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Growing up my Uncle Pete was the most spiritual man I knew. It’s as if he had a direct line to God. He rarely spoke a sentence without God’s name being a part of it.

“Hey, you G*d**n kids, get in the G*d**n kitchen and eat your G*d**n breakfast, G*d**n it!” he’d yell. 

We weren’t part of a church but we visited my uncle pretty often so that was all I knew about God. In an ironic way Uncle Pete helped me begin my spiritual journey. I often wondered why Uncle Pete wanted God to damn everything. Then I just began to wonder about God.

Later I thought the best way to be spiritual was through mind-altering substances. Dumb got dumber. One night, loading into the back of Albert Shade’s ‘58 Ford pickup after a Led Zeppelin concert, some long-haired Jesus Freak handed me a religious tract. 

“Thanks,” I slurred. It felt strange as I held the tract in my hand. Afraid to read it. It was as if God had handed me his business card. I was not ready to do business with God. I let the wind grab it out of my hand as we flew home down Interstate 25.

Soon after that, I went to a Christian camp up in the mountains, where a fire and brimstone preacher yelled at us about going to hell. Maybe Uncle Pete was right and God does damn everything, I thought.

Somehow, though I don’t really remember how ‘cause my mind was probably still altered, I also heard about Jesus. Jesus didn’t damn stuff. He loved. He loved me.

It was hard to believe though. Somehow I could believe I was damned easier than that I was loved. A lot of bad and hard stuff had happened to me. I had done a lot of bad and hard stuff. I didn’t feel lovable at all. Someone said Jesus could handle it.

The final morning of that church camp I was sitting with my back to a pine tree, thinking about all this. Was I loved? Or was I damned? I picked up a twig and nervously peeled the bark off. I held the twig in my hands. I peered off into the dry pine forest. I listened to kids up at the camp laugh and pack and get ready to go home. Home for me was hell so I knew what being damned was like. 

Was I loved? I looked down at my hands. There, peeled from underneath the bark, was a tiny, smooth, naked cross. I know it’s not much of a miracle. Not like God’s (or my uncle’s) voice booming from the clouds. But it was a sign. That was forty years ago and I’ve mainly believed I’m loved since. 

So, my Uncle Pete was right, though he didn’t know it. We do have a direct line to God—not to damn people and things. Or more correctly a direct line from God: to be loved and to love with Jesus’ love. Hard to believe, I know! The evidence is usually right there in front of us, if we are willing to see. And when I can’t see it, I dig out that tiny wooden cross.