Today’s NY Times had an article on Abraham Piper entitled Pastor’s Son Left Faith, Becoming an Evangelical Critic for a New Flock on TikTok. It was so intriguing that I signed up on TikTok in order to see him. It was worth it. Piper is amazingly good at explaining how to think clearly about life.
What I was really glad to see in this article was this comment by Blake Chastain (my emphasis):
… Mr. Piper’s pedigree is proof that ex-Christians should not be dismissed as people who were never really committed in the first place. “One of the common refrains is that these people were never Christian,” said Blake Chastain, who popularized the term “exvangelical” when he named his podcast in 2016. “But the people who leave over these issues are the people who took it seriously. They were the youth group kids who were on fire for God.”
I took it seriously.
After my mother was killed in a car accident and my father had remarried our evil Danish stepmother, we 4 children were somewhat adrift in spite of the fact that our father truly loved us.
Because my father wanted a church wedding with the Danish woman, he started going back to church, a Congregational church on Walnut St in Berkeley, CA. (We lived about four long blocks up the hill from the Church. Fun fact: Peet’s coffee started on the same street.) This put me in contact with the church’s youth group as I entered 7th grade.
Wesley Burwell, a seminary student at PSR, ran the youth group and became like a father to me over the next few years. I would drop by once a week to talk about “religion”. I realized years later what when we discussed “God’s” love, we were taking about my own deep needs for parental love. Wes helped me immensely, and I was privileged to reconnect with him and his wonderful wife Dot in the last decade before he died.
Because of Wes, I tried my best to believe in God. Being a liberal Protestant, Wes told me that I didn’t have to actually perceive God in order to believe in Him (yes, God’s pronouns were He/His/Him).
I tried to believe Wes and even gave two “youth sermons” in my church. I was so inspired that I planned to become a minister and even volunteered once to give a sermon all by myself (the “youth” sermons had 3 kids giving the sermon). As Wes had taught me, I spoke of Jesus’s love and of our duty as Christians to give to the poor and sick.
After the service where I gave my sermon, I walked up the aisle to stand at the door to be greeted by people leaving the church. Everyone congratulated me except for one man who basically told me that I was full of shit. We didn’t have time to discuss it although his comment felt like the most sincere one I got.
Of course, as I came to realize over time, most Xtians (as I now spell the word) don’t believe in the kind, loving, generous part of the Xtian message. They are just as capable as any other group of ignoring the poor and sick and of hating different ethnic and racial groups. It was this growing realization, along with the fact that my girlfriend was also losing her faith, that made it increasingly difficult for me to believe in God. (When I was finally able to contact and visit Wes many years later in New Hampshire, he no longer believed in an anthropomorphic deity, calling himself a “spiritualist”. He retained his same, kind personality, however. He was a wonderful man.)
Here he discusses the notion of ultimate meaning in an amazingly clear and deceptively deep way.
As a confused would-be photographer, I loved his rant about “matching colors”: