Saturday, February 6, 2010
Yesterday I Cried
I was reading an article in a Christian Encounter Ministries newsletter about the history of the organization and its founder. Years ago, I was an integral part of that organization and in close relationship with their founder. Recent years found me out of the loop. There was a postscript at the end, "Paul Cecil went home to be with the Lord on December 27, 2009. . ." You see, years ago this man --the founder and director--and C.E.M. saved my life, my sanity, my faith.
It was the 70's and I was living in San Diego in one of its little communities, Ocean Beach. Back in the day, if you were in your 20's and lived in San Diego you were either: 1. in the military 2. a student at San Diego State 3. a strung-out dopehead/hippie/freak. Suffice it to say, I wasn't saying, "Yessir!!" nor did my evening hours consist of reading a sociology textbook.
Several years prior I had gone through a crisis of faith and the crisis overrode and demolished my faith. I was blind in my rage and in my pain. Having rejected my faith, and hurt to the core, I couldn't bear the excruciating angst of soul. My brother had moved in with me and first turned me on to weed. What a relaxing escape it became. I went from sampling it to savoring it to selling it. I inhaled more pot than oxygen. I sampled the rest of the available chemical and herbal and pharmaceutical delights at my disposal. Dope replaced hope. Eventually, I spiraled downward very quickly. Breakfast consisted of snorting a line or two of pharmaceutical speed and washing it down with orange juice. (Vitamin C is essential to a healthy body and mind.) The rest of the day I maintained by constantly smoking pot and occasional trips--not to CVS, but LSD.
I must admit there were certainly some moments of pleasure, but my life was absolutely devoid of purpose. No meaning whatsoever. I had rejected and categorically pitched my faith. Massive mistake. I now wish I had pitched certain tenets of my belief system. I wish I had discarded my picture of God, not God. If only I had revamped my view of God, rather than removing God. But I didn't and the consequent abyss of meaningless now had reached unbearable proportions. I feared if I stayed on course I'd end up a corpse soon. I desperately needed help, but I didn't know where to turn. I had no use for or trust of the institutional church, and much of the church across the country had no use for or trust of hippies. Thank you, Church.
I had a friend who was a pastor, and he was one of several churched people on the planet whom I I still trusted. I called him and told him I needed help, I needed to get out of the lifestyle. He knew my disdain for the church and told me about a guy who lived up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Grass Valley, CA. Go figure.
He was a misfit pastor who didn't do well in the institutional church and he had a heart for all the hippies "on the road." He knew that the vast majority of flower children wouldn't set foot in a church and, unfortunately, many churches didn't want hippies setting foot in their squeaky clean edifices. So, Paul Cecil had a vision of outreach. He packed his wife and young children and moved to the foothills. They literally pitched camp. An Army tent and a gasoline generator for survival. Word spread that there was someone in the foothills who truly cared about long-haired freaks, who would help, who would do what he could do to get you cleaned out. The churches got behind the idea for both good and gory reasons. It was a creative, viable outreach; the churches didn't have to get dirty.
Churches began providing him financial support. By the time my tired soul arrived on the scene, little cabins had been constructed for us freaks to stay in, a lodge was constructed for communal meals, and he had a small staff to assist. I showed up, I believe, on Christmas Eve. Didn't know a soul. Didn't know what to expect. I had a woolly beard and unkempt hair that grew out, not down. I knocked on his office door, he says, "Come in," and I do, and here's this guy in an Army fatigue jacket, butch haircut, and I'm thinking, "Dude! Not farout at all! What have I just gotten myself into and wouldn't a joint be really, really good right now but would also get crammed down my throat by Sarge here."
Thus began a relationship and a journey. Paul was as unorthodox and unpredictable as they come. He respected you and demanded you respect him and each other. Did I say he was unorthodox? A fellow-freak was foul-mouth and disrespectful and refused to contain his language. After ample warning, one day F-bomb freak let out with a barrage of expletives and Paul grabbed him and a garden hose and proceeded to "clean his mouth out." F-bomb freak had 2 options: shutup or drown. He chose the former. I don't recall seeing that type of intervention in the American Psychological Association ethical guidelines nor in the Bible, but it served as a turning point for F-bomb freak. Paul Cecil, an enigma. Yelling and screaming one minute, and comforting you the next. Intolerant of your crap and headgames, yet a heart of gold. At times, abrasive and in your face; other times, a gentle man consoling your hurt. He may have had as many enemies as friends. There were times I hated him, there were times I would die for him. I do know this: he was a man of faith who instilled and inspired faith.
My time with Paul Cecil and Encounter Ranch saved my life. I got all the chemicals out of my system via unorthodox detox with no protocols other than prayer and care. In time, I re-established faith in God. Actually, God wooed me back. A mending of mind and healing of heart took place, thanks to Paul.
While there, I met a young woman who had come out to the Ranch to serve in a summer internship. We fell in love and she prolonged her internship. The summer internship has become a 34 year marriage. Paul mentored us and wedded us.
Yes, he should have and could have. . . He made a lot of mistakes. He burnt a lot of bridges while, paradoxically, building many lives. He lost some of his own family in his attempt to save the world. He was a flawed and fallen man, but a faithful man.
Today, I am saddened by his death and thankful for his life.
I owe a lot to Paul Cecil.