An Open Letter to Archie Griffin

An open letter to Archie Griffin. This is the story of Eagle and Archie Griffin whom he met at McLean Bible. This is the story of how a faith crisis permanently broke a relationship, and Eagle’s efforts to redeem and fix it by repentance. Out of 140 people this was the most difficult relationship to repair. This post also explores the topic of repentance, though I plan to write more about that in the future. This post may will be painful to Michigan football fans.

This is an open letter addressed to someone who graduated from Ohio State University. I decided to use the pseudo name Archie Griffin to describe the gentleman to whom this letter is being written. If you do not know Archie Griffin is a well known running back at OSU from 1972-1975 who impressed Woody Hayes. He is the only collegiate football player to win the Heisman twice, and the only college player to start in 4 Rose Bowls for the Buckeyes. (I did some homework in writing this Archie!)

“This is our big chance to see what people think of us. The real us. We have to show em there’s nothing to be afraid of. If we don’t get over our fears, they never will.”  

                                   Lisa Harrison (former Phoenix Mercury Basketball Player)

“Living with fear stops us taking risks, and if you don’t go out on the branch, you’re never going to get the best fruit.”

                                                        Susan Parish

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

                                                            Matthew 6:14 NIV

Dear Archie-

Wow…it’s midnight, or early Saturday morning as I sit down and begin to type this letter. I’ve been thinking of this all day as I have been wanting to do this for some time. There is so much to say, but probably I should start in the beginning and then move through to where we are at today. I remember the first time I met you, it was at an Indian restaurant in Reston I believe. You, me, Gil, Rebekah, Jamee, Sarah, Rachel, and Marisol were on a mission team from McLean Bible scheduled to go to the United Kingdom. I was surprised to get on it originally but others I applied to I didn’t get on. But I recall going into the Indian restaurant and seeing you sitting there with your hands folded just beaming. In the course of time I got to know you quite well. You were warm, loving, and had a big heart. You also were funny, kind and like any Ohio State fan, wanted to see Michigan pulverized back into the Stone Age! I guess the theological question I would have (especially as I struggled with the problem of evil….) is why would a loving God create Michigan? In the course of time we and several other people bonded on the McLean Bible mission team. Remember that team building retreat we had and you eating those exotic Asian food? I can’t remember what it was but you took it on. I don’t have a cast iron stomach…actually after my weight loss surgery I probably should say that I don’t have much of a stomach!

We actually went over to Southall in the suburbs of London. We stayed at the London School of Theology and attended a missions conference. I remember some of the talks, but I also remember the experiences we had at an Islamic mosque and the Sikh temple. We also spent some time working the neighborhood as part of doing a church plant for New Life Masih Ghar. It was a lot of work but it was memorable. Then there was the time we had the off day and we went and rode the tube into London and saw the British museum. Gil walked us around and showed us as much as he could. That one day off helped re-charge the batteries and it was back to church planting and the conference. Before I knew it the trip was coming to a close. And then we were home. I remember hosting people at my condo for a debriefing in late 2007. We stayed in touch and our team remains close even to this day.

Things hummed along, we hung out and got to know each other over the next two years. You got engaged and I remember your bachelor party in Camden Yards as a number of us watched the Orieles play. I think they played Cleveland if I remember correctly…am I wrong? Either way it was a memorable time and I was so happy for you to be engaged. You were persistent and deep down I knew it would work out. So in that regard I was thrilled for you as you took that step toward marriage. While you were moving in one direction I was moving in another. In about 2008 I started to experience a lot of theological difficulty. I didn’t know what was happening to me. And I had a foreshadow of what was to come. I couldn’t deal with the doubts I had, plus I was dealing with some difficult church experiences, and things spiritually were coming undone. Then for 2 months in the summer of 2008 I withdrew. People around me didn’t know what was happening. I stopped going to church, couldn’t pray or read my Bible – actually trying to do that only made the faith problems worse. People around me were concerned and confused. It just didn’t affect me it affected you, people McLean Bible and some people I knew from National Community Church. One guy who I was close James Crestwood (I wrote him an open letter last month) and his wife were leaving DC for Kenya to be missionaries and he was concerned as to how I withdrew from him. Then we had that meeting in the Ruby Tuesday’s in Fairfax with Gil, yourself and one other guy. You were asking what was happening and I explained what was going on. For the next few months I was able to re-assemble a faith system and go back to church. In reality all I did was shove everything below the surface and wish it would go away. But those two months in the summer of 2008 were a taste of what was to come from 2009 until 2013. Dark, lonely, and raw theological pain.

In 2009 everything erupted. Or as Abraham Lincoln so beautifully articulated in January 1862, “the bottom is out of the tub…” Everything imploded and spiritually everything collapsed. My doubts – especially the problem of evil –  overtook me and I dealt with so many emotions. I withdrew and pulled back from many people from McLean Bible. How many weddings did I miss? I missed Gils, Jamee’s  that we knew and so many others as well. During this time I pushed back from Christianity and declared myself to be agnostic. I started off with the gentle atheist material from William Lobdell the former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, and in time moved to the hard core material of Christopher Hitchens, Seth Andrews, and Richard Dawkins. In my pain and doubts I became combative and said a lot of things that I would later regret. I roared during this time about how Christianity is a cancer, and how society would be better off had it not even existed. As I was pushing back from evangelicals left and right  I had a couple of people in my life. But most of the people we both knew I had shut out. I did have a couple of people who came into my life like Scott Van Swenigan (who likes Ohio State football by the way…) and Andrew White who tried to get me involved in Sovereign Grace. Plus I also had James Crestwood who I tried to drive out but who boldly told me he wasn’t going to walk away from me while I was in a faith crisis. (That was so courageous of him, it still impresses me…)  Then there was Danny Risch who you know as well whom I trusted and had discussions with as well. There was that one time you asked me to come to McLean Presybeterian and I did. Then there was that other time we sat in a diner and had a difficult conversation. You referenced Mark Driscoll a couple of times and I almost blew. It was an awkward conversation. But as I roared in my faith crisis and embraced militant atheism (though I thought I was agnostic…I learned otherwise in my season of repentance) I was still on the warpath. Sadly you would get hurt. I still remember what happened in vivid detail in December 2012. I used the problem of evil to undermine Neo-Calvinism and decimate and hurt you. And what was even worse was that I hurt your wife by the words I said. When your wife had your daughter and everyone was saying congratulations on Facebook I did the unthinkable. I referenced the problem of evil, how God wills it, and how as a Neo-Calvinist you should embrace that evil if your daughter gets hurt. In this format that is all I will say. At the time I didn’t care, actually what I cared about doing was ending relationships with Christians as I would pull back. From what I later learned your wife screamed, and you blew. The following morning I got the uglyiest text messages I ever received in my life. As I recall there was a total of 6. The relationship was permenantly fractured. It was over and the sad thing is that at that time in my life that is what I wanted. As I sit here in my kitchen at 1:36 in the morning of a Saturday I stare at the clock on the stove and I feel sick about what I did. After the relationship was permanently damaged Andrew White wanted to meet with me in a Starbucks. I told him what I did to you and he called me out on it, and challenged me to reach out to you and fix it. In time that relationship was fractured also, and I endured a false accusation on May 8, 2013 which sent me into the darkest season of my life.

My Season of Repentance

Archie May 8, 2013 was probably the darkest day of my life. I’ve been through a lot…(and I know my time of suffering is bound to grow worse) That pain includes my grandmother’s death, my mother’s pancreatic cancer, and my father’s brain tumor. Then I had my own medical crisis in the summer of 2012. However, a false accusation can be so unsettling, frightening and in the process my world was turned upside down. James Crestwood extended me a lifeline first in his text and meeting to discuss the situation, and then in asking me to go to church with him. When I was in front of my apartment building as I was walking out, the word forgiveness popped into my mind. Today I believe it was the Holy Spirit who took that action. I thought of all the people who I walked away from and the relationships I ended. You were on my mind a lot that Sunday morning. Whereas previously I didn’t care…now I did. However I didn’t know what to do…you had specifically told me that you didn’t want to be contacted and I was committed to respecting your boundaries. So I decided to repent publically and seek forgiveness in mass. In my thinking at the time I had to do something so bold, so beyond question…that when you and others heard about it would erase any doubt in your mind. If you thought repentance on a scale of 1 to 10 was ________ then I knew I had to hit a 15 in order to convince you. And that was what I set out to do in mass with people all around the United States and the globe. I say globe because as a militant skeptic I lit up some missionary blogs in Africa. I think I repented and sought forgiveness from almost everyone you knew. Marisol was the first person I contacted and I later learned she cried at work when she saw my email asking for forgiveness. I got Jamee’s response, as well as Sarah and Rebekah’s. Rebekah wrote me a nice note about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I think for the rest of my life I will forever identify with that parable given the depths of my faith crisis. I got Gil’s email forgiving me when I was walking through Union Station. Amidst all the hustle and bustle of a busy Friday afternoon Washington, D.C. commute when my Android went off informing me of a message I sat on a bench in the main hall of this historic railroad station and when I read what Gil wrote I wept and cried. I didn’t care that it was in public I was too overcome with emotion and I couldn’t stop crying. Gil I believe was the last person I approached from the time entire mission team from McLean Bible. I had wanted to approach you in time but I knew I had to clean up so many other relationships first. When Rebekah got married at Vienna Presbyterian   I went and saw so many people I had not seem in years. Actually I have to say watching Rebekah was beautiful that day. I still recall her walking down the aisle and just glowing. She just beamed when she was getting married. My faith crisis had me stuck for 5 years and I couldn’t believe how much things had changed in people around me. That afternoon as I was watching everything you weighed heavily on my mind especially as I had worked hard at fixing and redeeming all these relationships and I knew that ours was permanently fractured. The pain I caused you as well as that overwhelming feeling of loss led me to retreat away from Jamee, Sarah and others and to go into a men’s restroom and sit in a stall and weep. There was so much emotional pain and as I was moving away from my faith crisis I also was coming to grips with how dark it was. As I pressed forward I repented and worked hard at owning my pain and wanting to bring healing. It was during this time that I learned something which took my breath away. Someone I knew in DC had traveled to Milwaukee and attended church there. While there he heard me being discussed. Apparently what had happened is that I had repented to so many people in Wisconsin that people talked…and word got around. When I heard that I knew it was time to try and reach out to you.

And yet reaching out to you Archie was a major risk. You did not want to be contacted. You were crystal clear in your communication with me. And yet I thought of two things that convinced me to try. One is that I thought it would be a shame and tragic if I did all this leg work and you were left out. I deeply hurt you and I knew that I needed to do something. I couldn’t leave the situation as it was at the time. Secondly I firmly believe that a man owns his mistakes no matter what they are and they work at fixing them and cleaning them up. I have to say that I think the issue of repentance is obfuscated in evangelicalism for a number of reasons. Let me touch on those briefly:

  • Many evangelical Christians don’t practice repentance and I believe that is the result of much of Christendom embracing the Gospel of Moralism. When people have a moral failure since its treated by many parts of the church as something that can’t be fixed and redeemed it ultimately leads some to commit spiritual suicide. In addition I believe this is one of the reasons why the Christian church is so good at executing people for their moral failures and mistakes.
  • Anther problem is that I believe many evangelicals are confused about repentance and put needless pressure on themselves for being moral people. This obsession with sanctification (which I now believe is a life long process) I think gets in the way of repentance for many Christians. You see when you repent you do it for God, yourself on the person who was hurt. My repentance Archie was necessary for your healing and spiritual growth. About 90% of Christianity I would suggest doesn’t practice this fact.
  • A deeply disturbing reason why evangelicals do not repent is the following reason. I would also suggest that many evangelicals have made celebrity pastors idols and their behavior and teaching has re-affirmed that Christians don’t practice repentance. Let me illustrate with two examples…Mark Driscoll was all about being a man. Yet he caused so much pain and wounded so many people in Seattle that he did not own his mistakes nor did he repent. There was no repentance to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, and he didn’t repent to Rob Smith. Instead he fled…he fled from Seattle leaving pain and devastation in his wake. Last I read I think he will pop up eventually in Texas…and yet he still hasn’t repented of his pain. Running from your sin and leaving pain in your wake is not what a man does. Another example comes to mind in that of CJ Mahaney. He often wrote about being a jock and about being a man. Yet he did something similar. He lived a deeply double life and in the end the publisher of Humility True Greatness didn’t even know what humility is. Like Mark Driscoll he also fled also first to Capital Hill Baptist and then in time to Louisville. He hasn’t repented of his sin either. In the process he left pain and devastation behind him in Sovereign Grace Ministries. So here’s the problem….when evangelicals embrace as role models celebrity pastors who don’t repent…what is the church and the outside world being told? Christians aren’t going to repent when their role models do not. And atheists and those on the outside are given further ammunition when the church behaves in such a way. And yet again its another example for atheists of how we needlessly create our own enemies. The sad part is that both Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney are sitting on ministry opportunities if they repent but sadly I don’t expect them to. In the future I would love to journal about what repentance looks like in their case, and again if they repented I would embrace them and welcome them back into the fold.
  • Another factor is that many Christian men don’t know what being a man is. I would like to explore this in greater detail another time. I scratched the surface above, but being a man also means owning your mistakes. Caring for people around you, and serving those around you in love. I firmly believe that one of the greatest legacies a Christian man can leave in his wake is peace and grace. To rebuild, restore, and redeem a mess is something that all Christian men should strive for, plus it gives glory to God.

So with my goal of fixing the mess I made with you I made the decision to contact Gil and ask if he could be an intermediary. Yes it was risky..yes it was bold. But I believe that a man takes calculated and bold risks. And my repentance to you and my work to repair the pain I caused was absolutely necessary. So in October 2013 I asked Gil to help and I waited for his response. After he gave some thought to my request I eventually heard from him. We discussed it on the phone and both through email..and with that issue was with him. I held my breath and prayed and sat on pins and needles not knowing what to expect. I had so wanted this to work, yet the damage was so permanent that I wasn’t aware if it would work. Yet I had to try. But there was another reason why I wanted this to see I was scheduled to me baptized in less than a month and I wanted to work through my list of 140 people before I was baptized. On November 14, 2013 I got an email from Gil. When I saw it I was at work and frightened to open it. All I had prayed for was one conversation…one opportunity that could open the door to a second conversation. Then I saw that it looked that opportunity existed, especially when you wrote to Gil, “…I would appreciate if you could provide me with Eagle’s e-mail and phone number; I plan to reach out to him but he is more than welcome to e-mail me at [email address]” When I read that I thought I was going to faint in front of my co-workers. I retreated from my cubicle at work and went in the bathroom (all while avoiding Andrew White as I was still managing that mess as well…) and I both cried and could have screamed in joy. From May 8 when I hit bottom until November 14 it took 190 days to get to this point. From the time of the fracture of the relationship in December 2012 until November 14, 2013 there was a passing of about 337 days. At this time I felt like I was on top of the world. I had made a major calculated risk and it paid off.

The following Friday night I was at Santini’s in Oakton, Virginia trying to decide what to order for dinner. While making up my mind my Android went off letting me know that I had an email. When I saw the message was from you I walked away from the counter in a daze. You see Archie there were a couple of Fairfax County Police Officers having their dinner and I walked around the shop in a daze…I probably looked like I was high on drugs, or something similar. In reality I was stunned to hear from you. Yet in shock I walked around the restaurant a few times in stunned silence. In your email you wrote the following. For obvious reasons, it’s been a long time since we talked, but Gil reached out to me this week and told me that (1) you have come back to a relationship with Christ; (2) among other things, you are receiving [spiritual] counseling and will be baptized soon to show your re-commitment to your faith in God; (3) you have been seeking our forgiveness from people around the country; and (4) you are truly sorry for the words you put on my (or wife’s) Facebook after [my daughter] was born. Then you proceeded to explain how this was the hardest email you ever wrote. And you proceeded to explain the situation from your point of view and the pain that I caused. When you seek forgiveness and reconciliation in order for true reconciliation to occur you have to examine all the pain and issues at hand. You can’t just cover it up. If a scab has formed sometimes that scab needs to be removed so that the infection is drained and true healing takes place. In your email Archie this was taking place. You discussed the true pain that I caused and communicated to me the harm of my words. I had to own them. Sometimes when you hurt someone you may not truly realize that harm you did. In this case I did know what I did and I wanted to own the entire situation. In your email Archie you wondered what had become of me especially since we became estranged. In the email you proceeded to write, ….then just this week, [my wife] and I were talking about the situation off-hand, and I wondered what happened to you, then Gil sent me an e-mail documenting how you have made a sincere effort to not only come back to Christ but to seek amends. I talked with [my wife] and prayed about it, and…I forgive you, Eagle. Those 4 words “I forgive you Eagle” were so hard earned that it made me smile with relief and joy. This faith crisis was hell and the hardest thing I had gone through in my life. People were hurt in a way that I didn’t mean to hurt them, and words were said in confusion and pain. In your email Archie you proceeded to write,  After becoming a follower again, you could have easily written people off from previous seasons in your life as a loss, but you sought to make amends and it is a courageous thing (especially in this day and age). I prayed for a long time you would come back to faith, and praise God you did! It is OK to contact me again either via e-mail or phone, but e-mail is the best way to reach me right now. At some point, I would like for you to contact [my wife] directly, but she wants to talk more with me first and get a sense of what has happened since last December. I hope I hear from you soon! 

In response to your email Archie I wrote the following email in return. This was my first communication with you directly after you emailed me.

Dear Archie, I view this communication with you as a privilege and do not take it for granted. Thank you for being willing to communicate through Gil. I long to do whatever it takes to help you heal and mend the pain that I caused by what I said to you and your wife last year. There is no excuse for what I did and I was clearly in the wrong. My thinking, as a secular humanist at the time hurt a lot of people. You were one of the top 2 people I deeply hurt the most.

Over the last 5 months, I have been working at setting things straight with 134 people. What I mean by this is that I am asking for forgiveness for the words that I said and the actions that I took. As of today I have been forgiven by 121 people. I know this might be difficult to believe, so I have attached, to this email a number of letters that people have written me in the process.

I deeply desire to mend and repair the harm I caused you and your my words. But talk is cheap and I want to earn your trust. With your permission I would like to ask you if I can travel to Atlanta in the next month of two and meet you face to face and ask for forgiveness in person as well, if you think that is appropriate. I’m deeply committed to honoring your feelings and concerns.

I understand you might be skeptical of my motives and that is why I am providing you with close to 90 letters that I have received from people forgiving me. If you would like character references from the people I have reconciled, I would be happy to provide those to you as well.

Archie, I very much want to do the right thing and I hope you are willing to consider my request. However, I will respect whatever decision that you make.

When I emailed you that note Archie with over 90 letters attached I did that to show my sincerity. The burden was on me, as I was the one in the wrong. And my repentance was crucial to healing you. After you got that note you called me and I struggled to answer. Why? I had so programmed myself to honor your wishes, and I still felt like I should. It felt weird speaking to you that first time and I recall the first thing you asked me, “Eagle do you understand what you did?” And I did. Hands down I did. I knew I was in the wrong, and I knew the pain that I caused. Plus I also knew I had to listen and discuss this in detail so that any pain that remained could be cleaned up and addressed. I was so determined to own this Archie and repent of my action that I offered to travel down to Atlanta from Washington, D.C. not once – but twice. I wanted to make sure that you and your wife were healed and helped. I wanted to go above and beyond what you would expect so as to illustrate my level of commitment and to show you I meant every word I said. And with that we worked out everything in time through a number of conversations. One thing that deeply touched me is when you said that my repentance was unlike anything you had seen and was one of the spiritual highlights of your life. As the saying goes…Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is a hurt friendship. It takes time but it can be done. There was another thing that grew out of my repentance and reconciliation with you. It helped fix and repair the relationship with Rob. That was estranged and broken as well and I wanted to repent to him as well. On Christmas Eve 2013, I had gotten home from church and I was packing for a trip to California when I got a Facebook message out of the blue from Rob. He had heard from you what I had done, and he said that I could contact him again. I was stunned and as I sat on the couch in my condo I cried. There was one thing I had that Christmas of 2013 that was so beautiful, and set apart and it was this…I was given the gift of peace. Peace that came from people accepting my repentance, peace that came from people letting me repent, and peace that came from re-opening and resolving painful situations. That Facebook message from Rob was the best gift I got that Christmas.

Then you came up to Washington, D.C. for work. I remember picking you up and just hugging you. You commented on my Nissan Sentra looks like a clown car, that was funny. And afterward we had dinner which I bought for you. As time passed we resumed and exchanged lots of communications and we discussed a lot of things all across the board. You know how I know that things are resolved and that we are healed and at peace? You and I can discuss in detail what happened – even the ugly but since forgiveness has taken place and as I owned my wrong and discussed everything on the table. I believe and feel like everything that happened is behind us and that we are in a much healthier place today than beforehand. I have to tell you I firmly believe that this relationship is stronger now than it was beforehand. I feel like there is more love, grace, and compassion. I don’t take you for granted, and I smile whenever I see you called or text me. Each communication is a gift, and a privilege. Its not a right. I still plan on coming down to Atlanta and visiting you. I also have that Michigan t-shirt, I need to send you that so you change your child’s diapers on it.

I know you and your wife have prayed for Andrew White. You heard what happened and you know the entire story. I had an ugly betrayal. It shocked and disturbed many people. I honestly don’t know why I am not a raging atheist today. I’ve often contemplated on that from time to time. That said, you have also offered to be a character witness. I am kind of looking at this situation from the perspective of Luke 15 and the parable of the lost sheep. It starts like this, Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninty-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” In my case starting in May 2013 I went after about 140 sheep…not just one. However, having worked through all those sheep now I am done to just a couple. As of today Andrew is the only Christian where there is unresolved pain and where the situation remains unresolved. Its complicated because he caused a lot of harm as well, and I am in a lot of pain as well. I would still ask for you and your wife to pray for him to own his part of this mess also. And if he doesn’t feel guilty please pray that he does feel guilty. Part of the reason why I have some hope for Andrew is because of what you and I were able to accomplish. Archie, you and Andrew were the top two people who were the most hurt in my faith crisis.

In closing I want to affirm my love for Archie. I’ve given you plenty of baby clothing, and there will probably be more on the way. I also want to say thank you for all you have done. I learned so much about faith through working through a mess with you. I look forward to hearing about how life is going for you and to stay in touch. I chose three videos for you which I think you will appreciate. The first one is “We Don’t Give a Damn about the Whole State of Michigan” which as an Ohio State fan I think you will cherish. By the way I have to tell you I had fun researching this..I found some interesting videos when I googled “Michigan sucks” on Youtube. I like to keep the rating of this blog PG-13 however some of what I saw was like “wow!” I even found a picture of an OSU fan potty training his child into a University of Michigan football helmet. That was different! And the second video I choose because of our mission team from McLean Bible. Since we immersed ourselves so deeply in South Asian culture in Southall I chose this video of “Mother India” from Caedmon’s Call. Following on that I acted like Indiana Jones and dug out the old CD that Gil had made for the team where everyone submitted two songs. You had submitted “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” by Stuart Townsend. I found that version, but you know what spurred me to journal this today? I got an email from Gil telling me about an atheist church in Seattle. In the future I would like to articulate why atheism is a faith system and what I learned from my faith crisis. Yesterday I was reflecting the other day on how grateful I am that he was a go between and helped fix things for both of us. In honor of Gill who I believe likes Nicole Nordeman, (If I remember correctly…) I chose this version of “How Great the Father’s Love for Us” We’ll be talking in a few days.

I love you brother!

With Deep Love,