A post from Charles, a new guest-writer on Via Chicago. While most men his age are worrying about building wealth, chasing power in business arenas, or regretting poor decisions and their life-long consequences—Charles spends his energy pouring his heart into helping young men who’ve been hurt and need a confident man’s wisdom and guidance. Here’s a little look into why Charles prioritizes these relationships, into what captures his curiosity, into what change he seeks in others—and ultimately, in himself. Enjoy.
Perhaps the most popular word in this year’s election has been “change”; touted in campaign slogans like, “Change We Can Believe In” or “Vote for Change” or “Change We Need.” I have spent a number of years thinking about “change,” not political change per se, but how people change. I have mentored a number of young men in my life, and the common denominator I have found in all of them is a desire to be saved from some unwanted desire or personal secret – to be saved from themselves. In other words, they want to change; whether it be from addiction to Internet pornography, lust, unwanted attractions, anger, or a myriad of other hidden pains, additions and doubts.
I recently finished reading the autobiography of Brian “Head” Welch, the former lead guitarist of the rock group Korn. “Head” is a nickname that stuck – given by junior high peers who deemed his head too big for his body. The book is called Save Me from Myself. I like that title. Isn’t that what we really want to be saved from, ourselves? Head writes in his book, “I was a master at hiding my pain and anguish from absolutely everyone. I was always the one who made everyone laugh – everyone except myself that is. I would always act like a goofball, appearing to be a normal, happy guy when I was around people. But it was all a front to cover up the internal prison that my heart was in.” This is what some refer to as the “false self.” Head went on to live the first thirty years of his life in this false self; tortured by meth and speed addiction, out of control promiscuity, and suicidal thoughts, and that was just for breakfast. Later in his story he writes, “I was sitting at my computer and flipping through the pages of my Bible, when I felt a peaceful presence hovering over me. Then I felt something hug me – wrapping around me in an embrace. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling, other than to say it was like someone poured liquid love into my body and all around me. I had chills all over my whole body – I have never felt anything like that before in my life. I was caught up in total ecstacy. The high was higher than any drug I’d ever done in my life and I was instantly addicted to it. I looked up and gently said, ‘Father?’ There was nothing there for me to see, but I could feel his presence so strong. It was God.” You can read Head’s book (which I recommend), to learn more about how he found God, escaped his personal torture chamber and lived to tell about it. He is a changed man.
Reading this book has caused me to revisit the question of how we really change or in Head’s words, how we get saved from ourselves. Dallas Willard, the former Director of the School of Philosophy at USC, tells in his book, Renovation of the Heart, a story about how his father was saved from himself. Dallas writes, “My father was a two-pack-a-day smoker until he was in his seventies. Then one day, in the Veteran’s Hospital where he went for health care, he saw a man smoking with the aid of a special machine that enabled him to smoke even though his lips had been eaten away by cancer caused by smoking. He saw the foolishness of smoking, and he believed it. He never smoked another cigarette.” Wow, now that’s change! Somehow, this story never leaves me (especially when I’m around my twenty-something friends who all seem to smoke cigarettes!). What caused Dallas’ father to stop smoking and change so dramatically and resolutely?
Dallas follows the story with an account by C.S. Lewis of personal change, “C.S. Lewis tells how one day he got into the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle to travel a short distance. When he got in, he was an unbeliever still, though much had been happening to him. When he got out, he was a believer. He did not make this change. He discovered it after it had happened.” Wow again! Let me see if I got this right: In the sidecar an unbeliever, out of the sidecar a believer. Now that’s change (or perhaps a “discovery” as Willard surmises)! Hey wait a minute, what happened in that side car? Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” movies alone have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, add that to millions of book sales; not to mention that he is widely considered the most influential Christian writer of the 20th century. Does this not happen without the sidecar? Are we then without Chronicles of Narnia, Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity?
A Christian minister named Mahesh Chavda writes in his book, Only Love Can Make a Miracle, of a mystical experience he had as a boy being “caught up into heaven” like St. Paul. The experience initiated his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. Mahesh writes of his encounter with heaven, “Colors were different. It was a though they provided their own color from within. The light wasn’t reflecting off of them, it was pulsating from inside them, an absolutely pure light. To his day, when I see colors on earth – even spectacular ones – they seem tainted or faded to me.” Okay, I realize that this is an unusual story that some might struggle believing. I share it, however, because I have met Mahesh and his story has remained with me for many years. What caused Mahesh to change; to now see earthly colors as tainted or faded? That has never happened to me; spectacular colors appear to me, well, only as spectacular. How did the way Mahesh “see” change? How can you and I change – saved from how we see ourselves, our brokenness, others, our world?
These stories remind of the line from the old hymn, “The things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Glory and grace encounters a rock star from Korn, a two-pack-a-day smoker, Lewis in the sidecar, and a man who will never see colors the same again. They leave me wondering, what really causes people to change? I’m not contending that change happens immediately or must be mystical or must even happen at all. I will contend however that these stories have a common denominator: each person, like the blind man Jesus encountered in the Gospels, can testify, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”