This month for my “One Faith, Many Paths” project, I’m interviewing Clay Gilbert, a friend of mine who writes science fiction for PDMI. Among his books are Annah, (part of his “Children of Evohe” series) and Dark Road to Paradise. He is a recent convert to Christianity from Wicca.
What was your childhood like? I’m an only child, and in many ways, through much of my childhood, my life was the stereotypical suburban family story–the “Beaver Cleaver” family stereotype, as my mom has said on a few occasions. Dad worked, and Mom stayed home and took care of me. Later on, when I was a little older, Mom periodically worked, but our family was pretty traditional. It really was a great time. My parents encouraged me to read, and encouraged my passion for writing. They taught me good values–including raising me in a knowledge of Christianity, and the Bible, which we read a lot in our house. I also went to church every Sunday. But for certain reasons, which were my own, I didn’t claim Christianity as my own faith until January of 2016. It was the “faith of my fathers”, as the old hymn says, but I had to take my own long road to reach it for myself.
What kind of instruction did you receive in Christianity? Tons, man. My family wasn’t one of those ‘check off the box’, go to church on Sunday and forget it kind of Christian families. The Bible and the teaches of Christ, and the perspectives of Christian figures in the larger culture, were a constant presence in my life. I attended Sunday School as well as Sunday Services, and I read the Bible for myself. I’d estimate that by the time I was thirteen–the age of Confirmation class in the Methodist branch of the Protestant Church–I’d read it all the way through at least four times. There are some Christians who seem to feel that those who aren’t Christians just haven’t been exposed to the Gospel. In my case, that wasn’t so.
What is your favorite biblical passage? Easy. It’s Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We try to do stuff on our own, so much in this world; in this culture. But I know for myself that I am much stronger with the Lord Jesus in my life than I ever was when I was wondering around trying to get things done without Him. And I know He was there all along, knocking on the door and waiting for me to be ready to open it.
You had a history of paganism for a large portion of your life, as you’ve told me. What attracted you to it? For thirty years, I practiced the Neo-Pagan religion of Wicca. When I was a kid, I had a lot of difficulties with some specific areas of Christian and Judeo-Christian doctrine. At the time, I saw a balance in Wicca that was missing from my experience of Christianity. The theology emphasized Divinity as both masculine and feminine–as both goddess and god, and this was reflective of my own experience as someone growing up with both a mother and a father. I’ve come to see that the God of the Bible has both a mother and father side as well, but at the time, that was something that escaped me. There were other things, but I would say that most of the things that attracted me to Wicca were things that I could have found in Christianity, if I had not been put off by what I saw as threats of judgement and damnation, and Hell. Christianity is often misrepresented as a religion of fear, when it’s really a religion about relationship and love. That’s something that took me a very long time to see.
You told me you had recently started going to church again and had reverted to Christianity. Why did you feel you should come back to the fold? First of all–and I’m not picking on your grammar, my friend, just making sure I’m clear and accurate–it wasn’t a reversion or a resumption. It was a conversion. Being raised in a Christian home by Christians does not make you a Christian, not in my view anyway. I’ve explained some of the reasons I felt pushed away from accepting Christ and being a Christian. Along with these were the mistaken belief that Christ would want me to be some completely other person than who I was. I’ve realized since that He loves me as I am (even as I was), but wants me to be the best version of myself–the version God created me to be. In my years as a Pagan, I had experienced Divinity in many forms–the many forms the mythologist Joseph Campbell would refer to as “the masks of God”, but I had, despite my many years of churchgoing and exposure to the Bible–and so much theological study that I was only a few credits shy of a double major in Theology in college-I left Christ knocking at the door until January 2016.
Do you feel that there may have been some influence from Christian friends that led to your conversion? In what way? Everything in my life was influential. I went through a period of about two years before January 2016 in which I was going through what I would describe as a spiritual regeneration. I didn’t feel the pull to practice Wicca that I once had–customs and practices that had once felt organic, natural and joyful to me felt as much a drudgery and matter of obligation that going to church with my family on Sundays had seemed as a kid. My creative life was pulling me in a God-seeking direction as well; writing about a girl whose whole being was focused on higher things, in “Annah”, definitely influenced me. My best friend, John Francis, discussed Christ and Christian ideas with me a lot–never in a pushy way, but in an organic way. I was surrounded by other Christian friends–in fact, most of my closest friends are Christians, and my parents have always both been great examples of Christ’s teachings. But it was not a decision anyone could force me to make or lead me to against my will. Ultimately, I did what I had never done–I asked Christ to come into my heart and my life, and be in charge of it. I put him at the helm of the ship, to use a metaphor. And He is good at calming stormy waves and restoring a sense of joy that people sometimes lose.
What advice would you give to Christians who wish to reach out to those of non-Christian faiths? Don’t judge. Don’t push. Jesus himself was very non-judgmental to individuals, all the while still being very firm about what the will of God was. We as Christians have no better–really no OTHER–model than Jesus. Hateful behavior, angry behavior–these won’t show non-believers any reason they should follow Jesus. I also don’t believe the fear of Hell is a motivator, or should be. Hell, rather than being an incentive to be a Christian, was a big stumbling block for me when I was younger. I’ve changed my perspective on Hell, though, since accepting Christ into my life. Christ knocks on the door of our lives. He doesn’t force Himself on us. But one of the necessary conditions of a relationship with Christ is that we put Jesus in the driver’s seat. “Not my will, but Thine be done” was what Jesus said to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. I believe we are called on to say the same–“Not my will, but Thine be done.” Hell is not a place God puts us because we’re bad–that’s nt how I see it from my reading of Scriptures, anyway. Hell is a place of eternal separation from God. It is the endpoint of a life spent saying “Not Your will, Lord, but mine be done.” And in the end, if we do not choose a life spent living in relationship with God, then God says to us, “Not my will, but thine be done.” and lets us have our own way, in separation from Him, as we have chosen over and over in life. Hell is a choice–a separation that we enter into by our own will. For my own part, I choose to live in a redemptive relationship with God through Jesus Christ, bu learning every day how better to make my will match His will for my life, and to say “not my will, but Yours” when they don’t seem to match.
Who are your favorite biblical figures besides Jesus? For reasons that are probably obvious to you, I’m a fan of Paul. I never persecuted Christians when I was a pagan–I would never persecute anyone.–but I certainly ran away from giving my life to Christ and living the life he wanted me to live. I also like Thomas. I’ve never been an empiricist, or one who requires physical proof in order to believe. But God spent a lot of time over the course of my life trying to get me to believe, and so I can relate to someone who requires the type of “proof” that speaks to them–even if in my case, it was more of a spiritual revelation than it was anything physical, at all.
As a writer, do you feel as though God might be calling you to use your talents in a particular way? Absolutely. I believe we’re given talents (even “Talents”, as they’re capitalized in the terminology of my Children of Evohe series) by God to be used for the Glory of God. I didn’t give myself the talent of writing–God did that. My parents encouraged it, as did my teachers in school. I practiced it, pursued it, and honed it, by my own willpower and persistence and with the help and advice of other writers–thank you Stephen King, anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, Jon Manchip White, Ray Bradbury, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro , and many others who took time to personally give me advice. But it was God who put the seed there in the first place. and God, and Christ, found me in my fiction before I ever became a Christian. “Annah”, the first of my Children of Evohe series, is the story of, among other things, a girl from another world who is an outcast in her own culture, longs to make a difference in her world, and she longs for belonging. There are two places in her youth that first give her relationship with the First Ones, the ancient divinities of her people, and her own family. Later, she finds acceptance through the love of an Earth man Gary Holder, and in new friends among those of her own kind. In time–in the second novel– Annah becomes a spiritual leader for her people and for others. Writing Annah’s story has been, in some ways, a tracing of the narrative of my own path to a relationship with God. It’s definitely a story about the transforming power of love–which is what Christianity is all about, anyway. And I didn’t know this when I picked her name, but “Annah” means “God has favored me.” See, He knows what He’s doing. One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from the fantasy and horror author Clive Barker, who, not coincidentally, is also a Christian. Clive writes that “I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our lives untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of that went before: which is to say, our lives? So, we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.” I personally think–and Clive may agree–it’s a way of giving a gift to God as well.