If you could ask God one question
Lake Oswego's Brian Scibetta , 16, believes he hears the voice of God and helps clients with answers to life's great questions
A friend of mine is in town and he suggests we meet up after work on Sunday. I'd planned on it, but when my shift ends that evening, I call him and tell him something's come up. He reschedules and doesn't press the matter. If he had, I would have told him the truth, which is: Sorry, I have a morning appointment to meet with God.
More specifically, I have a meeting with a young man named Brian Scibetta, who believes he hears the voice of God. When he's not a 16-year-old student at Portland Waldorf School, he takes appointments from his mother's house in Lake Oswego, helping direct the lives of a clientele seeking answers to life's great questions.
Skeptical? So was he.
'Will you please send me articles that you've published - or a link to them?' he asks via e-mail, in response to my request for an interview. 'I was unable to hit your name on Google.'
Ironic, I think, that I should want to interview someone with a supposed gift, whose legitimacy I can't help but question … and that he, in turn, questions my legitimacy as a journalist. Somehow, this shared sense of skepticism and caution we hold for each other serves as a commonality, a thread that weaves us together as two questioning beings in an uncertain world.
I send him the link to my blog and his mom, Carley, takes over, sending me an e-mail that asks a stream of questions, mainly relating to motive and intent for the article. She is savvy and shrewd and I suspect she could successfully run just about any business, be it in finance, law or academics.
Instead, when she's not doing background checks for various companies, she deals in the business of God. And she's just offered me an opportunity I can't refuse: Do a free reading with Brian, she suggests (He normally charges up to $150 for similar readings, but does perform readings free of charge in certain situations). Come to the table with your own questions from your own life. I agree, excited and terrified.
'If you could ask God one question and have it answered, what would you ask?' This is the question Brian and Carley would ask the public in a project they are currently working on with The Agency Group - it will start as a blog on Brian's Web site and eventually be converted into a book. This is also the general idea behind Brian's readings - ask him things you want God to answer. As his business card and Web site state, 'I'll tell you things that only God knows.'
I've been given the opportunity to ask God not just one question, but many.
It seems simple enough, but when I begin the task of writing my questions, I realize what an enormous assignment this is. I entertain foolish and lighthearted thoughts: God, will the Red Sox win the World Series this year? I dig deeper and find myself overwhelmed by the questions that lead to more questions that always lead to the inevitable biggies: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Is there an afterlife?
I warn the Scibettas I'll come to the reading with a heavy dose of skeptic armor. That a 16-year-old kid can channel the voice of God is not something I'm willing to give into, just yet. Still, I remind myself to keep an open mind: We're all asking the same basic questions and the manner of seeking the answers varies person to person. Some may pray and some may do yoga. If some want to seek the guidance of a teenager who talks to God, why not?
I arrive at the Scibetta house bearing a list of personal questions for my reading with Brian and wondering what I've just gotten myself into. Dogs bark and scamper for a moment before Brian opens the door, letting me into a home where rows of shoes line up against the rug, just as they are so often at my house. Carley and Brian's older brother David enter and warm smiles and salutations fill the room. Carley allows their two Jack Russell terriers a chance to calm down after the excitement of the doorbell, and then she and David retreat upstairs, puppies in tow.
We conduct the reading and interview in an airy yet cozy living room. Brian offers me a beverage and drinks from a Starbucks cup as we settle into cushy seats. My eyes wander to a bookcase along the wall, then to a large framed picture of fish swimming in the next room over. I wait for the façade of normalcy to crumble and the craziness to begin.
I look over my list of questions and realize they're far more personal than I'd realized when I wrote them down. Somehow, though, my nerves have dissipated and I feel at ease when I look toward Brian, whose bespectacled eyes and cleanly trimmed beard give him a studious look, which contrasts with his tougher athletic build. His expression is serene and I'm at a loss to figure out why I'm not more uncomfortable or nervous. I feel positively at home and soon I'm going through my list, confiding in Brian about the things that concern me most.
I tell Brian about this feeling I have that no matter where I go, I'm capable of being happy but I never seem quite settled. I discuss my apprehension about grad school. I tell him that sometimes I feel like I'm searching for something without even realizing what 'it' is. I tell him about a boy, because how could I not? I express my fear for the next generation, living in a world plagued by wars and Global Warming. Some questions he answers immediately; for others he pauses thoughtfully before articulating his response, as though he's watching the answer formulate in his mind. He tells me a lot of my questions are linked and discovering the answer to one will lead to the answer for another, such as figuring out one relationship will help me figure out the best grad school for me, which will help me determine my permanent location and home.
I talk about my friend and a member of my family, both struggling to find their way in their careers. He points to a golden statue on the other side of the room and informs me it's Ganesh, a Hindu god who can alleviate road blocks and obstacles.
'I'm just going to ask him to clear the obstacles and right away I'm seeing that all these speed bumps are flattening out and it's a smooth path again,' he tells me.
I tell him how sometimes I get hurt and I know others don't realize the affects of their actions and words toward me. He tells me that in order to 'stop the evil thing where you end up affected,' he's going to put me in a 'bubble of white light.
'This is in the spiritual sense -you're not actually going to walk around with a bubble,' he teases. He tells me this bubble will make me less sensitive to the things going on around me.
I flip over the page of my notebook and am shocked to realize how fast we whipped through my questions. Brian is a fast worker: methodical, thoughtful, but fast. I feel relieved for having gone though the questions - maybe because it felt good to say them out loud and unload a burden of troublesome thoughts or maybe because his answers gave me a glimmer of peace. I can't say which it is: All I know is that somehow, for some reason, I feel better. I feel lighter.
'I know this sounds crazy, but …' I'm sure this is a phrase both Brian and Carley are accustomed to saying. This reading was a test I had to pass in order to get to the interview. Somehow, it didn't feel like a bizarre spiritual ritual I needed to subject myself to in order to get to the real questions. I know this sounds crazy, but … somehow, it felt like the real deal.
Not everyone would agree. This is fine with Brian. He tells me about a segment he watched on the news recently, about a group of extremist Christians who tour the country, touting a 'Turn or Burn' conversion message.
'I don't go around preaching or anything like that,' he tells me. 'If someone asks me what I do, of course I'll talk to them. It's not like there's anything to convert them to anyway, but I certainly don't do that.'
Later, when I ask if he thinks he can make a believer out of a skeptic, he reminds me that we all have free choice and everyone has his 'own spiritual path.' He insists he's not concerned about what other people think of him and doesn't expect everyone to buy into his message.
I wonder if this carries over into school. He tells me he's never been taunted or mocked by fellow students and that he even led a meditation for a talent show.
'The entire school knows,' he tells me, adding that the Waldorf community is incredibly open and accepting.
A long path led to his admittance there. Brian's parents separated when he was four and he, his mother and his brother moved to Lake Erie for a summer before coming to Lake Oswego.
'I was only 4, so I didn't really know exactly what was going on, but I had a rough estimate of where I was standing and what was happening with my family. I think that's when I started getting sort of depressed,' he tells me.
When the family came here, Brian made good friends and went to kindergarten.
The next year, his problems began.
'I started first grade and that was possibly one of the worst schooling experiences I've had so far,' he tells me. As the class began the process of learning to read and write, Brian found himself unable to keep up and at the mercy of a teacher who was 'not nurturing.'
He struggled through to second grade, where his teacher, Mrs. Odem ('a really great teacher… she really helped a lot'), told Carley she suspected Brian had Attention Deficit Disorder. Carley resisted this, not wanting Brian to be stigmatized. She researched alternative options and Brian says they 'went through pretty much every type of treatment, just shy of acupuncture,' including visiting a chiropractor who suggested Brian's birth had been too quick and his skull plates were being squished.
Finally, they gave in to Ritalin.
'It worked - I did focus in school, but outside of school I was sort of miserable. I wasn't - well, what my mom calls her 'normal son.' I wasn't funny anymore, I wasn't lively or anything. I was just sort of there, like a zombie.'
To worsen matters, the Ritalin caused extreme headaches that couldn't be cured. He stopped taking the Ritalin at the start of eighth grade after taking it for five or six years. He regained his personality, but saw a significant drop in his grades.
Brian clearly remembers rock bottom, the 'oh, crap' moment. He and Carley were in Ojai, Calif., to attend a retreat led by spiritual guru Gary Spivey. On her laptop in her hotel room several hours before the retreat, Carley received an e-mail from Brian's English teacher, informing her he was about to fail her class.
Carley's disappointment crushed Brian: 'I'd much rather have my mom be mad at me than disappointed.' Although he wanted nothing more than to turn around and go home, instead they went to the retreat as planned.
During the retreat, which took place in an amphitheater in the Ojai mountains, Spivey led his participants through meditations and spiritual readings. During a break following one meditation, Brian stood off to the side and looked out toward the trees, feeling like he could see something but not entirely sure what it was he was seeing. Spivey approached Carley and told her he sensed she was having trouble with a man. Carley pointed to Brian, who was still staring at the trees.
'You can see them too,' Spivey said to Brian.
After the break, Spivey brought Brian up onto the stage and, in front of a crowd of 40 or 50 people, had Brian lead readings, which he had never done before.
'I was just answering questions left and right. I mean, I don't know - it was crazy,' Brian says.
Still in a meditative state, he says he felt like he was on stage for about a half-hour but later learned he was there for more than three hours, helping the people in the audience and causing his mother to weep with pride.
'She went from being, two hours ago, incredibly disappointed, to seeing me up on stage, being able to do these things that she had no - I had no idea I could do,' Brian tells me. He points out the dichotomy: 'My schooling - yeah, I was failing. But on the other hand, I was excelling incredibly in this other realm.'
The Scibettas returned from the retreat and Carley decided to pull Brian from public school. She hired a homeschool teacher, who taught Brian during his freshman year. Then, two weeks before his sophomore year was to start, his teacher quit due to a health issue and left Brian and Carley scrambling to find an alternative. Although Brian wanted to attend Lakeridge High School with his friends, he was told his home schooling experience would not be transferable to public school and that his only option was to repeat the ninth grade.
Portland Waldorf School was their final option, and this almost didn't happen either. Brian, who was born in New York, has a late August birthday and is accustomed to being the youngest in his class. Officials at Waldorf were reluctant to admit him because of his age, which Brian suspects is because they feared he would be little and easy to pick on. When Brian went in for an interview, officials realized this was not the case and admitted him for his sophomore year.
Brian says he's benefited greatly from the small class sizes, applied arts classes, encouragement of discussion, and one-on-one attention. In an e-mail, Carley shared with me that Brian has a 3.1 GPA and an IQ of 167. Brian describes the school as 'really high education,' pointing out that they've read books in English class that many read in college, like 'The Odyssey' and 'Gilgamesh.'
When he's not hitting the books, Brian continues to build an ever-growing client list of people searching for answers from God. His clients used to meet Brian at retreats or hear about him through word-of-mouth; he now has a lot of new business stemming from a recent profile in the Willamette Week, written by Beth Slovic. He tells me most of his clients ask about love or money. Sometimes, they're interested in healing. I ask if any of the topics ever make him feel uncomfortable, and he explains that he doesn't see it as he himself talking, but God talking through him, which alleviates the discomfort.
I remember being 16, starting to think about SATs and college and being blissfully unaware of the world that existed outside my teenage self. It's difficult for me to reconcile that with this young man who sits before me, quietly educating me about meditation and free will.
'I'm still a normal kid,' he insists. I press him for proof and he tells me he goes to movies, long boards with his friends, and enjoys spending time with his girlfriend of several months. He says he loves to cook and would like to attend culinary school someday. He tells me that no, God is not an ever-present topic at the dinnertime table.
'We talk about anything, everything that's going on in our lives,' he says.
One thing he will acknowledge is that his relationship with his mother is anything but average.
'I'm your typical teenage kid to an extent,' he tells me, noting he sees the way his friends often fight with their parents. 'I guess I'm sort of unique, but it's probably just the way I was brought up … I know I've always had great support, so I have no need to fight with her,' he says.
It was his mom who led him to Gary Spivey in the first place. After 9/11, Carley, who at the time was performing background checks for hotels and restaurants, saw her business go from 'being amazing to practically nothing overnight,' as Brian says. The family was searching for answers when they began listening to Gary Spivey do morning readings on Z100 radio station. Although the family had little money at the time, Brian's brother David splurged and bought his mom a ticket for a $500 one-day Gary Spivey conference downtown. She came home that night and taught the boys to meditate, which Brian says helped them to grow 'not only spiritually, but as a family.'
Nine months later, the family met with Spivey at a hotel for an hour-long reading and Spivey told Brian and David he thought they possessed spiritual gifts. Brian didn't realize the strength of those gifts until later, when Spivey pulled him up on stage at the retreat in Ojai during his eighth grade year.
And now? Aside from being inundated with new clients, Brian is starting his junior year of high school. And although he's just a regular kid ('I can drive now, so that's fun'), he's also making a remarkable name for himself as someone who is doing his best to help others. I'm reminded of something Carley wrote in one of her e-mails: 'It astounds me as to how a world so full of people can have so many lonely souls.' And if those lost souls can find their comfort in the form of a 16-year-old who claims to communicate with God, why not?
Appointments for readings with Brian can be arranged through his Web site at www.brianscibetta.com . Prices range from $20 for a 15-minute phone reading to $150 for an hour-long reading in person.
Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .