Dear Russell,

As I mentioned in the comment on your post, I cried when I read, watched and listened to it.  Why?  I suppose that my wife will tell you that she’s the pragmatic one and I’m the emotional one.  I cry in chick flicks more often than she does.  We make a good pair.  I’ve got your post open in another window and I’m reading it for the sixth time.  I’ve listened to the pentatonix song a dozen times.  Which one?  Both – – but 5:1 in a ratio favoring Say Something.  The song moved me the first time I heard it and four part harmony with perfect pitch did something further.  Bland neurochemistry and dopamine in the amygdala is one possibilty.  Harmony reaching my spirit, if there is such a thing, is another.

I didn’t just join your heart in the song – – its a song that I’ve sung myself many times in all four parts of harmony – – especially the ones that I can’t sing in full voice.

I’m both sorry and thankful that you are suffering with this.  Sorry because I know how much it hurts and you are my friend.  Thankful because I wouldn’t trade my suffering and sense of abandonment for anything now and if I had to go through it again – – I would.  I’m only speaking with the benefit of retrospect and the courage that comes from survival.  Prospectively, I was less brave than you.

The something that God spoke to me looked very little like the few times the prophets of old heard an audible voice.  It wasn’t even like disciples at the feet of the Master.  I’ve only met two people in my life that gave me a hint of what Jesus must have been like.  No.  It was like disciples talking to each other – – Peter arguing with Paul.  Andrew debating with James.  John wondering why his brothers were released with violent death and he survived till the natural curtain closed.  The something was spoken by words, actions, and presence of loving believers over days, months, years, even decades.

When you and I speak and share life – – that is something.  If you’re waiting for a miracle beyond the capacity to overcome your evolution, I’m not sure you’ll find it.  But I’ll stay.  I believe that your wife will stay, just as your mother did.  Your belief or lack thereof is not a criteria for my fraternal affection – – and it never will be.  Of course I want you to return.  If I really believe what I say, how could I ever desire otherwise?  And its not out of fear for your eternal soul – – I am honestly perplexed by how God will judge the souls of men.  I do know that he told me to not even try.

We have a loyalty and duty to each other.  We have a calling to each other.  There is a way forward – – a detente if you will.  But please realize – – something may not be said by a voice from the sky or a blinding light on the road to Damascus.  It may be simply the patience and care of a brother who will love you no matter what and always trust God with your soul.





*image courtesy wikimedia commons CC 3.0



  1. How do believers tell the difference between “calling” and “personal preference”? Could calling really be more about someone’s talents and interests? Could it ever be uncomfortable or unpleasant? Would you still answer the call if it requires much more of you than it does?

    What you have with Russell is indeed moving, but I think that it is quite unique. As someone on the outside looking in, I have to ask—What if believers don’t like me? What if they’re just not “called” to me? What if they don’t have the loyalty and patience and care and love for me that you have for Russell? What if, no matter how long I wait, there is never a detente? How would I know Him if they never say something?

    There is no Damascus road light or voice from the sky. So with the silence of the lambs, how could I ever find the shepherd?

    I don’t really need these answers, because I don’t believe in a God who calls his people in specific ways to reflect him in the world. It seems to me, even based on interactions with believers, that “callings” are more about talents and interests and who you “click” with. I just wish sometimes that more believers believed in God-given callings, even in ones that require them to love the unlovely—then these strained relations wouldn’t be so limiting. It’s easy to be encouraged by your assertion that “something” may be the patience, care, and unending love of a believing brother, rather than a miracle—until I remember that so many of us don’t even know that kind of love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My favorite book besides the bible is The Call, by Os Guinness. It addresses several of your questions about calling and it meant a great deal to me. The first calling for a believer is to Jesus. I prefer to consider myself a Christ follower because it reminds me of the simple words of Jesus to his disciples: follow me.

      What about a specific calling? Is it personal preference and talent? I don’t think it is less than that. Following Christ means yielding your preferences and talents. I used to think that asking God for the desires of my heart was a selfish health & wealth incantation. I realized later that the correct interpretation is to ask God to author your heart’s desires. Then you have the pleasure of serving in alignment with your will rather than against it. Do you sometimes love the unlovely? Of course. But to each believer, I do believe that God shares some of his affection for all – – in part. So some may love special needs children or adults, others may display particular patience with seniors, recovering or relapsing alcoholics, or … skeptics.

      I have been seeking calling for twenty years. I have the profession of teaching that I love. The calling for me to teach is exactly as you describe – – an act of my will influenced by my talents and passions. Do I consider it a sacred calling? Honestly yes. If I am called to Christ, then all my work is done unto him.

      I have a love a history, philosophy, literature, science, poetry, music, art, nature, running, thinking, conversation and coffee. I have a love of breakfast fellowship. Why wouldn’t all of these loves be offered in service to the God I love? And why wouldn’t he use me according to the way he made me? As a Christ-follower, my call is to love God and love others. Yet I find a particular draw to people like Russell. This is new to me and is so exciting! I honestly used to get angry at the stereotypical strong atheist who called everyone who believed an imbecile and shrieked words saturated in sarcasm. No longer. I realize that those voices represent a tail on the curve – – just as ugly as the opposite tail that judges doubt and doesn’t listen to the skeptics who question.

      Silence of the lambs. That’s pretty clever Clarice. I’m not just called to Russell, you or even all skeptics for that matter. I’m also called to the people I went to church with today, to share your heart of loneliness and disappointment. I would rather reform the church than leave it. I may not be able to find an army of women who will befriend you no matter what you do with faith – – but I believe that I could find one. And what about me, an anonymous believer from blogland? Does my bleating count as care? Even for you?

      Let me switch from emotional Pascal mode to practical Pascal’s wife mode: you had the courage to share your doubts in the church that you still attend. Is there any mature believer in that church that could be your friend like I’m Russell’s? You may find that there aren’t many called to skeptics as a whole, but that there are some who will be called to you. Maybe by personal preference or natural interest in you as a person, not as a check for the scorecard.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are a lamb that breaks the silence, and that means a lot to me. Your bleating counts as care. But I’m looking for friendship, not internet civility. I’m looking for what you can’t provide—for couples that my husband and I can share life with as friends. It’s harder than it sounds. If I could find a woman in my church who could be my friend in the way that you are Russell’s, would her husband also be a friend to my husband? It’s hard when our friendships separate us from each other because one can’t be included. We don’t have much time for friendships like that, honestly—although I will always support my husband in the friendships that he cherishes, even if they exclude me.

        Regarding believers in the church I still attend…that’s why I shared my doubts. I’m hoping for that—for couples who work as a team in their callings and can accept me and my husband as a team in our doubt. It’s one of the few things I actually still pray for sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Not easy. That is the risk of me flipping my male switch and dispensing advice. I do better when I shut up and listen. But I think you are absolutely right. Deep couple relationships are very hard. I’m not sure that you’ve experienced it yet and we’ve only got a handful. My parents had none – – hence my resolve for a handful.

          Heres how it worked for us. Spouse A forms bond with C – – similar to your proposed connection with a friend. The two friends (same gender in my bias and caution to avoid impropriety) bring their partners together for a couples meal. That was the interview – – each person is loyal first to her spouse. If he has a problem with the other man or is too attracted to his wife’s new friend, then re-iterate. Save the friendship that you made, but keep looking for your Fred and Ethel Mertz (don’t steal that post idea!).

          Twenty years of marriage – – two such couples that we actually vacation with. Is your life crowded with few hours? Crowded yes, but you have the same number of hours as anyone else. I think that you too can find this, but may need to be purposeful and patient in it together. Maybe church isn’t the right place (how sad that I write that). Maybe the four of you need to journey together on a differing spectrum of (dis)belief.

          Please start by finding someone for you. You put so much emphasis on bringing your husband back with you if you come. Try seeking yourself first with the promise that you’ll never leave him – – the very promise Jesus made to you.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I agree with your A-C, B-D approach—that is by all means ideal, and it is a huge part of what motivated my confession at church. I’m absolutely seeking that. Of course, my marriage comes first. I will never leave my husband, and I’m not interested in friendships with men unless it’s in the context of two or more couples who gather in friendship. Maybe you’re right—maybe church isn’t the right place. If I’m honest with myself, though, I’m most interested in a friendship with a more mature believing couple. Why, when I don’t believe? I don’t know why…I guess deep down, that’s where I would hope to see myself in the next 15 years. I don’t believe, but I wish I did.

            Anyway, your advice seems to come from wisdom and experience and is always appreciated. I remind myself all day long that I need to shut up and listen—shutting up now 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Pascal. Beautifully written.

    It appears we share the chick-flick tear gene. 🙂 Similarly, you can probably imagine that any song with a cello will get to me (for reasons mentioned offline and others I’ll tell you about later), and especially one with those harmonies.

    I do appreciate your friendship. From what I know of myself, I doubt I’ll come to a point in which I’ll be able to let my heart trump my mind – or my desire trump my logic – for something that is both a reasoned decision and an enduring commitment. That just doesn’t appear to be how I’m wired. I’m not even sure I can overcome evolution, since if this feat is possible, it may only be because we evolved the ability to do so. The something you’re offering in your loyalty is immeasurably valuable, but I don’t presently see how it is likely to impact my position on God’s existence. The only category of event that seems likely to do that is one that is unlikely to have a natural explanation. I don’t require a voice from the sky or a blinding light. There are an infinite number of things that would do it. It saddens me to admit that the…

    …patience and care of a brother who will love you no matter what and always trust God with your soul

    …does not fall into the category of things that are likely to convince me of a God – just as the lack of such a friendship would not convince me out of a God. However, if during our friendship God leads you to some knowledge or action that cannot be explained, I’m open to following that where it leads. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear you don’t fear for my eternal soul. Your struggle and your return were in a different category than mine are (you doubted his goodness, I doubt his existence and will only seriously address is goodness if I can get past step 1). I’m deeply moved by your effort to understand my difficulties despite this fact. Thank you.

    If there is a personal God who desires my belief, it knows that I’m honestly looking for it and it knows what will bring me close enough to belief without eliminating my free will – not that I’m convinced that’s an issue for it given all the miracles it performed in the past… assuming any of the major scriptures of the world record any of the extant God(s)’s? interventions. By now I hope that you can have confidence that I’m sincere in my searching and haven’t willfully rejected God (as is commonly presumed about atheists). What I’m saying is, always remember what you now know – my belief is in the hands of your God, not in yours.

    Your belief or lack thereof is not a criteria for my fraternal affection – – and it never will be.

    This is my favorite line, and I return it to you.

    Detente. Great word! That is exactly what my post and much of our blog is about. I’m not sure I ever felt strained relations with you, but I hope we see a detente between the many opposing sides of the theological debates. I hope all sides can take a deep breath and admit inwardly that there’s a possibility they are wrong – and then admit that the opposing points of view are held by people who deserve respect (despite how crazy they may sound). You and I have already done so, Pascal. If someone else is reading this, have you admitted you could be wrong? Are you willing to see your opponents as fellow imperfect humans with a different background who want to be respected, appreciated, and loved? If so, sound off in a reply and welcome to the theological detente.

    Gentleness and respect,

    Liked by 2 people


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