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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Madness centered on God

Radicalism | Fighting communism, and my own impetuousness. Part six of a pilgrim's slow progress

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

I've written previously about joining the Communist Party when I was 22 and then, through God's grace, leaving it and finally joining a California church at age 26. Two months later, toward the end of 1976, God continued to show love in undramatic yet significant ways. A middle-aged couple, the Inskeeps, led my wife Susan and myself through a weekly Bible study highlighted-how embarrassing to say-by Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies. We kept attending the First Conservative Baptist Church of La Mesa.

How did Christ immediately change our lives? In one sense, by changing our attitude toward life. Both of us had welcomed in 1973 the Supreme Court's pro-abortion Roe v. Wade decision. If either of us had been confronted with an unexpected pregnancy in 1974 or 1975, we might have chosen abortion. Yet in fall 1976, when we learned that Susan was pregnant, we celebrated with ice cream and a trip to a drive-in theater to watch Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales, one of the best Westerns ever.

I was teaching freshman composition to San Diego State students and looking for good writing that would also introduce Jesus to them. Someone suggested stories set in a strange place called Narnia. The students were generally poor readers and worse writers, so the simple but sublime prose of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe worked perfectly.

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Our unborn baby grew early in 1977 and so did our still small understanding of Christianity. Susan one day brought home from the La Mesa public library Francis Schaeffer's Escape from Reason, and that led us to The God Who Is There and other Schaeffer books. A battle-theological, intellectual, and cultural-was raging, and teaching at San Diego State with its volleyball courts seemed too easy. Sometimes my questioning was on the level of movies: What would a Western hero do? Sometimes it went deeper: What would Christ do? Guessing at answers, I often got things wrong.

In spring 1977, I drove north to Long Beach and spent a day with Fred Schwarz, a 64-year-old Christian physician who two decades earlier had moved from Australia to California and made that the base for his Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (CACC). Schwarz had peaked in the early '60s when he could fill the 16,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with Californians intent on his teaching about the evils of Marxism.

As the Cold War relaxed in the 1970s, Schwarz still traveled the United States to speak about the Soviet plan to destroy the United States through "external encirclement, plus internal demoralization, plus thermonuclear blackmail," all of which would lead to "progressive surrender." He still received financial help from the Pew Memorial Trust (then on the right), the Schick razor company, Richfield Oil, and the Lilly Endowment. His speaking tours, though, aroused little interest.

Schwarz proposed that I travel the country with him, wowing crowds with my story of "From Judaism to Atheism to Communism to Christ." An early spotlight is one of the worst things for a new convert, but wanting to do penance for my communism (such was my limited understanding of how Christ had already fully paid for our sins) while egotistically becoming a center of attention, I agreed to join the CACC at the end of May.

One complication loomed: Susan was due to deliver at a San Diego hospital in May, but our baby wanted more time inside. Anti-communism beckoned, so at the end of May Susan (9½ months pregnant) and I drove up and down the streets of Long Beach, looking for an apartment at a time when many in that area did not allow children. One property manager looked at great-with-child Susan, said "I don't see a baby"-and we were in, two blocks from a beautiful beach.

(I should mention that Susan's parents, 11 months after our wedding, had flown from Michigan to San Diego to be present at the birth of their first grandchild. They had rented a station wagon and-when we had decided to head 117 miles north to Long Beach-gamely put our mattress on its roof and didn't offer any criticism of our new-found Christianity or the actions that we regarded as stepping out in faith; they must have seen them as stepping off a cliff.)

On June 4 I drove brave Susan to an unfamiliar hospital with unfamiliar doctors. I sped through two red lights, turned prematurely into the hospital's parking lot, and jumped some speed bumps. Susan was not amused. In the delivery room she breathed beautifully and I coached her in what was then a radical process called Lamaze. Two hours after our arrival came cries of a baby and cries of joy.

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