David McGlynn, A Door in the Ocean; A Memoir (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012), 266pp.
David McGlynn came by his evangelical faith honestly — his father, after all, was a "suburban Catholic" and his mother a "non-observant Unitarian." And he left that evangelical faith, with some ambivalence but not a whiff of acrimony, just as honestly. The "elaborate denials" that dodged hard questions were no match for the brutal realities that marked McGlynn's boyhood and cast a long shadow over his life. When he was twelve, his parents divorced, his father moving to California and his mother staying in Texas. He and his sister racked up the air miles shuttling between the two and negotiating their remarriages. Then, in the tenth grade, his best friend was murdered, execution-style, along with his friend's father and brother, in upper-middle-class Houston. The triple murder was never solved. That was twenty years ago.
As a nationally-ranked swimmer, McGlynn earned a scholarship to the University of California at Irvine. There he joined a conservative campus ministry, led Bible studies, and participated on mission trips to Mexico and Australia This new faith helped make at least some sense of McGlynn's painful past. But for a sharp young man who also read Derrida and Rilke, the cognitive dissonance began to build. He began to feel like he was living life on the fringe of normal humanity as a religious freak. When college and his formal swimming career ended, life questions loomed.
It's been said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and it's to McGlynn's credit that he faced his personal demons, his family of origin fallout, and life crises with bravery, insight and candor. He never takes cheap shots at his family or former faith, he follows the questions where they lead, never takes the easy way out, and perseveres when the blows keep coming — for a while his family of three was on food stamps, a swimming buddy died beside him in the pool, and one of his sons had a complicated birth that was way too close to death. Today McGlynn teaches in the English department of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He's "neither forgotten or forsaken" his Christian faith, he says. In his post-evangelical life he confesses "the fundamentals without the fundamentalism." (256).