Running after the Desert Treasure: Parts 1-3

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Michael Renza | 8 September 2020

Michael Renza studied Business Entrepreneurship at Palm Beach State College. He hopes to become a small business owner in the future.

 

Part 1, The Beginning

To say my spiritual journey is like an odyssey is an understatement. But to me looking back at its parts of it can be odd itself.

My name is Michael Renza and I just turned 33 years old. I grew up with diversity from the start with a German and Italian American father from New York and a mother from the Philippines, and the one way they connected was through faith in the Roman Catholic church. From the start I knew things were different for me as well as for my younger brother as both of us saw and experienced as young kids two different types of worlds: one being from our mother’s country of origin, the Philippines, and the other a very proud ethnic Italian Catholic family from our father’s side. But the one thing that united both cultures was our Catholic background.

Now to those who read this and think Catholicism is universal, you are right; but with the number of cultures that make up the Roman Catholic church, it itself is quite diverse so when me and my brother started going through our American Catholic upbringing, we were in for a culture and spiritual shock. Even to much of my surprise, seeing everything done in one country but not done in my country made me feel out of place sometimes in both church and Sunday school. It was also difficult trying to make sense of the Filipino roots I was taught and making them make sense in my American background.

It wasn’t until I got to middle school that I really started to see that my world isn’t as small as it was. It wasn’t even until I was 11 when I joined the Boy Scouts of America back in 1998 that I started to meet other types of Christians who weren’t Catholic! Meeting people called Baptists or Methodists or even Mormons and meeting people that were Irish, Czech, Brazilian and other cultures made me see that the view I had as a small child was starting to change. And then I met a friend who was Jewish and told me he didn’t believe in Jesus but only in the Old Testament. WHAT!!!!! Such people exist?! How did that happen and why??? This is a joke, right? And to make it even more interesting I even befriended two friends in the 7th grade who themselves were Jewish and invited me to their Bar Mitzvah. Now to those who don’t know what that is, it's a ceremony for Jewish kids where they become men in their culture and for girls, they become women via a Bat Mitzvah. Needless to say, by the time I was 13 I felt even more confused about my own faith.

But this sadly is where I turned away from God. It wasn’t until September 11th, 2001 did my faith in God REALLY start to collapse. How can a Loving and Compassionate God let a bunch of deranged and twisted men do what they did? How can I believe in a God who is powerful enough not to reach down from the heavens and stop those two planes into the World Trade Center and put them in the nearby rivers? By then I was a nominal Christian at best and only cared for presents on Christmas.

Part 2, The search begins

Until 2002. By 2002 I was ready to start my Confirmation and wanted to believe in God. Despite all of my doubts, I tried so hard but then found out that even evil can lurk in the church. It was in 2002 that many priests in the Catholic church were found to have abused altar boys and had inappropriate relations with minors. The response from the leaders I looked up to didn’t make me feel at ease and I felt in my heart that if there was a God he was doing a terrible job. He couldn’t even convince the Jewish people Jesus was their Messiah, He couldn’t even stop the events of September 11th from happening, and worse of all, He let a bunch of so-called holy priests do what they did to innocent people. I was now an atheist and only wanted my Confirmation money; if anything, to me, church was a waste of time and a waste of land.

But inside I knew there was something in this universe, in this existence we called life. By the time I was 17 in 2004 I went on my own spiritual journey and started to look into other religions. Seeing as I am also half Asian/Pacific Islander I decided to look at eastern religions. I searched for enlightenment in Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Confucianism, and even Islam too! But as much as I searched those religions and faiths they never answered anything for me and from that point in 2005 I became an agnostic. I really wasn’t sure if God was real or if there was one, or two, or a thousand.

Part 3, Walking alone in the desert

After I graduated high school in 2005 I shortly started attending a local community college just to knock out the general education classes. What I wasn’t expecting even back then was one of my college professors starting to question my uncertain beliefs. In addition to our conversations in Spanish, I started to really look into the idea of there is a possibility of a god that does exist after all! It wasn’t until that point that I was 18 and still at a learning age that my agnosticism slowly turned into deism. For those who don’t know what deism is, it is a belief in one god but not to any particular religion or belief system, and at that point I was perfectly okay with that idea.

However, not all good things last forever, sadly. There is a day that will forever be burned into my mind; it was the day my dad told my mom that he had cancer. I remember it too vividly; I was in the next room in my house and it was also around Easter, so about April 2006. I was on my desktop computer working on a research paper for a history class and then I just slowly finished whatever topic of my paper I was working on and then saved and went straight to my room to just process all of this. What I remember that year was my dad going through a lot of chemo and in the beginning, it looked like he was getting cured. But sadly, by September 2006 the chemo stopped working and the cancer in his neck came back and started to slowly take his life. I saw the man who raised me practically suffocate to death from that cancer and then on February 17, 2007 my father passed away to eternal rest in God’s care.

At this point, I was a mixture of many emotions. Grief, sadness, anger, depression. I didn’t know what to think or believe and my life slowly started to feel lifeless and like a cruel joke. If God was there and all-caring and can heal then why couldn’t he heal my dad? So that rest of the year I did my best to compose myself and get through college and just try and make do with the part time jobs I had at the time. If you asked me at that time if I believed in God, I would say kind of, but I thought He wasn’t that great after watching my dad die the way he did.