Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence
and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt. Paul Tillich
Re-examine all you have been told… Dismiss what insults your soul. Walt Whitman
I’m nothing special. I’m just some dude who’s trying to make it in this world as best he can. I wipe-out every so often, but I’ve come to have a sense of trust that with the help of others, and a little help from above, I’m able to dust myself off and get back up to try again. I’m just a beggar who has learned a few places to get fed and I feel that it’s neighborly to tell others about those places so they can get fed too. That’s what this book is about. With that in mind I’ll go ahead and share more about myself.
It is increasingly important for today’s readers to know about the authors of the books they read. Aside from academic settings, gone are the days when people acknowledge someone as an expert or authority merely because they’ve got a B.A., M.A., M.Div, PhD., etc. behind their names or a Dr., or Rev., etc. in front of them. For better or worse, many of us grant people the right to say something, and listen to what they have to say, if we sense that we can relate to their story. So I’m going to begin by sharing the story of my own spiritual journey. I’m going to be specific as I tell my story in hopes that by doing so, it’ll speak to a larger, more universal story that other people in their twenties-to-mid-forties might commonly share. You might see some of your story, in my story, even if just in bits and pieces.
Let me be clear from the start. I’m a Christian who believes in God. I believe that God is good, alive, and well and that following Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” However, I don’t think that everyone needs to be a Christian or that everyone has to think about or experience Jesus in the same way. Nor do I think that there is one right way for people to come to know Jesus and let him become a part of their lives.
I do think that Jesus is one heck of a guy and that he’s the most amazing, loving, radical, subversive, counter-cultural, revolutionary, compassionate, prophetic, healing, present, engaging, transformative, and godly person who’s ever walked the face of the earth. I have felt far more inspired, meaningful, passionate, alive, and whole ever since I allowed Jesus to be an active presence and influence in my life. I wish more people could know the liberating power of Jesus in their lives too. I am convinced that other young adults can experience a profoundly enriched and transformed life that’s packed full of meaning, adventure, purpose, passion, and joy if they try connecting and relating to God by following Jesus and his Way.
Let me start at the beginning – well, my beginning. My parents were each raised as mainline Protestants (Methodists) and they met while they were in graduate school through a campus ministry called the Wesley Foundation at the University of Kansas. They moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1965, took teaching positions at a small college, and started attending Hamline United Methodist Church. My twin sister and I were born in the summer of 1968. We were baptized as Christians through that church soon after.
Mainline Christians tend to be somewhat reserved and private about their faith and they like to seek common ground doing ministry together “ecumenically” with various denominations within the Christian family. These denominations have a rather low-key, private, rational, even-tempered, and somewhat status quo approach to the faith. In fact, they were the most common sorts of Christians (next to Roman Catholics) in the U.S. until the 1980s.
I attended church services, went to Sunday School, took part in occasional church sponsored “vacation Bible schools” and summer camps, went through the confirmation program, and participated in the youth group. We weren’t particularly zealous or “on fire” about God, Jesus, or the Church. It was more of a “this is what we do on Sundays” sort of thing, but I have fond memories of exploring the books on the shelves of the church lending library in the parlor room, gazing at an abstract wooden statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus in one of the side lobbies, and making paper airplanes out of the worship bulletins.
My family didn’t really talk much about church, God, or faith outside of church, or even much in church for that matter. My parents did teach me to say nightly prayers before going to bed and we took turns saying table grace before eating dinner. This may have been a bit more of a religious upbringing than many people in my generation experienced, but overall, it was a pretty mellow and minimalist approach to the faith.
I participated in my church’s confirmation program when I was in seventh grade and I took those classes somewhat seriously - for a 13-year-old boy anyway. My pastor at the time, Rev. Dr. Bruce Buller, led a stimulating and highly informative series of classes and I enjoyed reading the various workbooks and pamphlets he provided. It was a safe environment and I asked many questions. The more I learned about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, the more I found myself resonating with his beliefs and that approach to the faith. Wesley was a preacher in the Church of England back in the 1700s. He grew frustrated with the Church because they were failing to reach out to the poor, and to help people deepen and mature in their faith. So he started a movement of young people who went out into the streets, town squares, and coal mines to share about God’s grace and love. They literally met people where they were at. The movement held small group meetings in people’s homes to help them become more intentional about their discipleship (living life with God and Jesus and putting their faith into action). Eventually, that “Methodist” movement took on a life of its own and evolved into denomination. I recall proudly making the decision to “confirm for myself God’s grace that first took place in my life upon my infant baptism.” I remember putting on a suit and proudly sharing my membership vows before the congregation. The following Sunday, I became an atheist......
.......It became obvious that a generation of young people who feel drawn to Jesus and his teachings, are really turned off by – or feel conflicted about being associated with churches and Christianity. While there are some hard-core atheists out there who are opposed to God or faith in any way, I suggest that many of these people may not really be anti-God per se. They simply don’t believe in the popular, and currently prevailing, understandings about God. Frankly, I’ve come to be atheistic about that God too. It’s also clear that a lot of people really respect and admire Jesus, want to learn more about him and be like him, and might be open to Christianity if they knew that there were ways of practicing it besides the conservative approaches to the faith. The next chapters will explore some of these ways.
 “Give me rules and I will flee. Give me Jesus and I am free.”
 My variation on the famed quote from the late Sri Lankan evangelist and ecumenical leader, D.T. Niles.
 John 14:6
 Until about 1980 or so, the United Methodist Church was the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., featuring more church buildings than U.S. post offices. Though they tend to be private about their faith, they have been very active in the public arena and they often serve as judges and officials for civic elections. A disproportionate number have served in Congress. It’s a “big tent church” (both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush are United Methodists). It’s one of the few remaining avenues in our increasingly polarized country where liberals and conservatives get together and transcend their differences and break bread together.
 This is not to say that my church or my family had a “luke-warm” faith or were participants in “Churchianity.” Those are pejorative terms employed by many evangelicals and fundamentalists (and even by some “relevant and emergent Christians”) to dismiss the faith of liberal, moderate, or mainline Christians without really knowing them or the depth of their faith at all.