June 6, 2020

Thoughts From The Empty Road (For Greg)

rdeGreg is a former student and good friend. I learned today that he has left the faith.

The last time I saw Greg (Not his real name), he looked like he was walking away from it all.

I had a premonition at the time that Greg was troubled. He looked unsettled. I’d heard he was thinking of leaving college. His talk of an art history degree last year in my AP English IV class was just the kind of parrot talk that bright kids learn to repeat. They usually don’t know what they are talking about, and Greg was just humoring irrelevant adults like myself.

What really captured him was the outdoors, exploring, and a new girlfriend who kept him on the road on weekends. School wasn’t putting any light in his eyes, but the fire was gone elsewhere as well.

The last time I saw Greg, the fire of his faith was burning low. I should have known where things were going. It’s all quite familiar now.

He wanted some books on philosophy. I gave him Somerset Maugham’s novel of a man who follows his own path, The Razor’s Edge.

I don’t know if he read it, but he found the path. Today I learned that Greg has left the faith in which he was raised.

I understand completely and I am devastated. My heart is broken.

I understand because I’ve watched him grow up in an environment where fundamentalist Christianity was the constant assumption. He not only traveled the road of Christian family and Baptist church, but also the path of Christian school, Christian academics, Christian sports and on and on. It was the water. He was the fish.

I remember his music. It was a place to mark out your own path, to not conform to the pressure of breathing Christian air. Classic rock. The sound of authenticity. He was tenacious in his love for it.

In class- I had him twice- he was bright, but unmotivated. Assignments came along late, always bearing the marks of last minute preparation. The bored, bright kid in the Christian school, where true individuality and creativity is measured out in manageable doses. What is important is that no one’s questions or struggles knock down the elaborate production we’re staging; that no one’s questions or struggles reveal just how shallow are the foundations of our heralded “grand” world view. So the student cooperates and all is presentable.

He meandered through my intro to Bible class, not the more challenging Advanced Bible. He could have taught the class.

He happened to be with us at the apex of our science department’s devotion to Answers in Genesis style creationism. He got the full treatment. What must it be like to be taken into this world where the teaching of science itself becomes an exercise in the deconstruction of science? God have mercy on the intellectually hungry, thirsty and curious.

He sat under my preaching for 6 years. Hundreds and hundreds of messages. Most of them, honest efforts to do the best I could. I want to think that I am speaking to the young people like Greg, the bright, curious ones looking for some sign of diversity in the clonish experience of evangelical fundamentalism. Instead, I must admit that I did not go deep enough to find Greg and his true heart. I stopped short.

I’m despondent feeling that I have failed. I may have done my best and my best is simply not good enough this time.

I take some cold comfort in this news.

Perhaps an inauthentic and empty posture toward God has been replaced with something genuine. I much prefer genuine unbelief to the pretense of faith. It is more healthy on the human level and more useful in God’s economy.

No one outruns the hound of heaven.

I can pray. And weep.

I can renounce this wretched cowardice that fears speaking up boldly on behalf of the spiritually starving and desperate who exist in the midst of any gathering of God’s people. I am paralyzed for fear that some creationist pastor will demand my head on a plate because I believe in God the Father, creator or heaven and earth, but I do not believe I am confessionally obligated to accept or reject any conclusion of science.

I’m afraid to describe the evangelical fundamentalism that I know, but instead choose to flatter the entire business so I won’t rouse the Pharisees.

I treat my classroom as a place to shadow box rather than as a place to speak plainly. I run like a frightened girl at one irritated fundamentalist, and look away from students I know will soon turn away altogether because people like myself keep our answers to ourselves.

It is too late for Greg. He is on to another place in his journey and I am not part of it. I have lessons to learn.

I have more students. More opportunities.

I have a place to repent and a place to risk telling the truth another day.

Comments

  1. The story is sad, however I can relate (somewhat).

    I am trying to get my arms around some of the things on this site and find myself excited by your thoughts (others too). At other times I find myself more confused, I read the books that you recommend and still feel like I am over my head. Thanks for being honest Michael.

  2. I was close to being this person myself. I suppose my parents – Godly, honest and open – saved me from it.
    Lewis, MacDonald, and Chesterton helped.
    So did going to a college with many Christian professors not afraid of new ideas.

    There is still much hope, I think, for people like this. And I, at least (and some of my friends who have abandoned the faith) still have great respect and affection for those teachers we had in (Christian) high school who really cared about us, and about Christ. They tended to be the ones who hinted at – even if just barely – greater possibilities than fundamentalist dogma. That is sometimes enough.

  3. I wonder if Augustine’s mother felt the same way when he walked away from the faith.

    As you said, there is still prayer… and much hope!

  4. dude… I love you man! look… I know you know this, but I will say it anyway. This may be the beginning for Greg. I was the same guy… and it took one hell of a kick in the teeth to get my attention but when God pursues us with his love it is absolutely irresistible! If Greg seeks the truth then he WILL find it. Renew your faith, gird your loins… our God is not weak! If he could save me from my apathy and emptiness then Greg is certainly not a stretch. Remember to walk by faith and not by sight. To the seeing, metamorphosis may look like death but faith knows that it is simply the trading of ashes for beauty.

    I am calling DAD about Greg tonight, he will know what to do.

    blessings my brother,

    Jason

  5. Thanks for sharing this Michael. I’ve been haunted by this on several occasions, tapes that sometimes play over and over in my head. I have to turn them to prayer, acknowledging the Holy Spirit as the one who must speak grace and truth beyond both my sincere words, along with my inadequacies, inauthenticity and complacency. I pray also that God will overwhelm me with believing more deeply in his Son Jesus Christ and to love others more than the fear/esteem of others, my own reputation, self agendas, to be “godly, wise and spiritual”, etc. I am thankful that God is greater than my weaknesses and failures and loves his prodigals like Greg enough to not let “me” ultimately keep him from returning home.

  6. Totally agree with Jason, here. Raised LCMS Lutheran, became agnostic in high school… wandered through many denominations starting when I was 20 or so and became Catholic in 2005. My faith is what it is because I came to own it by rejecting it. I love God the way I do because he pursued me despite (because of?) my rejection of Him. Remember the prodigal. “Greg” has my prayers…

    And, as a high school religion teacher, I can understand a bit of why this hurts, and also why attention must be paid to those students who remain. God will continue to bless you and others through you… but it still hurts to see someone you care about walk away.

  7. Monk I _was_ that person for 30 years. In all honesty I still have issues with the church, but I know the presence of Christ.

    I truly believe that my faith is much stronger today than if I had simply gone through the motions of church for those 30 years. Sometimes we can only find the right path by taking a detour.

  8. Don’t despair. No, there are no guarantees that things will all work out for the best but there is hope. I know; I’m an example of it. For more than 25 years I ran from the faith of my youth, wanting desperately for it NOT to be true (all those nice people going to hell and such). Several years ago the cracks started to widen in my resolve to stay away, thanks to the BHT and C.S. Lewis (oh, how much so many of us owe him!). Last year God finally got a hold of me and told me it was time to pick my side — stay out or come back. Someone will have to explain to me why I waited so long!

    • Oops, hit submit too soon. Anyway, have hope. This is a heartbreaking situation and I can only imagine what you feel but sometimes the wanderer finds what he was looking for right where he started walking.

  9. Thank you for telling these stories and experiences. Even when they are sad.

    This may not be completely appropriate, or sound cliche’,but if the Holy Spirit can drag me out of hell and plop me down right in the middle of a real faith, one right from the other, anything is possible. I do not know the people involved, but my prayers are with you and Greg.

  10. “What is important is that no one’s questions or struggles knock down the elaborate production we’re staging; that no one’s questions or struggles reveal just how shallow are the foundations of our heralded “grand” world view. So the student cooperates and all is presentable.”

    …lest he be labeled a “rebellious spirit” and his parents heretics. You said perfectly what I was trying to say in the Niki thread.

    “He sat under my preaching for 6 years. Hundreds and hundreds of messages. Most of them, honest efforts to do the best I could. I want to think that I am speaking to the young people like Greg, the bright, curious ones looking for some sign of diversity in the clonish experience of evangelical fundamentalism. Instead, I must admit that I did not go deep enough to find Greg and his true heart. I stopped short.”

    You have no idea what God is doing in this young man’s heart! These seeds you have sown may very well grow to be vines twisting and following him, marking the path back to the Faith.

    It is good you are analyzing and re-evaluating your ministry, but wait until you get on the other side of the raw emotional aspect of this news about Greg, and can be more objective.

    God placed you in that school to do what you do best: to plant the seeds that make people think! God wants thinking people, not automatons following their programming! I have done more thinking about my faith in the last year that I have been following this blog than I have in my entire Christian life. You may not be as bold in your classroom, but you (I know because of the items you share here) are nonetheless offering those nuggets of Truth to these young people, and teaching them to *think.*

    • Christiane says

      I agree with Debbie about Michael being placed in the classroom to ‘plant seeds’.
      Teachers don’t often see the seeds sprout and grow. So, Michael, this young man is going off to sort himself out, so he thinks. You know, you can’t reject what you never had. And he has had and will always have the anchor of your teaching with him. Take heart, all is not lost.
      The Good Lord hasn’t left him. He never will. God’s ways with us are a mystery. Maybe this young man must leave in order to truly understand what he is leaving behind. Who knows?
      He is on a journey now. We all are. We must pray for him and for ourselves. We must trust in the faith OF Christ, who will not leave us.
      The ancient Christians often pictured Christ the Lord on the walls of the catecombs. He is shown bearing a lost lamb safely home. Be peaceful, Michael.

  11. Michael, I note that you occasionally attend an Anglican service, or a mass with your wife. I would be interested if you had had this sort of discussion with those people in those congregations. As I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and even now as a Catholic parent of teenagers, I would say that Greg is on exactly the path that he ought to be. If you can’t question or even renounce the faith that you had as a child, how can you really have faith as an adult? He has all of the sermons of yours stuck in his brain for the time when he’s ready to think again about God. But, in my family, we consider someone who hasn’t announced their agnosticism as a teenager to be somewhat questionable. As someone noted above, if St Augustine can pull if off, then so can your student. Don’t panic, it is as it ought to be.

    Oh, and I read some of your archived posts. I am repenting of any aggresive Catholic proselitizing that I may have attemped. I am, indeed, in the “cage phase” of my conversion, but I’m coming out of it. Forgive me for any offense ever given.

    • interesting perspective… I just don’t believe its necessary… Yes your faith must turn into an adult faith… and yes many of us believe slightly different things than our parents… but to say one must turn from it all before one can turn back again? that just seems very odd to me… (But then again, I grew up in the midst of conservative evangelicalism….)

    • I get what you are saying Joel. I was raised by a southern baptist preacher. Now at the age of 45 my faith in God has never been stronger and my love for Jesus never deeper. That all happened, I believe, because I shunned all of those teachings at one time because it mostly sounded like lies and insults to my intelligence. There were those years when I had absolutely no use for God in my life, and tried like hell to get away from Him. Now I know fully what the Psalmist wrote about when they said, ‘where can I run from Your Presence, You know my path so well. If I rise to the heavens you are there, if I make my bed in hell You are there.” It was that unconditional love of God that compelled me, called to me. He knew exactly what to do to get my attention, and I haven’t taken my eyes off of Him since. This relationship, this partnership with Christ is the most personal one of them all. No one can tell me what to believe when it comes to my faith anymore. If I have doubts, I know Who to ask, and He is ever faithful in revealing those answers to me. I gather with other like-minded believers regularly, will do so in just a few hours, but I do that for the fellowship alone. I learn my lessons at the feet of Jesus, and I gather to play and give thanks with other believers. It’s the dogma that drives so many away….that “elaborate production..” IMonk mentioned. The Spirit of God is living and breathing in our midst even now. We can’t be so ridgid in our stances as we read them from the Bible, but apply those things to this life now…not life as it was 2000 years ago. We were given these remarkable brains for a reason.

  12. I wrestled with the ‘faith of my upbringing’ for so long and have been that person running for the door. But Jesus keeps snatching me back, and it feels like when I’m struggling the most, He in his grace holds tighter. He reveals a little more truth and it’s usually through people who I’m sure never knew the many ways were helpful and showed the love of Christ. After 30 years in the ministry, I’m sure you’re that person for a lot of ‘Gregs’. Your writing has been that for me.

  13. iMonk,

    When I was a young adult, I did much the same as your friend and student, Greg. I apostated in disgust at what I saw as an atrophied, dried-up church (which I foolishly equated to the faith as a whole) devoid of depth or authenticity.

    After years, almost a decade, of wandering the wilderness of the lack of God’s presence, He brought me back and saved me. I’m married with two great daughters, leaving a life of comfort and security to follow the call to ministry. The form of that ministry, for me, will likely be teaching and preaching in both college and a local church family.

    But, I still feel disgusted at the ongoing and likely eternal problems with spiritual driftwood, or worse, predators, that lurk in the church.

  14. I don’t know what to say about a school teaching Answers Genesis. How sad, it was not part of my upbringing.

    “I tempted all His servitors, but to find
    My own betrayal in their constancy,
    In faith to Him their fickleness to me,”

    And a section from the poem which helped save my faith and I’ve not been subjected to fundamentalism:

    Rise, clasp My hand, and come !”
    Halts by me that footfall :
    Is my gloom, after all,
    Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly ?

    God will not abandon either one of you, thank you for loving your students.

  15. I was Greg. A K-12 Christian school attending, every Sunday and Wednesday church attending, the world is headed for Hell kid who happened to hear”fag” one too many times from a pulpit… who saw one too many people voted out of a church… who heard one too many empty promises about a “God” I couldn’t see.

    It took a long time, but I’m back, albeit in a very different place.

    And I’ll never visit that school again.

    Take heart. You might be the one might he can still see.

  16. Wait, what was the truth you didn’t tell him? Theistic evolution? What’d I miss?

    • Michael Knepher says

      I think the “truth” Michael didn’t tell wasn’t so much that AiG is wrong and theistic evolution is right, but that there exists a wider range of thought in the Christian body that does include theistic evolution, along with the AiG crowd and the old earthers. The truth being that many of the things that conservative and fundamentalist evangelicals posit as dealbreakers have been questioned and debated over the last 2000 years by the Christian community, and more still are innovations of the last 200 years or so.

  17. It seems that all of the last three blogs have the common thread of the dangers of being dogmatic when you are not capable of being certain.

    May God help us all.

    • Excellent point, and this can be applied MANY different ways, to many different outlooks both scientific and theological. Human nature nature is to trumpet “white” or “black” when we are probably looking at some kind of grey (in terms of certainty).

      Nice post.
      Greg R

  18. This reminds me of the year I took away from my top tier liberal arts college at a small Bible College, after Jesus Christ met me on my journey. A Personal Evangelism course was required of all students. We “evangelized” students at a local state university campus. According to my fellow students, I failed. I’d talked to a young woman about Christ, talked her into becoming a Christian, and then talked her out of it. She was puzzled and bemused and asked me, why? I said that she’d know when God was speaking to her, and not me, and that she’d know when she was being called to respond. If the content of “faith” were solely dependent on human propositional argumentation, faith in God is only worth as much as the next better argument to come along. But, God is bigger than any of us, Michael, and can speak to Greg through anybody. I know. Jesus found me sitting in a lecture listening to a prominent NY Times Editor mock a politician for being Christian, but admitting that the man had integrity that was non-existent in DC. Jesus spoke to me from the testimony of that non-present man through the mockery of the journalist (an atheist).
    It is incredibly saddening to see the lack of truth and integrity within the church’s testimony. There are too few leaders who will brave the murderous wrath of the Pharisees in pursuit of their “holy agendas” and tell the truth about what we can know and we cannot know. May followers of the risen Lord have the courage to speak truth and grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, regardless of consequences to our puny ideas of “success.”

  19. Thanks, Michael, for being honest and transparent about what it really means to be a teacher or a leader of any kind in the church. Reading this post brought back a lot of bittersweet memories from my days in both youth and drug and alcohol recovery ministries. Watching someone you love — someone you’ve invested a sizable chunk of yourself into — walk away from the faith or crawl back into the sewer of substance abuse can cut very deep and even fill you with a sense of futility. Jesus said we had to take up our own cross to follow Him and invited us to share in His sufferings. Sometimes that is all too real. But He knows how we feel. He’s been there. So, don’t beat yourself up too much, though sometimes it’s healthy to grieve. Just know that Jesus weeps with you. And take hope in the fact that Jesus still loves Greg as much as He ever did — and in the fact that He is the kind of shepherd who sometimes ditches the ninety-nine to go out and pursue the one.

  20. Great post Michael (as usual). Like so many others here: I, in many respects, I am also Greg. Through my teens/late teens I was fully complicit with a fundamentalist faith. Fortunately my jouney away from that has been a long and slow journey, and I have never really suffered the crushing “crisis of faith” that many do when they decide to reject a form of christianity, perhaps throwing the baby out with the bath water in the process. I guess I’ve been lucky, insofar as I’ve always had good access to theological/philosophical/historical resources that have made, for me, the journey from faith into Faith one of great intellectual exploration. If not for that, parhaps I would have let go, when faith was clinging on by it’s fingertips.

  21. To some extent, there is part of Greg in me as well. I am in a rather dry spell at the moment in my own faith walk and part of the reason I do feel like giving it all up is at times what i hear from the pulpit or from other brothers and sisters in Christ in conversation, plays, etc, etc. No matter how well meaning it is, at times I feel that there is intellectual dishonesty on both sides: them and I.

    Will be keeping you and “Greg” in my prayers as well as all of us who feel at times that we should just throw in the towel and embrace a genuine unbelief rather than remain in a half-hearted faith.

  22. Pray for the work of prevenient grace in “Greg’s” life, which I am sure that youare doing.

  23. “No one outruns the hound of heaven.”
    IMonk…Greg is not a finished product. Nor is the next “Greg” in your class. All you can do is to be the conduit as God does the teaching. Let the final result up to Him.

  24. IMonk,

    Years from now you may find you have not failed. He is spreading his wings and separating himself from what he knows – so that he can become an independent individual. Those books on Philosophy are a good indication he is trying to figure life out on his own – without the intervention of those who held command over his life in the past. Barring drugs and other things that may cloud this process he will emerge after his search, and when he has matured he will remeber you and your teachings and wisdom, in fact you may continue to have an impact on his life now and not know it. He will remember the foundation that you helped build and come back – maybe not in exactly the way you pictured but come back all the same.

    I was this person, the bright, bored unmotivated kid who had dreams that were at the time unattainable as seen through inaction. Yet I found my way, remembered my foundation and mentors and grew to embrace and now teach the faith.

    I have seven chldren – I expect I will lose some of them for a while as they go on their journey, But I suspect they will return and I will love them through it all.

  25. Mike, first and foremost, we cannot escape the hound of heaven. I tried, and failed. God’s not threatened by Greg apparent departure.

    Also, I want to present what may be a controversial idea. Greg’s departure may be related to the way the church treats men. While it may seem that the Evangelical Fundamentalist churches promote men and oppress women, they are actually not allowing young men to be the wild pioneers that God made them to be. They are killing the natural masculine nature found in guys and doing so by their legalistic ways.

    Men are not going to thrive in a robotic enviornment where they are spoon fed one single line of thinking their entire lives. They thrive when they explore and dare and are given the chance to test themselves. Young boys dismantle their toys for a reason. It is to see what makes them work..

    When I attended church, it was never about “exploring” my faith and discovering the pioneering edges of my life. It was about being a dutiful man of God, obedient and mechanically diligent in service to “the kingdom.”

    I know this all sounds like “Wild at Heart,” but I believe that young men have a certain potential that needs to be given to God, not abolished and suppressed.

    • Or perhaps Eric Ludy’s the Bravehearted Gospel?

    • These are good points and I do agree with them, but I am curious as to why you focused only on guys. Aren’t there women who are in the same situation as Greg. Do you think women thrive in robotic environments? If so, would that be the result of an inborn nature or societal conditioning?

  26. First, while I am sure Michael appreciates the thoughts about his former student, it seems that nobody is seeing the other trees in the forest. The last seven paragraphs of Michael’s post – which seems to have been missed by everyone – is one of the most heart-crushing lamentations about someone’s circumstances which I have ever read. I see shattering pain here, of which the “loss” of Greg is but one symptom.

    Michael, for what it’s worth, I wish you’d step back and take a look at the potential good here. The environment you describe sounds positively soul-sucking. Had he nominally kept his nominal faith, it would clearly be one of the strictly mechanical, go-along-to-get-along just-make-sure-you-don’t-say-the-non-politically-correct-thing kind of “faith”. (And before anyone says anything, pure B.S. that “political correctness” is a purely liberal phenomenon. I repeat, B.S!) I think you should take pride in likely being one of his few outlets for asking real, difficult questions. That is invaluable in this life. That the result is not what you would have liked should actually provide a kind of hope, especially in this forum, where so many have left and come back to a more rational, authentic faith.

  27. A sidebar to this discussion is the great UNSPOKENESS of those who are wandering from the faith, particularly our young. What’s the deal, here ?? Esp. those who have been, or are currently being, educated at our best Christian schools: is it the embarrasment factor that keeps us from broaching the subject that for Greg, it just ain’t working ?? I have many friends who are dads and moms to “Greg”, and this seems like a terrifically tough subject to broach…..or maybe it’s just me.

    Greg R

    • “is it the embarrasment factor that keeps us from broaching the subject that for Greg, it just ain’t working”

      At the church I and others left over the last year over issues like this the pastors were strongly convicted that what was needed was MORE AIG, Calvinism, inerrancy, etc… to make them more resistant to the outside world. Those of us who left didn’t agree. Personally I feel it makes the young more brittle so that when something does hit them they tend to shatter instead of flexing.

      • AIG have done some research which their blog says shows that the more Sunday School kids attend, the more likely they are to leave the faith, regardless of home/christian or public schooling. I would be fascinated to read the book (“Already Gone”) as apparently they conclude, as your church did, the kids are not geting enough AIG teaching and I”m wondering how they get to that conclusion?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          1) When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
          2) If at first you don’t succeed, Get a Bigger Hammer.

          Actually, you know what AIG reminds me of in this context? The Communist Party of the Soviet Union. All problems were due to CIA Saboteurs (domestic Reactionaries having been purged under Comrade Stalin) or lack of Political Consciousness Among The Masses. Solution: Increase Political Consciousness Indoctrination. Increase Political Consciousness Indoctrination. Increase Political Consciousness Indoctrination.

          Until Soviet Schools were Indoctrinating Proper Soviet Politicial Consciousness 24/7/365 from birth, while the USSR continued to crumble.

    • The courage to talk about “it just ain’t workin'” is rare. You can get fired playing this game.

      I could point you to posts at teampyro that say if you cannot stand and say you have all doubts and questions resolved, you shouldn’t be in the ministry. Translation for many people: “Acknowledge the spiritual vacuum many are experiencing and you are the cause of the problem.”

      When I voice this sort of thing, one of the most common responses is “What was the issue?” Assumption: everyone is having an intellectual crisis on some issue that can be addressed via apologetics.

      • But dash it to heck, Michael, nobody has it all sorted. Nobody, not the Pope, not the greatest saints, nobody this side of heaven.

        There’s a difference between ordinary doubts and difficulties and the exercise of the will to keep faith, and serious doubts which lead to disbelief, and if the distinction between those states is not recognised, then there are going to be problems.

        Everyone at some time or another has surely said to him- or herself “Do I really believe all this? Miracles, incarnation, resurrection? God? Suffering and loss and pain in this world?”

        We can’t make ourselves feel happy or joyful or full of confidence by our own acts; all we can do is keep on trying.

      • When I voice this sort of thing, one of the most common responses is “What was the issue?” Assumption: everyone is having an intellectual crisis on some issue that can be addressed via apologetics.

        to use a MONKism: emergers and MOSAIC, post-mods, you are being tweeted

        Greg R

      • textjunkie says

        I could point you to posts at teampyro that say if you cannot stand and say you have all doubts and questions resolved, you shouldn’t be in the ministry. Translation for many people: “Acknowledge the spiritual vacuum many are experiencing and you are the cause of the problem.”

        Holy smokes. I’ve been so steeped in Episcopalianism and Anglicanism I didn’t think anyone still thought that way, much less held it as pastors and teachers. I’m sorry you are in that situation!! That’s a way to crack and crumble–noone can stand under the strain of being perfectly certain all the time. Whatever happened to holy doubt?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I could point you to posts at teampyro that say if you cannot stand and say you have all doubts and questions resolved, you shouldn’t be in the ministry. Translation for many people: “Acknowledge the spiritual vacuum many are experiencing and you are the cause of the problem.”

        (Short rant follows. Sorry, IMonk, my adrenalin’s pumping HARD and the words and images are flowing.)

        Question, IMonk, everybody. How does the above attitude differ from the attitude of “goodthink” and “bellyfeel” Orwell wrote about in 1984? The final result and goal of Brainwashing?

        That is what I read into this form of “all doubts and questions removed”: doubleplusgoodthink.
        doubleplusduckspeak.
        doubleplusbellyfeel INGSOC.
        Two Plus Two Equals Five. So decrees The Party.

        Somebody told me about a minor change in the ending of the 1984 (highly-accurate) movie production of 1984. That at the end, after 6079 Smith W was completely broken in Room 101 and completely brainwashed to INGSOC, the movie implied that he was now being promoted from the Outer Party to the Inner Party. That only when you are completely broken to The System would the System trust you enough to allow you into the corridors of power within.

        Looks like these teampyro posts duckspeak the same goodthink. Only when you are completely broken to the System (“all doubts and questions removed”), will you be allowed any position within the System (“in the ministry”).

        Since when did the Kingdom of God become Airstrip One, Oceania?
        And Christ (“came to set us free”) become Big Brother?
        “Scripture” (how allergic I am to that word) become The Party Line?

        30 years ago, I went over the Wall to get away from that kind of “Gospel”. I don’t know what drew me back (on the other side of the Tiber) except “to whom else can I go for the Word of Eternal Life”?

  28. Michael D. says

    Sometimes it is necessary to reject the false God one has come to know only too well before they can find and/or fully be found by I Am. It could be that Greg is precisely where he needs to be in order that Christ can remake him.

    • Steve Newell says

      But what happens when someone rejects Christ?

      • I read somewhere that someone who turns their back on Christ but is searching for truth, is still walking toward Him.

        Perhaps, Greg will return stronger, Peter did, Thomas did and I do believe that Judas could have.

      • Deliberate rejection as in “I don’t care if it’s true, I don’t want anything to do with it”, or the rejection of “I can’t believe this stuff, I’m sorry, I wish I could”?

        Two different cases.

  29. Adultery means “to add to”. This is not a personal criticism, Mr. Imonk, sir, but many of us, in many denominations have “added to” what needs no addition. We must all be cautious not to be that “adulterous generation”, spoken of by Christ.
    ‘Add- ons’ to the perfect message can not improve.
    I bailed out of a Methodist background as a youth. My parents never attended, but I loved to go to church, mostly for the music, but also for the message. The dichotomy between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, and the blatant materialism and judgementalism of the congregation made me take the path of Greg. I was judged as poor, and made to be “the kid with the parents who are not like us.” When I rejected their faith as shallow and hypocritical, I rejected my Lord at the same time.
    I was brought back to Jesus, but will never be part of what I still consider to be an adulterous, sham of a church. May Greg find the Savior on the road, and find healing from the hurts of church.

    • Why did you tell me this is not a personal criticism? I’m confused.

      • I’m guessing willoh didn’t want you to think s/he was saying you contributed to an environment of spiritual adultery – but the OP will have to answer for certain.

      • Because I hear your pain over Greg, and i would do nothing to add to that. When people who sit in the pews in front of me stray, my first impulse is to examine my behavior to see if I was a stumbling block.
        “He sat under my preaching for 6 years. Hundreds and hundreds of messages. Most of them, honest efforts to do the best I could. ……… Instead, I must admit that I did not go deep enough to find Greg and his true heart. I stopped short.
        I’m despondent feeling that I have failed. I may have done my best and my best is simply not good enough this time.”
        If you were part of preaching what IMHO are add-ons, I mean to criticize the denominational distinctives responsible, not you as an individual for faithfully following them.
        First not to offend.

  30. Tho stories like Greg’s happen in every generation, we are in the midst of a great exodus where millions of “Gregs” are leaving the church. Some of this has to do with the powers of darkness that have always been at work in the world. But sadly, I believe more of it has to do with the weakness of the church to live in the power of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit to make us the holy, salt and light people of God in this world, rather, than the slightly nicer, church going neighbors that we tend to be.

    Ultimately, the Spirit of God speaks personally to the hearts and minds of the Gregs in this world and they must soften to his voice or harden to it. But when they experience the Gospel of Jesus simply as nice worship songs and sermons/classes on how to improve the quality of your life without too much disruption to it or learn more and more “about” the Bible without seriously being challenged and mentored in actually putting it into practice (or “putting into practice” means the evangelism of creationism, moral majority political agendas, etc), you wonder if they do need a season of dis-illusion-ment. Maybe we all do.

  31. Scott Eaton says

    Michael, this is a beautiful and gut wrenching piece of writing. I can relate on many levels. Thank you for writing it.

    Brother, please keep exercising your writing gift. It is a deep ministry to many of us. Honest. Real. True to Christ. I appreciate you and thank God for your work.

  32. Tim Van Haitsma says

    Hate to be the wet blanket here, but….

    I was/am Greg. I spent my pre-adult life in K-12 christian schools and then to christian college. Church twice on sundays and wedsday catechism and youth group. It was of the Calvinist flavor(CRC if you know it). And I walked away. It started when I was 15. I have kept walking ever sense. I am now 40. I doubt I would ever come back to faith of any sort. Not because of the scars or pain, but because I found through my struggles that god and faith is a purely human invention, and not needed.

    I do not have a hatred of christians or a life debauchary. Just a simple life, a happy life. I wish Greg the best, I hope he finds a peace with himself and the world. It will take time but it can be done, and from the people I know it is becoming the path more tread.

    • Tim Van Haitsma says

      As a note of cold comfort to imonk,

      The teachers that I had that were like the imonk I read here, I still hold in high regard. I still talk with a few of them on occasion. I know they grieve and pray, but I always respected them because they showed the intellectual acumen and heart to care and struggle.

  33. It is too late for Greg.

    Michael, if God is half as gracious and loving as you preach and believe, then it is not too late for Greg. If any of our faith in God is true, then God knows Greg and still loves him and will keep him.

    If not… well, then… it’s too late for all of us.

    • I think the monk was saying that it is too late for him do anything further with Greg, as they are no longer in contact, not that it was too late for God to work in Greg’s life

      at least thats what I understood

  34. Michael,

    Perhaps one of the best written posts I have read from you.

    I am only further convinced as I age that what separates the sheep from the goats is that one side dies to self and the other only lives for it. Heaven will be populated solely with the truly dead.

    The story of Greg is an old one. Yet as long as he can inhale, he is not a lost cause.

    The deciding reality comes when and if he learns to die to the world and live for the Lord. Most people never get to that place. Most people who call themselves Christians don’t either. Yet that is the only place where life is found. You have to die before you can be reborn.

    Life is painful, but pain can also reveal errant dreams for what they are. Young men and women learn this lesson in time. No one is immune. Whether they learn to die or only go on fighting for the errant dream is God’s to know.

    To those who are left behind, the answer is to stay dead to self. It has a way of rubbing off on other people over time. And we never know what time can bring, but God does.

    I’ll leave with some words from Mark Heard, as they seem appropriate for this post:

    Down peppers the rain from a clear blue sky
    Down trickles a tear on a youthful face
    Feeling in haste and wondering why

    Up struggles the sun from a wounded night
    Out venture our hearts from their silent shrouds
    Trying to ignite but wondering how

    We can laugh and we can cry
    And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
    We can dance and we can sigh
    And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

    Young dreamers explode like popped balloons
    Some kind of emotional rodeo
    Learning too slow and acting too soon

    Time marches away like a lost platoon
    We gracefully age as we feel the weight
    Of loving too late and leaving too soon

    We can laugh and we can cry
    And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
    We can dance and we can sigh
    And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

    —”Strong Hand of Love”

  35. There are no easy answers Michael. Each of us has our own journey and some of us will crash on the journey. Any of the above may come true for Greg, but all I know is that Jesus still loves him enough to pursue him until death.

  36. I run like a frightened girl at one irritated fundamentalist, and look away from students I know will soon turn away altogether because people like myself keep our answers to ourselves.

    Michael, it’s good to think about whether fear has been holding you back too much and to make changes if it has.

    I expect more openness would be appreciated by some of your students but it won’t guarantee that students won’t turn away; and it might not have stopped Greg turning away either.

    The problems some people have/develop with Christianity aren’t just with fundamentalist forms and those people will still leave even if more open forms are taught/role-modelled to them.

  37. I think God is with you on preferring genuine unbelief to pretend faith. I’m currently reading Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem and pondering how it is that the issue of suffering caused him to lose his faith.

    • The issue is quite old: how can there be suffering in the world and an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God? The two are incompatible, thus faith of this kind is incoherent.

  38. Do not be discouraged. I was raised in a fundamentalist church and went to a Christian school through the 8th grade. I ended up rejecting the church and Christianity by the end of high school.

    The Lord saved me when I was 25. I wasn’t listening to an alter call, I wasn’t watching a televangelist, I wasn’t even witnessed to by a friend. I was alone in my room and the Spirit of the Lord called me to repentance.

    Praise Him for his great love, grace and mercy that endures forever!

    I went to modern American-style evangelical churches for the past 14 years, and now I have rejected the personality-driven, American corporate church and am discovering what God’s word really says about His church and what She looks like.

    I understand your fear of the system that has been established.

  39. imonk it is obvious you really care about this person. Sometimes it seems to me that leaders don’t really care at all.

    When I was a student leader in christian fellowship in college, we were very centered on evangelism and inviting people to come to our group etc. At least every semester, someone would drop out, or get kicked out for- for example, being unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

    I noticed this odd push/pull thing going on. On the one hand we were like, “God please help us evangelize! please help us win souls!”

    But on the other hand, people would leave and we would just let them go. We’d get this weird feeling that would come over us, like no one wanted to talk about the leaver or why he or she left, and we’d not talk about them, like they never existed. Maybe it was fear? Fear that one day one of US would be the leaver?

    This made me mad, because I never had a heart for evangelism and making converts; I care about the souls of my freinds and family but not the souls of strangers. So I wondered why more effort wasn’t made to KEEP the people we had. I would rather work on keeping people in the fellowship than in always trying to get new ones, it made people seem like they were disposable instead of precious.

    I felt like, why evangelize? Why try and win people? We will just end up having to kick them out and some point for some sin, or they will get tired of us and leave. And when they do leave, all the so called love we showed them will be shown to have been not really love at all.

  40. Brother, our success is measured in our obedience to the calling to which Christ has called us, not what we might term success. As teachers, it hits us hard when someone walks away in their woundedness, but at the end of the day, I’ve seen some of those people find their ultimate hope is in Jesus, not the trappings of a church. God bless you.

  41. From where I sit, the sentiment I am reading is shocking in just how deeply people here feel aggrieved that someone like a Greg who walks away from the faith. And that shock is of the gob-smacked variety. We should all expect better than this kind of irresponsible response.

    I read words like sad, failure, loss, pain, to describe the leaving – a metaphorical leaving, let us remind ourselves. The real person is still among us, still living, still struggling; it is a belief set that has been rejected, but look at what is attached to that belief set from those who still maintain it: a self-encapsulated community of Us with Correct Belief. To reject a belief set because one finds a lack of merit for it is considered a personal tragedy like a death! One of Us has become one of Them! Give your heads a shake.

    One could just as easily assume the opposite response from most of those expressed here (Tim VH notably excepted): a celebration of a life freed from the false theocratic shackles of certainty, a mind allowed to test the world on its own terms, to hold community with a different group of people who are open and honest and inquisitive without some prescribed theocratic agenda that in large part defines the world as Us and Them, someone now able to have relationships with people built on personal trust and mutual respect for the unique individual each of us is rather than one fundamentally based on sharing acceptable and correct beliefs.

    The fact that so many of you consider Greg ‘gone,’ or perhaps ‘wayward’ with a very tangible sense of ‘loss’ yet hopeful for a ‘return’ and the lingering fear that it may not happen, reveals the depth of the attachment you have not to the personhood of a questioning and doubting Greg – a real live person – but to the truth claims of the belief set you hold dear. The fact of the matter is that many here hold their beliefs in far more esteem than they do another person struggling to find a meaningful way to live, and that raises a huge red flag to me that any relationship with such people will always be subservient to the belief set and its truth claims. Concern about others will be tempered first through the state of the shared beliefs. That makes the basis of the relationship between those of faith and those who doubt conditional, and it is a palpable sentiment that undermines the honesty toward Greg that is expressed here in so many comments.

    Michael has hit the nail on the head when he expresses his fear about speaking honestly about matters of faith and matters of doubt and everyone should take heed of this point; where religious faith goes off the rails is when it insists on certainty. The honest conclusion about God and Jesus and religious faith of any kind is this simple truth: I don’t know for sure and you don’t either, regardless of what you may believe to be true. That pertains to the strongest and weakest of believers. By ignoring this honest assessment of any religious faith claim, the bulk of religious believers tend to shunt doubt into some kind of personal weakness rather than recognize its central importance to the strength of the theology. What is being purposefully hidden from inquiry is the merit of justification that informs these beliefs. And that’s why so many people have such a problem with those who pretend that they are certain that they have the truth about God. They don’t.

    When a student like Greg allows for doubt and seeks different sources for knowledge and wisdom, look at how so many of the faithful respond: to grieve as if he were lost or dead! How well do YOU enable a Greg to seek his own justifications if you do your part to subject a person to such an overwhelming sentiment that he has hurt himself and people who care for him by being honest in his doubt and then has the courage to act upon it? That’s the very definition of the heroic journey: leaving everything comfortable and familiar behind and entering the wilderness alone, to undergo a transformative journey and bring back what one has learned for the benefit of those too timid to undergo the journey themselves. How does the common message in these posts support his heroic quest? By grieving! How utterly sanctimonious such a sentiment is. What a horrible disservice we do to our questioning young (and old, for that matter) who seek, who doubt, who search for justification, who have to undergo the journey weighed down by unnecessary grief. That’s not helpful; it’s self-serving tripe to make ourselves feel as if we have Greg’s best interests at heart when we clearly do not.

    The loss of faith can be – believe it or not – as much of a door opening as a door closing. It can be the start of an honest and compassionate life of brilliant ethical and moral integrity that includes caring and concern for others, where doubt insists on justification for beliefs. If we honestly care about all the Gregs as people rather than conduits for a shared faith, lets stop burdening him with our misplaced grief and start by joining him in his life long quest to justify and inform our beliefs with something more than dogma and regurgitated statements of theocratic certainty that empowers people to fly planes into buildings and think that they are doing God’s will. Let’s stop pretending that we know anything for certain, that the answers we have for our own lives are our own, founded and perhaps accepted only through our own significant and sometimes painful struggles, and help him as best we can through our collective wisdom to shape really good questions central to his own life. Our answers are our own and his must be, too. Let’s care about the person more than our theology and let’s celebrate the role doubt offers each of for the valuable and essential tool to honest inquiry it really is.

    Those who do not doubt do not think. And their pat answers are empty of wisdom.

    • tildeb, it’s a natural human reaction to feel grief at loss. And when someone feels that he has failed another, as Michael feels that he and his school have failed Greg, then they will express that feeling. Just as you feel glad that Greg has chosen the better part.

      It is as reasonable (or unreasonable) for you to be glad and to celebrate that someone experiencing “a life freed from the false theocratic shackles of certainty, a mind allowed to test the world on its own terms, to hold community with a different group of people who are open and honest and inquisitive without some prescribed theocratic agenda that in large part defines the world as Us and Them, someone now able to have relationships with people built on personal trust and mutual respect for the unique individual each of us is rather than one fundamentally based on sharing acceptable and correct beliefs.”

      You are pleased because you consider Greg has found something good. Michael is grieved because he considers Greg has lost something good.

      Both of you – and the rest of us – are entitled to our feelings. Should Michael say he doesn’t care one way or the other? Should we say we don’t much mind if anyone stays or goes, or believes or doesn’t believe, because it doesn’t matter? What would your advice be to, for example, a science teacher lamenting that despite all his best efforts to teach independent critical thinking, a student of his had gone and joined some church – would you lecture the posters about “stop sounding as if he did something bad and instead celebrate his choice!”?

      I think most people commenting here hope Greg does work things out for himself and does lead a happy, productive life. I don’t get the same sense of grievance as you do, but that’s our different understandings and experience at work.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Martha. I was pointing out that Greg leaving this faith at this time could be either, not one or the other. I think the faith needs to account for legitimate doubt and not try to make it into a personal weakness when it is not; it is a necessary condition for honesty. I think Michael would agree with that sentiment even if he is afraid (with cause) to say as much in his classes.

        I tried to explain why Greg’s leaving could just as easily be taken to be an act of courage as an act of failure… not that I think one way or the other. I was chastising those who failed to even consider the alternative interpretation, which I think deserves our consideration if we care about the person at least as much as the tenets of the faith. So take a moment before you jump to a bunch of conclusions and assign feelings where they may not be present. Again, at least consider the possibility.

        And I think you are far too optimistic in your assumption that the majority of the posters would be very pleased if Greg worked things out for himself and leads a happy, productive life… as an atheist. But I could be wrong in my own assumptions.

        To answer your question, yes I would celebrate a student’s choice to join a church! Teaching science in no way attempts to dictate true belief, but it definitely helps a student to think about what justifies beliefs. And what better place to investigate specific religious beliefs than in a church, able to talk to members of the congregation, work with them, see the effects of the beliefs in people’s daily lives, to break bread with them and share in their concerns and successes, to explore the theology with people knowledgeable in the tenets of the particular faith, and so on. This is a very good way to find out why people believe what they do. In scientific jargon, it’s called field work. But I would be greatly disappointed if such a student became certain in the truth of the Church’s beliefs. Certainty is the sound of a mind closing. It is often the root motivator of great evil.

        You see, Martha, it isn’t science that attacks faith; it’s faith’s inability to incorporate the findings of science into a cohesive theological framework in such a way that it makes good sense, that it provides a different yet justified set of beliefs that work well in action, that allows room for theological debate and the incorporation of new information. Science works forward towards whatever the conclusions may turn out to be – including having enough integrity as a subject so that new and conflicting data can overturn even a cherished conclusion, all of which is a strength for honest inquiry, whereas faith starts with a particular answer cohesive and whole even if it competes with the answers of other faiths, and then works backwards to explain why this faith but not that one is the correct version, often ignoring or misrepresenting much along the way to maintain the cohesiveness illusion. That’s a weakness because it undermines inquiry. And inquiring is what people do. Our minds inquire. We come that way.

        So it’s not the fault of science or scientists or whatever conclusions are reached along the way that undermines honest inquiry when compared to theology: the real culprit is the dependence faith has with its own chosen methodology. And if a student of science (and we all are) undertakes that inquiry through joining a church, then more power to that person, says I. But don’t be surprised if many decide that their honest inquiries are being blocked and censured and ridiculed and attacked by the faithful under the excuse that faith must first be accepted before it can be explored, so if you don’t accept the tenets as true to begin with, you have rejected God.

        Mind you, Martha I often think teaching would be so much easier if I could tell students that whatever I said should be considered sanctioned directly by God and that I was just the conduit of Truth. I could then direct the really difficult questions to be taken up by Him at a later date and delivered by revelation. I would be doubly impressed if He would also pick up the marking.

        • “I tried to explain why Greg’s leaving could just as easily be taken to be an act of courage as an act of failure… not that I think one way or the other.”

          For Greg, we don’t know what motivated him.

          For Michael, it feels like failure. Personal failure, failure of the school, failure of the church system.

          I believe most of us were trying to console him and to say “Do not lose hope, who knows what lies ahead of that young man? This may be a necessary part of his journey.”

        • Tildeb –
          You seem to wish to dictate to Christians what their religion may consist of. The fact is that it is inherent in the nature of religion generally, and Christianity in particular, to claim to possess absolute Truth to some degree. It would be a strange Christianity indeed if, on the one hand, it quoted Jesus as saying “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, and on the other hand rejoiced at those who leave the faith in a search for truth.
          You seem to advocate a sort of utilitarian model of belief. I admit that this view is popular these days, but it is fundamentally (did I say that?) incompatible with Truth claims. Grieving for the departure of the man from the faith reflects an honest concern that he has turned his back on eternal life with God. THE God. You have zero basis for imputing to anyone here a greater concern for their religion than for “Greg”. Indeed, from a Christian perspective it is precisely rejoicing in his departure which exhibits lack of concern for him.

          • Kozak –

            Absolute truth to some degree? What a statement! Nevertheless…

            Michael expressed sadness about someone leaving the faith, and then went on to regret not saying what was in his heart at the time partly out of fear of consequences if he spoke honestly. I was commenting on why the fear is well-founded when religious methodology is so antithetical to honest inquiry, and why this failure of the faith to allow for honest inquiry will eventually destroy any honest faith in God and replace it with the kind of ill-informed and infantile ‘theories’ of a Hamm or Hovind. Such religious underpinnings as these that cannot survive honest inquiry are vacuous and that has a direct effect on trying to be an intellectually honest religious person who can make religious faith and knowledge compatible. This is especially important for teachers who are ethical in their profession.

            The alternative, of course, is very sad indeed for anyone with intellectual integrity and respect for honest inquiry but who wishes to be a devout kind of Christian: the kind where one must publicly endorse the belief claims as Truth and either ignore its incompatibility with informed knowledge, pretend that the two are compatible when they are not, or identify informed knowledge as an enemy of the faith. None of these positions is favourable or offers strength to the faith.

            Michael was exactly right to point out his very real fear of consequences to speak honestly to these important issues of intellectual integrity as a teacher, a personal fear to publicly express doubt, fear to endorse honest critical inquiry from his students, fear to be seen accepting scientific conclusions that compete with theological claims, fear the wrath of those who insist on certainty through faith not only for his job to espouse anything less but shackled from keeping an honestly inquiring student like Greg within the faith, fear, fear, fear. Being so sad that someone walks away from this kind of necessary self-imposed fear to maintain a belief set that can’t survive the incorporation what’s probably true, what’s probably accurate, what’s probably correct, is somewhat hypocritical if the concern is truly for the person doing the walking away.

            I’m not dictating to anyone what he or she may or may not believe, although I am certainly questioning the ramifications to the integrity of the faith if what must be believed has to be kept safe from knowledge; I’m pointing out that this kind of faith – the faith that assumes certainty of truth first in spite of evidence to the contrary – is doomed if it cannot integrate in a positive and affirming way our increasing knowledge.

            You can claim that what’s at stake is eternal life with God only through believing in this but not that set of religious tenets as Truth but in people’s hearts they know that practicing a kind of dishonesty through silence and sacrificing intellectual integrity to do so, while living in fear of consequences that one’s doubts will become known, seems a very strange way to purchase admittance. It occurs to me, and probably to many others, that a God that requires such a sacrifice of intellectual integrity has at best questionable motives. Or perhaps God is being misrepresented by such rigid, inflexible, and harmful tenets?

    • The fact that so many of you consider Greg ‘gone,’ or perhaps ‘wayward’ with a very tangible sense of ‘loss’ yet hopeful for a ‘return’ and the lingering fear that it may not happen, reveals the depth of the attachment you have not to the personhood of a questioning and doubting Greg – a real live person – but to the truth claims of the belief set you hold dear. The fact of the matter is that many here hold their beliefs in far more esteem than they do another person struggling to find a meaningful way to live, and that raises a huge red flag to me that any relationship with such people will always be subservient to the belief set and its truth claims.

      For Christians it goes like this:

      Jesus answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

  42. charlie.hr says

    iMonk…

    I’ve been teaching bible to youth groups for almost 20 years now; but…

    7 years ago I had an experience that changed everything. One of the kids that attended our bible study group at home (18 years old) killed himself. He was bright, smart, intelligent, responsible, etc. You can use him as a model of what a real christian young man ought to be. As his teacher, I was proud of what “I was accomplishing” in his spiritual life.

    The news shocked me beyond anything a can explain. I was ready to throw the towel ’cause just a couple days before he committed suicide I was with him. He was dealing with some issues with his parents about a scholarship to study at a prestigious University in Europe. He approved the tests and qualified for the scholarship program, but he didn’t want to leave his parents, cause they were in the middle of divorce. He asked me what can he do to help his parents to know Christ and not break up. I parrot trough the “usual” counseling stuff, but may inability to see trough the heart of the matter and address it with genuine love and attention, made me feel that I was in part responsible for what happened later.

    Thank God, my wife was with me and with love and spiritual discernment said to me: “This is not your fault. You’re a seed sower and always will be 4 different kinds of ground; If the Spirit convicts you of anything, repent, ask for forgiveness, learn your lesson, pick up yourself from the ground and keep sowing, putting your whole heart on it”.

    Proverbs 22:6 – Train [teach] a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (NIV) I think there is a promise and hope in this verse.

    God bless you and keep sowing…

    Peace & Love

  43. It’s hard, Michael, but don’t be discouraged.

    From experience here, a lot of people fall away from the practice of their faith as teenagers/in early adulthood, and they come back again later, when they marry and start having kids, or when they’re older and making sense of their life. So have I, just recently, come back to the practice of my faith once again after a long time away (if that’s any encouragement to you?)

    Who knows what seeds Greg has taken away with him? If you treated your students honestly, as I think you did from what you say, then you may have given him as much as you could under the circumstances.

    To quote the Fr. Brown story “The Queer Feet”:

    “I don’t know his real name,” said the priest placidly, “but I know something of his fighting weight, and a great deal about his spiritual difficulties. I formed the physical estimate when he was trying to throttle me, and the moral estimate when he repented.”

    “Oh, I say–repented!” cried young Chester, with a sort of crow of laughter.

    Father Brown got to his feet, putting his hands behind him. “Odd, isn’t it,” he said, “that a thief and a vagabond should repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and frivolous, and without fruit for God or man? But there, if you will excuse me, you trespass a little upon my province. If you doubt the penitence as a practical fact, there are your knives and forks. You are The Twelve True Fishers, and there are all your silver fish. But He has made me a fisher of men.”

    “Did you catch this man?” asked the colonel, frowning.

    Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face. “Yes,” he said, “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

    As you say, the Hound of Heaven pursues for a long time, run where we will.

    • Martha,
      I always look forward to your responses on this blog. Your words are always insightful and gracious. Thank you for writing.
      Peace of the Lord.

  44. I was Greg, or a lot like him. Mom took us to church every Sunday, went to a private school, listened to a lot of fire and damnation preaching, and learned to parrot the party line answers with the best of them. Left home and the church at the same time when faith and life didn’t square up. God had to be bigger than the ‘boxed set” I had been presented, but with no alternative, I just chucked it. Fast forward 10 years, add wife and kids, and also having the hound of heaven grab me by the neck, and suddenly faith came, not from man, but from God. So no, God is still seeking and saving the lost, just not on our timetable. I will pray for Greg too, and all the Gregs who can only see faith through a fundementalist lens.

  45. I find encouragement in the following slightly lengthy quotes from Paul Tillich’s “Courage to Be”. I know the issues with Tillich, but I keep finding him as a voice in the wilderness when it comes to opposing the intellectually crushing aspects of fundamentalism. I recently had the privilege (?) to hear Al Mohler speak in public; however, he spent a significant portion of his time denigrating existentialism as teaching meaninglessness. In fact, it is the opposite: an existentialist finds himself in a world or a thought system which appears absurd and meaningless and tries from that point of despair to find meaning in life. An existentialist believes there is meaning in life in spite of constantly being told otherwise. Christians are guilty of creating meaningless and despair when they put God in a box, by imposing morbid black-and-white logic to every question, thinking somehow that they are actually helping people. I’m sure the Pharisees thought they were helping, too, with their oppressive system of rules. What the Pharisees accomplished morally Christians have accomplished intellectually. I can understand why some think that the only escape is to chuck the faith.

    I find in Luther a similar existential journey to the gospel from the hopelessness, guilt, and despair imposed upon him by the burdensome scholasticism in which he was raised.

    “For God as a subject makes me into an object which is nothing more than an object. He deprives me of my subjectivity because he is all-powerful and all-knowing. I revolt and try to make him into an object, but the revolt fails and becomes desperate. God appears as the invincible tyrant, the being in contrast with whom all other beings are without freedom and subjectivity. He is equated with the recent tyrants who with the help of terror try to transform everything into a mere object, a thing among things, a cog in the machine they control. He becomes the model of everything against which Existentialism revolted. This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed because nobody can tolerate being made into a mere object of absolute knowledge and absolute control. This is the deepest root of atheism. It is an atheism which is justified as the reaction against theological theism and its disturbing implications. It is also the deepest root of the Existentialist despair and the widespread anxiety of meaninglessness in our period.” – Tillich.

    “But a church which raises itself in its message and its devotion to the God above the God of theism without sacrificing its concrete symbols can mediate a courage which takes doubt and meaninglessness into itself. It is the Church under the Cross which alone can do this, the Church which reaches the Crucified who cried to God who remained his God after the God of confidence had left Him in the darkness of doubt and meaninglessness. To be as a part in such a church is to receive a courage to be in which one cannot lose one’s self and in which one receives one’s world.” – Tillich.

    • What is this from?

    • Dumb Ox quotes Tillich This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed because nobody can tolerate being made into a mere object of absolute knowledge and absolute control. This is the deepest root of atheism. It is an atheism which is justified as the reaction against theological theism and its disturbing implications. It is also the deepest root of the Existentialist despair and the widespread anxiety of meaninglessness in our period.”

      I can understand why someone with a theistic bias might identify non-belief as a reaction to an overbearing God. But life without a God does not translate into meaninglessness or absurdity or despair. It translates into what is and leave theistic interpretations to theists who care deeply about such musings.

      I am always amused at the notion that atheism is described to be a response rather than a default position, a basis for all kinds of negative qualities – as if only through faith can one find meaning, ethics, and morality! That notion is patently false and can be brought into disrepute merely observing the behaviour of very young children who possess little if any theistic ‘knowledge.’ They exhibit an intense involvement with the now in a meaningful way, have an innate understanding of fairness, and reveal a deep desire to help others. When adults have trouble behaving as well as these children, one is left wondering what has happened in the meantime? Polluted by the despair of existentialism? Hardly. And why the need for ‘mediation’ for courage for adults who had plenty as toddlers? Mediation between whom and what? Who and what exactly is the God above the God of theism and why can the church alone accomplish this supposed Herculean task of reconnecting ourselves to our early childhood wisdom?

      • “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” – Romans 2:12-16

        In the Catholic tradition, there is a strong idea of Natural Law: non-Christians are perfectly capable of possessing a moral compass, sure, absolutely. As to your toddler example, Christ commands that we be as little children, for such as these will inherit the Kingdom. Of course atheism is a lack, by definition as “without belief in a god(s)”, and such is not, by any means, the default position. Hardly anyone is a pure atheist, and for good reason, namely that “there are more things in heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy” and most children know this truth well. While I am no fan of fundamentalism by any means, at least it is fumbling at the truth, even if in a ham-fisted and ultimately self-destructive manner.

        And the answer to your last question: eating the flesh of almighty God and drinking His blood. “A stumbling block to Jews [and fundamentalists!] and foolishness to Gentiles”, as the Apostle has it, so I understand if that makes me sound like a nutcase, but hey, it is what it is.

        • Commenting on the lack of clothing ‘worn’ by the Emperor does not make the commentator another kind of fashion designer, any more than commenting on lack of evidence for God makes makes the atheist another kind of believer.

          People – including children – come with brains that attempt to apply agency to all kinds of phenomena, but even children know that not all phenomena have agency. We have painstakingly figured out rational ways to understand and show why spooky action at a distance does not mean there must be supernatural agents kicking about. If evidence for supernaturalism of any kind could be provided as equal to or greater than evidence for other natural explanations, then agency could be assigned legitimately. This is the default position I’m talking about: belief in agency subordinate to evidence for agency.

      • When adults have trouble behaving as well as these children…our early childhood wisdom…

        Yes, I know mine are downright sagacious. I constantly find myself ruminating on their inherent affection, and deeply held sense of fair play.

        Can you give your sister her candy back? MINE!
        Will you please just get in the tub? NO!
        Who left these toys out? I don’t know.

        I tell you–each one a Socrates.

        • Learned behaviour that benefits the child is not the innate behaviour I’m referring to. And our innate behaviour is wise.

  46. Interesting observation. Everyone’s commenting about Greg.

    Maybe Greg isn’t the problem.

    • another thot: : maybe it’s not as easy as saying EITHER Greg is the problem OR the church/school culture is the problem. I’d say focusing on Greg ONLY , though, is at best a foul ball, and just a tip into the mitt at that.

      Greg R

    • I don’t think Greg is the problem. I think Greg is what matters most.

      I can’t discount the reality of Greg’s faith prior to this collapse by the way.

    • Greg is not the problem. I haven’t read all the comments but I haven’t seen any that suggest he is. Most of us understand Greg all too well.

      We are all on this spiritual journey. Even when we stop believing and we turn to explore other paths the journey goes on.

      Churches and families should prepare the young for the journey, help them to find the tools they will need to move forward. You don’t prepare someone for a journey by handcuffing him and warning him never to question things that must be questioned. Unquestioned faith is stagnant. It grows stronger when we see that it withstands our questions and doubts.

      You can’t demand that all the young of a church follow one path and never question. Many will question. Then they have two choices: Do not think, follow blindly. or Turn away and find a new path.

      How often did Jesus begin a parable with “What do you think?” He was constantly calling his disciples to consider and think.

  47. textjunkie says

    I wouldn’t assume that your best wasn’t good enough, iMonk. Nor would I write Greg off as lost forever. I am sorry he has rejected his spiritual community and wandered off on his own, and I hope he finds good experiences and another community that will be healthy for him and his relationship with God.

    But I hope you can communicate with him how you feel about it, as you wrote here; so he knows that you care, and why you care–not because you fear that his rejection shakes your own faith, or because you consider him less a person because he has rejected part of your faith, but because you care about him and his well being as a person.

    • No lost causes. I have much hope, but much sadness. I love this young man, and his family are exceptional Christians.

      • textjunkie says

        that was really clear in your original post–I was hoping you were still in Greg’s life somehow, given the depth of your feeling. It’s got to count for something that he knows an example of someone who doesn’t turn away the minute he expresses doubt, or even expresses that he’s chosen to walk another path.