August 25

Why Domino Theory?

Cover Preview1

Most of my books explore in some way the topics of spirituality and peace work. Domino Theory is different. It tells the story of a drug addict named Danny McCabe who’s been framed for murder. And it explores the workings of the brain of an addict in frightening, first-person honesty. I know this, because I was there.

I don’t want to use.  I really don’t.  For one thing, heroin and alcohol is a bad mix.  You never know when you’ve done too much.  You’d suddenly pass out and quit breathing, and if there isn’t someone around to wake you up again, you’re dead.

I remember the first time it happened.  I came to and my buddy Pete was slapping me in the face.  I was like, “What the f***?”

“You weren’t breathing,” he said.

I thought about that for a sec.  Then I told him the truth.

“So what?  I don’t care.”

I think that’s what scared me the most when I woke up the next day.  I almost died and I didn’t care.

What does it matter if I do some while I’m drinking?  Even if I died, it would just end the misery.

But the misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked.  I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks.  Well, almost three weeks.  Two and a half, anyway.  My body doesn’t ache any more.  I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough.  Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope.  I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of.

So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room?  I don’t want to use it.  Really, I don’t.  It was too hard to get off of it.

But the sh*t is calling to me.  That goddamn heroin is calling my name.

I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth.  Two thirds gone now.  I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me.  I suck down half the bottle in one swallow.

Damn it, I hate that shit!  F***ing heroin.  For months I couldn’t not do it.  Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back.  It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no. 

That’s the thing.  I know I can’t say no.  I always go back to it.  I always have, and I always will.  Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary.  I know it.  You know it.  The dope knows it.  It’s calling my name.  It knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.

I drain the fourth bottle and reach for the fifth.  Only one left after this, and I’m still not drunk enough.  I light another cig.

The heroin calls.  I hate being dope sick.  I f***ing hate it.  I don’t want to go back.

But we all know I’m going to.  I can’t say no.

I chug the fifth beer and open the last one, desperate to block out the Siren’s call.  That’s exactly what it is, calling me to jump back in the dark, cold water.  Calling me to die. 

I can’t say no.

I reach under the mattress and pull out my works.  I thought about throwing it out, but I couldn’t.  I knew, even then, that I would come back.  The dope is too strong.

I could throw it away now.  I could open the window and throw the spoon and the syringe out into the alley with the rats.

But I won’t.  I can’t.  No matter how much I try to deny it, I’m a junkie.  Once you cross that line, there’s no going back.

I drain the last beer, slide the empty back into the six-pack, and reach for my knapsack.  I pull out the zip lock bag and look at it.  I feel my soul drain out of me.  Once again I am hooked.  I haven’t even opened that bag yet, but I’m going to. 

I don’t have a choice.

Why did I write such a seemingly uncharacteristic novel? The answer is simple. All my books seek to overcome misunderstanding. They seek to reconcile. For many people, a drug addict is unpredictable, incomprehensible, and not worth spending time on. I sought to show the interior workings of the addict mind in the hope of helping people understand why we do what we do.

I tried to do this without glorifying the addict lifestyle. Danny’s life is miserable. He has nothing to live for but his next fix, and the vague hope that someday things will be different. But, at least in his mind, he has no choice. Regardless of the consequences, and even though he knows it will make him more miserable, he continues to use. The lies addiction tells him are so deeply ingrained that he believes them without question.

Despite Danny’s hopelessness, I also tried to write a novel that provides hope, because there is hope. I’ve been clean over thirty years. There are millions of people like me who finally got clean and sober, and who are now productive members of society. A lot of people don’t believe an addict can change. Even Danny doesn’t believe it at the beginning. And admittedly, it usually takes a huge upheaval, usually a terrible loss, for an addict to take the chance of really trying to get clean. Sure, they make promises. There was a period when I made such promises every day, but I almost always broke them before the day was over.

But once in a while, something changes. Something gets in through the lies, and we hear hope.

Up jumps the cute girl who read Chapter Five.  She’s way too perky.  I listen to see if her name is Teresa or Shawna.

“I’m Jamie and I’m an alcoholic,” she says.  I wasn’t even close.  Anyway, she’s way to pretty to have anything good to say.  She probably sipped wine after class at the university, maybe got a DUI or something.  I don’t care what she has to say, I just like the way she looks so clean.  I bet she smells nice.

“Sixty-four days ago I was lying on the floor of a jail cell down the street here,” she says, gesturing.  “I was puking my guts out, dope-sick, and wishing I could die.  They arrested me for writing bad checks, but I don’t remember doing it,” she says.  “All I know is, I was driving down PCH, and I was driving too fast because I needed to get loaded.  This cop pulls me over and takes me in.  My car got impounded, I lost my job, and my family wouldn’t bail me out.

“At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life.  But it wasn’t.  It got worse for a couple more days.  And I finally came to laying on the floor of that jail cell, covered in my own puke.  That was the worst day of my life.

“When the cop came to let me out, I was crying,” she says.  “I told him I didn’t know how I got that bad, and I asked him, ‘What can I do?’  He gave me some change and told me to call Alcoholics Anonymous.  He even looked up the number for me.  So I called.  They told me there was a meeting here.  I walked over from the jail.  I looked like sh*t, and I was still shaking pretty bad, and I know I must have stunk.  Clint was sitting in that chair right there,” she gestures toward the front row.  “When he saw me come in, he came over to me and shook my hand and welcomed me.  And he told me it was going to be alright.

“I didn’t believe him.  But he was telling me the truth.  Because, you know, my family doesn’t want to have anything to do with me now, and I still don’t have a job, and I can’t afford to get my car out of the impound yard yet, and that costs more every day.  But I haven’t had to drink or use since I got out of jail.  For someone like me, that’s a big deal.  I haven’t had to sleep with anyone for drugs or alcohol.  I haven’t woken up in a place I didn’t know, with a person whose name I couldn’t remember.  That used to happen a lot.  Not every day, but a lot of days.

“That cop saved my life.  I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I believe it’s going to work out.  Preston, you mentioned hope, and that’s become an important word to me.  I know some of you guys were a lot worse than me, and this worked for you.  So I know it can work for me, too.  But I have to be the one who does it.  No one is going to do it for me.

“Thank you,” she finishes.

The room applauds, as they always do.  I find that my mouth is hanging open.  I close it, and I clap too.

Somehow, I believe her.  I know she didn’t just say all that for my benefit.  She’s real.

But Danny doesn’t get struck sober. He struggles with his demons. Despite the mess he’s in, he’s terrified to give up the only thing that ever made him feel better. He knows he needs to get clean. But he hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he’s more afraid of using than he is of being clean.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to drug addicts, except one: in the absence of some kind of spiritual intervention, they will continue to do what they’ve been doing, and it will get worse. The disease of addiction is deadly, and most addicts die from it.

But there is also hope. A lot of addicts do get clean. I’m one of them.

If you want to know whether Danny is one of them, too, read the book!

August 24

Of God and Country

The theme of “God and country” is indelibly etched in our national culture. Only a few proclaim “I support God and country.” But most of us proclaim “one nation under God.” License plates, bumper stickers, and even our currency proclaim, “In God we trust.” There’s an underlying assumption that the two are, if not identical, at least compatible.

But what happens when the interests of our nation diverge from the demands of our God? In one most glaring example, if it’s true that “In God we trust,” why do we need such a huge military?

“But wait,” you say. “Our enemies aren’t Christian. They won’t trust in God, they’ll use guns. What are we supposed to do?”

Therein lies the problem, because the Bible tells us exactly what we should do.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-22, see also Proverbs 25:21-22)

But we’re not so good at feeding people. According to Oxfam, we spend about 0.7% of our federal budget (and 0.19% of our national income) on foreign aid, and rank 19th in giving, far behind most industrialized nations. And nearly 25% of that aid goes for military support. Meanwhile, I am at a loss to think of a single enemy we have today that we haven’t created ourselves through short-sighted foreign policy. Iran, ISIS, and the Taliban are but three examples.

But let’s ignore foreign policy for a moment. What does the Bible say about how we should treat people here at home?

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. (Romans 14:1)

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not [feed and clothe] one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:45-46)

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (Exodus 22:25)

Can we even imagine a society in which those who are weak in faith are welcomed rather than shamed, in which everyone is fed and clothed, in which foreigners are welcomed regardless of their country of origin, and in which pawn shops are illegal?

There may be such a nation, but it isn’t this one.

And let’s be clear: sexuality may be the measure of immorality promoted by the media, but Jesus never said anyone would go to Hell for being gay.  He did say we’d go to Hell for not feeding the poor.

“But we don’t have the money,” you protest. “When so many of our veterans aren’t fed, how can we feed the poor and the refugees?”

But we do have the money, and we certainly have the food. Let’s leave aside for the moment the suggestion that if we fought fewer wars, we would need to care for fewer veterans. We’re the ninth-richest country in the world, mostly behind oil-producing states of the Middle East. And we waste as much as 40% of our food, $161 billion dollars worth in 2010, which makes food waste the largest component of our landfills. Not to mention that 35% of our population is obese, suggesting we consume more food than we need to. Our nation has the resources to help, but too often chooses not to.

Clearly our nation’s policies diverge significantly from God’s.

What do we as individual Christians do about it? Do we remain silent, cheering our nation right or wrong? Or do we speak out and risk being labeled as anti-patriotic? Do we put the needs and desires of the nation above the commandment of God?

The answer depends on our response to this simple commandment:

I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

Which do we put first, God or country? The Bible leaves little room for elevating nation above God.

August 22


Who do you talk to about being plagued by demons? Most people are going to think you’re crazy. But our experiences with them were real and, as far as I’m concerned, incontrovertible.  In Utah, we’d spoken to some Pentacostals who suggested that we could get rid of the demons ourselves by just ordering them out in the name of Jesus. That was only partly true. The demons would leave, but they wouldn’t stay gone. My pastor in Denver suggested that someone here in Harrisonburg could help. After our move, we talked to him, as well as to another couple we trusted.  Both suggested that if our problems were severe, Isaiah 61 Ministries might be able to help.

Our problems were severe, disrupting our daily lives with illness, depression, and despair. So we contacted Isaiah 61 and spoke with Roger. He warned us that if we pursued deliverance, the demons would try hard to stop us.  He was right. By the time we had completed the application process, I was beginning to wonder if I belonged to the demons and was beyond help.

The deliverance process began with a 15-page application. I submitted my genealogy, information about sins I know my ancestors committed, my own history, and my own sins and infirmities. My past is less than clean, so I was somewhat encouraged to see that there were sins listed on the checklist that I had never heard of. I filled out the application as thoroughly as I could, withholding nothing. Some of my history I felt embarrassed to share with people I barely knew, but I was desperate, and what’s the point of the process if I’m not going to be honest?

The deliverance itself took three 5-hour sessions for my wife and me. Everything the four-person team did or proposed was firmly based in scripture, though I have to admit much of it was foreign to me as a Mennonite. And, as the sessions approached, I became quite nervous.  I was about to bare my soul to four strangers. But, more importantly, what if my faith was insufficient?

My first session began with a prayer, which among other things acknowledged the team’s power and authority over demons before God as justified in the Gospel.  Then came the first part, a lengthy interview to clarify my answers on the application. In the second part, I repented and renounced my sins and the sins of my ancestors, renounced my vows to other religions, and acknowledged my broken vows, including my marriage vows to my first two wives. The team also broke any and all curses that may have been upon me.

Curses? Really?

Yes, really. Though I have no intellectual framework to support the idea, I now accept that curses exist, and that they pass down through generations. (Not long ago, a psychic told my wife she was under a multi-generational curse that was over 400 years old. Ironically, though she was correct, consulting her worsened the infestation of demons.) There are specific curses mentioned in the Bible, such as that of Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God, and that of the Jews, who claimed responsibility for the blood of Christ when they demanded His crucifixion. There are curses spoken or written, some even by our own selves as when we “claim” a certain negative characteristic through our self-talk. And there are curses associated with specific actions. Roger claims that the French are under a curse for the killing of the Hugonots. I also discerned a curse associated with the House of David I of Scotland, though for what specific act I could not tell.

In the third part, the team “tested” for spirits. This involved the team leader, Roger, calling out the spirits one by one and commanding them to leave. I was amazed at how many of them came out. There were at least dozens, possibly more than a hundred, though I have no way of counting them. Most surprising to me was a strong Norse presence, which I saw manifested as a steel helmet. I know I have Viking ancestors, but they’re so far back I doubted they would have any effect on me. Apparently, they did. I also have one ancestor who seems to appear from nowhere, and I suspected he might be Native American. When Roger called out any Native American spirits, I saw a vision of a Native American village in which a blonde woman was bound with leather things, leading me to believe that my ancestor was in fact half Native, the child of a kidnapped female settler (which apparently happened quite often on the frontier in Maine). Perhaps the oddest encounter, though, occurred in my second session. There was a darkness lodged in my abdomen, and Roger called it out but it refused to move. He asked what it was called, and it replied, “Flexus.” He asked why it was still there, and it replied, “Because it’s warm.” He asked its purpose, and it answered, “I’m the defiant one.” Which, obviously, it was. Roger then began a very legalistic prayer, terminating its rights and canceling its assignments, and it left very painfully through my head.

But let’s back up a moment. As part of my interview, I was asked the date on which I was “saved.” I left it blank. Though I believe in God and Jesus, I had no faith whatever that Jesus’s sacrifice had anything to do with my sins. I felt that somehow my sins were so bad that I could not be forgiven. I was very clear about my lack of faith.

And here’s the problem:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

Without sufficient faith to fill oneself with the Holy Spirit, the demons return in even greater numbers.  That had been our problem in the past.

During the interview, I was again clear about my lack of belief. They asked me if I believed in eternal life, and I answered (honestly) that I didn’t, and I didn’t much care about eternal life. They asked me if I believed that my sins could be forgiven by Jesus, and again I answered in the negative. But after some discussion, I was able to envision giving Jesus a suitcase full of my sins, and letting Him do with them as He sees fit.

That turned out to be sufficient. I can now say with my heart, though not with any theological or intellectual backing, that I believe my sins have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus’s self-sacrifice.

There’s another catch. Jesus asks for repentance, from the verb “to repent,” which is “to feel or show that you are sorry for something bad or wrong that you did and that you want to do what is right” (Webster). Obviously there is a question whether repentance is sincere if you keep doing what you were doing. But there is a more practical concern. If committing a sin opens a door for a demon (or multiple demons) to enter, then one must stop committing the sin in order to keep the demons out. My wife and I cleaned our home of all representations of other religions, including my Buddha collection and her Alan Watts tapes. We burned our tarot cards. We threw out books and pictures. I deleted much of my old music from my MP3 player and computer. We’ve virtually eliminated course language. We’re careful about what we watch on Netflix and listen to on Youtube. This hasn’t been easy. Some of the items we disposed of were antiques and rare books. And some days, I miss Black Sabbath!

But how much are these things worth compared to peace with God and a life free from demonic oppression? The answer is clear. Since my first deliverance session over two weeks ago, I haven’t been angry or depressed.  I’ve experienced a feeling of comfort and settledness I have never felt before. I have not been struck perfect. There are days I still struggle with vulgar language, fear of financial insecurity, and inappropriate sexual thoughts. They won’t be canonizing me any time soon. But the peace that I’ve found, after literally years of torment from these things of darkness, is incomparable.

August 19

The Spiritual Journey – Darkness

Hiding didn’t work, of course. God was in Utah just as much as anywhere else. And my spirit pined to continue my quest. One day, while visiting family in Denver, I attended a Mennonite Church. I felt like I was home. I loved the message, the music, and the people. I was baptized later that year, and began to wonder how I could immerse myself in this spirit I found at a church that was eight hours from home.

That’s about the time things got complicated. I found myself increasingly plagued with despair and depression, and my wife suggested I might have some darkness in me. I didn’t take her seriously.  Darkness?  That’s fiction, right?

It’s not fiction. As things grew worse for me, I became willing to consider that perhaps I was infested with some sort of dark entity. That sounds crazy, right? But it wasn’t. One day, as I was praying to God for clarity, I saw it. A small, dark, nebulous creature was inhabiting my chest. I told it to leave, and it left.

But it didn’t stay gone. It returned with others, and soon we were in a full-scale battle with demons on our ranch. We had no idea what to do.  We searched the internet. We talked to pastors from various denominations. Everyone told us that of we cast them out in the name of Jesus, they would go. And they did. But they didn’t stay gone.

I need to interject here that I still have no coherent theology to account for demons. I don;t believe in ghosts, either, except that I’ve seen two in my lifetime. I’ve seen these demons. I’ve fought them. I know they are real.

My desire to lead a God-centered life led me to move to Virginia to attend seminary. I desperately hoped that we would leave the demons behind when we left. And for the first month, it seemed like we had. Then things started to go wrong. Like ten emergency room visits in six weeks. Like crisis after crisis, most often on Saturday nights so we’d miss church on Sunday.

We sought help, and were led to a former business professor who had retired to study deliverance ministry. He explained to us that casting our demons was as simple as we’d been taught, but not if you want to do it thoroughly. To get rid of them all, and have them stay gone we had missed a few steps. First, we had to confess our sins before God.  And second, we had to accept the healing power of Jesus’s resurrection into out lives.

I have no trouble confessing my sins. I’ve been doing it in the Twelve Step program for years. But what’s all this about the healing power of Jesus’s resurrection? I still could not believe that my sins could somehow be transferred to another person, especially one who’s been dead for 2,000 years.

But I was desperate. I had begun feeling like the darkness was winning.  My prayer had become, “God, if I am not of the darkness, cleanse me; if I am of the darkness but can be saved, save me; if I am of the darkness and cannot be saved, remove me before I do more damage.”

Here was a man who claimed he could cleanse me. You bet I was listening!

The application process was fifteen pages long.  It covered ancestral sins, false beliefs, sins I committed, mental and physical frailties, and more. I filled it out completely.

The day of my deliverance, I was terrified. What if I was unable to believe enough for this to work? I mean, he warned me that we had to live differently, which I was fine with. But he also warned me that I would have to believe differently. I’ve never had much luck believing what people told me to believe!

I’ll describe the deliverance process itself another time. But I will say that when the time came, I was granted sufficient understanding of the forgiveness of Jesus for the process to work. I watched an amazing number of demons come out of me.  That was two weeks ago, and they haven’t returned.



August 18

The Spiritual Journey – Part 1

My spiritual journey began, I suppose, the day I realized I didn’t believe in the God my parent’s church talked about. I was thirteen years old at the time, depressed, and certain that there could be no God or He would have helped me. I became an atheist, searching for answers in the realms of politics, eastern religions, and psychedelics.

I found few answers, and my focus gradually changed to alcohol, stimulants, and opiates, as well as literature (and music) about those same topics. Eventually, miserable and afraid that death had forgotten me, I got sober.

The Twelve Step program insisted that I search for God as an answer to my addictions.  I didn’t know how to search. For a while, it was enough to accept God as mysterious, unknown force that removed my obsession to drink and use. But the time came when I was forced to enlarge my spiritual life. I scanned the Yellow Pages for churches.  (This was long before Google.)  I tried several, including one that promised heavy metal music and long hair. Nothing fit.  They wanted me, at this point an agnostic, to accept that Jesus dies for my sins so I could go to Heaven. I barely believed in Jesus, felt that my sins were beyond forgiveness, and had no interest in everlasting life.

I stumbled into a Buddhist temple one day, and immediately became fascinated. They didn’t tell me what to believe. They said, in essence, “Do this, and you will see what the truth is.”  That I could do.

I studied Buddhism for several years. But again, something was missing. The “truth” they spoke of had to do with my personal salvation. But everything in me cried out for more. There were so many people in the world suffering from injustice, how could there not be an answer in this world as well as the next? (There couldn’t. But I’ll come back to that later.)

I began to pray to a God I didn’t believe in, “If there is a God, let me know You.”  And, as a corrolary, I imagined if there was a God, what would He want me to do.  This led me to volunteer in Sri Lanka and Thailand, helping the poor and hoping to learn something that would make me more useful to those the global economy had overlooked.

In Thailand, I worked with a Catholic priest whose motto was, “Preach the Gospel always; use words when necessary.” He dedicated his life to helping the poor, most of whom were Buddhists. And he opened the door to God for me in a way no one else had. I actually took communion for the first time in two decades.

When I returned to the U.S., I attended a Jesuit university, where I majored in Theology.  I still didn’t consider myself a believer, but I wanted to understand the Bible and somehow make sense out of it. My Old Testament professor, a Quaker, showed me that the focus of the Old Testament is not outlining various sins of individual behavior, but structuring a society that is fair to the poor. He pointed out, for example, that homosexuality is condemned once, while greed and injustice are condemned hundreds of times. Meanwhile my New Testament professor, a Jesuit, began his class with Jesus declaring in Mark, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  This made sense to me, and I began to believe in the teachings of Jesus, at least as they applied to this world.

As for God, I remained an agnostic. I literally didn’t know. Then, in 1999, I joined a group in Sri Lanka that was trying to end the decades-long war. My work took me int a war zone, where I felt that I came face-to-face with God. My prayer from so long ago had finally been answered.

But I didn’t like what I saw. My vision asked me to believe in the rightness of things. My peace work, it suggested, was right. And so was the war. In some vast architecture beyond my comprehension all this fit together in the Mind of God. Having seen the suffering the war caused to good people, and to children, I couldn’t accept that.

Later I moved to Utah and began making artisan cheese.  I gave up peace work. I gave up volunteer service. Yes, I was suffering from PTSD as a result of my experiences. But I was also running from God. I wanted to seek Him, but I was terrified because of what He’d shown me. So I hid for twelve years.