I was intrigued by a recent story, published on Medium, by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. Jonathan is a writer in LA who publishes in Vice, W Magazine, OUT Magazine, and other media. He’s skeptical, openly gay, and curious about Jesus. You can read his story here (full disclosure: he uses some language inappropriate for our forum):
- What do you learn from Jonathan’s story?
- What do you appreciate about how RealityLA and Jeremy Treat welcomed him?
- What are some practical take-aways for your own approach to loving and serving your neighbors?
Some particularly great quotes:
But that evening, as I reflected on the troubled actress and the psychic brutalities inflicted by the entertainment industry, it occurred to me that I had underestimated Hollywood’s biggest product: lost souls.
I set out to study the success of Reality L.A. in hopes of arriving at a fresh understanding of Hollywood’s spiritual deficit. I intended to approach it as I would any other journalistic assignment: with a dispassionate distance. That was the plan. Yet as I spent more time at the church, I found myself questioning the very foundation of my own identity. A period of unexamined crisis in my personal life — which began in the summer of 2014 and extended into the spring of 2017 — came into sharp relief when I was faced with the existential questions raised by the church.
What I never expected was that my own faith would come into question.
I blush as multiple strangers greet me on my way to the auditorium. This is L.A. — we don’t say hello. And yet I find it oddly refreshing to bask in the warmth of their unsolicited kindness.
For the next hour, Treat weaves a compelling narrative, jumping from the Bible to Rihanna to agnostic scholarship to L.A.-bred anxieties back to the Bible. It feels like listening to a brilliant and engaging podcast, albeit one focused on Jesus. This is not boneheaded Bible thumping — Treat encourages his audience to think philosophically while engaging their hearts.
"Green room” would be a generous term to describe the space in which we settle — it’s more of a glorified utility closet with a mirror sitting above a shelf dotted with Treat’s personal effects. The walls are white and spare, and a shelving unit in the corner houses plastic crates, wires and lighting instruments. Unlike some of his flashier evangelical peers, Treat is concerned with God, not glamour.
For example, social justice is part of Reality’s mission. The church has large and effective outreach programs to fight human trafficking and homelessness both in Los Angeles and around the world.
I want to love the immigrant and the unborn. That’s why I get frustrated with the political setting. When someone talks, you should listen to them, and if you disagree, you can still be respectful. How different would the world be if that happened in the last year?”
Treat practices what he preaches in terms of respectful disagreement. Even as I interrogate his most controversial beliefs, he maintains the same level of gentle listening and kindness. I find myself drawn in by his warmth. Is it possible to like someone who thinks I’m going to hell?
“What would it take to save me?” I ask.
“It’s a preacher’s favorite question,” Treat says with a laugh. “I always say it’s letting go of the grip of your own life to open your hands, to receive from God. And when you put your faith in Christ and make him the Lord of your life, then the Bible says that you’re redeemed and forgiven.”
Cook says he worshipped what many in Hollywood do — fame, sex, and relationships — and like many before him, he became increasingly disillusioned with those pursuits.
Getting acquainted with your mortality is never fun, but it’s particularly miserable when you’re also dealing with the worst breakup of your life. One month prior to my cancer diagnosis, I celebrated my 30th birthday by moving in with my then-boyfriend. Two weeks later, he broke up with me. I don’t love you enough to live with you, was his excuse, and one that left me homeless, devastated, and suddenly divorced from the identity we had formed in what I wrongly assumed was lasting love.
Then came the cancer.
Then I was fired from my job.
I didn’t go through a crisis — I became one.
I worshiped my family, assuming they were a safe existential bet. Perhaps that’s why — when it all disintegrated two years later — I felt unspeakable despair.
“Your father wants a divorce,” my mother said.
I was shocked. Our family was supposed to be different; we were going to be the rare unit that stuck together—no divided holidays or awkward weddings for us. Suddenly, my faith in our family’s story shattered. I felt unmoored — my identity was rooted in fiction.
Meanwhile, I was depressed, in therapy for the first time in my life, and struggling with the most foundational aspects of my identity. But in each pitch meeting, I turned it on — I was the brightest, wittiest version of a person who was secretly crumbling. It will all be worth it in the end, I told myself. I would sell this show, and the resulting validation would act as buttress to my collapsing sense of self; where my family had failed, my career would succeed. In the end, I would be fine — if I could just fix the narrative of my life.
We pitched a total of nine networks. All of them passed.
I plunged deeper into depression and anxiety.
“When do I get to ask you questions?” Treat asks with a smile when he finishes speaking. “I want to hear your story.”
I joke with Treat that my story isn’t usually on the menu when it comes to my reporting. But it is clear, as Treat’s eyes lock with mine, that he cares about it. It contains the keys to my soul, something Jeremy Treat would like to save. My soul has also been on my mind a lot lately, and that’s why, despite my skepticism, I find myself telling my story to Treat, starting at the beginning.
And I tell him all this even though I don’t believe in God or Jesus or heaven. I don’t believe one book has all the answers; I don’t believe that I have to stop being gay to achieve enlightenment; I don’t believe that abortion is a sin; I don’t believe that sex before marriage will cause my ruination. But despite all this, I still feel compelled to open up my entire life for Treat to examine, in the hopes that somewhere within that story there will be an answer: This is who you are; this is why you are.
“This is what life is about: people, stories, learning about each other,” Treat says as I finish speaking. “There’s a lot of beauty in hearing your path.”
“Pray for my family,” I say, before heading back into the lonely crush of Los Angeles traffic and a world filled with questions.