I grew up listening to National Public Radio. With that awakened an early love for the modern, progressive, thoughtful existence that Democrats dream and preach about. My old man, more than any, instilled a handful of progressive ideals into my young soul—respect, tolerance, and civic engagement. Driving me to school—slurping his fair trade coffee from a reusable Alcoholics Anonymous mug that rested perfectly on the dashboard of our Subaru—he'd fine-tune the dial to the soft-sounding voices of NPR commentators such as Neil Conan, Robin Young, and Robert Siegel.
If NPR and TED Talks are church for the progressive mind, then I was raised in church.
God sounds like Neil Conan, right?
I loved NPR's Neil Conan the most. His voice sounded like God; or, at least, what I imagined God might sound like at that time in my life. I've heard that people raised in fundamentalist churches have a hard time shaking the image of an angry, disapproving God.
I've never had to shake that image. For me, God was like Neil Conan—nice, thoughtful, non-judgmental, progressive, humble, passionate, and, like the classy radio hosts during a pledge drive, hated asking for money.
God, in those years, was nice and didn't seem to involve Himself much with our day-to-day lives. He was always super ticked at Christians for their closed-mindedness, judgmentalism and hypocrisy. But when it came to addicts, and sinners, and non-Christians, God never judged them. Nor did he judge me. He let me do what I wanted to do. Kind of like my grandpa who lived in Montana. Grandpa always gave me money to go the candy store and took me fishing during the summers. Yes, God was like grandpa—senile, distant, and benevolent.
But through a series of bizarre providential events, I experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity at 16.
An awkward conversion
I first started giving Christianity a good deal of thought after a guy named Matt at the YMCA told me late one evening that if I didn't believe in Jesus, I would go to hell. As a cradle progressive, I was naturally offended. All ways lead to God and God doesn't judge, I assumed. I rode the bus home that evening and thought about what Matt said. I was fascinated by the idea that there were people in our world who actually believed that there was a God who had something to say and wanted to be in relationship with people. His words also caused me to consider hell, judgment, and the afterlife. Oddly, the idea of hell produced within me a real hunger; hunger for truth, for God, and for answers. The NPR God that sounded like Neil Conan was a nice God to have around but didn't seem to really care about dealing with the real issues in my life: the emptiness of a 16-year-old's soul.
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