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Surprised by Joy

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December 14, 2009 Tags: Lives of Faith, Worship & Arts

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

Surprised by Joy

One of the many advantages of being a professor is that you get to spend your life with people whose age never changes—they are always eighteen through twenty-two. What that means is that you tend to forget that although they are not getting older, you are. However, it so happens that three children call me Grandpa, so I guess that means that more years have gone by than I like to think. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting near a mirror, and if there was ever any doubt about how many years have come and gone, all I have to do is to take a little glance at the sagging skin and graying hair that characterize the person looking back at me. Time has been moving on, and it has taken me with it.

Last Sunday morning, my wife Joyce and I watched all three of our grandchildren perform on stage in the annual Christmas musical production at their church. It happens that this was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life; tears flowed freely down my cheeks as I watched. I need to explain why. It was not because they were the stars of the program. They weren’t. None of them sang a solo or even had any lines in the script. What I found fulfilling, what I really loved, was the smile on Caleb’s face as he sang the songs and swayed with the music. Noah, our eight-year-old, was wearing a lamb outfit that kept falling over his face. I liked how he tried to remain so cool and composed under less-than-ideal circumstances. And I was amused at seeing Sara shyly lift her hand ever so slightly in acknowledging the attention-getting waves of two older people in the second row—her grandmother and me. My grandchildren are growing up in a Christian community and they are coming to experience the love of God firsthand through their many Christian friends and through their church. Still, why did such an everyday experience move me so deeply?

Forty years ago I began my career as a biologist. During my studies it had become very clear that my professors were right—evolution and natural selection were the correct mechanism by which the diverse animal and plant forms had arisen. Partly because of that, I wandered away from the faith of my youth for awhile and never expected I would return. In a recent video interview just posted on The Faraday Institute web site, I describe my return. I came back to faith thoroughly convinced of the reality of evolution, but determined to enter into a personal relationship with God of the sort that had so richly characterized my life as I was growing up. So I got back on the road which leads to God—I began once more the life of faith. I never expected though that I could be a part of an evangelical community again; the differences between the facts of biology and the views of evangelical Christians seemed too great. So I did my best to live the life of an evangelical Christian without being in an evangelical fellowship. I had a deep and meaningful personal relationship with God, but corporate evangelicalism, I was certain, would have to be a thing of the past. During this time, Joyce and I were watching our toddlers grow into little girls. I knew that it might be possible for me to retain the evangelical views of my youth in the absence of a rich church life, but I was not at all convinced that our daughters would—not at least, unless we joined an evangelical church community. I could see no way that that would happen.

There is no memory that epitomizes my emotions regarding all of this more succinctly than that of a Sunday afternoon at our favorite beach in San Clemente, California. Shelley and Cheryl were two and four at the time. As we drove into the parking lot, we saw an orange Sunday School bus. The black lettering on the side indicated it had brought a load of children from a church of the same denomination in which Joyce and I had grown up. Seeing that bus and knowing that there was a church picnic going on brought back all the memories of the outings and fellowships that I had so dearly loved. With those memories of my childhood running through my mind, there, on the beach in front of me, were my own children playing in the sand. I looked at them and thought to myself, “How sad. You are never going to experience any of this. Your father knows that evolution is true and there is no room for someone like him in evangelicalism. I can’t take you to a church like that.” My heart ached. I wished for them what I had known.

Soon after that, we moved to Syracuse, New York, where I began my life as a university professor. We were deeply concerned that our girls were not growing up in a church, but the dilemma was still there: science and the world of academics didn’t seem to have a place in evangelicalism. After we had been in Syracuse for about 8 months, one Sunday morning we packed up our girls in our Pinto station wagon and traveled across town to an evangelical church that we hoped might work for us. We parked our car on a hillside until the service ended and watched people leaving the church so that we could get a feeling for whether we might possibly fit into this community. As I reflect back on this now, I can still hear our two little girls playing in the back of the station wagon as Joyce and I sat and watched from a distance as the congregation was dismissed. “Were these the kind of evangelicals with whom we might fit in?” we asked. “Could we bring up our girls in this church?” It seemed to take the people forever to leave the church that April Sunday morning, and we knew that if ever we felt we could go back, this would be a friendly church. We longed to go back. We longed for our girls to grow up in the environment we had known. As the week progressed, though, we decided we couldn’t go back. Evangelicalism was in our past. There was no room for us in evangelicalism. Our girls would have to make do in life. We could not cross the bridge from the world of academics back into the world of evangelical Christianity.

Six months later, we became very concerned again. The girls were six and four now. We were three thousand miles from our homes in western Canada, we missed our families, we missed our church families and we examined the question one more time. We were both pretty sure it would be the last time. If this didn’t work, church was out of our lives for good. So I got into my forest green Pinto station wagon again and visited that same church we had almost attended six months earlier. That trip, taken on that October Sunday morning so long ago, was the single most defining moment of our lives. We had found a home. Our two little girls became fully engaged in all the activities that so typify evangelical churches. All the things I wished for them on the San Clemente beach, and all that I had hoped for on that hillside in an old station wagon came true after all. Truly, we as a family were surprised by joy. Evolution aside, we had found a home in evangelical Christianity.

So here we are 32 years later, and I’m sitting in a Christmas program watching Caleb, Noah, and Sara sing about Jesus with joy in their faces and peace in their hearts. They are experiencing the fullness of what it means to live life in a Christian community which emphasizes salvation through Christ and entering a lifelong personal relationship with God. It almost didn’t happen. If it hadn’t been for the fact that 32 years ago, I found an evangelical church where views about the facts of biology would not be scoffed at, our lives would have turned out so differently. I would not have spent the last 26 years as a professor at two Christian universities, and Joyce would not have spent those same years as an administrator in the same universities. Cheryl and Shelley would not be the marvelous deeply committed Christian first grade teachers they have turned out to be and I am so pleased that both are married to wonderfully supportive Christian husbands. Finally, I think about Caleb with that big smile, Noah, so coolly maintaining his composure in the face of adversity, and Sara lifting her hand ever so slightly to acknowledge her proud grandparents. It is Christmas, a time for giving gifts. I received mine last Sunday morning; I need nothing more.


Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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BeagleLady - #924

December 14th 2009

That was a very moving account.  So glad you found a good church home. 

Jesus takes away our sins, not our brains


Dr B - #926

December 14th 2009

Darrell,

Thank you for your open and profoundly moving account of your journey back to the church.  We evangelicals still have a long, long way to go in reconciling science and faith.  I believe that the discussions highlighted by Biologos will play a crucial role in that inevitable rapproachment.  It is the personal stories like yours, however, that will compel honest believers to come to grips with the truth that faith and acceptance of scientific explanations of origins must somehow be compatible.  I for one am grateful for your example.


RJS - #927

December 15th 2009

Darrel,

There was a good stretch in grad school when I didn’t think that any kind of reconciliation was possible.  We had “outgrown” faith. If you had told me then I would be here 25 or so years later writing on these kinds of issues and interacting with them I would have laughed.  But, like you, came to the conclusion after several years that the solution wasn’t jettison God.

It has been a long haul to put together a coherent view and approach though.  We need these conversations and our kids need these conversations.


Jordan - #930

December 15th 2009

I recently received my PhD in physical sciences and have been a evangelical young-earther for most of my life, primarily because I didn’t know what else to do. I grew up in the Ken Ham world where you’re either a “real” Christian and anti-evolution/young earth or you think the Bible is a fictitious fairy tale that leads one down the road to secularism and atheism. I’ve had genetics and general biology classes but just avoided the whole evolution thing wherever possible.

But getting my PhD has changed some things for me. For one, I feel and added burden that what I say about science at church or Bible study or about Christianity amongst my colleagues has a bit more significance now that I’m no longer just a student. I want to be faithful both to reason and revelation, science and the Bible. I’ve been watching this blog and http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/ with much interest to see how this conversation progresses. I’m now convinced it’s *possible* to be an evangelical Christian and a theistic evolutionist/evolutionary creationist.

The remaining question for me, one that I’m not seeing addressed quite as much, is the how? How does BioLogos specifically interpret the Bible differently? Ironically, I find Genesis 1 to be the easy one. It’s things like the Fall, the identity of Adam/Eve (historical or?) and 900+ year lifespans that are more confusing to me. Those questions are more on the theological side of things, but there are also more scientifically relevant questions. How is BioLogos different in its interpretation of the physical world than Intelligent Design? Does the physical world show manifestations of the Creator (sort of like thinking He left some fingerprints behind) or is the work of Creation purely in setting things going in the first place? Where’s the line between “god of the gaps” and no god at all?

I don’t expect one person or even one organization to be the source of all these answers, but it would be nice to have a more centralized forum for sharing thoughts and research as well as support one another. Are there any plans for BioLogos forums or mailing lists? Are there any other good resources for evangelical Christian scientists who seeks to be faithful to reason and revelation?


Peter Enns - #931

December 15th 2009

Jordan,

You are asking extremely important hermeneutical questions, and these and other similar questions are precisely the kinds of things BioLogos is going to be addressing. In some of my posts I am trying to lay some ground work within which these kinds of conversations can take place. But, yes, you are right: given that theistic evolution is true (the BioLogos position), what do we now do with our Bible? The questions you pose have been in the process of being addressed for a long time: in some cases generations, and in others centuries—even millennia. We are working toward synthesizing some of the issues. One book I wrote and another by John Walton are in the books tab of the website and they may be helpful to you.


Mere_Christian - #940

December 16th 2009

Yours is a beautiful retelling Darrell.

But, is it not troubling when the PhD is touted as bringing a higher level of worth to a Christian? I could be wrong but that is what it seems in your Op/ed. (And look at Jordam’s reply) Jesus did not seek his diciples among the educated elite. (With the exception of Luke and Paul.) It appears from the reports writen about in the Gospels, that these are the people we need to be most cautious about. Now certainly, I value my edcuation, but it didn’t take me long living back on the real world, to see how shallow the knowledged gained was of so many “graduates” in their obtaining their higher paying job qualification certificate

I see on the faces of the parents in my large Church that don’t have a degree higher than a high school diploma, the same joy as yours Darrell. Um, excuse me. Dr. Falk. What about their *opinions on reality?

When all is said and done in the war between evolutionarians and their targets of conversion, when the theory of evolution is no longer bantered about, it will show the utter unimportance of evoluiton on the faces of future children singing in futrure Church programs.

Hopelfully Darrell, you will be able to find peace in that.

But in seeing how many truly nasty and evil individuals and groups use evolution (in of course academia) to advance an aganda of horror (social liberalism) on these same children once they enter the secular jungle (a corrupt culture) , hopefully Darrell, you will contend for the faith (Evangel) delivered only once to you and your fellow saints.

*In other words, it always feels like you B-L guys have a liberal theology shoe to drop.


Darrel Falk - #942

December 16th 2009

Jordan,
Thank you for your questions and comments.  Pete got things started with regard to theological questions and some suggested reading.  Since you asked about the Fall and Adam/Eve, I would recommend a book, available on Amazon by the late Baptist theologian, Bernard Ramm.  It is called “Offense to Reason: A Theology of Sin.”  I came across this book through the recommendation of a friend of mine who is also a first rate theologian.


Darrel Falk - #943

December 16th 2009

Jordan
I want to address your questions about the difference between the thinking of those in the Intelligent Design movement and the views of people such as myself.  Leaders in the ID movement believe that they can use scientific tools to detect flaws in a Darwinian view of the history of life.  They have given many examples of what they consider to be incorrect interpretations of mainstream biology.  They believe their examples demonstrate that there is an intelligence behind the universe.  I believe there is an intelligence behind the universe, but I do not believe that scientific evidence so far has demonstrated this.  Furthermore, I am strongly suspicious that because of the very nature of who God is it may never be possible to detect in a scientifically rigorous fashion, the “fingerprint of God.”  We see hints of it all over the place, but are those hints the same as scientific data? I think not.
So, what about that other great question you have posed? Where is the line between God-of-the-gaps and no God at all?  How about a God, Jordan, who is above all, and in all, and through all (Colossians 1)? Why do we (speaking of myself here, since I have been in the same situation) think that God is only working sporadically?  In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is said to be “hovering over the waters.”  I do not mean to imply that I believe there have been no special episodes—no “crossing of the Red Sea moments” –in the history of life.  I’m just not optimistic we have the tools to go back and detect them in a scientifically rigorous fashion.

Darrel


Kathryn - #944

December 16th 2009

Mere Christian,

I don’t think anybody here believes that a PhD makes someone a more worthy Christian.  We aren’t saved by our works, after all, but we do have different functions in the body of Christ.  You are right that God delights in using the foolish things of the world (like uneducated disciples) to shame the wise, but nowhere is anti-intellectualism encouraged in the Bible.  Jesus said, “Be wise as snakes and innocent as doves,” and that we must love God with all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength (Mark 12:29-31).  God intends us to use our minds!  Christian academics have a very important role in the kingdom.

Also, when someone has authority (like when they have a PhD), people rightly give weight to what they say.  If I had a host of strange bodily symptoms, I would believe my doctor’s expert opinion over my Sunday School teacher’s, because she has authority in the area of medicine.  Similarly, in scientific matters, I respect the positions of people I trust who are well trained in the sciences.  They aren’t always right, but they are certainly not wrong just because they are educated!  Like Darrel and Jordan, as a scientist I believe it’s responsible and wise to make sure what I say is true and not deceptive.  People listen.  But obviously we don’t have all the answers yet, which is why BioLogos exists.  Get all the experts in a room - the pastors, scientists, and theologians - and amazing things can happen.

As a final note, I’ll be the first to say that Christian academics DO need to be aware than knowledge too often puffs us up.  It seems abundantly clear from Darrel’s post that he understands that and is making every effort to reach out with love to people who think differently.  Please try to ascribe decent motives to those of us who are sincerely interested in the hard intellectual work required to make honest, clear sense of God’s work in the world.


pds - #945

December 16th 2009

Darrel,

I presumed some kind of theistic evolution all my life and I have never had a problem attending evangelical churches and even evangelical higher education.  I now hold to a mild form of theistic evolution, but I think that there is evidence of design in cosmological fine tuning and biology.  I also think the evidence for Darwinian evolution is quite weak in some areas. 

I wonder if you should be referring to “fundamentalist churches” not evangelical.  Your fears in attending “evangelical” churches does not match with my experiences.


pds - #946

December 16th 2009

Jordan,

Darrel said,

Leaders in the ID movement believe that they can use scientific tools to detect flaws in a Darwinian view of the history of life.

ID proponents actually believe that there is positive evidence of design in nature, and they also see weaknesses in the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution.  I think both are fascinating and fruitful areas of inquiry. 

Jordan, I encourage you to read widely and make a decision for yourself.  The blog Telic Thoughts is a good place for open minded discussion on ID.

http://telicthoughts.com/

I have found that many theistic evolutionists commenting here have ridiculed ID and me personally without understanding it.


RJS - #947

December 16th 2009

Jordan,

I also have a Ph.D. in the physical sciences - and I am a professor in a secular University.

The questions you ask are all good ones - some with relatively easy answers and others for which there may be no clear answers yet. I think that we really start from a position of faith - faith in God and in his story and go from there. And you are right - Genesis 1 is the easy one, Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5-8 are much harder to deal with.

I won’t presume to speak for Pete or Darrel or Biologos but for myself.

So I’ve found that it is helpful to look at the essence of the faith and develop an ability to separate the essential from the peripheral.  Keith Drury has an essay available on the web that uses an illustration of things written in pencil, things written in ink, and things written in blood.  The things written in blood are the essentials - for these we are willing to die. The things written in ink we believe to be true but other brothers and sisters in Christ may disagree and we cannot be certain this side of eternity. Many things however, are written in pencil - and these we should be willing to give up.

Faith in the redeeming work of God through Jesus is essential. Historicity of Adam and Eve is not - it could be true, but need not be true. Human rebellion and need for the redeeming work of God is an essential, the historical details of the fall are not essential and are open for discussion. The inerrancy of scripture is not an essential, the truthfulness of the story is essential. These are not the same thing - despite common evangelical assertion.  The value of scripture is not as an apologetic for the faith, a proof of God - rather scripture is a gift from God through which he communicates in many forms the story of his interaction with his creation. The Bible is not the rock on which we stand - God is the rock, the Bible illuminates the rock.

There is much more that could be said - but this comment is long enough. This is an important conversation though.


Jordan - #948

December 16th 2009

@Peter Enns:
Thanks for the reply. I was encouraged to see that BioLogos had added a theologian to the group but I still wonder if there needs to be broader discussion. Your Incarnational model is interesting and thought provoking but certainly not the only way to look at Scripture given an assumption of biological evolution. Does BioLogos plan to develop a particular “system” of synthesis that people can just say “yep, I agree” or create a “big tent” for those who want to explore the idea of integrating science and Christianity as opposed to seeing them as mortal enemies?

@Mere_Christian:
I think Kathryn has a lot of good points. I think it’s probably a good idea to separate out “worth” from ideas like authority, expertise, or influence. First and foremost, in my opinion at least, our worth as Christians is found solely in Christ and certainly not in our education. Sure, there will always be the temptation to place our worth in education, just as one might be tempted to place their worth in the number of friends they have, how much money they make, or even innocent things like how well they sing or their ability to comfort those who are hurting. The constant and nagging ability of humans to improperly place worth is not limited nor particular to those with a “Dr.” in front of their name.

I’ve read quite a few of your comments in the past and I’d encourage you to at least try to take some of the “personalness” out of your critiques. I share a lot of your same concerns regarding BioLogos but I also cringe a bit when I read what look objectively more like personal attacks. Surely we can discuss the merits of BioLogos and even provide (hopefully) constructive criticism. As a general thought, I personally feel that God enjoys us searching through His Truth but I think He wants us to do so as an edification of the body of Christ and not as an opportunity to torpedo those who disagree with us.

@Darrel Falk
Thanks for the reading suggestions and the responses. I would really love to see more and maybe more importantly, more rigorous treatment of this separation with ID. So is BioLogos essentially agnostic when it comes to “evidence for the supernatural”? How does BioLogos then approach apologetics? If there is no “evidence” in the scientific sense that God exists what is the basis of belief (I’m not saying that critically, just asking)? If the Bible is essentially recycled myth that God uses for His purposes, how are we to know that it’s his “Word”? I understand your point of God “who is above all, and in all, and through all ” but the question still remains, if you can’t tell the difference between a God who is “in all and through all” and one who just doesn’t exist, how can I know He’s there? Is faith belief even when the evidence is unclear or even sometimes contradictory, or is it belief when there is no evidence at all? I look forward to BioLogo tackling these types of questions.

@pds
I’ve been a Christian most of my life and have never been to a church that would allow a theistic evolutionist to “officially” teach. I’m not sure if that makes me a fundamentalist or not but I think there are great swaths of the US at least where evolution is a line you just don’t cross if you want to teach in a church.


Jordan - #951

December 16th 2009

@RJS:

Thanks for encouraging words, some times I wonder if I’m the only one with these questions, so much of the focus seems to be a battle over Genesis 1.

A pastor at a church I really loved uses a similar analogy (I think he picked it up in seminary) of three concentric circles. The middle, core circle he called “Biblical Essentials”. The criteria for putting statement in this central circle was that they must answer the question “What must I believe to be saved?” and the must have an associated Bible passage to back it up. The second circle was called “Biblical Non-essentials”. In this category are things that the Bible talks about, but are not in that central, core circle. Lastly, the outermost circle was “Traditions” which were things that the Bible never mentions but which we still have beliefs and opinions about.

It is very helpful to step back in the mist of a heated argument or passionate debate and “place” your statement/belief in the proper circle/category. It doesn’t mean I stop trying to persuade or give up on pursing truth, but it helps to realize what things are really worth fighting over, what things I need to really be open minded about, and what things we can simply agree to disagree on and still call one another “brother”.


Peter Enns - #955

December 17th 2009

Jordan,

Short answer to your point above is “big tent.” A incarnational model is not the only model of Scripture, to be sure. If you are interested, I made some further comments on an incarnational model on my website. http://peterennsonline.com/2009/09/13/fleshing-out-an-incarnational-model-of-the-bible/


Mere_Christian - #960

December 17th 2009

I would present RJS as the prime example of an academic to be wary of. In fact, to be contended against.

Adam and Eve is a metaphor?.This is my issue with the supposed learned among us. If Adam and Eve are myth and metaphor, then so are the apostles. So is Jesus. So is Jerusalem, Israel, Rome, the Sanhedrin, the trial of Jesus, the crucifixion, etc., etc., etc., and of course, dead people cannot raise themselves from that condition, so we must discard the Jesus story as a cartoon character that isn’t very entertaining.

It is that profound.

How can one even be a Christian as described in the canon if cafeteria behavior is to be orthodoxy? I know they (a human) can say they are anything they want to, but evidence is a process of uncovering reality.

Judas was this kind of believer. The kind that didn’t believe the Jesus story from start to finish. Which is to say from everlasting to everlasting.

If Jesus is just an opinion that can fit any criteria, or emotionalism or educational movement, then the Bible is as worthless as a pop novel that is here today and maybe remebered tomorrow.

It doesn’t look like the writers of the works we have compiled in the joining of the Tanakh and the New Testament, set forth a story one can pick and choose from. In fact, eternity is at stake in denying this. Hell is no metaphor to the metaphoric Jesus of the mythical Nazareth.

If a person calls themself a Christian, but gets insulted when challenged by the only guidelines that show who is and who isn’t a Christian, and how they are to be categorized as a Christian, then the red flag of caution should be hoisted high. The metaphor known as “test all things.”

Look at it this way, my style here at this blog can, sometimes,  be called “un” Christian. How? “I,” believe that they admonition to be gentle as doves is not only metaphor, but idiocy that was never a Christian idea. I want to insert into opinion that the disciples were really all Roman Centurians that cut down anyone that didn’t fall at the feet of Jesus.

How do you challenge my view there?

You only get one attempt.


RJS - #961

December 17th 2009

Mere_Christian,

The first error here of course is to equate the historical events of the first century including the life,a death, and resurrection of Jesus with the literal interpretation of the primeval history of Genesis including Adam and Eve. These are different forms of literature incorporated in scripture from different eras and cultures, but all from God.

Mark Roberts has a nice book - Are the Gospels Reliable - that points much of this out. NT Wright’s books on Jesus do as well. Neither of these deal with Adam and Eve, but with Jesus and the Gospels.

Perfect example of my point. We don’t pick and choose - but we also must take scripture on its own terms. To do otherwise is a human flaw, not a flaw with Christianity.

Life, death and resurrection of Jesus is one of the essentials. Without this we have no Christian faith and no work of God. ... Here I stand. I can do no other.


beaglelady - #962

December 17th 2009

ID proponents actually believe that there is positive evidence of design in nature, and they also see weaknesses in the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution.  I think both are fascinating and fruitful areas of inquiry.

pds,

What positive evidence is there for ID?  What specifically ID-related research is going on?  Or what specifically ID-related research funding is being requested? 

What does ID research look like anyway? Is there a way to seal off the designer from experiments, as a control?

-Karen


Mere_Christian - #968

December 17th 2009

RJS,

Without Adam and Seth, there is no validity to anything in the Gospels. The myth and/or metaphor of Adam theology, makes lunacy (or worse) out of the works of the Apostles.

Moses was a myth as well? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob?

Once you start slicing and dicing the Bible into you’ve invented a wierd religion for sure. And we certainly have many examples of that.


Peter Enns - #972

December 17th 2009

Mere_Christian,

Are you aware that many people have thought through this issue and come up with different points of view that, in the judgment of many, neither eviscerate the Gospel nor the scientific and ANE evidence? I truly understand that that might be a hard pill for you to swallow, but, think about that. If however you remain convicted that your point of view on these matters is unassailable and fully lined up with the mind of God, I wonder what possesses you to continue posting the same thoughts repeatedly. Is it to save us from our pride or arrogance? If so, I wonder if there is a more persuasive way for you to attempt to influence professional scientists such a RJS and others rather than making these types of declarations.

Rather than simply reasserting your views (which by now are well-veted) I would like to see whether you can put yourself in the position of RJS or myself, and try to understand why we would arrive at some of our conclusions. We both understand your point of view: we used to be where you are, but are no longer. The question is “why.” Are you willing to enter into our universe of discourse and become a conversation partner? Otherwise, I’m not sure I have much choice but to refrain from engaging you on the level of assertion.


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