I grew up in Los Angeles in two opposed worlds. I was the son of an evangelical minister who led a mega-church of 12,000 members. I was also the child of my time and place, the counter-culture of the late 1960s. The drive from our church in the San Fernando Valley to Sunset Boulevard and rock clubs like the Troubadour and the Whiskey crossed boundaries of thought, feeling, and imagination at a greater distance than the Southern hemisphere.
I should have grown up to be, in my way, Billy Graham’s Franklin, Robert Shuller’s son Robert, Pat Robertson’s Gordon, Jerry Falwell’s Jonathan. (Evangelicalism tends to be a family business—my grandfather actually began the intended succession.)
But I had too many troubling thoughts. The good pagans I knew associated with the counter-culture often seemed to be much better people than my fellow Christians. They cared about social justice and adopting a way of life that transcended materialism and social status. They were far more honest about their thoughts and feelings and what drove them. They saw connections between beauty, the arts, sexuality, and the transcendent. They were human in a way that I wanted to be.
The Christian “bargain” seemed to be that one had to be far less than human in order to be appropriately spiritual. One committed oneself to a spiritual boosterism for the sake of evangelizing and pretended that one’s negative emotions or misgivings or doubts didn’t exist. After all, we knew the truth, and could reason out its every permutation. Even teenagers acted as if God had given them a crystal ball into their daily lives and futures.
I never quite gave up on my own spiritual quest because of one abiding thought: this life means something. I searched long and hard—and go on doing so—in order to find how Christianity, particularly in its Catholic understanding, accounts for that meaning. I eventually found my way into seeing Catholicism’s God as one to whom I could bring all of my humanity, in order for Christ to transform that humanity into Christ’s perfectly human image. This means being more human, not less so.
There is so much more to say here—a world of things. And that’s why I’ve become part of GodSpy, because only by keeping company with everybody, as Jesus did—the good pagans and the bad religious folk and everyone in between and beyond in the company of saints—can we share in Christ’s work of revealing the whole world as God’s sees it. That’s the only way to embrace the world, as Jesus did, in self-sacrificing love. This cannot be done merely by way of prescription—pointing out what doctrine teaches, although that’s an invaluable part of the task and there’s often too little of it in the Catholic Church. But there has to be a being with the world in the struggles that are common to all, believers and non-believers alike. This must take place through direct ministry—which is the primary task—but also imaginatively and in reasoned discussion as well. The latter is the task of GodSpy and other Catholic media, and it’s long past time we emerged from our ghettos of God-talk and embraced an unflinching candor in describing what it’s truly like to be a Christian. We need to translate into today’s idiom why the faith accounts for the kind of spiritual inklings that once informed the counter-culture and today remain, as always, the deepest sources of our humanity.