This is Part 5 in a multi-part blog post. If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Act One, Scene One
Well, after having had my initial experience at Max’s dad’s church, New Promise Full Gospel Church, I was skeptical, but I was also intrigued. I worked things out with my manager so that I could keep the same work schedule until Max left. This allowed me to keep going on Sunday nights. I was still not consciously buying into any of it, but I very much enjoyed becoming a part of the group on another level.
Around this time, another character would step onto the stage. His name was Mark. He was the nephew of the assistance manager at the gas station where I worked, and he also had ties to Max’s family, having been friends with them during his childhood. He had recently moved back to Ohio from the Nashville area, and he began working at the station.
Despite having moved away and having gone through his own “rebellious phase,” Mark was very much familiar with the beliefs and practices of New Promise. Max had stopped working at the station altogether; so, Mark became the target for all of my questions, and I had a lot.
Looking back, I realize that my questions are pretty typical of the ones that people have when they begin to question their faith either on their way in or their way out of believing. Questions like, “What about dinosaurs?”; “How can God allow such pain and evil in the world?”; “How do you know that Christianity is right and all other religions are wrong?”. For every question, I asked, Mark would respond with scripture. I would push back asking him, “How do know that the Bible is really the word of God?” Each time we would reach that point in the conversation, Mark would close his Bible and tell me that if we couldn’t accept the Bible as the basis of truth, then there was no point in continuing the conversation. With that, he would walk away to the back room to stock the coolers or something. If I tried to bring up anything later in the night, he would remind me that we were done talking because I couldn’t accept the Bible as truth. Eventually, I relented, and agreed that we could use the Bible as the basis for our discussions. That was it. I had begun to buy in.
Over the next week or so, I would spend my evenings asking Mark question after question. I wouldn’t always agree with his answers immediately, but I never questioned the Bible as truth after that. I was frustrated by his ability to just shut down the conversation when I wanted to press on. I didn’t want that to happen again. Little by little, things were beginning to make sense to me. All my life I would have labeled myself a Christian. I knew that Jesus was born on Christmas and died on Easter, but I had never cared enough to wonder why he died or what the significance of that event was. That may sound silly to some, but I really was that indifferent to all of it. Now, I was soaking it up. I wanted to know and understand more. I liked this feeling of knowing rather than just guessing or hoping.
A few more pieces would need to fall into place before I was willing to go all in. First, I was intrigued, and I wanted to learn more. I approached the manager of the station and told her that I wanted to be able to go to both services every Sunday or at least Sunday mornings. I figured that way I could see everyone in the morning for that service and still hang out with them on Sunday nights after the evening service. Another thing that would happen is that, in July of that year, one of the girls who worked at the gas station told me that she and her family would be going to Atlanta for the Summer Olympics. She asked me if I would want to housesit. I asked her if it was okay if Max did it with me. She said that was fine. She told me that we could have people over but no real parties and that we could have whatever we wanted from the families bar. This would turn out to be a bad idea.
© Joshua Culbertson 2014
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