Back in the early part of 2000 AD, I picked up a copy of “Christian Research Journal V22 N03” at a newsstand. It had several very interesting articles in it. Being the vocal dissident that I am, I decided to write a letter to the journal, commenting on the most intriguing of the articles. I received responses from several of the authors, but one stood out: Rachel D. Ramer. She had penned an article entitled “Examining Translations with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Upon receiving her response, I countered with another response. She did likewise, then me again. Ultimately, we became penpals (probably more accurately called keyboard pals since we were corresponding via Email). Over the course of about a year we exchanged many, many Emails. Our conversations were sometimes frustrating, but mostly intellectually stimulating.
In the course of our Email discussions, I mentioned a book written by nineteen-year-evangelist-turned-atheist Dan Barker entitled “Losing Faith in Faith.” Rachel mentioned a book by four-year-preacher-still-preacher Brian McLaren entitled “Finding Faith.” The opposing titles were too much for us to resist. Rachel sent me a copy of the latter for a Christmas present. I countered by sending her a copy of the former. It was interesting contrasting the two books.
After having read these two books, I exchanged a few Emails with both Dan Barker and Brian McLaren. Then I found out that the Atheist Alliance Convention of 2001 was being held in Atlanta. Lo and behold, Dan Barker was going to be present and debating Rubel Shelly, then Senior Minister of Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, TN. I contacted Dan via Email and we arranged to have a private meeting while at the conference. I planned to discuss the similarities of our deconversions, give him a copy of my recently released book “Beginnings to Endings,” and to get Dan’s autograph in my copy of “Losing Faith in Faith.”
Then another interesting development occurred. My employer was going to send me to some training in the DC area that summer. My wife and son were going with me. We planned to spend a few extra days while there sightseeing. This presented us with two opportunities. One was to see some of my family I had not seen in years. The other was to attend Cedar Ridge Community Church. Brian McLaren was the founding pastor of that church. I sent an Email to Brian and we arranged to take him to lunch after services. As with Dan, I was planning to give him a copy of my book and have my copy of “Finding Faith” autographed.
Happily, everything went as planned. I traveled to Atlanta to attend the Atheist Alliance Convention in April 2001. There were some very interesting papers presented, but the highlight was the debate between Dan Barker and Rubel Shelly. The questions I submitted to each of them via index cards were both asked during the Q & A session. I met with Dan the next morning and had an interesting conversation. As you may know, Dan Barker and his wife are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. This organization has become quite controversial in the Christian community. I hear it criticized quite often on Christian radio.
In July 2001, my family and I traveled to the DC area. I had a great class, a wonderful time touring DC, a nice visit with my relatives, and an interesting time with Brian McLaren. He preached that Sunday morning on the Apostle’s Creed. After services, he rode with us to a Mexican restaurant where we bought his lunch. Unfortunately, his wife and kids were all busy with other activities that weekend and were out of town. However, we had a very good conversation with Brian at lunch. As you know, Brian has written a lot of books, some rather controversial amongst Christians.
To top off all these meetings, I eventually got to meet Rachel, my penpal, in person, also.
So, in the space of a year, I made a new friend and penpal due to my having written some comments about an article she wrote, exchanged books by an atheist and a Christian, then got to personally meet the authors of each of those books, and eventually meet in person with my penpal. It was indeed an interesting year.