Back in Romeoville, Illinois, in 1964 maybe, or a little later, skimming through a Reader's Digest issue, I stopped at this full-page ad by Religion in American Life. It grabbed me. Why? Because the boy in the picture looked about as close to me as you could get, skinny, brownish hair, sitting like that lookin' up… that was me! Well, not really, but I carefully tore out the page and stuck it in whatever book I was reading at the time.
By then, we were not a religious family. My mom stayed up and prayed way into the night while she listened to all-night radio (sometimes I'd get up in the middle of the night and keep her company, it was good music), but none of us went to church anymore. Well, I did, sort of. My steady girlfriend was a Roman Catholic, and so, for a date, I used to accompany her to mass, and then go over to her house to hang out with her widowed mom and two sisters. Back then, there was nothing to do as a teenager, no drive-ins, nothin' at all in this small town of a few thousand people, just ice skating on Lake Shirley (man-made mega-pond) or exploring the forest with my best friend Ed. Sheesh! Marijuana didn't even come to town till the year I left for college… to another small town of 5,000 people even further in the boonies, Carlinville. For me at college, a date with my steady girlfriend was lying side-by-side in a mown hayfield looking up at stars on a clear night! No hanky-panky! And then, stopping for a donut or two at a local bakery that opened at 4 a.m. on the way back to campus.
As I was saying, we weren't a religious family (except for mom). But something in me kept tugging, "why are we here?"…"Is there really a God, or is this all a bad dream?" Somehow, I kept going back to this page torn out of a cheap magazine.
I've kept it all these years, maybe because it accompanied me as I took the first few steps… venturing inside a Catholic church with my girlfriend, finding the old family bible and starting to read it (at Proverbs!) and take notes, starting to write poetry with spiritual themes, exploring the Eastern religions… Well, yes, I did take a few wrong turns, and that continued on through college. But it was there that I found my first Christian friends, kids like me who were struggling with issues of life and death (to us), and who tolerated me as a weirdo who wanted to hang around them and do InterVarsity Fellowship things even though I was, at very best, an "almost Christian."
Just a reminder that everything and everyone has humble beginnings, no matter how notorious they become in middle age…