July 22, 2018

Good-bye to 2008

Well 2008, here we are. The dance is almost over and it’s very nearly time for you to go.

We’ve been together for 12 months now, and there’s something I want to say before we go our separate ways. Something special, just for you.

2008…..I know you’re just a way of marking time, and I know there’s nothing all that personal between us. You didn’t know what the year was going to be like. It was as big a surprise to you as it was to me. The writing from day to day wasn’t there when we first met. It unfolded, a day at a time, for you just like it did for me.

But there is something I want to say, and I’m searching for the right words.

OK….here it is. 2008, you were a _____________ year.

(The above blank is to be filled with one of my dad’s favorite words. It’s a “guys” word. It’s actually not really a word. It’s turning an offensive noun into an adjective. But language has a job to do. I can’t actually write out the word, but you can believe me that it’s been that kind of year.)

Oh don’t cry, 2008. We’ve always been able to be honest. I want you to know what it’s been like.

It was my fault. I admit it. When this year started I knew my wife was headed to the Catholic church, and I was out of mind angry about it. As she moved toward actually joining, I got depressed, and I suppose I should say I spent most of this year depressed. I had a dark place in my personality that couldn’t deal with this change in her life. It changed my present and future ministry forever. Everything I believed about us as a couple and a family crumbled into dust. There was no explanation. I couldn’t believe God was letting it happen. I was angry. Bitter. Depressed. In denial. Angry some more. In the dark.

God and I had a good falling out over this one, but one thing I’ve discovered about God: he nods through whatever stupid things I say, smiles while I tell him the way it’s going to be, then keeps on pursuing me in love. He never gives up on me. When I’m ranting, he knows it’s a way of saying I believe but I’m mad that he isn’t on my leash. At the end of all the spit and fit throwing, there is God, hugging me, showing me hope and faith all over again.

He won’t let me throw it away. He’s like that. Even when what he’s doing completely destroys me, he still loves me and acts like it.

Wanna know something funny? I’ve got more faith and stronger, more settled faith now than ever. How did that happen? I don’t know. Somehow, all of this emotional and spiritual tornado has given me the gift of faith and hope in a way I didn’t have it before. I’ve never pictured myself with the faith to believe and be OK beyond what my own plans for the future could support. That’s changed. I may lose my job. I may never be welcome in some churches again. I may lose my health. I may lose the rest of my friends. I don’t want any of this to happen, but if it does, I believe my faith in Jesus is going to persevere, and his plans for our family will be good.

So maybe it wasn’t such a _____________ year after all? Is that what you said, 2008? Hmmmm. Maybe.

In the middle of this year, I received an amazing gift: an 8 week sabbatical grant from the Louisville Institute. It probably saved my life and my faith.

You see, I told some of my friends what I was going through in regard to Denise’s journey. That was a mistake. Someone remind to not do that again.

I soon discovered that a minister having a crisis doesn’t have many supporters and even fewer people who can start to understand what’s he’s going through apart from how it affects them. It’s really unfair to the average person to have to see someone they believe has all the answers sinking into the dark night of the soul. People don’t want to get near crumbling certainties. I don’t know how to ask for help. But God was still there. Seven people- seven- responded to my situation with unquestioned, undemanding, uncomplicated human compassion, making no demands or threats. God bless those seven people who showed me that Jesus is as real as ever.

What? Have I learned that any year in which you learn you have seven friends is a good year? I hadn’t thought of that. I probably should.

My sabbatical wasn’t understood by almost anyone. (It’s still never been mentioned here or in print.) The week before I left was one of the strangest weeks of my life. It was a nightmare of the unexpected and unthinkable. I’m still shaken by some of what happened. (Of course, my sabbatical orientation told me exactly what would happen and why, but I didn’t believe them. Smart guy, I am.) And then, there I was, alone with myself, God and strangers for 8 weeks.

It was just in time. I learned that God was still there….and so was I. My vocation. My faith. Prayer. The Holy Spirit. My marriage and ability to cope and deal. All were there.

Most importantly, I also learned that I could come to grips with Denise’s journey to Catholicism. It would be many more months before I would, but on sabbatical my compass was reset and I began to see that there was light around all of the darkness. The beginnings of a better place and the end of the darkness started on sabbatical.

In fact, I realized that God was doing things for me and for Denise that could not happen any other way except through this pain. It was scary, but it was OK. It is OK.

Now here I am at the end of the year, and I hesitate to proclaim myself “over it,” because that dark place in my personality goes pretty deep. But I believe I have moved on. The anger, bitterness and depression are out of sight in the rear view mirror, and my journey, like Denise’s, is now moving forward. The depression has lifted. My world is different, but I am not raging about the changes. I am seeing some of the new beauty in the landscape and the possibilities.

God has more for me. I can still preach to hundreds of students. I can still teach the Bible to students from all over the world. I am still the campus minister and I still have that vocation. If I lose it all, God is still in control. I have a worldwide audience of hundreds of thousands at IM. I have thousands of friends I’ve never seen. I may be in a painful place in the journey I imagined as a young Baptist preacher, but I am right where I should be on the journey from this world to the Kingdom of God.

So it’s time to say good-bye, 2008. Maybe you were God’s servant and I just couldn’t see it. Maybe I’ll look back on this year and be thankful for it. I don’t know. I’m probably wrong to say you were a __________________ year. You were my year. Like every breath, every day, every moment, you were God’s gift of life to me.

Barring tragedy, I’ll awaken tomorrow, and you’ll be gone. You’ll live in the memory of God and in the memories of all of us. We’ll go on, made different because we walked your path.

I’ve changed my mind, 2008. You were a good year after all. Thanks for being my companion. I’ll see you in eternity.


  1. Bob Dixon says:

    I’ve followed this blog off an on for a number of years and through an ongoing crisis of faith that seems to actually be where I’m supposed to be. i.e. I guess I’m not called to the “comfort zone” of certainty I was expecting. Your ideas have meant a lot to me and have really helped me define what I think Christ was and is trying to tell us. Thanks for being there for me.

    I know you have written kind things about Catholicism in the past, but I was surprised to read the item about your wife’s conversion. As a Mormon married to someone who has gone back from Mormonism to her Episcopal roots I know a little something about faith changes and their impact on a marriage.

    I was wondering if you (or she) have written about her reasons for becoming Catholic. I’d be interested in knowing what inspired her to go that direction. I have a lot of respect for Catholics and their heritage, even if I don’t totally understand the doctrine sometimes.

  2. FRISCOSAN says:

    I am filled with love for each of you. Your are a community as God is the community into which we are all beckoned. Don’t ever stop your search for the missing ingredient in you and your churches. I found it after much effort. I didn’t leave my church but I did shake much dust from my feet. I found what was missing in a very unlikely place. It is in my heart right where God said He put it. I was led to it by, of all people, Jesus himself. The discovery started when I was ready to learn from Him and I “happened” to read the title of the first chapter in a book: “What did Jesus teach?” Huh, I already know what Jesus teaches, I thought. I was wrong. My knowledge of what Jesus teaches was only as deep as the ink on the paper. So much for my great teachers; the clergy of the various churches, the theolgians, the philosophers the modern day Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes who lay heavy burdens on us. These are the only folks that anger Jesus for the harm they do to his sheep with their superficial understanding and preaching. It was St. Thomas of Aquinas himself who said to his amanuensis “Take all these books I have written and burn them for they are worth only but straw”. This happened after Thomas experienced Jesus revelation directly while offering the Eucharist. He never wrote another word of theology. He had received the missing ingredient. So, what did Jesus really teach? So few seem to know. The scriptures have at least ten levels of understanding, according to some medieval scholars. The ink was not deep enough for me. When I mined Jesus teachings, I encountered great treasures of understanding put there for me to find when I became humble enough to ask, seek, knock. I did have to sell all that I had intellectually relied upon but it was only the garbage Paul said it was. It is clear to me that there are some major problems with the translation, interpretation and application of Jesus teaching. The only way to know for sure is to judge by the fruits, as Jesus taught. The fruits of the prevailing churchy scene were not enough for me, or you, I gather. I had to let Him reveal to me understanding of what He taught and then I had live it to see if it worked, which it does. I found it amazingly simple. All great things are simple. Today, I hang out with churchy people in hopes of passing Jesus’ true teaching along. Though the churchy ones clearly love me, they always joke of burning me at the stake for my outrageous, but refreshing, insights into the scriptures and the current secular/religious scene. It must be good because even the churchiest people eventually see at least some of the light I must try to bring. It is said we are all created with a tiny crack in our skulls, that His light might someday penetrate. I am glad that I can readily admit I am the greatest of sinners and totally unable to make myself or anyone else sinless. It keeps me humble enough to remember that God created me worthy and that I cannot improve on His work. What I can do is unlearn what I learned from the ignorant and gullible people who taught me the great untruths they believed in about their and my unworthiness. Today I am a spiritual being first, then a Christian, then a church member.
    Happiest New Year to you all!