Steve keeps asking me for a detailed description of my journey because he "knew me when" - when I shared my faith with hair stylists (captive audience) and bank tellers. He knew me when I prayed for people to be healed of diseases and led Bible studies designed to incite young single adults to the mission field. (Did I just write "incite" rather than "invite"? Hmmm. Freudian slip... pretty sure my methods were more like "inciting" than "inviting.")
I don't have a lot of time to go back over ground that many who read here have heard in various forms over the years. But, I did have to write a short bio for my current class so I'm posting that here. I'll add to it tomorrow with an update of how things sort of broke down and through at the end of all that. So, for you Steve, here's Part One of how "Julie got her groove back."
I grew up in southern California as a Vatican II baby. My church belted out Beatles songs in the guitar mass, and the kiss of peace lasted about 30 minutes while the congregation cavorted around the church hugging and, well, yes, kissing each other. While attending ::yawn:: CCD confirmation classes, my good friend, the Presbyterian, subversively invited me to her youth group. Unlike my Catholic friends, the Presbyterian kids liked being at church. They taught me at the tender age of 12 that to be ‘born again’ meant that I had to pray a sinner's prayer, that being Catholic was not good enough for God and that the Bible was the primary guide of my spiritual life (not the Pope). I prayed that prayer… and also got confirmed as a Catholic, just in case, under the name Julie Ann Marie Sweeney (careful not to choose a silly sixties name such as “Cloud” or “Rainbow” as we had been instructed not to do).
During high school, my father gave up the faith and belief in God as a two-fer, then with newfound freedom, embarked on an extra-marital affair, to which my mother responded with divorce papers. Like good southern Californians, we all joined a cult called est (Erhard Seminars Training) to recover. By college, my spiritual beliefs were about as organized as our kitchen junk drawer. Worse, I was alone. I attempted to return to the Catholic Church (probably out of habit) but on my way, was scooped up by Campus Crusade for Christ zealots, one of which was a very cute surfer. Within two months, I prayed the prayer yet again (some CCC'ers weren't sure it "took" that first time in junior high), dated the surfer and began my training in point-and-shoot evangelism.
I became expert in sharing the Four Spiritual Laws and arguing apologetics. I gave about 20 hours a week to Campus Crusade including discipleship and training sessions. I used to say that I had majored in Campus Crusade and earned a minor in history at UCLA. I spent my junior year abroad in France and discovered that one billion people (called Muslims) were going to hell and other preppie young adults had given up cushie American lives to dedicate themselves to winning a few of them.
On returning to the states, I applied to a mission agency targeting Muslims. Jon was the team recruiter and he recruited me permanently. We like to say we were a "match made in missions." After a ten week engagement and only nine months of support raising, we headed to Morocco to be missionaries to Muslims. (Do not try this at home or permit your children to do likewise. Within two years, we returned stateside for detox and marriage counseling before returning to the field.)
We spent four (non-sequential) years on the field hiding our true identities to win Muslims to Christ and four years in the states working for our mission agency. Over those years, I dug into Christian theology (mostly evangelical popular non-fiction that attempted to pass for scholarship). I became deeply disillusioned with the idea that everyone who had not heard the name of Jesus would spend eternity in conscious unending torment... unlike most of those writers who seemed fine with the idea.
We returned to the states for a final time in 1991 and joined the Vineyard (charismatic church that promised the Holy Spirit would work out all that confusing stuff and heal us of diseases too!). Jon and I spent seven years in California at the flagship church, I ghostwrote for the founder of the movement (John Wimber), and Jon became senior editor of Wimber's denominational magazine VOV. When Wimber died and the magazine folded, we moved to Cincinnati to work at the Vineyard here under Steve Sjogren.
That was almost eight years ago. My spiritual life hit the skids about the time the Internet came to life. I discovered to my ever-increasing confusion that Christians of all kinds had a hard time agreeing on anything doctrinal, let alone practice and that sent me directly to Hans Kung. Why, I’m not sure, except that his book On Being a Christian is really fat and used to be on my dad's bookshelves when I was a kid. It looked long enough to exhaust all theological possibilities and to draw some Important Conclusions. It was exhausting. I read it three times. And still lost my faith.
In a scramble to salvage it, I took to reading theology constantly. I hoped that there might be some way to hang onto Christianity. After all, I did like being a Christian. And I still thought the basic ideas were terrific. The Internet became the chief vehicle for learning about the faith (discussion groups particularly) until I entered Xavier’s MA program in 2003.
I will stop here for now. Tomorrow's installment will probe some of the journey theologically.