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Not everyone raised in a strict Baptist minister's family takes Christian faith seriously in adult lifeespecially after 13 years of higher education and a university career. Why do I?
Growing up in Southern California, the eldest of five children, I knew that our family was different than most of those we knew inside and outside the church. The rather exacting behavior patterns and practices and our priorities made us unique. Yet, I was aware of the close bonds that united our family and the high expectations that our parents placed before usexpectations, however, that no doubt contributed to a stammering speech problem. At times during these years I was embarrassed not to be able even to say my own name when asked.
College life at UCLA was a liberating time for me and I found myself questioning many of the assumptions with which I was raised. Though no aggressive or insolent adolescent rebel, I reacted in my own way to the new ideas I was exploring. When a sophomore, I remember that I was seriously over committedcarrying 19 hours of classes, working part-time, playing in the football band, competing for an ROTC appointment, and serving in our church. I remember coming to the end of myselfthe first of several timesand realizing that I could not go on and retain my sanity. I had no time for quiet reflection, no time for my friends, and no time for dealing with ultimate realities in my life. I recall crying out in desperation, giving up control, and being willing to take whatever God gave me with gratitude. The flood of relief that came over me is as clear to me today as it was more than 40 years ago. I was free! My continuing search for authentic answers to my many questions was supported by a small group of Christian students who were dealing with some of the same issues and encouraged me to study the evidence.
A similar community at Berkeleywhere in the early 1960s I pursued graduate studies in history and professional studies in library and information scienceprovided a context for further working through intellectual and religious questions that nagged at me. This was a time of great growth and maturation, as I was caught up in the turbulent decade that rocked an entire generation. As I left the University in the summer of 1964, I found myself again in difficult circumstancesmy father's recent death, disruption of a brief marriage, resettlement in a new community, and beginning a new job as reference librarian at the state university in Fresno. Again, I was forced to go back to the foundations and ask some basic questions: Is God deador is there really One who cares? How could I know? What evidence is there? And how would I respond?
During that summer I thought and pondered a great deal, read, prayed, and talked to numerous friends. Paul Tournier's insightful book Guilt and Grace, along with C. S. Lewis's candid A Grief Observed later, helped me to see that every human being, at some point exper-iences an undefined sense of unease, a gnawing void deep inside the soul, that even the best of the intellectual, physical, and (even) spiritual "good life" does not fillthat does not satisfy. One must be utterly honest with oneself, admit defeat and failure to God, and allow God's grace to heal the wounded spirit. I recognized in this insight a truth with biblical rootsthat in ourselves we cannot exist in self-sufficient independence. God alone can satisfy one's thirst for the transcendent dimension, lasting peace, reconciliation, and wholeness. I came to see more clearly that Jesus of Nazareth (who he is and what he has done) makes this possible, through his life, death and resurrection. Responding as honestly as I could, I began to experience God's healing and found spiritual meaning and purpose unimagined before. This process of reflection and renewal, often in relationship to a small group of seekers, would become a lifelong pattern.
Undertaking doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the late 1960s, I met Avisthe reflective woman who would be my wife, companion, and mother of our three grown childrenthen accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin, where in 2005 I retired after 34 rewarding years as professor in the School of Information, and more recently, the Department of History. We live in a modest house about six blocks north of the campus, and worship in a supportive congregationCovenant Presbyterian Church.
Although the journey of faith has not been one of uninterrupted progress, my relationship with God, known in Jesus Christ and empowered by his Spirit, has provided the foundation for continual searching and growtha life marked by grappling with various questions that plague the human species but that are still worth pursuing in the search for sense. Sure, I still stammer on occasion and falter at some of the worst times; but I have come to enjoy personal relationships and the teaching, research, and service all of which define the academic communitygiving papers around the world, editing a scholarly journal, and authoring or editing a dozen books.
I have learned that we are not so much responsible for the situations in which we find ourselves, as for how we respond to them. My experience of God's care in my life has helped me to see that I am never really alone and that no circumstance is hopeless, and indeed can be a means of grace when I depend wholly on God. Jesus Christwho is he and so what?that is the issue. There is surely enough evidence for the one who is open to it to respond with heart and mind. If Socrates was right when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, the words of Jesus speak even more directly"Those who lose their life for my sake will find it." Like countless others throughout history, I have found this to be true.
updated by Sarah Quigley, September 2005
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