When Jesus Freaks Go Bad - OZY | A Modern Media Company

When Jesus Freaks Go Bad

SourceShutterstock, Composite Sean Culligan/OZY

When Jesus Freaks Go Bad

By Jon Kinyon


Because not everyone who believes in turning the other cheek actually turns the other cheek.

By Jon Kinyon

Jim accidentally pinned a young bicyclist between the bumper of his Chevy C10 and a heritage oak in Palo Alto, California. The boy died in Jim’s arms as he begged him to hold on. Jim never recovered.

An empty shell of a man stumbled into a ramshackle Pentecostal church at 3585 Middlefield Road looking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. God obliged.

Jim was born again, and with a vengeance.

On any given day you’d find him talking in tongues in the aisles of the Co-Op Market, delivering fiery Scripture readings at the gazebo in Rinconada Park or laying hands on the elderly at Channing House and praying for miracles.

His religion became less about Jesus and more about politics. He went from carrying a Bible to carrying a gun.

Jim became the king of Jesus freaks.

I wound up working for him for a few summers when we were in our early 20s. Jim specialized in painting houses, and house painting was in my DNA. My maternal grandfather was a house painter, and his dad before him, and his dad before him, and so on, going back before the Civil War. I loved the work, but toiling alongside a street preacher was tough.

I’d known Jim since grade school, and he did try to chill out when I asked him to, but he simply couldn’t control himself. Every day a new sermon was delivered to me with a bow on it. Every day he was sure I’d repent and accept the free gift of salvation. His friendship with the Lord was straining ours.

One day, the daughter of a homeowner kept making eyes at me. “Brother, beware, she’s trying to seduce you,” Jim warned. “These college girls are the worst, they have no morals.”

She offered us some lemonade and, with a come-hither smile, mentioned that she was going to be stepping into the shower. It was like the opening of a classic porno.

“Resist the devil, brother,” Jim told me.

The slinky funk song playing in my head screeched to a halt. Jim’s voice was like a dirty needle scratching across a pristine record. I couldn’t take any more. I decided to clean my brushes and throw in the paint towel.

Jim and I had several mutual friends and we’d cross paths every so often. As the years rolled on, though, our encounters became more infrequent. We saw each other maybe once every five years, and it was interesting to watch Jim’s religious fire slowly go out.

We had both been pot dealers in high school and experimented with all variety of drugs. We were juvenile delinquents who skipped school to party. We stole bikes, shoplifted and caused vast amounts of property damage. It wasn’t pretty.

“Brother, we don’t need to tell people about our past,” Jim told me. “People judge you and hold you in a bad light no matter how much God has changed you. If you want to make business connections through church it’s best that they don’t know any of that stuff.”

“Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?” I said. “You’re lying about who you are, lying to people who should be impressed by how much you’ve changed, right?”

He popped open the hidden compartment, pulled out the gun and said, “Cover your ears, brother.”

After railing against liars and “phony Christians” for years, Jim was now saying it was OK to twist the truth and lie to get ahead. It got to the point where every time I ran into him and he’d start sharing his thoughts, I became more and more uncomfortable.

His religion became less about Jesus and more about politics. He went from carrying a Bible to carrying a gun. He told me how he’d walk around his “bad neighborhood” in Redwood City with a loaded pistol in his jacket pocket. He demonstrated what he would do if someone attempted to rob him. “I’ll grab them with my left hand, pull them in close and empty my gun into their gut.” He said this with a big grin. I was speechless.

Jim built a hidden compartment under the dashboard in his truck to hold a semiautomatic pistol. I didn’t know it was there until one night, when I was sitting in the passenger seat and he pulled off on a desolate exit of Interstate 280. He popped open the compartment, pulled out the gun and said, “Cover your ears, brother.” I instinctively covered my ears as he fired out the open passenger window, holding the gun right in front of my face.

“What the fuck, dude?” I wanted to sock him, but he was still holding the gun. He laughed. “Just showing you how ready I am for trouble. That was quick, wasn’t it?”

He recounted an incident he had had on Highway 101. Some guy had cut him off and then flipped him off. Jim pulled out his gun, aimed it at the guy and then “fired a warning shot across his bow” to scare him.

My old friend had lost his mind. Or maybe he’d always been crazy, and now it was undeniable.

Jim then became a sovereign citizen, just like Timothy McVeigh, driving without registration or license plates. He also stopped paying income taxes.

The last time Jim and I ran into each other was at Kirk’s Steakburgers at Town & Country Village. He told me that he and his wife had moved to Sacramento. They had five daughters whom they were home schooling. He told me how his family liked to camp outside of abortion clinics and how his girls had been trained to scream things like, “I’m glad my parents didn’t abort me!”

This was 10 years before Donald Trump was elected president.

I dread our next meeting.

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