The huge front door is imposing. The house that holds it is a tan brick thing, more church than residence.
“And he teaches at Fallbrooke?”
“Someone’s been praying to Jabez.” Slope finds an intercom and presses the button. “Uh, hello?”
We wait. Finally, “Hey, come on in!” Modoc’s voice rattles through the little speaker.
Slope reaches for the brass handle shaped like a roaring lion’s head. “Look! The Lion of Judah!” he whispers.
We step inside the entry onto terra cotta tile.
“I feel like I should take off my shoes,” Slope says, scanning.
The sprawling open space before us includes an enormous living room, an adjoining dining room on the left, and a flight of wide, tan-carpeted stairs off to the right.
He gives a low whistle and I elbow him.
A stunning young woman, red hair in a ponytail, appears at a doorway in a Fallbrooke sweatshirt. She holds out her hand. “I’m Avie.” She gestures toward upstairs. “He’s been pretty excited about you coming.”
“Zeke,” I say taking her hand. “And this is Slope.”
She nods at him. “Don’t let Doc scare you. He’s a bean.”
“A bean?” I ask.
Modoc calls down from the balcony above. “Come on up.”
“Go ahead.” Avie points us up the stairs, a long sweeping of the air.
“Thanks,” Slope says and I catch her eye just before she looks away.
Slope raises his eyebrows at me as he climbs the stairs in front of me.
Dr. Modoc meets us at the top, his hair messy and damp. “Welcome. Thanks for coming.” He’s wearing a black t-shirt and running pants, thick-framed glasses on his nose. He seems short next to Slope.
“Sorry. I’ve been trying to exercise this leg and haven’t had a chance to change.” He shakes our hands and leads us into the high-vaulted room behind him, a sort of library with large picture windows framing the cloud-covered mountains. “Get comfortable. I’ll be right back.”
Slope watches him go then strolls to the bookshelves. I gaze out the window. A few big houses dot the sloping ridge below. The sliding sunlight temporarily bursts through.
“Good grief,” Slope says. He pulls a leather-bound volume from one of the densely-packed shelves. “I’ve never seen so many old books in one place.”
“Have you ever seen him at the Institute?” I ask, heading toward the black leather couch and chairs in the center of the room.
Slope lowers his voice. “He’s not a real Institute prof. They just keep him on the payroll for the prestige.”
“Maybe things have changed since we graduated.”
“It wasn’t that long ago.”
He puts the book back on the shelf as Modoc returns, shutting the double doors behind him.
“Thanks again for coming.” He motions toward the couch. I go to sit, eyeing Slope.
Modoc turns and follows us to the sitting area. “Contrarians, just as I suspected.”
“Excuse me?” I say.
“This service of yours—” Modoc leans on his cane to slowly sit in one of the leather arm chairs and looks out one of the windows. He runs a hand through his hair. “Grading churches’ hospitality. How’d that start?”
Slope seems pleased he asked. “Most churches are super boring.” He props his feet up on the coffee table.
“You don’t say.” Modoc smiles. “Majestus seems pretty well attended.”
“You know how most big churches get that way?” Slope asks. “They make big promises.”
“Some do,” Modoc says, getting up. He goes to the desk and returns with a small metal box and sets it on the coffee table. “The American dream can be very distracting.”
I shift on the too-comfortable couch. The softness feels like it wants to lull me into submission. “You mentioned us helping you?” I ask.
Modoc nods and clears his throat. “I was thinking we could help each other. A pastor friend told me about your service months ago. I was intrigued. I googled you, found your blog, and enjoyed what I read. You seem like just the guys I’ve been looking for.”
I raise my eyebrows. “We do?”
“You see the PR problem. Jesus isn’t his followers.”
Slope finally looks up from the box Modoc set down. “You get it. That’s our main problem. There’s this—” He pauses to hold out his arms. Like he’s determining the size of the lie he’s about to tell. “This chasm. People on one side and Jesus on the other. And Christianity wants to be the bridge so badly.”
I can’t suppress a sigh. I want to stop him—we don’t even know this guy—but part of me is curious to see where this goes.
I can feel Slope’s inertia building. “See, in most churches, and ministries too, there’s a lot of talk about Jesus but not much action. They’re busy defending the Bible or the church or their pastor.
Modoc regards me. “Or their favorite famous Christian,” he says.
Slope slaps my arm and points at him. “Exactly! He’s stealing my lines. You’re an Institute professor?”
“Well, not exactly.” He presses a button on the metal box and a red light goes on. “I’ve been retained to work on the LOGOS therapy. I’m pitching it as worldview re-visioning.”
The thing looks like a bomb. Slope is mercifully quiet for once.
“The Institute’s interested,” Modoc says, continuing, “and they’re letting me test it, but they haven’t signed on yet. I need to prove it.” He takes a little device, like a cell phone from his pocket. “They’re providing facilities and the potential for wider support. But in all truthfulness,” his mouth stretches into a smirk, “they’re not my audience.”
“I think I’m a little excited,” Slope says to me.
“How’s it work?” I ask.
“Scotch?” Modoc suddenly gets up again and goes to the wet bar in the corner. “It reveals your faulty views of God.” He pulls three glasses from cabinet at his feet, then pours slowly from a decanter. “Then it disarms them. The old emotions—resentment, fear, disappointment—they disappear when the memories are gone. It’s actually got a lot of application for trauma and abuse victims. All of this ties directly to all kinds of unbiblical beliefs about God.” He comes back with three whiskies and sets them down. “This,” he nods at the box, “eliminates our negative view of God.”
Slope looks confused, but reaches for a glass.
I rub my forehead, trying to figure it out. “It’s a computer program?”
“Initially computer-based, yes.” Modoc picks up a glass. “But it targets the hippocampus specifically, which then influences the prefrontal. More than 16 years of research and development.” He raises the glass. “Not all by me.”
I hear music—symphonic—from somewhere above and look up. Recessed speakers in the ceiling.
Modoc rubs his leg. “It still needs a bit of testing. But a few big investors are interested.”
“Like Iron Man?” Slope asks, draining his glass.
Modoc smiles again, his eyes crinkling. “I need some analysts I can trust for a few hours a week.”
“I’ve already got a job,” Slope says, eyeing his empty glass. Already trying to improve the offer.
Modoc’s smile doesn’t waver. “Fair enough.” He holds up the little phone. “But if we can get this approved, I’ll be able to make it worth your while.” He swipes the display and taps a couple times. “And maybe change your struggles with God in the process.”
“I thought it changed your worldview,” I say.
“That’s why the Institute likes it.” He pushes up his glasses and his smile widens. “But worldview is really about theology, isn’t it? And the problem isn’t that people have tried being Christians and failed. The problem is that it’s been found difficult and left untried.”
“Chesterton,” I say, recognizing the quote.
Modoc narrows his gaze. “But how many people can’t forgive God because of what happened to them? So many people carry this false illusion. This can eliminate all that.”
“But how?” I try to keep the impatience from my voice.
“Remove the emotional barriers and people can make up their own minds about him. Free will returns them to their natural state. Free to experience God’s love again, or even for the first time.”
Against my will, I think about the months of darkness following my parents and sister’s death. The idea that God had not just allowed, but watched and did nothing, seemed inescapable.
“Well,” Slope says, sipping his drink. “It’s certainly an interesting idea. But like I said, I have a job.”
“Why are you doing this?” I ask. My knee has started bouncing nervously and there’s a bad taste in my mouth that isn’t expensive Scotch. “Isn’t this what traditional counseling is for?”
“Yeah,” Slope chimes in. “Or Holy Ghost revivals?”
If it sounds too good to be true… But something in me suspects what he’s suggesting could totally work. Has he really figured it out?
Modoc’s face grows serious. “I had an experience about 4 years ago. All those things—evangelism, prayer, counseling—it’s too removed from our personal experiences.” He stares at his chest. “This is more like hypnosis but with a V8 engine. At the root of all our challenges in life is our inability to believe God is loving.”
Slope finishes his drink. I’m torn between running and crying.
How did he know I felt all this?
“The faith we need,” he says, “is buried under the pain we’ve experienced. We all hold God ultimately responsible, so it’s impossible until we can let go.” I say nothing. Modoc keeps watching me. “What if the resistance you’re feeling were gone, Zeke?” He suddenly claps his hands together and I jump.
“A leap of faith,” Slope says. Modoc says nothing, waiting. A cold shiver surges up my spine.
A tense moment passes and Modoc changes course. “Traditional Christianity is dying out in favor of a simpler spirituality. I think that’s a good thing, actually. Remove the distortions.”
Slope gets up and goes over to the wet bar. “You mind?” he asks Modoc, who gives a dismissive wave.
Modoc’s extreme level of relaxation feels forced. He speaks deliberately, quietly. “If we shed false impressions, we can finally know what we’ve been missing.” He takes out a pen and begins to twirl it. “It’s chaos theory.”
“Everything builds upon initial conditions. The Butterfly Effect. One childhood memory can determine our actions in unimaginable ways, even create our beliefs. Psychiatrists can’t help in many cases.”
“You can’t target specific memories,” I say. “They’re not in some box.”
“No,” he says. “But you are.” He sniffs and glances over at Slope returning with another two fingers of Scotch. “This can identify and break individual neural connections.” He turns back to me. “You’re a couple of smart Fallbrooke grads. You know the science is possible.”
Slope nods at the hardware on the table. “So how’s a psych professor build this?”
“I had help,” Modoc says. “I mainly supplied the data.”
Slope nods. “Okay. Can we give ‘er a test drive?”
I hold up my hands to object, but Slope cuts me off.
“I’ve been trying to get unburdened my whole life,” Slope says. “If this thing can help, I’m in.”
I shake my head. ModocHH reaches into his pocket again and removes a set of wireless earbuds. He hands them to Slope and picks up the device. “These go in your ears.” Modoc points and Slope puts them in, scowling at me not to say it. Fine.
“Do what you want,” I say.
Slope nods mock-serious. “Thanks. Okay, Doc. Light me up.”
“How many people have done this already?” I ask.
“About half a dozen.” Modoc traces his finger on the read-out and the device beeps. “It needs an initial reading.” He looks up at Slope. “Heads bowed and eyes closed.”
Slope smiles and shuts his eyes. Suddenly his mouth opens in a silent scream and he grips the arm of the couch. His eyes shoot open then he smiles. “Sorry.”
“Relax.” Modoc presses a button and Slope’s eyes close. Modoc sets down the device and in a few silent seconds, Slope’s eyes open again. His eyes dart around the room. “Doc, that was amazing. I was back in elementary school.”
Modoc appears pleased. He takes the earbuds from Slope and holds them out to me.
“I’ll take your word for it,” I say.
“Nothing to it,” Slope says, nodding his encouragement.
I hold up my hand.
Modoc nods and slides the buds and iPhone into his pocket. The light through the windows has faded. The clouds have come in over the mountain and grown darker. A lightning bolt flashes a ways off. “Rumi had a saying, ‘Your task is not to seek for love but to find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’”
I take a deep breath. “The thing is, I already know what I believe. And it doesn’t have a lot to do with God.”
Modoc’s face spreads into his characteristic smile, the biggest I’ve seen yet. “Exactly,” he says.