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From a Non-Believer

Greetings All,
       This week's thought comes from a book written by Kevin Roose, an unbeliever who ventured south from Brown University to attend for one semester what he calls, "America's holiest university" -- Liberty University -- the school started by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia.  It is written in diary form, and is an interesting, honest, forthright look into life on that campus from the viewpoint of a young 19 year old man who (by the end of the book) is still not a believer, but can write in his conclusion:   

       "I could never thank enough, no matter how much space I devote to the attempt... the students, faculty and administrators of Liberty University.  When I arrived on campus in January of 2007, I never thought that the world's largest evangelical university would feel like home, or even a home away from home.  But by experiencing your warmth, your vigorous generosity of spirit, and your deep complexity, I was ultimately convinced -- not that you were right, but that I was wrong [about you]."  

       Though honestly pointing out things he disagrees with, he really does seem to be as 'objective' in his critique as a non-believer can be regarding a faith he does not hold to.  In his journalistic investigation of Liberty he genuinely appears to have no particular axe to grind.  
        I send out these two selections from the book because of what he as a skeptic learned by praying and dating in an environment where prayer is encouraged, and displays of physical affection are not permitted. I trust you might find his experiences interesting as well. The title of the book, should you desire to read more, is:  "The Unlikely Disciple -- A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University." Enjoy.
       "I had a conversation with Pastor Seth... I told him I had a bunch of questions about the practice. Like, how does it work? Do prayers actually change God's mind? If so, then why do so many prayers go unanswered? Why does Liberty's football team lose games? Why is the dining-hall food still terrible?  And if prayer doesn't change God's mind, why do we pray at all?

       Pastor Seth smiled. 'First,' he said, 'I want you to think about it this way: God is our father, and we are his children. How would you feel if your children didn't talk to you? A relationship with God isn't a one way street... His second point was even better. 'Prayer may not always be entirely about God,' he said.  Here Pastor Seth quoted the famous Christian author Oswald Chambers, who wrote: 'It is not so true that prayer changes things, as that prayer changes me and I change things.'  'When you pray for other people,' he said, 'your own heart will be transformed...You'll find yourself living for others, making decisions with others in mind, putting the concerns of others ahead of your own.  It's a way to connect to other believers in the way God wants you to connect.'  
       Pastor Seth's pep talk helped me get over my hesitations about prayer... and I committed myself to praying for a half hour a day...
I pray the Lord's Prayer when I wake up.  I pray the ACTS method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) in the shower. At lunch I go through the daily list of prayer requests my professor sends out on behalf of the students in our class.... And by the time I've spent my day like this, dredging up every person in my life who could possibly be undergoing any amount of hardship or strife and praying for their needs, a few things happen.  First, all my problems snap into perspective.  Compared to a girl whose stepfather was in a mine accident or an old lady having her hip replaced, nothing in my life seems all that pressing... I'm focusing more and more on people with real hardships... Eventually I do go back to worrying about my tiny problems -- I can't help it -- but for those thrity minutes, I'm at least going through the motions of compassion. 
      Second, the compassion I dig up during those thirty minutes sometimes carries over to the rest of my day.  This past weekend, for example, I was praying for Mike, a guy in my cappella group at Brown. Mike was having a terrible week... and after praying for him, I felt myself wanting to write him a letter. I never write letters, but on a whim, I sat up in bed, tore a page out of my Theology notebook and began to scribble... Mike wrote back. His message began: 'I got your letter the other day, and it brought tears to my eyes.' He continued to say how unexpected it had been and how much it had lifted his spirits.  
      For the next two or three hours, I walked around campus glowing, doing all the small acts of kindness I typically overlook.  I held open doors.  I said, 'Thank you ma'am' to the lunch lady, whom I typically greet with a nonchalant grunt. I felt a metaphysical connection with everyone -- and everything -- around me. I'm still not totally settled on prayer. Part of me still thinks it's a waste of time, and another part of me wonders whether I could be increasing my levels of compassion some other way (ie: reading news stories about families in third world countries). It's probably a bad sign if the only way I can tone down my narcissism is by forcing myself to believe that God is monitoring my thoughts.  But for now, it doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, so I guess I'll keep it up.  When I think of the benefits I'm reaping, a little cognitive dissonance seems like a small price to pay."
     "Luke, the smooth-talking lothario of Dorm 22, decided that I needed to meet some girls... so he set me up with his friend Aimee...
      Tonight isn't the first date I've been on at Liberty. There was Anna, of course, but after things ended with her, I spent some time with Bethany... a short, tomboyish girl with a pair of deep dimples. She was just as poor a match for me on paper as Aimee. She's a pastor's daughter, she's demure and shy, and like Aimee, she seems to mention God in every other sentence.  Neither Aimee nor Bethany appeal to me in the same way Anna did. They're both engaging and adorable, but they're too pious... Anna I can handle -- she's a bit milder in her beliefs -- but I'm not sure I could ever date a girl who firmly believed my entire family was bound for hell.

    That said, there are some things about Liberty's dating scene that I sort of enjoy.  At first, I thought the rules against physical contact would ruin the dating experience.  But strangely, I'm not feeling frustrated on these dates.  In fact, having preordained physical boundaries takes a huge amount of pressure and anxiety out of the process.  Think about it: at the end of tonight's date with Aimee, I won't have to worry about how to secure a good-night kiss or an invite to her room. My friend Luke might be able to seduce innocent Liberty girls, but for me it's just not happening. No chance. And that's a very freeing feeling. When dinner dates aren't just preludes to hooking up, you end up truly listening to each other.  The conversation is the centerpiece, and what emerges is deeper and more intimate than if you had been spending your time trying to Don Juan your way into her bed.

      [After thinking of how it used to be and talking with an old friend about dating in the secular world] it was hard not to feel like I have the better deal here at Liberty. Sure, its frustrating not being able to relieve sexual tension, but with that off the table, I'm free to be totally transparent. The whole interaction feels more honest, more straightforward.  In the words of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, 'our entire motivation in relationships is transformed.'  I've said things to Aimee tonight that I would never say to girls back in the secular world for fear of alienating them. Strange things to say to a girl who looks really beautiful -- like, 'You look really beautiful.'  Tonight Aimee and I stay at our antique-decorated restaurant for almost three hours.  The waiters eventually stop coming back to refill our water glasses, and we sit there in our booth, talking, laughing, and generally having a wonderful time. At the end of the date, when I drop her off at her dorm, I have a fleeting thought about what it would be like to venture back out into my old world, the melange of frat-party hook-ups and free-flowing sexuality, and say to a girl: 'Listen, I just want to get to know you. No physical stuff.' 

      I'm guessing she'd laugh. Or assume I was doing method acting for a revamp of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. But after tonight's success, I decide I'm gong to try it, just a few times, just to see how it feels."   
      Sometimes Christians can be made to feel they're the restricted ones instead of the liberated ones. That rules and moral guidelines inhibit rather than enhance. Interestingly, it sometimes takes the words of one who isn't a Christian, looking at it all from an entirlely different perspective, and comparing it to his past secular experiences, to assure us there is a grace in conservative Christian morality that will obviously never be found in unbridled secular hedonism.  Just a little food for thought from an unlikely disciple(?) who came to see value in things that Christians themselves sometimes don't.
            In the Service of the Kingdom,  Pastor Jeff