stephen and jack

I don’t know anything about Stephen Vogt’s religion. 

I can make some guesses. His walk-up is a Christian rock song, and he played his college ball at Azusa Pacific, which is a religious institution. All I know about Azusa Pacific other than that is two things: Christian Okoye, the Nigerian nightmare, and the fact that Jack Gilbert taught screenwriting there.

The most religious thing I ever saw from Jack was signing off his Christmas letter with “God bless us every one.” But after his death, talking to people after his service up in the LA hills, I learned that he’d been involved with various Christian programs in Hollywood – when he wasn’t running the writer development program at Warner Brothers or teaching at Azusa Pacific or just making himself available for people willing to trade lunch for a read or a polish or just good advice. I met Jack through the same gang of Internet maniacs as everyone else in my circle in the 90s, but I got to know Jack when there was drama in the group, two or three people were alienated, and Jack – despite not being involved in the least – took it upon himself to make amends. He was given my name, reached out to me, and persuaded me to act as his agent. That’s how I learned that Emma’s was the industry florist in Nashville, and how Jack became our man in Hollywood.

I don’t know what’s in the water at Azusa Pacific, but I thought about this when I heard the story of how Stephen Vogt knocked on some doors while the Giants were down in LA, and told three rookies – including Vandy’s own Mike Yazstremski – “come down to the lobby at 9 AM, we have a suit fitting.” Because when Vogt was a rookie, some veteran took it upon himself to take him out and fit him for a nice suit, because now that you’re an adult and a major leaguer, you need a nice suit. And Vogt took it upon himself to pay it forward, because that’s what you do. You take what you have and use it to help other folks along the way. I mean, it’s not like an MLB rookie can’t afford a suit – but sometimes there are things you don’t know you ought to do, and you need a guiding hand or a mentor to coach you up in the little things that make a grown-up, and provide an example for how you ought to do in future. I’m sure Yaz and Beedah are going to be buying some rookie a suit at some point in the future now, and another little ripple of making the world better goes out.

This is not the easiest time to call yourself a Christian in America. The popular vision of Christianity is the one I was raised in, the one that has demeaned and diminished itself in a forty-year race to the bottom in pursuit of worldly power. One that can’t sing “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight” without a knowing head-tilt of no they aren’t. One that has made it impossible to square what we learned in Sunday school in the 1970s with what comes out of the pulpits of 2019. One that basically drove me away from religion altogether for years and years.

And yet.

There was a hole in my spirit that was always filled by Chapel at Six on Monday nights in undergrad. It was occasionally filled in the ensuing years by the odd Sunday evening at All Saints’ in Homewood or St. George in Arlington. I’ve made an effort to find something that fits at different times – cathedral here, Evensong there, a conscious effort to make a pass through three or four different institutions in search of something that clicked. The only thing I can conclude is that there’s a chance I might be some sort of Episcopalian down deep, because it feels like I get all the liturgical ritual I need without being tied to a hierarchy and organization that clashes with my Baptist priesthood-of-the-believer sensibilities.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t know what I actually believe. But there are a couple of people who lived by the doctrine of show, don’t tell, and what I saw makes me wonder if there’s some part of that I can connect with. I don’t know how this is going to work, but it’s got to be worth a try.

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