When I was in high school, I had some friends who were “Born Again Christians” (a term that became popular with the presidency of Jimmy Carter). They did some strange things, like pray between classes at their lockers, and give me religious tracts on the “four spiritual laws” and things like that.
At first, what the tracts were saying didn’t add up with me. I’d been taught that the Gospel of Matthew said “Thou art Peter and on this rock I’ll build my Catholic Church.” When there were free periods, or substitute teachers, and the discussions would lead to talks of religion, I would defend the Roman Catholic side. There were a number of occasions during which I would argue with these friends. But I’d also read their tracts, and I learned a few things. I learned that the Bible said something different from what the Catholic Church had been teaching me all these years.
I never had a girlfriend in high school. And nor did I really ever have a girlfriend in college. During those years I worked in a Ponderosa Steakhouse restaurant. There were a number of girls I liked – I could “get a crush” on a pretty girl at the drop of a hat. I was incredibly shy. And I had no idea how to ask a girl out on a date. But during my sophomore year of college, there was one girl, Carol, who was a couple of years younger than me. She and I would frequently close the store at night, and while she lived within walking distance of the restaurant, she’d frequently end up waiting for her father to come and pick her up. He worked as a security guard at a local mall, and most of the time she’d have to wait for him. I’d wait with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone. And sometimes I’d even have the car, so I would ride her home.
Now there is nothing at all of interest in this story about Carol and me – except that I had one of my many crushes on her, and she didn’t feel the same way about me. During the summer and fall of 1978, I was able to muster the courage to ask her out, and she and I probably went on a couple of dates together, but by Christmas of that year, I knew something was up because she had invited her long-time friend Marty to the “snowball dance” (she had a crush on him!) – The “break-up”, if you can call it that, was extremely hard on me. During the next several months, I had a palpable pain in my chest from a broken heart. If I ever lost faith, or rather, if I ever tried to lose faith in my life, it was during those months. I tried to be selfish and self-centered and even went on a cussing binge. But this was short lived. I just couldn’t do it.
I was a runner during those college years as well. That summer, I tried to forget about the pain from this loss by running harder – that was the only year that I ran through the winter. By the following summer I was in good running shape. But I ran too hard, and tore a sheath in my lower leg. It wasn’t a problem except that it would only hurt when I’d run!
So late that summer, in addition to feeling the pain in my chest that never went away, I couldn’t run to try to forget about it! Around that same time, I turned back to the religious tracts that had promised meaning in life, and I also started reading the New Testament that I’d been given by my priest for my high school graduation.
One day, reading the Gospel of John, I had an undeniable encounter with God’s love for me, through Jesus’s prayer for his disciples: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Now, I knew a little bit about Augustine, and his doctrine of the Trinity, and there was something really special about this love between the Father and the Son. And here was Jesus, saying “You have loved them even as you loved me”. The same kind of love. This love overwhelmed my young heart – the pain in my chest went away instantly, and I remember looking up from that passage knowing that I had had that “new birth” experience I had been looking for.
While it wasn’t at that point a theological mandate in my life, I ended up leaving the Roman Catholic Church in phases. This “infallible Church” had nothing in its infallible doctrines or sacraments to account for this new birth that I was keenly aware of. First I went to a Catholic Charismatic group. Then I found some Protestant Charismatic friends. And it didn’t take too long before I was out the door.
But I didn’t have an easy time with it. When I decided to leave Roman Catholicism for the first time, my father and I had terrible wars over it. I was in college at the time, and I was dependent on him financially. He grew up in a poor rural area during the depression and had developed a hatred for “Proudestants” some time during his youth that I was not aware of. He was determined that his son was not going to be one
Most teens in those days, the late 1970’s, were rebelling with “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” I was rebelling by reading the Bible and going to prayer meetings.
Because I had been “sovereignly captured” by the Lord in my new birth experience, I came to believe in such Protestant doctrines as God’s Sovereignty and Providence. Nothing happened by accident, but everything that came was somehow the will of God. And it was almost immediately following my graduation from Pitt that the Lord put Jeff Steinberg in my path.
I was graduated from college in May 1981, right into the middle of a recession. Later that summer, I ended up getting a job with Jeff Steinberg (www.tinygiant.com), a Christian singer who had a voice like Neil Diamond. He was born to a Jewish family in the early 1950’s, a “Thalidomide Baby,” with no arms and legs that were badly deformed. He had become a Christian as an early teen, through the witness of an elderly couple who visited him at his “home for crippled children”. They’d take him to Gospel music concerts, and he learned to sing by turning up the volume on their record albums and singing along with the various vocal parts. His mere presence on stage was a powerful testimony to our God-given ability to overcome adversity; his music both enriched and challenged my soul.
He lived in and worked out of Memphis, Tennessee. I became his driver and sound man and personal assistant. From 1981-1986, we traveled thousands of miles every year, to churches all across the US and in a couple of foreign countries, with Jeff performing concerts and telling his life story about how he had grown up in foster care and how he eventually became a Christian.
And during that time, I did two “religious” things. First, I became a part of a Protestant church, where I learned about the Reformation and the origin and meaning of central Protestant doctrines such as “Scripture alone”, “Christ alone”, and “justification by faith alone.” These doctrines filled my heart and mind to the point that I wanted to study them more – and indeed, I looked to attend a Protestant seminary.
But second, as we traveled, because Jeff was active in pro-life groups, I met some devout Catholic people, who encouraged me to give Catholicism another chance. And one individual who became a very good friend said, “why not go to a Catholic seminary?”
There are things about Roman Catholicism that are attractive: especially the solemnity, the quiet and worshipful nature of the typical Roman Catholic Church. The devoutness of some of the people, like this man’s family. It put my brain on overload. And it was another kind of turning point for me.
So during the summer of 1984, I seriously considered this question. Each Sunday when I had the opportunity, I attended my Protestant church service in the morning, and then went to the Roman Catholic Mass later in the day. I came to the conclusion that there were beautiful opportunities to worship the Lord in Roman Catholicism.
But on the other hand, as a person who has wrestled with Roman Catholicism all my life, on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide, the one question that kept coming back to me was, “why is the Roman Catholic religion so different from ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) that’s so plainly evident in the New Testament?”
I could not figure it out. But one of Jeff’s songs was “Bloom Where You’re Planted”. I had been “planted” within Roman Catholicism. And so I decided to look for and cherish those opportunities to stay put.
* * *
During those early years when I traveled with him, and because we had long hours to talk about personal things, Jeff knew how quickly I could fall for a girl, and the loneliness that came with it. So he liked to play “matchmaker” for me during those years – after a concert, he’d give a “record pitch” – I’d stand up on stage with him, and hold up his albums and cassettes, and Jeff would remind people to buy these products after the concert. Then whenever he’d introduce me, he’d say, “John is single, available, anyone who’d like to marry him, see me back at the record table.”
Well, sure enough, there were a few takers. The summer of 1982 one girl, Donna, from Corning, NY, came back and took Jeff up on his offer. She and I went out on a date that week, and later that summer, I visited her in Corning. Jeff made another match for me too that summer. Roxie was working in the emergency room of a hospital in Oklahoma City that we needed to visit when Jeff’s son got his finger smashed in the van door while we were traveling. She worked in OKC, but she lived in Bethany, OK. Yes, I fell in love with both of them at the same time – and of course Jeff fixed me up with dates. Later, I traveled to visit both of them. It was a heady time for me.
That summer, I learned about “French kissing,” but always the perfect gentleman, my hands never roamed. Then in 1983, when Jeff was singing in Germany for the US Army chaplains, there was a girl named Tammy, from the eastern part of Washington state. She was a Chaplain’s assistant – basically a secretary – she and I spent a little bit of time together, roaming around Germany, getting lost on the trains, and I fell in love with her too. Jeff and the Chaplains traveled to Switzerland one day – but Tammy forgot her military ID, and so she and I had to spend the day on the German side of the Rhine river. We could see the hills of Switzerland, and if I recall, we spent some time kissing and enjoying the scenery. What a beautiful day with a beautiful young lady.
But mere days would come and go. And because we were traveling, and even though I could travel to have a vacation with these young ladies, each of these “long distance” relationships left me ever lonelier whenever I had to get back on the road. I had this sense that I didn’t want to marry someone in Oklahoma and be largely cut off from my family in Pittsburgh.
The issue of studying at a Catholic seminary, and going into the priesthood, kept coming back to me. There is a sense of “ought-ness” about Roman Catholicism, almost an obligation that I “ought” to do more, and to do the most, it seemed, would involve embracing the pain of my loneliness, and seeing my shyness and failure with girls as a sign that the unmarried life of a priest might well be God’s plan for me.
So I came home in September of 1984, applied for the seminary, and was accepted.
Seminary required a year’s worth of “philosophical prerequisites” before you could start your studies in theology. In an effort to save time, I asked if I could take the prerequisites in the January semester so I could start seminary in September. But their response was, no, start philosophy in September, and attend the seminary a year later.
I was impatient, and so in January of 1985, frustrated with the slowness of the process, I went back out on the road with Jeff. He had hired another driver by that time, Tommy, and I traveled with Tommy and Jeff for most of the next year and a half.
But I remained Roman Catholic, and I became more persuaded that, while I couldn’t attend the seminary on the time frame that was laid out for me – I was far too impatient for it – I could find a vocation with an order such as the Capuchin Franciscans – and I spent time and effort looking into that as an option.
* * *
During this same period, late 1984, and early 1985, Bethany was finishing up a tour of duty as a Military Intelligence analyst in Augsburg, Germany. She was a “Specialist 4,” the equivalent of a corporal.
She was, no doubt, a good soldier, having successfully experienced the Army’s strict military discipline. This was the post-Vietnam era, and the beginning of the Reagan era, when the military was on the rise and held itself in high esteem. She was proud to be a Soldier.
Just to show a bit of Bethany’s attitude at the time, I have a document, a “Disposition Form 2496, that describes a disciplinary incident from “21MAR 84” (The names have been changed here):
1. On March 20, 1984, at appr. 2030 hrs. I, SP/4 Airel, entered the kitchen on the third floor of bldg..155.
2. SGT. Eek was standing in front of the sink as I approached the sink, SGT Eek slid to the side.
3. At the sink, while I was filling a water jug, I turned to SGT Eek and said, “You know what?” STT Eek then replied, “that you’re an asshole?” I then in turn said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you that you were a dumb cunt.” At that time I left the kitchen.
4. However, when I initiated the conversation, it was to ask SGT Eek if she knew anything about the burn marks on my door name tag.
5. There were witnesses but when I spoke with PFC [Name] this morning he said he didn’t hear SGT Eek’s comment. I do not know who the other people where [sic].
6. I didn’t go out of my way to be disrespectful. This was blurted out in self-defense.
AIREL, DELNITA E.
1st OPSDE3rd PLT
There are two supporting documents; one seems to be another official explanation, “Disposition Form 2496, which reads as follows:
1. I SP/4 Airel, feel I have been harassed by SGT Eek for the past 7 months. SGT Eek has told lies to the husband of my immediate supervisork [sic] SGT Golly, who inturn questions me about them. The most prominent incident being, in Dec 1983. SGT Eek told SSG Golly that she when [sic] to SGT Winky’s room to get some paint. SGT Eek reported that I supposedly threw myself to the floor, grabbed SGT Winky around the legs and begged SGT Eek “not to take my man.” SGT Golly questioned me about this to see if my personal life was ok. I then informed SGT Golly that this incident did not occur.
2. There are constant reoccurring minor incidences that SGT Eek does to belittle me. IE. 1) Whispers or giggles when I pass her in the halls, be it at work or in the barracks. 2) She has deliberately let a door slam in my face. 3) She makes comments to other barracks personnel about me/.
3. I have felt all along that I had no recourse in solving this matter. Because I’m a SP/4 and she is a SGT. I have even gone to SFC Brake about this who is my PLt SGT. It seems as if NCO’s=can do as they please and because I’m not I have to go along with it. I am respectful of rank, and don’t understand how SGT Eek can do this as an NCO. Especially since NCO’s are supposed to show the way and lead by example.
AIREL, DELNITA E.
1st OPSDE3rd PLT
I’ve reproduced these documents with as much exactness here as I could; they appear to be the carbon copies of typed documents.
There is one other document – actually, I have two separate copies of the same document that goes into further detail about the incident:
I am presenting this statement on my own behalf in regards to an incident that occurred on 20 March 1984, between myself and SGT. B. Eek. I have been advised by my supervisor not to state anything that may incriminate myself, but I have earlier admitted to calling SGT Eek a “dumb cunt”, however I wish to restate that I only did so after being provoked by her. I entered the 3rd floor kitchen (building 155) and was 2 to 3 feet away from her, when she called me an “asshole”. The group of people in the kitchen were engaged in conversation at the time and SGT Eek spoke in a normal voice which may not have been heard by the other people who were not paying particular attention to us, and were 5 to 6 feet away. I was very angry by SGT Eek’s remark and I made my remark in a very loud and angry voice.
It is no secret that SGT Eek and I have a long standing personality conflict. I had requested prior to this incident, through NCO channels to be moved to the 3rd Floor of Building 154 to help reduce the chances of a confrontation with her. I understand that disrespect towards and NCO/Superior is a serious offense, but I feel that an NCO that displays behavior unbecoming of an NCO they can expect some loss of respect for their rank. This does not make my actions right, it only illustrates that I am a young and inexperienced soldier who can make a mistake. I wish to point out that I have been assigned to 1st Ops Bn since August 1981, and have never been involved in any incidents of a derogatory nature. I have always tried to look and act in the proper manner, my supervisors both past and present will verify that I perform my duties in an outstanding manner. I realize that I made a mistake, one that I will not make again, and that my past be considered if there is to be any form of reprimand or punishment.
DELNITA E. AIREL
This is the only record of the individuals mentioned here, and except for Sergeant Winky (who was her “man” at the time), she had no further record or mention of them.
What was striking to me was that she had called herself a “young and inexperienced soldier”, even though she had been in the Army, in one form or another, since 1980; she was an SP4, the equivalent of a Corporal, and no mere green recruit. But she used what she could – something nearby that was plausible, and maybe it worked for her. There were no further discipline papers in her stack.
This was her world – the world that she had come from before we met. And in fact, this was merely the tip of the iceberg of her world. Aside from my own brief experience alongside the Army in Germany, I couldn’t have understood this at all. There was so much that I didn’t know about her.