What helped bring me back to faith is the result of love, patience, and endurance. It includes the story of a farm boy from Salina, Kansas who refused to walk away when I tried to drive him. It also includes intellectual engagement by Scott Van Swernigen, Dee Parsons, and Danny Risch. Grace is generously given during my faith crisis. This is what helped me move back to the Christian faith in time. I saw love and grace in a way that I never saw before…and privately I craved it. This also includes how Danny, James, Scott and Dee’s personal response to me while I was reeling in pain due to a false accusation on May 8, 2013.
“Endurance is nobler than strength, and patience than beauty”
“Endurance is patience concentrated”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law“
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
If I do any more digging or analysis of my faith crisis I am going to find Jimmy Hoffa’s body! 😛 So its with that statement I would like to close out my dissection of a faith crisis by doing some analysis of what Dee Parsons, James Crestwood, Danny Risch and Scott Van Sweringen did right. Last Friday I analyzed what Andrew White of Redeemer Arlington should have done and how he walked away. 5 people were intimately involved in my faith crisis and the only one who couldn’t endure and hold on is a 2005 Air Force Academy graduate who boasted of how strong his faith was, how his marriage was being sanctified and how he was in “the healthiest church he ever knew.” Note I am not trying to be mean that is what happened. That analysis was done last week, but if you want to read it you can do so here.
There are many things to touch on and in chewing it over I would like to highlight things in groups, with the exception of one situation that I would like to call attention to as well.
James Crestwood Refuses to Walk Away Despite my Effort to End the Relationship
I can’t remember how or when this happened but in 2009 and 2010 I was driving away and withdrawing from evangelicals left and right. As my faith crisis accelerated into high gear there was one thing I was determined to do above all else. End many Christian friendships and relationships. I was sick of Christianity, sick of the platitudes, and sick of the culture. During this time I was committed to pushing back at all costs. It was during this time that I ended fellowship and friendship with about 90-95% of the people in my life. Why so high? Because nearly all my social life came from an evangelical church. It was during this time that I tried to sever the relationship with James Crestwood. James who attended National Community Church with his wife, hailed from Salina, Kansas, attended Bethel in St. Paul and played rugby. I knew him at this point for about 3 to 4 years already, and he was in Kenya with his wife when my faith collapsed. It was during this time that I tried to drive him away from me and end the relationship. I did it through hammering him, aggressive emails, sometimes baiting, and tearing down his church. James in an email (if I remember correctly) told me that he was not walking away from me, and that he wouldn’t leave. He was pretty laid back, but also stern. At the time I was perplexed because other people did leave. He mostly took things in stride, but did ask me to just email him and not his wife Gina, which I pretty much did anyhow. When James became a father, and busy with work in DC he still reached out to me despite having the demands of a family and parenting roles. He often asked me to come on over for dinner, to hang out with his family, or run errands. Only James could turn a run to a grocery store run like Aldi’s or Safeway into being an adventure! 🙂 (Note to James we need to go toilet paper shopping in Salina one of these days!) James persistence and engagement deeply impressed me privately and was different, so different from other Christians. Often all he wanted to do was hang out or have me hang out with his family. He shared his daughter and wife who I got to know as well, and he was not reserved. I actually met James through my Crusade director’s in Milwaukee recommendation of a sexual purity program called Lust Free Living. But in the end I came to the conclusion that God didn’t orchestrate our paths because of this…in light of what developed and the faith crisis I fell into, I think God brought James into my life to walk with me and endure. He was one of the only individuals who wasn’t spooked, frightened, and engaged. In private I’ve cried a couple of times in joy and thanked God that James became a part of my life.
A couple of months ago I was speaking with James on the phone. The situation with Andrew White kept dragging out while remaining unresolved. In light of that I wanted to ask James why he stayed, when Andrew White walked away? I was honestly curious. For example I was difficult with Andrew, but I also was difficult with James. In a phone conversation James told me that he couldn’t walk away from me. He knew I was spiritually in a dark place and of all the times I needed to be loved and to experience grace this faith crisis was it. After we got off the phone I wept at hearing that perspective. Honestly I don’t know if I would be where I am today without his love and grace. I do know that he was the only person in the DC area that knew me before hand, watched me walk away, pursued me and saw me come back. In the program Lust Free Living James taught me about “Man Up”. With the way that he engaged me in my faith crisis and did so with courage and love I think he did the biggest man up of his life. I am grateful that he decided to endure and walk with me to the end. I can’t put into words here how much I love James and am grateful for his friendship.
Intellectually being Engaged
My doubts were very intellectual in many ways. They dealt with issues like the problem of evil, Old Testament Genocide, to what happens to those who never heard the Gospel because of when and where they lived. I am a firm believer in education, and philosophy. Plus I am also a doctor’s son. So medicine and science are deeply important to me. One of the reasons why I believe my faith crisis was so prolonged is that when I tried to find churches to speak to I learned many could not engage me intellectually. If you want to read my journey of church to church you can read so here. I needed to be intellectually engaged and while some people believe Calvinism to be intellectually engaging what I hear missing from the discussion is how reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. I was intellectually engaged by three people who helped me deeply.
- Danny Risch and I would have long talks in Panera where we discussed the problem of evil at length. Actually as I reflect on it I am amazed that he could speak to something that many pastors and people in the churches I showed up at could not. Danny is very intellectual in many ways and as I engaged in him I always walked away chewing on something he said. I deeply appreciated his intellectual stimulation, as he helped me deeply.
- Scott Van Sweringen I found to be very intellectual. I remember how early on he said he wasn’t intellectual but in speaking with him I was deeply impressed. We had these discussions where I would fire off emails with questions a few days later he wrote me back what almost seemed like mini thesis explaining his thoughts. It was loaded with scripture, I could tell he thought deeply about it, and at times he told me that he spent time studying the questions I wrote in his old text books from Moody a couple of times. Out of all the people I engaged Scott was the only one who had a seminary education, which in his case came from Moody Bible Institute. Often in engaging with him I often felt like I got an education from Moody as a by-product. In the end what I got from Scott was much more than I expected. But he was diverse and went from issue to issue and whatever I threw at him he took on. If he didn’t know the answer which he did a couple of times he would tell me that he didn’t know. Honestly I appreciated that humility…as that was rare also.
- Then there is my East Coast Mom, Dee Parsons who was a Sunday School teacher at Providence Baptist In Raleigh and at Bent Tree Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas. Dee was very engaging and intellectually stimulating. I will say this…Providence Baptist lost one hell of a Sunday school teacher. Dee pursued me and the questions I asked. I remember one time we had this discussion on the problem of evil that lasted nearly two hours on the phone. It was this push and pull, back and forth, back and forth, and whatever I threw at her she could speak for what seemed like hours. Her husband Bill Parsons (My East Coast Dad) married well. 🙂 Dee pursued me on a wide range of topics. One time I threw at Dee the issue of what happens to those who never heard the Gospel. I posed the question in the context of someone who lived in Wuhan, China in 400 BC. Why would someone in Wuhan be sent to hell for not believing in God especially when Jesus never walked on the earth. I mean Calvinism and the doctrine of election solves this problem but it also opens up many more problems, and in the end it leaves one to wonder…who is part of the elect, how does one know with absolute certainty? Yet Dee could speak about it and offer differing theological theories. I remember just one time looking at my phone and thinking, “Good God! Where did this woman come from…how does she know all this stuff? Some of the Pastors I spoke to couldn’t speak about this material, yet she could” For those who believe that women shouldn’t teach I present Exhibit A…my East Coast Mom. Now I know why the LDS faith in Raleigh tests their missionaries against the Parson family. I feel sorry for Mark Dever and CJ Mahaney, as they are up against some stiff competition! 😛
One thing that deeply touched me is the unrelenting love that all 4 individuals showed me. Scott and James sent me some of the most affectionate and deep text messages I ever received. I felt them care for me as a person and they had no strings attached as well. Scott told me early on that however I turned out…atheist/agnostic or Christian he still wanted to be involved in my life. Because of this I did not feel like I was a project of Scott. James also showed me a great amount of love as well. That love shined brightest when my Father was in the start of a long battle with a brain tumor. Rare is the friend who opens their home to you at 2 in the morning to talk with you. Even rarer is a friend who hugs, and cries with you in his night clothes and tells you, “I can’t imagine what you are going through…” My love and respect for James soared. Then there were the hospital visits and the nursing home visit. James just bleeds grace and I often felt it from him. Then there was Danny who took me out to dinner at an Applebee’s in Manassas to see how I was doing in the wake of my Father’s brain tumor. That touched me deeply. Then there was Dee Parsons…I remember just meeting her the first time in Raleigh while driving to Spencer, North Carolina. But the true love that she showed happened when my medical crisis erupted in July 2012. She offered to help out in the DC area. I thought she was joking…after all Raleigh, NC is 278 miles away or 4 and a half hours. Yet she said she would come up right away. She offered me medical guidance in the hospital. The nurse in her came out. When she was not there she called me up and quizzed me on my vitals, “what is your blood pressure?”, “what is your pulse?”, “what medicines are you on and the dosage?” which was followed up by an “Eagle you need to speak to your doctor about _____” Due to the love and grace I received from Dee, James and Andrew White….I laid in my hospital bed and stared at the ceiling at 3 AM often asking myself, “Is this what grace is?” It was the first time in my life I found myself asking this question. For the very first time…I was actually attracted to Christianity and not repulsed. And that came about due to the love I was shown in a hospital room. Then there was my baptism in November 2013. Dee and her husband Bill Parsons drove up from Raleigh. I still remember Dee hugging me in a Hampton Inn saying, “My Third Son!” I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Dee…to engage a militant skeptic for a few years, be baited, have coarse language, etc… and then to stand there and watch it all come together in a baptism. That’s what Andrew lost, which I believe will be the saddest event in my life. For Dee however, it must have been a highlight. I remember the time she told me that my conversion back to the Christian faith inspires her to blog. What I will never forget for as long as I live is walking out of the baptismal pool and Dee seeing me and hugging me. In all her designer clothing she did not care that she was getting soaked. We cried together. What a journey…it included a track through hard core atheism and even a close call in en ER due to the infection and sepsis I was battling in the hospital. That all culminated in a beautiful and moving baptism. There is one other thing that I have to say was beautiful and loving. Each person shared their family with me as well. For example I got to meet and interact with Danny’s wife a few times which was cool. James shared his family heavily, I was invited over to dinners, and he brought his daughter to the hospital and my place as well. I got to know Bill Parsons as well, to the point that we exchange text messages. To be shown that kind of love moves me to tears and it helped me in ways that amazed me. Each person showed love in an amazing way.
Patience and Endurance
In the situation of the faith crisis by Danny, Scott, James and Dee, all were patient and endured to the end. They didn’t walk away, they didn’t get frustrated to the point that they said, “that’s it…I’m done.” They responded with patience in how they gave me room and allowed me to process things. There is one key difference between Andrew White and Dee Parsons, Danny Risch, James Crestwood and Scott, and that issue was pressure. The later never applied pressure whereas Andrew applied a great deal of pressure. The pressure by Andrew was so great that I could feel it. James invited me to National Community Church a few times and I turned him down. However, there were a couple of times I showed up and I picked apart Mark Batterson’s talk. Or I was blunt in calling it prosperity gospel theology. So in calling Sovereign Grace a cult, Andrew was not the only one I was tough on…yet James endured. In reflecting back on all this I think Danny, James, Scott and Dee epitomized what Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:22-23 which is what I put up top. There was love, patience, kindness, self control and gentleness. In the end it really spoke volumes about their faith.
Seeing the Big Picture…Looking Through my Behavior
In reflecting back I wasn’t too hard on Danny, but the others I was argumentative at times. I baited, became difficult and was hard with James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringin, and Dee Parsons. How aggressive? Well I hammered James’s church frequently, and he in turn responded with love. I know he got frustrated a few times, but he responded with kindness. Scott and I clashed a few times by email and text. The sharpest exchange as I recall happened after the Aurura, Colorado movie theater shooting. I baited him in a text asking, “When is John Piper going to shoot off his mouth?” And he responded by saying, “What are supposed to do? By silent and not speak out against tuff like this?” Scott pushed back when appropriate. Then there was Dee Parsons. Good God…I lit up her blog like a Christmas tree with my language, profanity, and argumentative put downs. She let me rant, and engaged me. She lost a number of readers who were angry with my language and demeanor. Yet she pressed forward and engaged me. I think all individuals from Danny Risch, James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringen, and Dee Parsons saw the bigger picture. While they were not happy at times with some of what I said, they also didn’t take it personally. They saw me in the bigger picture context. For that alone I am grateful.
May 8, 2013 Betrayal and False Accusation and their Response
Wednesday May 8, 2013 was the darkest day of my life. I would honestly prefer to have another medical crisis than to endure a false accusation for a crime I didn’t commit. On that day I was sent home from work having signed paperwork for a crime I didn’t do. What could I do? It was my word against an Air Force Officer who graduated from the Air Force Academy. I was railroaded and disciplined on only one side of the story. And at the same time to be fair to Andrew on May 18, 2015 I learned he didn’t plan for things to go the way they did. I made mistakes against him, I did…and I will always own those mistakes, but I did not do what I was accused of. Immediately after leaving work that May 13, 2013 the first person I called was Dee Parsons. So much of that day was psychologically terrifying that I can’t remember parts of it. Its almost blacked out. I do remember the first words Dee told me when I was on the phone with her, “Andrew betrayed you Eagle” was what she said. The next 13 months were sheer hell as I had to plan and orchestrate how to respond. When you have a co-worker who gave birth to a false accusation and he sits 20 feet away from you what do you do? What do you do when you are under the threat of being reported to law enforcement for something you didn’t do? I know what I did do, but I also know what I didn’t. Over the next 13 months Dee Parsons helped me navigate the mess. She also helped me document Andrew’s interaction with me. For example that meant saving all his voicemails and his emails, including his work emails in which he was evangelizing me. Evan today Dee has a good chunk of this in her possession. The paperwork I had to sign she translated and helped me process. Since Dee spent years in management she knew HR law backwards and forwards. I had also developed a form of PTSD which is new to me. I would be out and about and hear the crime I was falsely accused of and I’d sweat, cry and lose my composure. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Dee asked me to call her when that happened and she helped me for 13 months. At another point she invited me down to stay for a couple of days. That was helpful because I was scared of staying at someone else’s house. I mean Andrew and invited me over to his condo in DC in March of 2013 and then I found myself being accused of a crime afterward. The behavior was awkward.
Then there was James Crestwood. I sat on my couch in my condo shaking, crying and in shock. It was the Saturday after everything happened. I was terrified of contacting many people….from James to Scott to others. Would they do the same thing Andrew did I wondered? Would James and others stab me in a back that could have destroyed my name, reputation and ability to earn income? James texted me and that text was a lifeline. In a simple text message he asked if I had any plans and how much he loved me. That was probably the most divine text I got in my life. I realized that I could open up to James and I told him what happened. He wanted to meet right away. I told him we discussed it. He honestly told me he would have no idea what he would do if he were in my shoes, he couldn’t comprehend what I was accused of. He listened to Andrew’s voicemails and was baffled. But at the same time when I told him I called Sovereign Grace a cult he asked me…”Eagle why were you mean to him?” In my mistakes James still spoke to me, and helped out. He spoke truth in love. I am grateful that he is not a yes man, or someone who will tell me what I want to hear. Instead he tells me what I need to hear. Then there was Scott Van Sweringien. May 8, 2013 was the bleakest day of my life and Scott helped me walk through the darkest season in my life. Shortly after that horrific betrayal by Andrew White I was in Lewistown, Pennsylvania for a Norfolk Southern steam engine excursion on the Nickel Plate Road 765. In my motel room I wept in searing pain in what was done in Andrew’s betrayal. I couldn’t believe what happened, and I was deeply upset over both my mistakes and what Andrew did. Scott spoke to me by text about grace and spoke about healing. Though he weren’t there in the room to console me in a way you did through text messaging. As I walked through my darkest season Scott encouraged me forward in doing what I was doing by seeking out forgiveness. I also felt Scott’s prayers a couple of times. I don’t know if Scott realizes how much those prayers mean to me. As I pressed forward Scott encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. One of the most tender texts I ever received from anyone came from you during this time. Scott wanted me to know how much he loved and appreciated me and was grateful for knowing me. Scott claimed he should do that more often but I got the message loud and clear. It was at a time in my life where I needed love and grace. Something horrific was alleged against me, and others I knew to include the four people I wrote about responded with grace and love. This love was a comforting balm on my bruised and battered soul which was trying to recover from what took place on May 8, 2013.
How I Feel About These Individuals Today
Words cannot describe how I feel about James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringen, Dee Parsons, and Danny Risch. Really I feel like they poured so much into me and showered me with love and grace. Would I be a Christian today without their overwhelming grace? Honestly, I don’t think so. I was profoundly lost and confused and in a dark, dark place, and yet they pursued me, they walked with me, and endured with me through to the end. From the depths of my heart I feel a profound sense of gratitude that cannot be described. My faith crisis was hell….pure hell, and it is something I would not wish on anyone. When you hit bottom in your life you will find out who loves you and who your friends are…I did. I don’t want to make this sound dramatic but I am trying to put this on context. I don’t want to go through another faith crisis at all…honestly I don’t think I have the strength to go through another one. It was terrifying, overwhelming, and dark. If given the choice I would rather have a similar medical crisis like I did in 2012 then the faith crisis I had. Here’s why….I had to feel the faith crisis and endure it. I was conscious and aware of this situation. When I had my medical crisis in 2012 what happened is that I didn’t realize how severe it was until afterward. Plus at the height of it as my sepsis spread I dealt with issues of conscious and not being clear, but I didn’t realize it until afterward. That is when a few people told me that my communications were not clear, and confusing. The infection I was dealing with had made me delusional when I was in the emergency room. I don’t mean to sound over the top what I am trying to say is that going through a faith crisis was pure hell…and I don’t want to go through another one.
I am also trying to illustrate how affectionately I love James Crestwood, Dee Parsons, Danny Risch and Scott Van Sweringen. I think they all know that if they needed something I would drop whatever I was doing to help them out, or walk them through it. After the way they walked with me, how could I not? That’s part of the reason why in January when Dee Parsons wanted me to meet her Bible study which contained several former members of Providence Baptist, its why I went. Its the longest I’ve ever driven for a Bible study…278 miles. But after the love Dee Parsons showed me how could I not return the favor? Its really beautiful when you think about it. And as I press forward and continue to pray for Andrew White that we could be friends again one day. But for everyone reading this my hope for you is that you have someone like a James Crestwood in your life. My desire is that your life is enriched by the fellowship of someone like Danny Risch. My prayer is that you have a Scott Van Swernigen who walks with you through a crisis. My sentiment is that you will have a person like Dee Parsons who will invade your life. As I said earlier I believe that they epitomized much of what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:22-23 by their love, kindness, self control, patience, etc… For those who think I ma too negative I have to say its folks like Dee Parsons, Scott, James Crestwood and Danny Risch who give me hope about evangelical Christianity. Its why I still cling to it, because I see the potential that exists that’s amidst all the corruption, fundamentalism and flaws. So with that I just wanted to write about what worked and what pushed me over and brought me back. I owe a debt of gratitude that I cannot repay. Its for that reason that I deeply love the individuals who helped me through my faith crisis.