I was born and raised a Christian, so I started out with one strike against me. How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven! I was better than other kids: didn’t cuss, didn’t dance, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. But I didn’t want to be defined by what I didn’t do. And I couldn’t quell the tremulous feeling that I wasn’t really better. I was fortunate that my parents were not hypocrites. They really believed in Jesus and really acted on their faith. They taught us kids to do the same, but it was hard, terrible hard.
I wanted to be like other kids. I was afraid of being different.
I didn’t want anyone to know I was a Christian. I hid it as best I could without actually sinning. I laughed at coarse jokes but never told them. I excelled at bitter sarcasm. I devoted myself to the study of arcane subjects. I taught myself how to use a slide rule. I taught myself the syllogisms of classical logic. I taught myself propositional calculus and devoured the meagre store of science fiction books in the town library. Isaac Asimov was my hero; I didn’t know he was an atheist.
During the summer of 1970 the Jesus Movement came to our town. We met in an old train depot and sat on beanbag chairs and cushions. We used discarded cable spools for tables. We drank pop and ate chips and called the place a coffeehouse because it sounded cool. We were caught up in the genuine presence of God, who was pouring out his Spirit. Everybody prayed and sang and swayed to the folksy sound of acoustic guitars. The girls wore beads and long skirts, and the boys wore chains and long hair.
I met Jesus again that summer. He was just a regular guy in sandals and dusty jeans. But he said the most amazing things:
You’ve heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,” but I tell you love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you, and pray for those who abuse you.
You’ve heard it said, “Do not murder,” but I tell you that anyone who hates his brother has committed murder in his heart.
You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,” but I tell you that anyone who looks with desire at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.
He kept saying, “It’s not about following rules; it’s about your attitude. Your heart matters more than your dos and don’ts.”
So I gave my soul to him again. I lost some of my fear. I gained a newfound joy. I stopped performing. I started living. I was 15.