An Open Letter to Danny Risch

An open letter to Danny Risch. A letter thanking him for his friendship, and helping him in his faith crisis while he lived in Washington, D.C. An overview of the activities of what Danny did, and just a heartfelt letter expressing gratitude for his help. From a faith crisis to a medical crisis with my father Danny was a blessing in so many ways.

 

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”

Helen Keller

I thank my God every time I remember you.In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

Philippians 1:3-4

 “It seems that soccer tournaments create those relationships: people gathered together in pubs and living rooms, a whole country suddenly caring about the same event. A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.”   

Simon Kuper, Soccernomics

 

 

 

Dear Danny

I want to take a few minutes and re-visit the relationship I had with over the years. There is much to write about and with that in mind let’s get started. I remember the first time I met you…it was weird and awkward. I went to the Panera Bread in Springfield, Virginia (if I remember correctly) on a Sunday after attending National Community Church in downtown Washington, D.C. Apparently the Lord foreordained that my Fresno State t-shirt be at the top of the clean laundry pile that I was supposed to fold. Yet like most guys I left the pile of clean cloths on my couch. So it felt weird being in line at Panera and slowly realizing that I was being watched. I recall you walking around a couple of times just staring at me. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is he staring at me?” Then you came up and asked if I went to Fresno State and we started to talk. I had no idea that in Washington, D.C. a city where there is a profound amount of loneliness and isolation that I would get to know you so well. I believe there are many reasons why our paths crossed but I think the main reason the Lord brought you along is to engage and walk beside me as I walked through my faith crisis. I believe I met you a year or so before my faith imploded due to doubt.

You hail from the Fresno, California area….as do I. The Fresno/Clovis area is a good place to grow up. At the time I didn’t appreciate it….having lived in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area for years now I do. The summers were long and hot, and playing football in the summers for San Joaquin Memorial was brutal. However, the plus is that it is a dry heat, so there is no humidity. I honestly didn’t experience humidity until I moved to the Midwest. You played soccer Danny at Fresno Christian if I remember correctly. You excelled in soccer and played well for Fresno State. I really think the Men’s Soccer team at Fresno State was lucky to have you as a Captain. You are very engaging, warm and a great guy all around. In regards to Clovis I love Clovis a lot. I got to know the Clovis area and people well while Working for Washington Mutual in Clovis. I remember on my lunches just grabbing a bite in the Corner Café in Old Town Clovis or walking around the area of Shaw and Clovis. There is a quality of life that exists in Fresno/Clovis that is missing in Washington, D.C. You find it in the people, the pace of life, the culture, and the way people engage you. Local residents in the Clovis area I believe are some of the finest people I have encountered. In time I left Fresno for better economic opportunities. While the Fresno area is nice and great the downer is that it can’t offer many young people a lot of economic opportunity. I realized when I was living there that if I wanted to move up, I most certainly would have to try so elsewhere. The central California area while nice does struggle economically. From Stockton on south to Merced, Madera, Fresno, Hanford, and onto Bakersfield the Central California area has always been hard on younger people and has a high unemployment rate. However its also referred to as the “Bible Belt” of California. It amazes me as to how diverse California is as a state.

One of the joys in knowing you Danny was the privilege of knowing someone in DC who came from the same stomping ground as I. Its not often you are far from home and you run into someone who knows your hometown intimately. I remember the one time we were talking about Fresno Evangelical Free and you asked me if I knew a couple of people and while I didn’t I wouldn’t have been surprised had I did, as the evangelical church is quite small. When you lived in DC I knew it was hard for you to be separate from your wife. There was a time when you and your wife lived on opposite ends of the country. I knew that was hard for you, but I was grateful when you guys were able to live under one roof in the Manassas, Virginia area. I remember helping you move a couple of times but the second one was especially memorable as we tried to get a large piece of furniture up the stairs. The barrister as I remember was the problem. We could have done the Clark Griswold approach with the chainsaw in the house, (see Christmas Vacation!) but I don’t think you want to do that to your house! 🙂 All the same what I am trying to say is that is was good to know you here in Washington, D.C. Danny. Today as I reflect back on bumping into you in Panera I now believe it was orchestrated by the Lord. I met you I believe a year or two before my faith crisis developed. So I got to know you well, know your personality, what made you tick, and what you cared about and what drove you in many ways.

As my faith crisis developed in 2009 I pushed back from many, many relationships. I did it for a number of reasons. I did it out of confusion, pain, anger, and frustration. At the same time I didn’t know what was happening due to the doubts that I had. I felt like I was emotionally dying. It was an intimidating and overwhelming time in my life. Yet while I pushed back from many Christians there were only a couple that I allowed into my life. Those individuals were James Crestwood who refused to walk away from me and endured in my faith crisis. I wrote him a letter here. Next I got to meet in time Scott Van Sweringen who because of his theological training at Moody was able to help me out deeply, both in knowledge and by the way he loved me. Here is the open letter I wrote to Scott. Then there was also Andrew White who was involved in Sovereign Grace who I met in my faith crisis and maintained discussions. Danny there are so many reasons why I respected you during my faith crisis and I wanted to spend a few minutes discussing them. First you are probably one of the nicest guys I have met. A number of Christians I struggled with…not you. You are very warm, loving, and kind. I didn’t feel like I was a project. I felt like no matter how things turned out in the end you would love me regardless. I felt like your love was unconditional and that no strings were attached. Its for this reason that I sensed you to be different than many other Christians I’ve crossed paths with in life. While many Christians talk about authenticity I have to state that you are authentic, you’re the real deal. You talked about a lot of things in your life, and even some of the church issues you had. For me that was reassuring in so many ways, and in that way I never felt threatened by you. I never felt pressure, or any kind of coercion as I interacted with you. Your ability to live your life by love resulted in me wanting to hang around you more and talk with you deeply. Many evangelicals don’t get the trust issue, trust is earned and not immediately given. People prove themselves in time and you did that with me. Because of how you engaged me I trusted you, and you won me over by how you loved me, respected me, and was open. Out here in the DC area your adopted home was Panera…at least it seemed like it. It seemed like I was always meeting you at Panera. And we had so many discussions about the problem of evil. Man you were patient! If there is one person in my life who has the right to be sick of the problem of evil…it has to be you! How many discussions did we have over it? I remember when the light bulb started to go off in my head after a few years and just sitting with you in Panera when things were slowly coming together, as I recall you said, “Finally” and you talked about how frustrating it was at times. Yet you were patient I can’t deny that fact. There was one other thing I deeply love about you Danny that was a gift you have and its this fact. You are very intellectual. You think things through and I could tell as I discussed with you that you put a great deal of thought into the questions I was asking. Likewise I also got the feeling that my questions did not shake you, or in other words you were secure in your faith and what you believed. I can’t begin to tell you how there were times I reached out to Pastors asking similar questions about the problem of evil and some of them were struggling with the questions I was asking. Yet you were level headed and cool with what I raised Danny. Your intellect is something very unique in evangelicalism. Intellectualism in evangelicalism is rare and hard to find…this is part of the reason why I believe the Lord engineered our paths to cross. The other thing I loved about you is you respected where I was and my boundaries. You didn’t push something on me, you didn’t ram anything down my throat. Instead you were gentle…and like I said by your behavior you won me over in many ways through your love. This is part of the reason why I further engaged you. Good friends are hard to find, even more difficult is to find the person you walks with you when life falls apart. In this case my spiritual life was beached and I was stuck. Yet you endured patiently and helped me so many times along the way. You’re unique Danny….you are very unique. I wish more Christians had your love, humility and grace…if they did would Christians be known for being arrogant and condescending?

One of the challenges that happened in my life was in January 2012 when my father’s medical crisis began. At first we thought it was a stroke but in time it turned out to be a brain tumor. It was a rough time for my family to include surgery at Stanford, the prognosis, and against all that just trying to understand. In addition to the uncertainty one of the hardest things was when my Mom cried on the phone from time to time. It was a painful time for me, and one in which I was trying to figure things out. I couldn’t pray for my father at the time as I didn’t believe in God at the time either. Had I tried to pray I thought I would have been a liar and disingenuous….after all what kind of agnostic prays in a medical crisis? However, I had no problem with other people praying and that is why I asked others like you to pray for my father. Against all this you wanted to see how I was doing and you took me out to Applebees in Manassas, Virginia and just checked in on me. Your compassion and concern was moving Danny. You have no idea how far a little compassion and love go in life. Compassion like love speaks volumes, and it brought comfort in a time when I needed it. In time there was another medical crisis that I had and it happened on the day that I was supposed to help you move. You employer was moving you from DC to the San Francisco Bay Area. I remember being in the ER clinic and thinking to myself that I was not going to be able to help you move. Heck it would be the beginning of a month long battle with some staph bacteria, blood infection, and a leg infection. It was a trying situation for me.

You left the Washington, D.C. area in the summer of 2012 if I remember correctly, so you were gone when something horrific happened in my life. May 8, 2013 was the bleakest day of my life. My father’s brain tumor made more sense than what Andrew White did. His betrayal in the form of a false accusation was so horrific, so ugly that it just defied reason. Yes I made many mistakes and I claim those mistakes. I will never shift the blame, or pass the buck. That is not what a man does. However, while saying that I made grievous mistakes I also know what I did and did not do. What Andrew claimed did not happen. Part of the reason why I write about this here is because I need to get this out of my system. There is something not right…when a leader of Redeemer Arlington who walks around boasting of how healthy his church and his faith is suddenly turns without notice and bears false witness in the end. Andrew could have destroyed my name, reputation, and finances among other things. He could have destroyed my life. As a result I managed a difficult situation for 13 months…and while my name and reputation hung in the balance Andrew White turned around and started to invite another co-worker named Patricia to Redeemer Arlington. Andrew’s behavior was wrong especially for a professional military officer. While I was dealing with this situation it was comforting for me to read of other horrific stories on SGM Survivors, and I’m left with two thoughts on Andrew White. I’m still trying to understand what happened. In totalitarian religious systems that have their roots in the shepherding movement which Sovereign Grace did; false accusations, bearing false witness, etc… in the end become tactics as a means to control, hurt or force your will. They are intentional acts in authoritarian movements to get people to tow the line. Its the modus operandi of an organization like Sovereign Grace. The other thought is that Andrew just made a mistake. That he did something not fully realizing what he was giving birth to and the situation got out of hand for him. I don’t know where he is at today. If Andrew is stuck and can’t admit he made a mistake then in all honesty I don’t understand it. I am wiling to give him grace and work with him to redeem the situation and help both of us heal. But what kind of Christian leaves another Christian as an emotional hostage and in bondage by refusing to let that person either repent or seek forgiveness? What kind of Christian denies another Christian peace? I honestly don’t get it. Either way this situation still is not over, its not resolved by a long shot. Plus why do some Christians think they can run and flee from their sin and that it won’t catch up with them? Have they read their Bible? Are the familiar with the story of Jonah? Mark Driscoll fled Seattle and left pain and devastation in his wake. CJ Mahaney fled Gaithersburg, Maryland in the DC area for Louisville. And Andrew White fled from his posting in Washington, D.C. to an Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. All three of these individuals talked about what it means to be a man, and talked about the claim of manhood in both culture and the context of family. Well I have a question that I think the church needs to consider. What kind of man creates a mess, hurts someone, leaves them in pain and then flees? It doesn’t matter if its an out of wedlock pregnancy or financial misdeeds, plagiarism, abuse (Mark Driscoll) or blackmail, allegedly covering up child sex abuse (CJ Mahaney) or a false accusation?  Is that what a man does? Is that responsibility? Talk is cheap…actions speak loud. In this case the silence by Andrew is a deafening roar into his sin and guilt. By the way this is the danger in celebrity pastors. When the church creates idols in men like CJ Mahaney and Mark Driscoll and all they do is flee and run in the end what example is the church creating? If people like Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney are the example then is Andrew White imitating them in his efforts to flee to Colorado? Is this going to be the modus operandi for others under their spell? I honestly don’t know…. The false accusation was so traumatic that I developed almost like a PTSD effect. Let me illustrate how this would play out in public. One time I was in York, Pennsylvania and I was eating in a sandwich shop. I heard a staff worker and a customer discuss the similar allegation I faced in the local newspaper. Upon hearing it I would break into a sweat, feel frozen and become overwhelmed with anxiety. I would reach out to another person whenever this happened…early on I had no idea what was happening to me.

And the sad part is that doesn’t have to be. This is a conflict that doesn’t have to be. How is God glorified or honored by this? I ask that with all sincerity? In the May/June 2013 time frame I remember telling you about the situation as it was developing Danny. Your thoughts and words were so comforting. They were one of many people who told me that what happened was unjust and wrong. I can’t tell you how many people told me that Andrew White was wrong to do what he did. Hands down he was wrong. Having a number of Christians say that means a lot to me. It helped with perspective. I remember your shock and your expression as to how ugly that was and yet you could not believe that a Christian could do what Andrew White did. As I recall you also told me that it was evil. Evil is a good word, however evil is a word that I would use sparingly. Yet in this case due to Andrew’s actions I am amazed that two things have not happened. I am amazed that I am not a raging atheist proclaiming Christianity to be a cancer. I was on the verge of emerging from a 5-6 year faith crisis when I had to contend with what Andrew did. Plus I am amazed that my life and reputation arn’t destroyed. This situation is still playing out and I am praying for a conclusion. You know the story and what is going on behind the scenes, as well as my motivation to fix it. I’ve appreciated your text messages telling me your are praying for me and the situation. Despite all that happened if Andrew came to me and said, “Eagle I screwed up would you forgive me?” I’d do so in a heart beat. I would do so with overwhelming grace. I would do that as that is the only way forward for a person who claims to follow the Lord. I would also drop discussing it here as there would be no need, but that’s only IF….IF he honestly repented and made a sincere effort to fix the mess. Its not easy to write about a painful and traumatic experience yet it also can’t be ignored.

There’s another topic I have to breach with you. I also remember when you broke the news to close friends that your wife was expecting. I was baffled at first when I saw the picture you texted me of your wife putting a pie in the oven. At first I thought, “What is this…a new recipe?” Then a few seconds later it dawned upon me and I thought…”Man how clever to announce that you are expecting a child.” I have to tell you Danny you are one of the gentlest, and nicest guys I have had the privilege to know. Your family is lucky to have you as is your employer. Your kids today are lucky to have you. (Hopefully they are not biting you!) You are one of the people that I thought would make a great Dad. Why? You’re kind, loving, deep, rich and I think you would have all the characteristics of being a great father. So I am really proud of you Danny. Really I deeply mean that there are some people who I believe deserve to be fathers and you are one of them.

I have to say that I miss you not being out here for work. There are times I catch myself drifting in thought in reflecting upon the conversations we used to have in person. The cool thing though is that it gives me another reason to look forward to visiting Fresno for the holidays. Its cool to catch up more and hear what is happening with you family. Please stay on touch and let me know what I can do for you. As I wind this down I just want to say thanks for all you did. Thanks for your company in Washington, D.C. Thanks for your kind text messages and phone calls from time to time. Thanks for your love and grace. Thanks for walking with me as I was walking through my faith crisis. Thanks for your support and prayers as I walked through the darkest season of my life  during that false accusation. I know you are still praying for it for be resolved, again I am as well. In all you have done…from helping me in my faith crisis, to the love and grace you showed me during my father’s brain tumor to your wise words as I tried to walk forward after May 8, 2013 I have to say thank you. I very much would like to be there for you during the challenges life will throw you one day. I feel a personal sense of debt given the lone you have shown me. If you ever need anything I am always a phone call away. I sincerely mean that Danny. I need to get going but I love you brother. I found a couple of videos for you to watch. The first I chose because of your love of soccer. The second, well I don’t know if you heard of the Fresno Mini Series. I’m going to have to watch this in full one day. But being a native of the Fresno/Clovis area you might appreciate it, and the inside humor. Remember…it tastes like Fresno! 😛

Love your brother!

Eagle