The Breakfast Table

rustic table

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m sitting at the same table we leaned on last night.  The table above is just a depiction, but evokes the memory and stirs my hope just the same.  At the table we were seven with a little Pascal darting in and out on spare occasions.  It was a better table than the taco booth.  It was hard dark wood and smithed cold metal with warm lines of approach.  It was not plastic, cramped, or formica.  Our nucleus was complete with our brides J and Mrs. Pascal there.  The valences of friends were three and strong.  Yes – – I just spent 15 minutes with a fantastic high school chemistry powerpoint deck on the periodic table.  Thank you anonymous chemistry teacher and internet Alexandria.  By the way – – you’re a noble gas and I’m an alkali metal, best kept dry.

In person we gained what is so difficult in writing.  We had synchrony.  What writing wins in posterity it loses in the ability to speed, slow, watch, listen, and sub-cognitively interpret what is said and heard, implied and felt.  Smile, posture, tone of voice and stuttering silence were all apparent to me.  I felt at times like an extracorporeal observer.  I suppose for all except myself, I was.  This from a man who claims to love writing in fact to see the world through a writer’s lens.  In person was better.  But here I am at that table.  The sun rose quickly, the grass is greening and birds sing the elegy of night’s retreat.

I asked our readers, some of whom are becoming friends, where to go with this blog after I finished telling the first part of my story.  J was the strongest voice asking for a back and forth about your 42 reasons.  She wants to be convinced and I honestly think you do too.  I just can’t do it.  We will live and die with different ways of seeing the world, different criteria for being convinced, different emphases on the subjective and objective vicissitudes of life.  Madalyn expressed my views well.  Can we respect each other and try to understand each other?  Can we find room in the middle for a rustic table?  That is more where my heart, mind, and soul lie.  I invited a different couple to Détente last night.  They are the age of my older brother, mature, kind, generous, engaged, faithful to work and each other.  She is an agnostic who likes Karen Armstrong’s last book.  He an atheist who likes her first.  They are an amazing couple who love each other and care deeply about other people.  I wanted you and J to see a healthy couple who do not follow Christ but do model his care for humanity.  They care about the homosexual community, racially discounted, urban poor, and those without access to strong education.  I liked this couple when I met them – – just like I liked you and J.

This isn’t only your journey.  As I explained last night, I was raised with inherent biases against gay people, or worse – – Democrats.  These biases are hard to deconstruct.  I was also raised with an abiding love for Christ and the Bible.  The latter has inspired me to leave the former biases.  Just as you and I have come to very different conclusions about the usefulness of scripture, I feel as if my conclusions about people and politics are isolating in the evangelical strands of Christianity that I know best.

The only thing that really bothers me about the journey you and J are on?  You’re leading a double life, expending enormous energy by maintaining a lie.  You’re having to remember who knows what when.  Just tell the truth to real people in person.  “We want to believe, but we don’t right now.”  I can promise one thing and hold myself accountable to any who read here.  You can leave Christ and not leave me.  I will not isolate my circle to an echo chamber reinforcing my own views.  My circle includes you, at the rustic table, in person and here.

This post may feel like a pivot.  Probably because it is a pivot.  I am a strong believer in failure as a teacher and I felt as if I failed you and myself over the past two weeks.  Your posts were not the problem.  I’m glad that you’ve outlined a cogent reason for your non-belief that can allow others to be more authentic.  I will indeed reply to several points that you raised about the Bible.  How can I reconcile the concept that one error causes the whole house of cards to collapse?  Do I think God is bad?  And that’s about where I’ll stop.  Books have been written for and against, and that’s not the book I intend to write.  What about Victoria’s comment post on Miracles?  That deeply affected me and deserves a reply.  What would I like to see from you?  More positive assertions.  You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters.  Could you please tell our friends about your curiosity alarm?

Pascal,

–1:16

 

photocredit:  ogstore.com

17 comments

  1. You have given me many gifts, Pascal. Your words, your books, a journaling Bible just like yours (I still use it every day), your treadmill (I still use it…not every day)…and then the gift of last night. Your food. Your friends (WOW). A seat at your table.

    Yes, I want to be convinced. Yes, I wanted you to convince me. I depended on you too much. I was wrong, and I’m sorry. I don’t expect that from you anymore. I want to understand your reasons for believing that God exists and is good (and I feel like I don’t quite understand yet), but your reasons don’t have to be my reasons. I respect you and I hope to believe as you do—but I know I have to find my own way. Not yours. Not Russell’s. Just as my doubt is different from Russell’s, from Howie’s, from Vance’s, from Madalyn’s—my belief could be different from yours.

    “Just tell the truth to real people in person.” Do you think the consequences are easier than the lie? I’m not sure. I do know that I won’t lie to my daughter, so I know the day of total truth is coming. How will my family respond? Are they, in fact, mentally ill? I recoiled when you suggested that last night. I don’t think they are, Pascal. You mentioned one specific behavior that I have attributed to them, and you said it doesn’t sound like one that strong Christians would exhibit. That didn’t sound right when I consider your words before—that Romans 1 includes all of us in all of our brokenness. Their struggle in a specific area (even many) should not negate their faith. They love Christ. They get it wrong sometimes. So do you, Pascal. That doesn’t make me question your faith. It makes me certain of your humanity. I am certain of theirs and mine as well, and that’s why I fear the consequences of honesty.

    Because of that fear, I am inexpressibly grateful for the greatest gift you’ve ever given us—two seats at a rustic table.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Though I was not present and cannot account for the nuance of conversation, I too am uncomfortable with the suggestion that a behaviour or behaviours is not indicative of a strong Christian. Whether your parents are mentally ill or not isn’t or shouldn’t be the point in regards to their sincere faith.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are right. I hope that my comment to CC clarifies. As was clear in my love letter – – I loved Christ while mentally ill. The suffering made faith stronger for me. Sincere faith, however, can be challenged on the grounds that it accepts. 1 Corinthians 13 is a backstop to my behavior and can be used to challenge the heart of another believer.

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          1. That’s fair. The point of the love letter is only this. I’m in no position to judge anybody in disbelief and I’ve been mentally ill.

            Scripture does not need to hold authority for you to evaluate content. 1 Corinthians 13 is a list of adjectives to describe love. The first two are gentle & kind. You can agree or disagree with the statement. I wouldn’t be offended either way. Similarly, I’m able and willing to evaluate the moral claims of secular and sacred texts whether or not I take them as authoritative writ large.

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    2. You have said that your parents still display behavior of racial bigotry. That is not what prompted my concern about mental illness or criminality. Racial bigotry makes me sad and it was tacit if not overt in my home. My mother, whom I love, interpreted a scripture about: ‘do not be unequally yoked, what fellowship does light have with darkness?’ to be about inter-racial marriage. So no – – behavior on that front is wrong, but can be changed within a generation and in the handoff to the next. She actually did change and escaped the culture of her early 20th century rearing.

      You said something different that prompted my comment. You did not describe a behavior or attitude but a criminal act. You may have spoken carelessly or in jest, but you rarely do about such a serious topic. It was that action that concerned me and could be described as criminal or mentally imbalanced. It is true that mental illness and faith can coincide. If so, then it is a mistake to rely on Christian counseling alone. Serious, specific psychiatric help is needed to protect the sufferer and to prevent suffering to others.

      The consequences of honesty must be weighed against the consequences of dishonesty. Be who you are, even if you’re still figuring it out.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re right—I wasn’t joking when I talked about the potential of my parents trying to take my children. It would be a reactive move if it happened, and while it would not be likely, it also wouldn’t shock me—I would take preventive measures. While it would be a criminal act, it would not be performed out of malice, but out of great love for their grandchildren. You hold a different view of hell than many believers—but I assert that theirs is Biblically justifiable and that their potential actions based on that belief could be signs of dedication to faith and love for their family, not mental illness. So much of dedicated faith looks a lot like mental illness, so I try to avoid that term, even when the religious behavior might meet the criteria. I think of faith as a type of physiological delusion.

        I question the sincerity of belief of those who wouldn’t go to drastic measures to protect their grandchildren from eternal torment—just as much as I would question the sanity of someone who would.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think I said this the wrong way earlier today. I know I did, actually. It sounds like I question the sincerity of your belief, and I absolutely don’t. What I meant was that I would question the sincerity of the belief of someone who wouldn’t go to drastic measures to protect their loved ones from hell IF they believed that their loved ones were in danger of hell and IF they believe that the horrors of hell in reality live up to the worst Biblical descriptions of it.

        Why are you not distressed about my doubt? Why do you not fear for my children? Your peace is because you trust God with our souls.

        Your faith is sincere—you just interpret scripture differently than my parents do. I don’t think their potential reaction to my rejection of faith would necessarily indicate mental illness. And I don’t think your ideas about hell are obvious in scripture—I think they came to you through much prayer and thought and wrestling with God. I appreciate your insight, and it has given me so much hope for more than two years now. But I suspect that our interactions might be different if you were convinced that my family and I would be tormented in hell. I just don’t think you are convinced.

        I wish you could meet my parents, Pascal. They are deeply flawed, very wonderful people. I haven’t honored them well in my conversations with you, because I think I tend to only report on the negative things. If you see any good in me at all, so much of it came from them. When you see things in me that are unbecoming, I can assure you I didn’t need help from them in figuring out how to develop those traits for myself.

        I fear the consequences of honesty not because my parents are terrible people who will react savagely—but because I adore them and have so much to lose.

        I hope you can still respect me, even though you know I live a lie. More and more I fear the consequences of honesty with you. Of course you know I wouldn’t challenge you at work the way I do around your table. But do you question my integrity because of the lie? I think you might, and that breaks my heart.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think you’re reading more into this than I intended to write. It really isn’t about integrity – – that is who you are when you’re not writing to others. I don’t know that person. Usually, that circle only invites a life partner and still requires years. Mrs. Pascal and I, after twenty years of marriage, are beginning that level of intimacy. It is what I cherish most about our marriage.

          As a family friend, I want good things for you and Russell. I’m of the opinion that leading a sort of double life is ultimately corrosive. The nice thing about honesty is that you don’t waste cognitive energy remembering who knows what when. Of course honesty must be tempered with love. If you can’t tell your parents that you doubt and that you’re trying to work through it then your relationship is strained in a common way. Many of us understand the tension of growing older as our parents grow old.

          Waiting for an ultimate decision or living in the land of questions is certainly an option. I just don’t think it is the right one. You are not a counterfeit Christian. You are an authentic doubter. If your parents can’t process that truth then I think we might be over-spiritualizing things. (Funny comment from the theist). They may not have your trust in other areas as well. Again – – something that many readers and writers here can relate to.

          Leaving your parent’s home and joining the home of your partner is a task of life for the twenties and thirties (on average) that is difficult for all of us. I hope you get there. You honestly seem to be suffering.

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          1. Me? Reading too much into something? Never!! [Wry smile goes here].

            I’m glad that your concern with my dishonesty is more for my comfort than it is for my integrity.

            I feel like I have left my parents and joined with my husband. It is true that my inability to be honest with them causes both of us to suffer, but that’s just as much for Russell as it is for me. His dad knows his stance, but that’s because he agrees. Russell is keeping the same secret from his grandmother and from his mom’s side of the family who he dearly loves. Neither of us wants to cause pain or feel rejected, and right now we feel that the suffering would be greater if we were honest. If Russell asked me to be honest with my parents, I would—it’s not about putting my parents first or somehow being bound to them. I’m not a child, and I’m not failing to honor my husband above my parents. You didn’t say that I was, but sometimes it feels like that’s what you think. Reading too much into things again?—perhaps.

            Yes, I am suffering, and it’s almost unbearable. But it’s not as much about the corrosiveness of the double life and the desire to be loved and accepted as I am—it’s about wanting Jesus, and not being able to find him.

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      1. This offer means a lot. Even if it never happens the intention and thought mean so very much.
        One day maybe I’ll be able to host my own. I just wonder how the conversations are instigated. And I suppose a core few who are comfortable and open helps too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry I’m a little late to the discussion, but I thought I’d weigh in just a bit in case it’s helpful. This is a long comment — sorry!

    I completely understand the complications that can come with leaving Christianity when you have fundamentalist family members. When I first started having major doubts about Christianity that weren’t going away with deeper study, I reached out to some close friends and family members for two reasons: First, I thought they might be able to help me find answers to the problems I was seeing. Second, if no answers were available, then surely they would want to know about these problems as well?

    Turns out the answer was “no” to both of those questions. They weren’t able to help me find any answers that were satisfactory to me, and none of them seemed to want to know many details about what I had found out. So once my wife and I realized that we were no longer Christians, we still had to figure out what to do about it. It was too late to keep everyone from knowing that we were struggling with these deep issues, so we could either dive back in and tell everyone that our questions had been satisfied, or we could come clean and tell them that we were done.

    Both my wife’s side and my side of the family are members of the Church of Christ, which is extremely conservative (at least the version we were in). And our families believed in the practice of withdrawal, which is sort of like shunning. It’s the idea that if someone leaves the faith or is “living in sin,” then it’s the responsibility of other Christians to withdraw themselves from those individuals, in an effort to help them “see the error of their ways.” That means no real social contact, unless you’re going to talk about spiritual things.

    So my wife and I knew that was going to be a major consequence of us leaving. We were both very close to our families, especially my wife’s. They live close by, and we all went to the same congregation.

    But if we stayed, we couldn’t have done anything halfway. We would have been expected to be at every service (3x a week), and I would have been expected to eventually get back to the leadership roles I had previously occupied. More importantly, we had 3 young children (the oldest was turning 7 at the time), and we really didn’t want to raise them to believe things that we thought were false. Nor did we want them to get older and have to go through the same pain we were currently experiencing.

    Both options — staying and leaving — were really hard to stomach, so we finally settled on trying a half measure. We publicly “repented” of our doubts, but simultaneously announced that we wanted to find another congregation to attend. We said that we still loved everyone there, but just needed a fresh start after everything. Of course, the real reason is that we hoped we could find a place where no one really knew us and we could be a little more lax in our attendance, and more importantly, where neither of us would be expected to teach Bible classes, etc.

    But the half measure didn’t work. Our families still wanted details about how things were going every time we spoke to them: where were we attending? were things getting better? etc. My wife’s parents finally asked her point blank if we believed, and she told them that we didn’t. A week or two later, we were officially “withdrawn from.”

    It was really hard, especially at first. The vast majority of our friends were people from church, so our entire social network virtually disappeared overnight.

    That was the most difficult period of our lives, and we’ve had some other difficult ones. That was still the worst. But we did come out of it as much stronger individuals, and as a stronger couple. If I had to do it over again, I would be more upfront with everyone sooner. I wouldn’t have attempted the half measure at all. Like Pascal said, I think leading a double life is unhealthy. And it’s the only one you have! Why waste it on lies?

    Ultimately, each situation is unique and there’s no magic bullet on how to deal with it. But as someone who’s gone through something similar, I suggest being as open as possible as soon as possible. The relationship you have with them now is largely an illusion anyway, at this point. They may think everything’s still the same, but you know differently. So at best, you’re only perpetuating the memory of a relationship at this point, not the real thing. The rewards of being able to live your life honestly, no longer subject to superstition, popular opinion, or dogma far outweigh the costs of disappointing your family, in my opinion.

    Anyway, I hope this is somewhat helpful to you. And whatever you guys decide, I wish you luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Nate,

      I realize that your comment is more to CC and Russell than to me, but it meant a lot just the same. I appreciate your thoughtful, gentle exposition. I realize more and more that when you hear one person’s deconversion story, you’ve heard just that — one story. I want to be the kind of friend that you can come to with doubts and know that the friendship will survive.

      I read your comment on Saturday on my phone while watching my sons play ultimate frisbee. Afterwards there was a team dinner at Chili’s and I sat with two nice parents. The conversation wandered to church and the denomination Church of Christ came up. Your words were fresh in my mind and I asked about the practice of withdrawal. She smiled and explained that indeed many Church of Christ congregations can practice that, but their local church does not. I asked about the prohibition of instrumental worship and also learned about the split of Disciples of Christ and Church of Christ – – south and north. I also learned about the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. She had completed a Masters of Arts degree recently and had taken classes on American protestant church history.

      Her husband told me of his conversion from Catholicism to the Church of Christ, based largely on the Church of Christ embrace of the Bible and of his particular priest’s unwillingness to encourage him to read the Bible for himself. They both told me of how they were raising the three kids – – two playing ultimate with mine. And I thought of you.

      I enjoyed your recent post frustration and couldn’t help but link your writing with the comment here. Thanks for being here Nate. One of the reasons I’m writing is to provide a safer place for those in the church and out of it to express doubt. I do acknowledge your problems with faith. I’ve investigated many and don’t have a satisfactory answer for some. As we continue to correspond and as my book list matures in imitation of yours I think that a synergistic approach will emerge. I’m thankful for you and your family and your willingness to join this discussion. I don’t think that withdrawal is biblical. If you are to treat an apostate like an unbeliever, then didn’t Jesus scandalize the religious leaders of his day by fellowshipping with unbelievers?

      But one of the difficulties with scripture is interpretation. Reasonable people will assert that instrumental music is not allowed because it is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament. As a seventh grader, attending Church of Christ private school, I disagreed. Reasonable people will disagree. More later in different comment streams. I’m thankful that you’ve found a social circle and support network for your family outside your family of origin and outside of the church. I’m just sad that the family and believers felt it was necessary.

      Pascal

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s an extremely kind comment, Pascal. Thank you. That’s what I love about you and Russell — you keep a very open and compassionate environment. It says a lot about both of you.

        That’s very interesting stuff about the CoC. And yes, the group I was a part of is on the ultra-conservative wing. There are more reasonable iterations. And actually, while I knew about the link between the CoC and the Disciples of Christ, I didn’t know there was a link to the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s interesting — I’ll have to check it out.

        Also, for what it’s worth, I agree with you about instrumental music. About 10 years before I left the church, I realized that trying to prohibit something that the Bible didn’t prohibit was stepping way outside the lines. It’s the very thing Jesus condemned the Pharisees for.

        — Nate

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  3. By the way – – you’re a noble gas and I’m an alkali metal, best kept dry.

    Haha! Probably an accurate description. That’s a great line my friend.

    They are an amazing couple who love each other and care deeply about other people. I wanted you and J to see a healthy couple who do not follow Christ but do model his care for humanity. They care about the homosexual community, racially discounted, urban poor, and those without access to strong education. I liked this couple when I met them – – just like I liked you and J.

    I couldn’t agree more. They are amazing. Thank you for introducing us. 🙂

    The only thing that really bothers me about the journey you and J are on? You’re leading a double life, expending enormous energy by maintaining a lie. You’re having to remember who knows what when. Just tell the truth to real people in person. “We want to believe, but we don’t right now.”

    I don’t believe I’ve ever expressed views that are different than the ones I hold, meaning I don’t think I’ve ever said I believe something that I do not believe, at any point. So it isn’t that hard to maintain. However, I have had to let people assume I hold views that I do not hold by my presence or careful phrasing. I value integrity and honesty as much as truth, and this is definitely one of the strongest points of contention in my life. I would love to take your advice, and will once J and I are both ready together to do so. It’s a joint confession.

    I am a strong believer in failure as a teacher and I felt as if I failed you and myself over the past two weeks.

    Speaking honestly, I don’t hold any expectations that you failed to meet. All is well. 🙂

    What would I like to see from you? More positive assertions. You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters. Could you please tell our friends about your curiosity alarm?

    Haha. Okay. I will post a positive assertion soon. I have one in mind. And I’ll write about the curiosity alarm. Be well, and enjoy your special day. I may see you around church tomorrow. 🙂

    Gentleness and respect,
    –Russell

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