Caught in the Winds | L. D. Wenzel

Caught in the Winds

The following is an excerpt from Caught in the Winds by L. D. Wenzel. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

Author’s Introduction: The following selection is from Book Two. Book One is a kind of prologue where the reader is introduced to Morrie and his struggles as an evangelical Christian at Bethlehem College. Everything seems to be breaking down, leaving Morrie in a collapsed state. In Book Two, he meets a spurious and rogue philosopher, Jack Joplin. Early in Morrie’s “mentorship,” Jack introduces him to his philosophical method called the “Doubting Drills.” Enjoy.

During our many meetings, Jack taught me a spurious way of doing philosophy with his own version of the phenomenological method.

“You’ll never learn my method by studying at Bethlehem College,” he told me during our very first lesson together. “Phenomenology, as taught by your egghead professors, is just an idea. They miss the whole point of what they teach. How can any method be an abstract theory? One must do something, and that requires action. Without everyday practice, the very idea of a method is a scam.

“To put my method into motion requires a new way of seeing. Take a flower, for example; one should not ask, ‘What kind is it?’ or ‘How does it function?’ Such are today’s mediocre methods of inquiry. The true phenomenologist asks, ‘ What does it mean? ‘ One does philosophy by reflecting on himself in the world and then grasping its significance.

“Take another example—from modern-day psychology. By viewing human behavior as a mechanism, psychologists eliminate consciousness itself. These so-called scientists err in that while claiming to be describing human activity, they deny their activity of describing is part of the description.”

“Doing psychology is also a human activity,” I said.

“Yes, exactly. My phenomenological method overcomes the distance between the thinking self and so-called objects and does away with the distinctions between them.”

Jack taught me his methods of self-reflection step-by-step. He showed me how the highest realm of philosophy, and therefore life, was the human individual analyzing its own self. The self was a microcosm of the universe, and within this self lay the essence of all existence.

“But,” he added, “to see this essence—who you are and what is—you must set aside all beliefs and interpretations and free yourself from the ignorance of past generations. Every idea, secular and sacred, must be questioned.”

According to Jack, the first step in preparing the mind to see the truth was in the art of doubting.

“To doubt need not mean to deny,” he said repeatedly. “Nor does questioning conventional beliefs mean that they are false. The materialist errs by denying any reality beyond the physical senses. He rejects that which he does not understand.”

Most surprising was when Jack insisted that religious prejudices were not the greatest hindrance to an objective analysis of the self. He once lamented on one of our many walks across the campus, “In these secular times, the rejection of all spiritual realms is the popular thing to do—especially among academics. They’ll write you off as archaic if you evoke the Spirit, those chronological snobs. In truth, that bastardly discipline called the scientific method is, while spewing its material facts, what’s leading the human race away from the Truth.”

Jack was no friend of a religious point of view either. “Whether they admit it or not, most religious people give only lip service to spiritual realities, filling a need to be seen as orthodox. But in practice, they are materialists and slaves to the scientific method.” He often gave the example of conservative Christians who strive to “scientifically prove” the Creation story as recorded in Genesis, and he wondered how anyone could hope to make biblical records more credible by using the scientific method.

“Ha!” he would scoff, “with the mortar of scientific proofs, creationists would cover up their own inability to believe. St. Paul spoke wisely when he said: ‘Ever learning, yet never coming to the knowledge of the Truth.’”

Only reluctantly did he admit that the laws of cause and effect were the greatest competitor to his own phenomenological method. He argued, “Dogmatic arrogance is the bedrock of the natural sciences. Modern science enshrines its beliefs by allowing nothing beyond the physical to be investigated.”

According to Jack, the scientific method was the greatest of all lies. “Especially when they laud it as objective and unbiased. Only my method can rightfully claim that! Their doctrines, having entrenched the minds of several generations, pervert man’s self-awareness. How naïve to think that the five senses can solve the mysteries of the universe. In their sterility, the secularists have to deny the reality of absolutes. Yet, for them, this denial is absolute. Just try touching their sacred cows, and you’ll find the most fanatical dogmatists on the face of this earth.”

Our talks on this subject always ended with a passionate appeal from Jack: “The beauty of my phenomenological method is that, with a proper perspective, the need to prop up belief with dogmas disappears. The darkened glass that shrouds the Truth becomes a crystalline lens. The self penetrates reality, which absolutely reveals itself. Then, and only then, will a person see the heights and depths of his own being.”

Thus, Jack discipled me in his phenomenological method. For starters, he gave me philosophical drills. His instructions he laid out in a workbook with step-by-step exercises in doubting. The very first chapter bore the title: Doubting the tenets of the Christian faith.

“Jack,” I said, pointing to the pages in the workbook. “You can’t ask me to do this. There are certain beliefs that Christians cannot and should not doubt. The very foundation of our religion is the Bible and our Apostolic Confession. How can you ask me to do the opposite?”

Nevertheless, Jack insisted, “If your faith is built on the sinking sand of religious security, it isn’t worth keeping. You’ll go down fast with your feet embedded in a bucket of dried cement.”

“I don’t like it when you talk that way,” I replied. “You know, you’re dangerous. You really are.”

Jack laughed, and I felt his scorn. “Am I now? What is the matter? Are you afraid that what you believe might not be true?”

“Of course not!”

“Well then, what’s your problem?” he asked.

I said nothing and turned away to avoid his incisive eyes.

“Listen, I’ve told you a dozen times: Doubting is different from denying.’ I’m only asking you to do the former, remember?” He placed his hand on my cheek, and turned my head back toward him.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“If something’s really certain, it can stand a round of objective doubting. If what you believe is true, your faith will become even stronger, like the house built on a rock, having passed the test. Trust me.”

“Trust you? You’re asking me to entrust my faith in Christ to you?” I asked.

Jack chuckled. “Well, now that you put it that way, yes.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said and turned away again.

“Good. That’s all I ask of you. Here, take the workbook. I’ve written it myself.”

Without replying, I stuffed Jack’s workbook in my backpack and started walking.

“And Morrie…”

“Yes?” I stopped.

“I’m asking a lot of you, so it’s all right to be scared. Yes, there are many risks, but you won’t regret it. Remember, anyone can be a biological organism, but to be truly human, you have to choose.”

“I said I’d think about it.”

That night, I returned to my dorm in a whirlwind of confusion. Disconnected images flashed through my mind of my father taking up the offering at our Baptist church, of my mother kneeling inside a Catholic church, surrounded by ivory-colored statues of the saints. All the while, I could literally feel Jack walking around and within the different scenes. Cool and uncommitted, he touched the offering plates and statues that instantly turned into dust as gusts of wind blew them away.

I rushed into my room and flung myself upon the bed. Jack’s workbook lay open before me, open to the page titled Drills in methodical doubting.

“NO!” I shouted, sending Jack’s book crashing against the wall. “I won’t do it. I can’t.”

Too late.  The doubting process had already started. Without my asking, a reservoir of repressed doubts came gushing to the surface of my mind as I recalled all those Sunday school teachers, preachers, and youth workers who had forced me to suppress unanswered questions. All had been claiming to be defending my faith. Without having to try, I doubted every evangelical doctrine that Pastor Patterson had so confidently imparted to our family. I doubted the creation story, the account of Noah’s ark, and even whether Russia was Magog. I was skeptical as to whether the born-again experience had any validity, not to mention doctrines like the virgin birth of Christ, the reality of angels, and finally, the very existence of God. Doubting came without effort as if these misgivings had been there all along, lurking in the shadows of my soul.

Throughout the night, I tossed and turned on my bed as memory after memory of religious beliefs sprang to my consciousness. Just as my recollection was exhausted, a new deluge from my forgotten past resurfaced. I would groan, and the process started over again.

Finally, just before dawn, I fell into a deep sleep and slumbered through my morning classes. Nothing had changed; yet everything had changed, as if I believed and disbelieved simultaneously. What a strange sensation! I had never felt more myself.

This was only the beginning! Jack could predict the very areas in me most difficult to doubt. The drills, which challenged the scientific method, proved more difficult than doubting Christianity. Once, when a particular point on the law of cause and effect was especially difficult to doubt, I had to call up Jack in the middle of the night and ask for help.

“I knew you’d seek me out on this one,” he said when answering the phone. “In fact, I stayed up tonight waiting for you to call.”

We would then meet secretly in the basement of my dorm, a little storage room next to the boilers. First, I would lay bare my soul, and he would follow by pressing his hands against my temples and speaking to me with a voice that sounded first like a screeching owl and then like a growling wolf.

He aroused forgotten memories of those grade school teachers who had molded my little mind into conditioned ways of thinking, of science classes where I, as a child, gathered autumn leaves and pressed them between the pages of a Sears catalog. Meanwhile, these mentors would subtly twist my budding mind into believing the “reality” of class and genus. The praises of achievement I received whenever I scored well on a science test, or the feelings of guilt that arose if I answered a question incorrectly held me with indescribable power. Jack snarled at the authority of such teachers. “Mental whoremongers!”

My usual reaction to Jack’s insistence would be one of anger and fear. “I can’t doubt that,” I would cry out, sometimes in a falsetto voice that didn’t sound like me at all. Stubbornly I would writhe in resistance as beads of sweat rolled down my contorted face. I would cough and gag and curl up in a fetal position, and Jack would grab me by the gruff of the neck and force me to look straight into his eyes. He ordered me to doubt and then redoubt every tenet of both modern science and the Bible. Round after round, Jack drove deeper into the roots of my cultural conditioning, and I withstood with all my might.

Having exhausted all possible resistance, Jack forced me to repeat a few short phrases that questioned my belief in the scientific method: “I doubt. I impugn. I balk and demur!” Only after repeatedly shouting these words at the top of my voice did my rigid endurance begin to wane. Finally, after ceasing all inner blocking, my body slumped over limp as if I had had a seizure. The master had extracted my presuppositions by the roots.

“Hang on, Morrie. We’re almost finished!” said a triumphant Jack one night after a strenuous round of doubting. “Soon, the night of your blindness will be over. You are transforming into a new creation—behold, old things are passing away. Your eyes shall no longer be slaves to the impressions of scientific data. Yes, they shall penetrate the world, yea, the universe, and you yourself shall behold its essence.”

He paused and looked up, as if we were under starry skies, and said with a chant-like voice, “The night of the camel carrying its burden into the wilderness is over. The day of the lion, which destroys the beast, has begun. The dawning of the child lies nigh on the horizon.”

Jack continued the excruciating, doubting drills to the end of February. Then, the last time we met in my dorm basement he said, “We have ravaged the walls and have cleared the rubble. New foundations have been laid. Now is the time to build!”  With that, Jack ended the first stage of the doubting drills and insisted that I pursue them no longer.

Early spring, and the sun’s warm rays had already won over the cold winter air. Here and there, pale brown patches appeared as the tide of snow drifts retreated and the dead grass laid flattened from its winter blanket.

On March 11, Jack and I were taking one of our many walks around campus. He rested his hand on my shoulder. “Rejoice in your liberation!” he said as we sidestepped the water puddles that dotted our path. “Now you have eyes that really see, and you are no longer the passive observer—bombarded by sense data. I have chosen wisely, and you have performed with skill. But don’t relax. With all judgments suspended, having smashed every idol, you must now create the world anew.”

Jack’s face glowed with conviction. “Look forward to the future, my friend. Finding oneself does not entail woeful introspection. Doubting the past is merely a tool to help you focus on the future and the person you can be. In reality, you are your possibilities. I have prepared you for this moment of awareness. Forget bygone days. Get involved! Let your mind reach out to its horizons and seize your world’s conception. Thanks to the doubting drills, you can now make these choices unhindered by the blindness of prejudice.”

Jack lifted his arms towards the heavens like a mythic hero calling upon the gods. He stopped and faced me. Ecstatic, he could no longer contain himself. Tears filled his eyes; he threw his arms around me and embraced me. “Let us arise and create our world. We shall ascend into the heavens and beyond the heights of the clouds. We shall set our thrones above the stars.”

Author’s note: From here, Jack catapults Morrie into adventures that go beyond his wildest dreams, including winning beautiful women and making enemies with just about everyone—including the school’s administration. Everything backfires, resulting in his downfall and “reconstruction.”

Praise for Caught in the Winds

“Morrie Schiller … tries to come to terms with himself and his pursuits. As love fails, he finds that the love he seeks may be in faith, as a new individual enters his life and challenges him philosophically and spiritually. A thoughtful read of Christianity and coming of age, … a fine read and solidly recommended.”
Midwest Book Review

“L. D. Wenzel weaves an intriguing story that meanders through a variety of thought-provoking topics … does an admirable job of character development and creates believable plots that make Caught in the Winds an entertaining story.”
Foreword Clarion Review

“I have read … Caught in the Winds with a great deal of interest. I must say that it is not like anything else that I have read, which is a compliment, since I read many hours every day … Philosophy, theology, mysticism and the quirks of evangelical subculture filter throughout its pages.”
The Writers Edge, Wheaton, Il

“Wenzel masterfully captures the struggle between love, faith and modernity with a prose that is effective and discerning. Spare, tender and full of surprises, Caught in the Winds makes for a perfect summer getaway.”
Best Damn Creative Writing Blog

About the Author

L. D. WenzelL. D. Wenzel grew up in the Midwest and presently lives in Norway. He’s a graduate from Wheaton College (IL) with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He specializes in religious fiction, reflective with noir settings and suspense.

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