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My Story, Part Two

August 19, 2009

Jesus once told a story that has gotten a bit distorted over the history of the church. See if you recognize it as I tell it. There once was a man who had two sons that hated him and wished he was dead. One hated him by taking money from the father and going nuts. The other hated the father by staying at home and expecting rewards from the father, rather than just loving the father. But somehow, the Father forgives them both and the elder brother resents it.

Recognize the story? It’s the Prodigal son story told as it really was meant to be heard. Everyone has always focused on the screw up younger brother, who takes the money, gets wasted and loves too many chicks. But, such a reading of this parable is only half of the story. Notice, if you ever get a chance to read it, how half of the parable is focused on the older brother, his pride, his arrogance, his refusal to love and forgive his younger brother and even worse, resentment of his father. The father who debased himself by running after a younger brother who had disgraced the father. For further mediations on this, read Tim Keller’s amazing book, The Prodigal God.

In high school, I was that older brother. Even as I write this now, my cheeks are flushed with shame at some of the stunts I pulled to get attention. I used Jesus to get my teachers and peers to think I was something special (I went to a private christian school). I used Jesus to get girls to like me and get a little laying on of hands and speaking in tongues. I used Jesus to condemn sinners, preaching in chapel, badgering my classmates and basically doing everything a modern day pharisee would do. I didn’t listen to any “secular” rock music (except U2, which was always a bit daring for me), I went to Christian music festivals and listened to romantic love songs to Jesus, ala “Faith Plus One”. The Mandy Moore character in “Saved”? That was me.

But under it, I covered a gnawing sense of doubt that I was full of it and Jesus was full of it. I knew I was a sham, so I mistakenly thought maybe everything I believed was a sham. That people just used Jesus in the same way I did. No one was to blame for this. Not the enviroment I grew up in. Not my parents (who always tried to teach me to give grace to people). It was only me. And I knew it.

And after a few life failures (that would take too long to explain), I was a pretty broken person by the time I found my way to Chattanooga, Tennessee and Lookout Mountain at Covenant College. A beautiful place to go to school, with  mountain sunrises and sunsets. And, I was among educated Christians for the first time in my life. It was in that atmosphere that God transformed me from my failure through a time where I questioned EVERYTHING.

Part Three will be tomorrow. I’m thinking this will be a four part thing, so I hope it’s remotely interesting to everyone. I would also invite you all to share your stories in posts. I think everyone would get stuff out of everyone else’s story.



14 Comments leave one →
  1. AdamK permalink
    August 19, 2009 6:16 pm


    Isn’t growing up great? I was an altogether different sort of idiot when I was a teenager, too.

  2. Shannon permalink
    August 19, 2009 6:18 pm

    Covenant /is/ absolutely gorgeous – I graduated from their Quest program myself, in fact.

    Next time you come to visit the [i]alma mater[/i] – I’ll take you out to coffee. 🙂

    Looking forward to more –

  3. August 19, 2009 8:41 pm

    It’s amazing to me how often adults assume that gung-ho Christian youth are doing anything more than repeating what they think adults want them to say. I was the same way in high school–judgmental, holier than thou, etc. It took breaking away from all my “christian” friends and getting out of the Christian Culture Bubble before I learned to question, to doubt, to learn. It’s made my faith so much stronger, while making me waaay less of a dick. Glad to hear I’m not the only one in this boat.

  4. Matt permalink
    August 19, 2009 8:59 pm

    “Everyone has always focused on the screw up younger brother, who takes the money, gets wasted and loves too many chicks.”


    But what kind of stuff did he do to make him a screw up?

  5. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 19, 2009 9:07 pm

    Well, in the context of the passage, he asked for his inheritance before his father died, which in First Centuary was the equivelant of slapping your father in the face and telling you wanted him dead.

  6. Matt permalink
    August 19, 2009 9:17 pm

    I was only joking….

    I am enjoying the “Story” entries. I imagine that telling your personal story might not be the easiest thing to do (I’d have trouble doing it anyway). So I respect your willingness to do so.

  7. Edward Lark permalink
    August 19, 2009 9:19 pm

    I initially dropped over here at the start of the whole PZ/Tom Estes debacle, but have been checking back in regularly and am really enjoying your work. We ultimately do not agree on the fundamental resolution of spiritual questions, but I respect your personal journey and your obvious intellectual honesty.

    I was the younger brother in the prodigal tale at one point in my own life. I had fallen away the church of my childhood, but was at a point in my life where I deeply wanted to reconnect with my family in a way that simply would not have been possible standing outside the faith. Maintaining faith for others’ sake, however, is not sustainable, and the questions and doubts that had underlain my own first departure from the faith – albeit on a more unconscious level – could not help but reassert themselves.

    Since my renewed apostasy, I have continued to struggle to find ways to remain connected with my family who remain in the faith. This is difficult, even though they are not bible-thumping fundamentalists, and even though they have grown to become quite accepting of my own faith decisions. We care, but we are not “close,” as neither of us is truly able to celebrate aspects of our lives that have become, or remain, so central to the other.

    Much respect. I look forward to parts three and four.

  8. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 19, 2009 9:31 pm

    Thanks Edward.

  9. August 19, 2009 10:18 pm

    Interesting that you developed doubts while at the same time having your actions and attitudes validated by your school and the girls. I would imagine that is the sign of a really deep-seated faith, the kind that is able to be sustained despite a distaste for some of the trappings of organized religion, on which you’ve commented before.

  10. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 1:28 am

    Wow! Small world, eh? I certainly will take you up on your offer I get back down to the mountains.

  11. SuperCorgi permalink
    August 20, 2009 2:14 am

    OK, my story of falling into disbelief is not very dramatic. I was raised a Congregationalist that was fairly laid back (even though Communion was grape juice and wonder bread). I went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday school, participated in the youth council, and sang in the choir every Sunday. I gradually stopped believing when I was a teenager. I basically got confirmed to make my parents happy.

    Some of the factors in my growing disbelief was my fascination in science, particularly astronomy. Also in 11th grade I took a combined English/Social Studies course called Humanities. We studied many world religions. I began to realize that it was extreme hubris for all these religions to claim that they were the “One True Belief ™.” They couldn’t all be true – how could any of them claim they were truer than any others?

    For awhile, I flirted with New Agey/Paganism sorts of ideas (reincarnation – eventually merging with the “over soul” of the universe – that type of thing.

    Then I fell into what I call “apatathiesm” where religions questions didn’t matter to me at all. Eventually, I realized that I was an atheist. With no good evidence for a supreme being, why should I believe in one. My fascination with anthropology/archaeology have fueled this disbelief. Once you study the multitudes of the world’s religions – how can you believe any of them? They all believe that they have the one path to the truth, but the fact is that religion is a cultural phenomena. It’s based on historical and cultural conditions. It’s a remnant of the dark ages when people had no idea of why things happened. It was also a means of control.

    A lot of primitive societies were organized on the “big man principal” – where the elites gained control by charisma, distributing wealth, and control of resources. One of these resources was access to the divine.

    So knowing what I know, I have no basis for believing in a supreme being. If god came down from above, showed himself to me, and did a few miracles (like maybe growing back the limbs of amputees) then I’d have to adjust my thinking. I’m a skeptic and an aethiest – I need good evidence to believe in the unseen.

  12. Eric Worringer permalink
    August 20, 2009 8:01 pm

    I am going to bite the bullet and go for the “how could one claim to be the one true religion”, my usual thinking goes something like this, only in Christianity does God do the action and moving, the others require action from the human part and God(s) sits back and watches and punishes those incompetent, or does nothing at all.

  13. Matheus permalink
    August 21, 2009 7:48 am

    @Eric Worringer
    I might be missing something here but how is that different from almost every religion?

  14. Matheus permalink
    August 21, 2009 8:36 am

    @Eric Worringer
    By the way, that does sound picking and choosing on the basis of “coolness”
    If it was like that I would rather believe in Thor.

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