After taking a seat on one of Portlands Blue Line express commuter trains, I
opened my satchel and pulled out my devotional Bible and a blue pen. My book
marker opened to 2 Chronicles 7, which talks about how Solomons Temple was
designed to glorify the God of heaven. I opened my pen and underlined several
phrases about honoring the Lords name.
Just then, a 19-year-old man interrupted my quiet time. What are you
reading? he asked.
The Bible, I replied.
Well, I try to read the Bible every day, I said.
Q: Whats keeping you from becoming a
Im afraid the church will brainwash me. Im afraid Ill become close-minded
and bigoted. I dont trust Christians.
Chris, 20, Boston, Massachusetts
Christians seem so rigid and stuck in their ways. I like having fun and
living my life the way I want to live it. I dont want people telling me I cant
do this or that.
Sarah, 17, Atlanta, Georgia
The Bible has some good stories, but I dont think theres much more to it
Danny, 23, Las Angeles, California
Christianity is just a bunch of politics.
Tony, 20, Chicago, Illinois
The church is full of hypocrites. They act so religious on Sunday and then
during the week theyre stabbing each other in the back. I thought Christians
were supposed to be loving.
Amber, 16, Raleigh, North Carolina
I dont kill people. I dont steal. Im basically a good person. I think thats
Carolyn, 19, Victoria, British Columbia
I dont understand why Christians dont like homosexuals. I think its okay if
a person meets another person and they fall in love. It shouldnt matter if they
are the same sex. I think God is okay with that.
Mark, 28, Brooklyn, New York
I dont really need organized church. I can be spiritual on my own.
Brendan, 22, Westbrook, Maine
Q:What do you wish the Christian church
People who will give me help about things that pertain to me and my life
without lecturing me or making me feel awful. I just became a stepdad. Its an
awesome feeling. But when I told someone in my Moms church about it, he started
in on me about the problems with divorce. Now this was after Id already married
Bridget, who was married before. Can you believe that?
Scott, 24, Metairie, Louisiana
Someone who can connect the dots about why God allows so much bad to
happenmy Dad died a painful death, some kids are abused, terrorists kill
innocent people. Ive heard that if I just read the Bible Ill understand all
this, but thats pretty much a lifelong task, isnt it? Can somebody just
Connie, 36, St. Louis, Missouri
I like informality in worship, but I want to see the awesome power of God,
too. I want church to be different from everyday life. I just joined, and I
need to know I did something important.
Lisa, 27, Lawrenceville, Georgia
Openness to women in leadership roles.
Chris, 41, Arnold, Maryland
Id like to see the church become more open to our culture. I feel like
people at church condemn me for going to see movies and listening to secular
Amanda, 22, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
The last church I went to kept throwing the Bible in my face and telling me
I needed to become a Christian, but no one took the time to get to know me. I
finally met a Christian who became my friend and talked with me intellectually
about spiritual things.
Stephen, 25, Houston, Texas
Thats cool, he replied. The inquisitive young man smiled. He was dressed in
a green T-shirt, camouflage pants, a backward-facing baseball cap and three-day
old stubble. What are you reading about now? he asked.
Im in 2 Chronicles, I replied. Im reading about Solomons reign.
Is that the dude who turned to witchcraft at the end of his life?
No, that was King Saul, the first king of Israel.
Immediately I recalled an interview Id had over the phone that morning with
Leonard Sweet, who has written several best-selling books on reaching todays
postmodern youth and young adults. Dont try to correct the errors of todays
postmoderns, Dr. Sweet had told me. Never criticize them. Instead, just listen.
Gods already at work in their lives. Its important to hear their story
Despite my correction, my new friend wasnt deterred: You know, I like
reading the Bible, too. My favorite part is Ecclesiasticals.
Oh? I replied, with a smile creeping across my face as I considered his
At that point, my friendRoss, I learned laterwent into a brilliant, almost
ten-minute exposition of the central themes of Ecclesiastes. I still havent
figured out who wrote Ecclesiasticals, but he was a great king who reigned
after David, he told me. Ross quoted several passages almost verbatim as he
continued his exposition.
I was impressed! And I could tell many of our fellow passengers were
listening in on our conversation. Inwardly, I laughed. This guy must be a
Christian college sophomore in disguise.
Wow, thats amazing, I told Ross. Youre right: thats what that book is all
about. What other books of the Bible have you read so far?
Well, Revelationand Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Ross then explained that he had realized eternity is the most important
question we need to settle in this life, preferably while were still young. I
was an atheist all the way through school, he confided. After high school,
though, I didnt want to go to college. Instead, I signed up to serve my
country. My gig is guarding the Portland International Airport, Ross said. See
these fatigues? Im wearing a big fat sign that says, Shoot me first, if a
terrorist ever attacks the airport.
Ross ranted a bit about Americas past and current failures, then picked up
on a couple of the themes in Ecclesiastes and wove in his interpretations of
Revelation. I dont understand it all, he said, but Im convinced all this bad
stuff is going to happenprobably in my lifetime.
Ross glanced out the window for a moment. I still hadnt figured him
You know, Ross continued, I went to church as a boy, but I dont have much
use for it. My mom made me go. Shes crazy. Ross explained how his
church-going mother had abused him verbally and emotionally during her volatile
I never understood all this stuff back then. Besides, the church has too
checkered of a past. Theyve forgotten what Jesus is all about. You know, He was
the perfect Son of God. He never hurt anyone. He never hated anyone. Instead,
He died on the cross for our sins. Hes changed my life. Not that Im perfect; no
one is. He pondered that last point, gazing out the window again.
Youre right, I said, affirming several things hed saidincluding the fact
that no ones perfect and that the church has hurt people.
I think its important to accept everyone the way they are, Ross continued. I
keep trying to explain all this to my old girlfriendwere still friends, even
though shes in Wicca. She keeps reminding me of the bad things the church did
to witches in the past. That wasnt right.
No, that wasnt right, I agreed.
My train stop had come into view. I didnt want to end our conversation, but
it was now 6:40 p.m., and I was late for dinner. I stood up.
My names Ross, he said, with his right hand extending out toward mine.
I shook his hand. And whats your name?
David. Say, thanks for the conversation. Much appreciated.
My divine appointment with Ross is a vivid reminder that todays youth and
young adults desperately need Godbut often want to find Him on their own, apart
from the church. Yet when they find Him, theyre zealous to tell others about
We need to encourage such searching, such zealeven if it takes a while for
the Rosses of the world to find their way back to the church again.
David Sanford is a writer, editor and educator living in
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