“How do I sum up the 10-year fog bank of my time in the New Age movement?” asks Phillip Blindenbach. “Can I put into words all the twists and turns and convolutedness of it? In many ways, it’s all still a sad blur.”
Phillip was born in Squamish, B.C., a small logging town situated between Vancouver and Whistler, and his parents were very involved in the Pentecostal church. “My earliest memories are of Sunday school, church activities and Sunday lunch at the pastor’s house,” he says.
But when Phillip was five, his parents divorced. “I’d spend part of the time at my mother’s, where faith was not present and was even mocked at times, while the rest of my time was spent at my father’s in a strict, disciplined faith environment. I was mad at God, mad at my parents, mad at myself.”
By the time Phillip was 13, his pent-up frustration had reached a boiling point. Angered by what he considered the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of religion, he lashed out at his father, telling him he didn’t believe in God.
So things stood until Phillip was 20. Out of idle curiosity, he attended an aromatherapy workshop. That led to classes on ancient healing philosophies and, eventually, to his becoming immersed in the New Age movement.
“I was on a search for knowledge and self-understanding,” says Phillip now. “But in New Age, you never really find what you are looking for. You keep searching and searching, attending workshops and courses beyond count. It’s all one big feedback loop, where everyone is talking to you, hoping you’ve found ‘it’ while you’re talking to them, hoping they’ve found it—and none of us ever did.
“I probably spent tens of thousands of dollars in the 10 years I was involved in New Age workshops, courses and retreats,” he continues. “I’d max out my credit cards and consolidate my debt, and then, just as quickly, I’d fill my credit cards again.”
Phillip was introduced to recreational marijuana use at roughly the same time that he started his New Age journey. “The drugs severely hampered my ability to focus on a train of thought,” he explains. “It just made the fog bank I was in even thicker. Seeking knowledge and self-discovery doesn’t mesh with pot.”
A Life in Ruins
By 2003, Phillip was a community-living support worker in Vancouver working with Michael Collins, a behavioural consultant who was also the associate pastor at The Salvation Army’s Cariboo Hill Temple in Burnaby, B.C.
“I was in the midst of my New Age crisis, trying to figure out my life’s purpose, why I was here on earth,” Phillip says, “and I’d talk about, say, wanting to go to Africa or somewhere but Michael would call my bluff, telling me that he could connect me with some missionaries who were leaving that week. And I’d back off. I guess talk is cheap.”
Finally, Michael invited Phillip to help the church prepare sandwiches for the Army in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside one Sunday afternoon.
Phillip walked into the Salvation Army church five minutes before the evening service.
“I’d arrived to make sandwiches and found myself sitting in the last pew of the church right in the middle of the service,” says Phillip.
The service that night was about the life-and-death choices we all make in our lives, and the eternal consequences that are the result. The words rocked Phillip to his core.
“God,” prayed Phillip, “I haven’t done such a great job of my life for the last 17 years. Please take my life back.”
After the service, Phillip helped distribute the sandwiches to the down-and-outers.
“I was standing in a rainy gutter on the corner of Main and Hastings, handing out sandwiches as fast as I could to the press of people milling around me,” says Phillip. “My years in New Age, the money I had spent, the workshops and courses I took, hadn’t equipped me for dealing with the apparent need of those who came looking for food and a personal connection that night. I was struggling to cope and make sense of it all.”
By the time Phillip got home and wept bitter tears of remorse, his life as he had known it had crumbled around him. He was ready to rebuild it.
Worth the Wait
It took a year of faithful attendance at Cariboo Hill Temple to get Phillip’s life on track. He became an official member of The Salvation Army in 2004 and a Salvation Army officer/pastor in 2010. He was even able to reconcile with his father shortly before his death.
“I’d hurt him badly when I was young, but our conversations about our shared faith and beliefs brought both of us a great measure of healing,” Phillip says.
Now a Salvation Army lieutenant and married to a fellow pastor in The Salvation Army, Phillip is grateful that God took his prayer seriously.
“I realize now that He’d always been waiting for me,” Phillip concludes, “waiting for me through the wasted years I’d spent on my New Age wanderings, waiting for me through my doubts and rebellion.
He had something in store for me, and The Salvation Army was what it was.”