Continuing a discussion on Fridays on how a person would engage someone in a faith crisis. This segment deals with something that is missing in many parts of evangelical Christianity today. What is missing is unconditional love. The power of unconditional love and what it can unleash when it is practiced with no strings attached.
“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
John Joseph Powell
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
This is a continuation of a series of journal entries on Fridays on how a Christian should respond to someone in a faith crisis. Like I said earlier this is not a given formula. These thoughts are based off my experience in brainstorming and considering what I walked through. In my case I had a faith crisis that consumed half my thirties. You can read about that faith crisis here and the attached posts in detail. During that time I rejected Christianity and walked away from the Christian faith. You may have noticed that I have written several open letters to people such as James Crestwood and Scott Van Swernigen. These are friends who loved me unconditionally during my faith crisis. As James later texted me after he read what I wrote he said “what a testimony to a friendship…” I have a number of other open letters to write and in time and I will get to them eventually. Last week I addressed the importance of growing thick skin. Today I want to follow up and write about another topic that needs to be addressed. That is the practice of unconditional love.
Let me start out by saying a few things that need to be said. For Christianity to shine there needs to be more of an emphasis on unconditional love. Love is missing in many parts of the evangelical church today. Its been trumped by power, authority, fads, favoritism, doctrine, an emphasis on youth, your societal status, and many other issues. In order for Christianity to really work it needs love. Up front, unconditional, sacrificial love with no strings attached can really move mountains. They can break a person’s perception and break through barriers. True love – and by the way I am not talking about romantic love in this post – realizes that faith is a service to others in need. It also gives out of a sense of giving and not because they are going to get anything back. True love impresses and stuns a person and melts their defenses in a way that they don’t know how to react. When you take a person angry at Christianity or faith and respond with love it just puzzles people. But here is the catch…you have to be consistent and follow through for the long term. You can’t say, “I’ll show that guy love for 5 months and if he doesn’t come around to faith then I’ll leave him be and move on…” True love which is driven out of a faith from the Lord is also sacrificial. It takes risks and can be bold. Further down below I am going to illustrate with some examples from my faith crisis and beyond.
An Atheist Perspective
Christians have been terrible to atheists and deeply need to repent for how they have treated them. In addition many Christians have stereotyped atheists to say things such as atheists are not moral, ethical, etc… In the future I would love to tackle issues like that as I believe they need to be corrected. Honestly I am horrified as to some of the things I see coming out of Christianity. It is for this reason, and due to my faith crisis and brushing up against and exploring atheism that I honestly love and appreciate atheists and others participating here on this blog. In the future I would like to write a post about what I appreciate from atheism. Atheists who have been kicked off elsewhere are welcome to post, email or share their thoughts whatever they may be. Many atheists I believe expect to be hated by Christians. And in reality many atheists have been treated poorly or have been discriminated against by Christians. When I was in my faith crisis from 2009 until 2013 I expected to be looked down upon by Christians. In some ways I baited them on knowing that was going to happen, and some Christians just played along and played into that mindset and responded in anger, frustration, etc… In my faith crisis I felt a need to prove myself intellectually and trump others at times by intellect. That was part of the reason why I was so fixated on the problem of evil. In all reality the problem of evil is the single best reason to reject God. Even as a guy in the Christian faith today I still believe that deeply. But I didn’t really expect to be loved by Christians when I was in my faith crisis. I expected to be hated. I expected to push some peoples’ buttons and to do that in such a way as to get them to react the way I wanted them to react. The other issue is that as a person in a faith crisis exploring atheism I also wanted Christians to fall into a set stereotype. I wanted to label them and fit them into my pre-conceived notions. I wanted to put people like Andrew White, James Crestwood and Dee Parsons in that pre-conceived mindset and put them in the situation where they would react in a way I expected them to do. Each person reacted differently. For example Dee Parsons was prepared. On her blog she writes, “she particularly likes to chat with atheists, Hindus, Mormons and anyone brave enough to ring her doorbell.” Dee had read and examined websites like ExChristians.net so that when I pounded on her blog she knew what was going on and she engaged me very differently than I expected. James Crestwood called me out a couple of times and if I remember correctly said he wont let me define him by other stereotypes. And the way James engaged me reflected that fact. Plus I think he was softened and made more tender and loving based upon his time in Kenya being a missionary and also by becoming a father. I think for James to become a father I think that taught him a lot about patience and love. Andrew I believe meant well in my faith crisis from 2012 to March 2013. But I don’t think he knew how to engage me. I think he was challenged by my fierceness and boldness. Plus I knew a lot about the faith so that was also working against him because I could counter back and say, “but what about this…” That said Andrew showed me some love that stunned me a couple of times. Many people did…the acts of love below combined really challenged me in my faith crisis.
Some Examples of Unconditional Love in my Faith Crisis and Beyond…
These are some of the examples of unconditional love that stand out in my mind as I reflect back on the situation I had. They moved me, deeply impressed me and challenged me in ways.
- James Crestwood opening up his apartment to me at 2:30 in the morning. My father had what we thought was a stroke and the situation in California was deteriorating quickly. Against this medical crisis he invited me over, hugged me, talked with me and showed me a love that deeply touched me. I thought about this as I lay on his couch in his living room. Rare is the friend who acts like that in the middle of the night and opens us his home to you.
- Danny Risch did something that deeply touched me. Against my father’s medical crisis he wanted to meet with me and took me out to an Applebee’s in Manassas, Virginia to see how I was holding up. His actions were deep, loving and caring, and I was touched by them.
- Andrew White came and visited me in the hospital. I still remember him at the base of the bed smiling at me and expressing his concern. He checked in on me and swung by my condo and got the mail and my cell phone. I was touched by his generosity which he directed at me.
- There was Dee Parsons who against a busy life saw my rants about Christianity being a cancer as me searching. Loving a challenge she engaged me and started to talk to me about some of the doubts I had. I was not easy and I was difficult, but she took me on. What stands out in my mind is this one discussion late one night on the phone about the problem of evil. It was this dramatic push and pull..with me barking about how the problem of evil undermines Christianity, while she explained and presented it from differing angels. Man Providence Baptist in Raleigh lost a gem when they lost her and Bill Parsons!
- There was my Crusade director from Milwaukee, Erick Lettner, who I love who when visiting in DC in June 2014 took time to visit with me and see how I was doing. With this family being in town I was touched to see and talk with him. 2 hours flew by in what appeared to be 15 minutes.
- There were the people from SGM Survivors who showed up at my baptism to encourage and support me. I was amazed that people who I didn’t know would care enough about me to show up.
- There was a college kid who I didn’t know who read about my plight in the hospital on Dee’s blog who showed up to bring me books and see how I was doing and speak to me. I was overwhelmed by the actions he took.
- There was Dee Parsons and her husband Bill Parsons who drove up to the Washington, D.C. area to support me in my baptism. I was touched that they would drive all the way from Raleigh to visit and encourage me forward.
- Going back to the medical crisis I had in the summer of 2012 I was amazed that Dee Parsons would drive up from Raleigh to help out in the hospital and offer medical guidance. That was not expected and it stunned me by her act of selfless love.
- Andrew White from Redeemer Arlington approached me often and wanted to have dinners or lunches and talk. At this point in the relationship I honestly believe he cared about me.
- I struggled with prayer as I struggled with so much during my faith crisis. I asked people to pray for my father in his medical crisis when I could not and struggled to believe in God. There is one thing I learned after the relationship fractured with Andrew White that stunned me and I wish I knew it beforehand. The day my father had his surgery to remove a stage 3 brain tumor at Stanford Andrew and another person spent the entire time my father was in surgery praying for my father. I had no idea. When I heard that I really wanted to thank him. I honestly wish I would have known that took place as I would have engaged him in a different manner. I’m still praying I can thank him one day for this act.
- Again going back to my medical crisis I was touched by the love and hospitality of James Crestwood and his wife who visited me in the hospital. I was touched by their love and concern for me.
- Again James Crestwood did something that touched me deeply when he and his wife invited me over to dinner to talk about the problem of evil. His wife is a good cook but her patience and love for me to go back and forth on the problem of evil and to listen to me was stunning.
- There was another act of love that Andrew White did which moved me. He showed up in the hospital bringing me some dinner that his wife made. As I recall it was eggplant lasagna and was pretty good.
- Another act of kindness was when Internet Monk commentator and author Toka Fong drove up from Richmond to visit me in the hospital. She gave me company for about an hour and I was touched to get to know her. .
- One thing that also touched me was the random acts of kindness by many total strangers who felt so moved by my medical crisis that I had people who came in and visited me. They came into my life and assisted during this time of need, and I often didn’t know who they were.
- One thing that was profoundly cute that I learned from James Crestwood is that his daughter persisted and continued to pray for me even after I left the hospital. That really made me smile!
- Then there was Deb who visited me in the hospital when her family was visiting Washington, D.C. I appreciated her concern and love. I couldn’t believe how much she brought me to read. The one thing I didn’t tell her was that I had an allergy to peanuts so when she brought me peanuts from her farm in North Carolina I didn’t know what to do. In time I eventually gave them to James Crestwood who made out like a bandit.
- Then there was the love, and comfort that Chaplain Mike from Internet Monk showed me in my faith crisis but also by his tender phone calls in the hospital. Internet Monk is fortunate to have him.
- Then there was the time James Crestwood and I went toilet paper shopping!! One of the most epic afternoons ever!!!
Is This Grace…?
I write all that above to lay the foundation at this point to discuss grace. I was shown so much love during my medical crisis alone that I stopped and wondered if I had the wrong faith prior to my faith crisis. Did I even known what grace was? What I did when I was in the hospital room is that I lay in the bed and couldn’t stop thinking about all the love I had been shown. I mean I had Dee Parsons who drove up from Raleigh to help out. Then I had Andrew White who was deeply concerned and loved me deeply while I was in the hospital. I can still remember the way he would walk into the hospital room and just smile when he saw me. Then there was James Crestwood who visited with his family who was concerned for me. I can still remember his daughter clinging to his leg in the hospital room. But all this coming together really stunned me. And at night when I lay in the hospital room I remember just reflecting on everything. The love Andrew White showed me, Dee Parson’s selfless sacrifice, to James Crestwood and others. The unconditional love was so overwhelming and so piercing that for the first time in my faith crisis I wondered if I was wrong about what I had said about God and Christianity. If during this time the love of people like Dee Parsons, Andrew White and James Crestwood reflected and represented the love of Christianity than that is what I wanted. I wanted to be like Andrew, James and Dee in many ways…living a life with unconditional love. So I spent the early morning hours wondering if this is what grace is. At a later time I would like to write about how evangelicals have serous problems with grace. There are many evangelicals who gravitate to legalism. But in those early morning hours in a room in Fairfax INOVA hospital I had wondered if this is what grace is all about? If it was than I was in the wrong…that is what love did. It penetrated me deeply. That is what the love of Andrew White, James Crestwood and Dee Parsons did to me. Now having said that I don’t think I would have been able to tell any of them that I was re-considering my thoughts. At this stage it was too difficult. It would be 8 or 9 months later in the spring of 2013 that I started to open up publically first to James Crestwood, than to Andrew and eventually to Dee.
So now that you know what unconditional love can accomplish my question to the evangelical church is the following. Where is it? Why is it so hard to find? Unconditional love needs to be given away to anyone regardless of their situation. In closing I would like to leave you with an oldie from Michael W. Smith that I think is one of his better songs. It deals with love. So many songs out there deal with romantic love, etc… I am trying to convey a different love. That’s what I like about “Give it away” I think it touches on that point I am trying to drive home to the evangelical Christian church.