My Labyrinthine Quest for a Foundation on Which to Stand
May 1988By Dan O'Neill
Dan ONeill is a cofounder and chairman of the board of Mercy Corps International, an ecumenical relief and development agency assisting the worlds poor. He is also the author of numerous books, including Mother Angelica, Marrying for Life (with Raymond E. Vath, M.D.), and Troubadour for the Lord, the award-winning biography of John Michael Talbot. The above article is adapted from The New Catholics, edited by Dan ONeill and published last fall by Crossroad.
Sunlight flooded my upper story brick apartment in the spring of 1972 as I sat at my drafting table staring at the travel documents before me: a passport, air tickets, and visas. What a precipitous turn of events indeed! A sixth-year student about to graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in visual communications, I had many promising leads in the advertising industry. Already a syndicated political cartoonist, I was moving deeper into photography and illustration, loving every minute of the challenging pace. Yet there I was, about to skip the country for two years as a missionary! Obviously, I had experienced a change of heart.
As I considered the work I would soon be doing in Africa, I reflected on the path that had brought me to this point in time and to this interdenominational, evangelical missions organization, Youth With A Mission. Born into an Assemblies of God family, I was dedicated as an infant in 1948 by the Rev. Ed Scratch, my great-uncle, a man of God who to this day is an inspiration to me and to many. Missionaries, preachers, and Bible professors filled my family tree. After moving to another town, our family attended a Conservative Baptist church where I received Jesus into my heart at seven and was baptized at 11. In high school I attended a nondenominational Bible church with my family and later went to a Free Methodist university. By 1967 I was attending St. Lukes Episcopal Church near Seattle, the center of an explosion of charismatic renewal under the leadership of Fr. Dennis Bennett. The vibrant excitement of the baptism of the Holy Spirit filled me with zeal and wonderment I had found what I thought was the end-all of Christian faith experiences. I was on a high, a spiritual mountaintop.
The only direction to go from there, of course, was down. The fall was long and hard.
I had no foundation on which to stand. When my emotional exhilaration inevitably cooled, there was no consistent, authentic church teaching to undergird my spiritual convictions and I became easy prey for well-informed critics. My 20-year smorgasbord of denominational affiliations, which I had always regarded as a rich blessing in plurality, became a millstone around my neck when it came to theological consistency. Each denomination preached its own unique doctrines, many of which were diametrically opposed.
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