Columnists > Soul Food

Rebel with a cause

Finding excitement in the counterculture

Issue: "Clinton's great escape," Feb. 6, 1999

It had been a good 15 years since I'd last seen Greg-and by good, I mean just that. During that time, I had become a Christian, found a vocation, married, and even had a child. I own a home, a sedan, and a golden retriever. So why did it bother me so much when Greg smiled, shook his head, and said, "But you used to be such a rebel!"?

Greg and I dropped out of high school at about the same time; we had fairly similar musical aspirations (the difference being that he had actual talent, while I did not). But the weekends got murkier and the narcotics got harder. By the end of 1983, my health was shot and my hope was low. I found myself living with my parents again, ducking their questions about the job hunt and wondering why people bother to live.

What turned me around was a small group of caring Christians, in particular a pastor named Calvin Pearson. They staffed a small suburban newspaper near Dallas, and when I went to work with them a month before Christmas, they were kind, friendly, and (surprisingly to someone who watched every episode of Lou Grant) uncynical. What's more, they were happy-in this day and age. I began to wonder why.

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Many of us can pinpoint a final hurdle that had to be cleared before we came to Christ; for me, it was an ill-informed intellectual snobbism. I didn't know any smart Christians. In retrospect, I realize I didn't know any because I assumed that if they were Christians, they were, by definition, not smart. Calvin Pearson, though, kicked over that hurdle with a few brief conversations. He wrote a weekly column for that newspaper (and taught part-time at nearby Dallas Theological Seminary). Each Wednesday, he brought in his column and made a point of asking me how things were going. He even seemed to expect an answer. So before long, I began to ask questions of him.

It wasn't going to be an easy transition, of course; I liked to see myself as a lone, courageous rebel, so what was I going to do with a Cause? That final step was going to involve admitting, however painfully, that maybe older people do get it, that perhaps there were answers to the Big Questions that I hadn't thought of. What's more, I realized that belief should not be buffet-style. Becoming a Christian would mean not just adopting the nice things; I would also have to admit the less pleasant ones. That Christ died for my sins; that generations of high-school science textbooks were wrong; that when Jesus said turn the other cheek, give my shirt as well as my coat, go to the back of the line, He meant it.

And that was my first indication that what I was about to do was, in fact, out of step with society. It was choosing submission over success, basing my self-esteem on the idea that I'm a wretch and a worm.

And in the years since my conversion, I have begun to realize just how countercultural Christianity is. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll used to be countercultural, but today those are the culture. Astoundingly, the most controversial talk-show host today is not Geraldo or Sally or even Jerry Springer; it's that pushy moralist, Dr. Laura.

So what could be more rebellious than orthodox Christianity? What more radical insurrectionist document has ever been written than the Apostles' Creed? "I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth ..."

But the most radical thing of all-at least today-is something Calvin insisted on when I was a new Christian: submission to authority. Why did I get up and go to church on those first Sundays? Because Calvin told me to; I did not yet know what was good for me.

It began in small ways; Calvin insisted I have lunch with him and his family after church each Sunday-and that I do the dishes. He told me it was my spiritual gift (I checked the list in Corinthians and didn't see "dishes" mentioned once-but Calvin assured me it was in the Greek). I grumbled a bit; what I didn't know then was that the dishpan hands weren't the important part-the servant's heart was. He insisted I help with visitation; I learned that revolutionary (society says it's merely revolting) action of sharing my faith.

Seeing Greg again has been good for me; it has renewed the gratitude to God that I had sinfully let grow stale. Greg has reminded me of where I was when God said to me, "Enter into my rest." And my friend has reminded me it's still romantic to be a rebel.

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