmas, which helped lead to my ultimate turning point, and that will be explained shortly.

Things continued with my attempts to "astral project" to Cleveland with no success. Then one night I woke up in the middle of the night. It was extremely odd, because I fancied myself to be an expert at meditatively putting myself to sleep and remaining so until my alarm clock went off in the morning. Even more odd was the fact that I couldn't put myself back to sleep again. I went to the bathroom and thought that would help. It didn't work. I got up and got a drink of water and thought it might help. It didn't. I took another little walk around with no result in helping me get back to sleep. I sat down on the edge of the bed and then it happened! A roar like the sound of a jet engine just a short few feet away filled my head. In an instant I realized that it truly might be a crashing jet, with there being both a landing strip on our Post and a commercial airport right next to the Post. It seemed highly possible that the jet was coming right through my window and my life was over. And just as instantaneously I recalled all the teaching about astral projection and the startling loud noise that could immediately precede it. - Sure enough, the noise quickly subsided and I suddenly felt "ready" to project somewhere. Barely giving a thought I decided on downtown Detroit. I'd never been there and had no idea why I made the choice, but there I was - immediately walking down a street full of city buildings and skyscrapers. It was the first "fun" experience I'd had in a long time. I didn't see any people, but I vaguely figured it just might be a Sunday morning there or something, and maybe things were all closed down. I did want to verify that it was Detroit and not just my imagination, so I began looking for some sign that would prove it. But there weren't any signs. None on the street corners. None on the windows of the stores and buildings I passed. None inside those windows that I could see. That's when I began to get a bit disturbed and panicky. I desperately began to search for any clue as to where I was and why there were no signs or people to be seen - and it gradually dawned on me that it wasn't a real physical experience. It was just something happening inside my mind. And finally it hit me right between the eyes like a ton of bricks -- that here I was lost downtown in some big city and had no idea where, and it wasn't real but all in my mind - but I was lost THERE and didn't know how to change things or get out or back to a normal state of consciousness. I was realizing that I had LOST MY MIND!!! -- It's impossible for me to describe what a frightening, sobering realization that was.

I gradually "drifted" back to normal consciousness, finding myself sitting full-upright on the bed right where I was when the jet engine noise began. I never returned to Detroit in my mind, but I began taking little mind trips constantly thereafter, often preceded by a sound like a car tire blowing out. I had no control. It could happen driving down the highway, and I'd find myself pulling back out on the road from the shoulder and wonder why I was there. I could be sitting at my typewriter at work and suddenly be wondering what I was doing there because of a vivid trip to somewhere else in my mind. Others were beginning to see my work being affected, and one person in particular was paying VERY close attention. - His name was Brad, and he was a good friend along with Gus and only a few others. He was a "clinical psychiatric nurse" and was also training to become a fully certified "P.A." (Physician's Assistant). He was married and had a beautiful little daughter named Christy.

Brad and his wife, Connie, were part of a new sort of Roman Catholic "charismatic movement," and they both were quite familiar with the Bible (which never before had seemed to me to be very common among other Catholic lay-people). They had often invited and taken me along to their church and prayer meetings and, while the people spoke in tongues and other things in their services, I generally practiced a mantra. There was something about Brad and Connie that I hadn't seen even with the dedicated Lutheran Christian people in Panama, though. Theirs was an unfeigned and irresistible joy that just wouldn't quit! - They were off on leave to Columbus, Ohio over Christmas that year, and I sorely missed being with them or anyone else for Christmas. And I had to pull Staff Duty the night after and was alone with my thoughts again. Mostly I was thinking I wanted to find the joy that so pervaded their lives and to know what was so special about their faith. I was extremely excited to pick them up at the San Francisco airport when they finally returned, but I kind of kept my thoughts to myself for a couple of weeks. And the mind trips became even more insidious and controlling. - That's when Brad finally pulled me aside one day and demanded that I tell him whatever in the world was going on with me - why I was "going into trances" at work and other odd behavior. This whole story, and especially about the astral projection, came out of me like a flood. I wanted his joy and was desperate to get some order, rhyme and reason in my life.

I fully expected Brad to put his arm around my shoulder and gently encourage me to take a walk with him to the Post hospital. He didn't. He WITNESSED much the same as the familiar method I once trained in - and it FINALLY CLICKED!!! He told me that Jesus Christ in my life was my only hope for getting rid of the SELF-INDUCED HALLUCINATIONS I was having, and he clearly explained how Christianity wasn't about God ramming His rules down our throats but of a personal love and care so deep as to have given His Son Jesus to bear all the deserved punishment for our sins! It all finally reached my heart and made perfect sense, perfect peace - real joy! (Adherents of astral projection delude themselves, and any textbook on Abnormal Psychology has plenty to say about seeing and hearing things that aren't really there!!!!!) --- And then explicit memories of my Panama witness training, church confirmation training in my early teens and high school religion classes, the claim of answered prayer made by a congregation for an organist in Panama and MY OWN PRAYER BEFORE PANAMA came rushing back to me - and God answered it EXACTLY as I had prayed, "God, if there's even a God out there, won't you straighten my life out before I get out of the service?" And He DID it right in the last week before my scheduled discharge from the Army!!!!!!!

You can take all the rest of the world's religions and cults and practices and beliefs and just toss them as far as I'm concerned now! I wouldn't trade the comfort and security of the true Triune God for anything in all creation. The others all claim to teach things that WE have to do to be able to reach or approach (their particular spin on) God, whether it be by meditative ritual or deeds of moral kindness or whatever else. The Christian Bible's objective written teaching is the ONLY thing that makes clear that God has done everything that's necessary for our union with Him HIMSELF, and He did it through the birth, life, sacrificial death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our personal atonement/"at-one-ment" with God. He presents Himself to us as our human brother and gentle, genuinely caring Shepherd and Leader in spite of all the ways we have deeply degraded ourselves and bludgeoned Him with our sin. - His glory and praise WILL ring forever from all those who come to know and rely on who He truly is through faith He freely bestows by His Holy Spirit. And they will DO the only truly legitimate deeds of righteousness and love and kindness and morality that can be found anywhere on this earth because He HAS SAVED them, and not because they have to do them in order to GET saved. What could be more liberating, exhilarating, awe-inspiring and worthy of our worship and praise in every way?

P.S. - I haven't seen or heard from Gus or Brad since a brief Thanksgiving-time reunion in San Francisco in 1978, except that Brad's wife shortly later wrote to me that they were divorcing. Gus continued to be pretty agnostic up through that last time seeing him, although he claimed to have been pretty impressed by my dramatic and steadfast embrace of Christianity going even to the extent that I was then just newly started as a student at a Seminary. I've always been very sorry for the way things seem to have turned out for them and have continually committed them to prayer ever since, as I have come to do for many, many people I've since met along life's way.

It wasn't long at all after my Army discharge that I began on the road to becoming a Lutheran Pastor, but that's all still another story to perhaps be told another time, and with MANY more examples of God's awesome providence, personal love and care than I could ever have imagined, - except for my actually having come to experience them. I never would have previously believed the track my life came to follow until it actually finally became a fact that I was ordained AS a "Lutheran Pastor." - Following years of both official Seminary studies and intensive personal study of the Scriptures and theology, I do not support the "charismatic" theology of my former friends Brad and Connie or any of that movement as it came to touch many church denominations over time. I believe that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Gospel and recorded in the written Scriptures to turn hearts to God in repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ (Romans 10:17). I have quite thoroughly examined not only non-Christian religions and cults, but also the intricate theologies of many denominations. There are undoubtedly true Christian believers associated with every truly Christian denomination, but after years of great struggling over the "full" true teaching of Scripture, I ended up with my own "LC-MS" church as an ordained minister - not because it was my family's accidental preference, but because all the in-depth studying led me to accept its historic original stance on all doctrines to be truly and fully in line with Scripture itself. This is the conviction of my own heart which I do not expect to be entirely shared by those who have not had the same experiences and precise studies and understandings derived from them that I have. I rejoice in the shared faith I have with any and every other Christian believer, but am not so naive as to think that there are not some significant theological differences between various denominations and church institutions' teachings.

Nevertheless, you can trust the LORD GOD HIMSELF absolutely, because He's for real and loves you in exactly the same way as I have expressed through my long personal story! Commit any darkness in your own life and understanding into His hands and you can be sure that He'll bring you through. Ask for Him to SHOW you the truth that HE HIMSELF wants you to know and in the WAY He wants you to know it - and He will surely bring it to pass if it's your heart's sincere quest. I promise, because HE guarantees it if in fact His Spirit has led you to seek after Him and understanding His Word and gracious Will wholeheartedly!

Many blessings came my way connected to my military service after discharge. Ohio State gave me numerous class "credits" as I returned to college. Coast Guard Great Lakes HQ employed me for three summers, and then also I spent one as a "certified audiometric (hearing test) technician" for Department of Defense and another summer as a general medical assistant at the Armed Forces Induction Center in St. Louis. Work at a hospital pharmacy also helped a lot with tuition once I started Seminary. Sincere thanks and praise truly do belong to God for these and countless other blessings since…
Amen, and "Soli Deo Gloria!" r.e.d. >>>

{Responses to original distribution of the above story to various people resulted in all manner of skewed ideas. Therefore I feel obliged to include this following "disclaimer" as well: By nature I have always seemed to have a high compassion for others truly suffering in some way or another and through no specific fault of their own (aside from the sin-nature we all carry) - I've felt so strongly for others at least ever since reading about the "Project Hope" hospital ship as a youngster. Some folks got my story and jumped to very wrong conclusions, that a compassionate man = gay and/or socialist, for example, or that I'm somehow still driven by some irrational fear of the cult or drug aspects of things. <--None of that stuff was intended and isn't true, and most who have known me well for a long time know that. - I just intended to put a witness out there, and if anybody identified in any way with "sufferings/bad conscience" (like mine while in the Army so long ago) they might then also be steered to Christ for their answers and relief - God's Holy Spirit guiding them, I pray. My main sticking concern besides sharing Christ with others was whether or not our government/military used all that stockpile of medical supplies for the refugees from Saigon's fall, and I was greatly heartened to learn decades later of the Wake Island and Camp Pendleton efforts by the Marines. - A Marine high school classmate of mine was IN Saigon guarding the U.S. embassy to the very last helicopter out, and I have old ABC/PBS News videotapes showing him dealing with the pressing crowds at the gate. His involvement was FAR more direct and stirring than anything I experienced at the time. Mortars were destroying the airport and hitting deep inside Saigon before our own last people got out, even, which required helicopters evacuating them from the embassy. -- Some other deeper details were also left out of my writing, but not ultimately "important" to my overall intention. For example, the "Boat People" were often intercepted by criminals/pirates from Thailand if their overloaded ferries didn't sink, and they were either sold into sex-trafficking if women (or children of either sex), or else thrown overboard or executed. That's as disturbing to me as the Colombian women ending up forced into prostitution in Panama, and Bangkok remains the world's "perversity" capitol to this day as far as I'm aware. But too, we have mission people working directly to save people out of that situation and a Lutheran Hour office there doing everything possible to reach people with Christ! Such things led to my later efforts during ministry to temporarily join and volunteer information for "American Family Association" (AFA - for which I was criticized by some peers because it's not specifically LC-MS), sending a formal complaint to the FCC with video evidence about unsuitable content available even to children by cable in the 1980s (and that actually worked to eliminate explicit content for a brief time, at least until the debut of "NYPD Blue" on ABC!), led a community-requested "child protection" seminar, personally avoided a grocery which placed explicit magazines right at the door where children passed after I had tried confronting the proprietor, etc. To explain everything there would have made the whole story WAY longer, though, without being necessary to the overall intent, and reaching too much into my future rather than trying to keep within my Army time.}

I was obliged to withdraw from pastoral ministry with a neurologically disabling vocal and muscularly spastic condition in 2001, but God has granted that for now I can still manage to point to Jesus through things like this story.



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