Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I first met Pastor Ray when he was a bartender, way before he was a man of the cloth, back when I worked as a writer on Madison Avenue. We had an immediate, electrifying attraction – I learned in later years, a red flag heralding you to run the other way. He was handsome, dynamic, a punk musician, a drunk, and an Army Private. He invited me out for drinks after his shift, and I left him standing on 3rd Avenue at 3 AM, screaming after my cab, “I fucking LOVE YOU, and you don’t GIVE A SHIT!!”

During our impromptu date, he casually mentioned he had a girlfriend, but we continued chatting as friends at the bar he tended after that, he brought me his punk albums, and showed me some pretty engaging writing he was doing, one involved a story about a girl who gave him head in a parking lot while deployed, the story hinged around the girl's mouthful of metal railroad track braces - the excruciating pain that followed, ending with a quirky vignette with hilarious details around his failed attempts to release his manhood from her silver interior.

Ray and I were in and out of each other’s lives for years, when he became single he got in touch with me. He’d since become a recording engineer and worked at one of the best places in the city. He’d always had a deep bravado to his voice, a macho swagger that women of poor judgment find captivating. We had dinner those few years later, and he still seemed the same, but also not. Something else was in the mix that I couldn’t put my finger on. This time he left me on the street early instead of the other way around like years before, which left me wondering. He told me I looked great, kissed me quickly on the lips, and hailed a cab, hightailing it out of there just barely after 9 pm.

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, until one day he called, saying the recording studio he was working at was having a Halloween party. I showed up, Ray looked like death - on top of the fact that this was his costume, black shawl, hood, black makeup that created cavernous sockets around his dead, reddened eyes. I saw him peak out behind a screen, but when he saw me he ducked away. I went away confused and wondering what had gone wrong.

A few days later, I got a voicemail at my office, it was a friend of Ray’s telling me that he had O.D.’d on heroin. It had happened in his apartment - he’d been passed out on the floor for two days, he was lucky to be alive. There was a possibility that his leg would have to be amputated – it had twisted back awkwardly in the fall, the two days he was passed out had taken its toll on his appendage.

I reconnected with Ray during his recovery, he told me that Jesus had saved his life, and his leg in the same turn. His faith was astonishing, soon he was on the church scene with the same vigor I'd seen in his punk rock days, publishing controversial themes designed to rock the Christian world. We lost touch when he enrolled in a theological seminary after a brief romantic encounter between us that left Ray convinced he should swear me off, along with his slew of pre-O.D. bad habits. I’d heard he had met a woman who was also in seminary, married her, and they started a congregation in an impoverished town somewhere in Pennsylvania, doing “important work” with the people who struggled just to survive there.

When I friended him on Facebook two years ago, he was a well respected Pastor, happily married with 3 lovely children. Through the Army, Ray went to Afghanistan on a spiritual mission, and had written a book which he forwarded me for feedback. I always knew he was passionate - whether he was a punk musician, writing descriptive blowjob prose, doing heroin, or leading parishioners, Ray was always rockin’ it at eleven.

Recently, I took the time to listen to one of Pastor Ray’s spiritual podcasts. Although we’d talked occasionally in email, I hadn’t heard his deep, maniacal voice in over a decade. But when I clicked on play- the man I heard was not Ray, but some ethereal version of himself. His voice was quiet, his tone earnest - his delivery plain. Ray had been reborn - it seemed quite literally. There was no resemblance to Ray of past times, his wild animation gave way to gentle expressions that seemed to emanate from a slow burning flame nestled inside his heart - my goodness, I thought, God does work in mysterious ways. Ray is living proof of that. I was fortunate to bare witness along his wild, winding road - from railroad track braces and Streetcar Named Desire nights, to Needle Park, into the ambulance and on into the New York Presbyterian E.R., soon taking flight at the theological seminary, until he eventually landed, preaching high atop the internet mount. Ever so humbly, this is where I first heard Pastor Ray, quoting scripture, spreading The Word to those who will listen.

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