One Faith, Many Paths: Jane Lebak

This month’s interview is with Catholic writer Jane Lebak!

1) What was your childhood like?

I grew up in New York City, so it was a strange distortion of too many crowds and too much isolation, but I think it was just right for making me who I am.  I went to high school in a different borough (the local public high school wasn’t a great place; I remember three high school girls attacking a cop in the hallway) and getting there required an hour and fifteen minutes on the subway in each direction. Because of the distance, I got a subway pass.

That was freedom. It was amazing to have complete freedom to wander Manhattan with my allowance and my bookbag. After school, I’d walk from 83rd Street and head down to wherever I wanted. Forbidden Planet (both of them!) or Strand Bookstore or St. Francis Bookstore…I found so many amazing little shops and awesome little stores with ethnic food, and I could go all over the place to explore and learn and experience. I loved that so much!

Contrast that with early release days, where if I bolted out of school the moment the bell rang, and if all the trains and buses were right there to connect, I could get home in time to watch the last fifteen minutes of Transformers. 

2) What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

My personal reason is that I’ve had personal experiences that lead me to no other conclusion. When you reach out and something reaches back for you, you have no more doubt.  When you fall and something catches you, you feel secure in what you felt. That’s not data for anyone else of course, but it holds me fast.

Overall though, and even before I had that kind of one-on-one experience, I knew order doesn’t arise from chaos.  Things fall apart on their own.  They don’t become more ordered or more complex.  So the tremendous complexity we see inside a cell or the way galaxies are constructed, for example, tells me something must have created and sorted, and organized everything that went into that.

3. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus?

That’s hard to pick. I like the Archangel Raphael in the book of Tobit. I used to have the worst crush on the Archangel Gabriel.  But on the human side of things, I really like the apostle Thomas because he seems to have this sarcastic and pragmatic edge that really speaks to me.

4. Favorite biblical passage and why?

“Kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss.” I love the sense of completion.  In some ways, these things could be opposites (think of the answer to “does this make me look fat?”), but with grace, they become complementary.  In the end, all our differences are harmonized so they retain their character but all work together to show the many facets of God’s glory.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Steve Condrey

condreyThis time, I’m interviewing the Moderator for my Autistic Christians Facebook group, Steve Condrey.

1. What is your denomination? How long have you been a Christian?

I am officially a Baptist (my baptism was through a Southern Baptist-affiliated church), but I see myself as a nondenominational progressive.  I first professed Christ as my Savior in October 1982, and while I may not have been the most faithful of believers, I have never once stopped believing and acknowledging Christ’s lordship.

2. What was your childhood like? 

My parents were believers, but for the most part not actively churchgoing.  They stopped going to church regularly once the church started getting heavily involved in politics.  My parents were tough-minded, no-nonsense people.  Dad was a Marine and mom was a floor nurse–two professions notorious for not taking nonsense from anyone.  They were however, very fair-minded and even though they didn’t know any more about autism spectrum issues in the 1970’s and 1980’s they did their best. Frequently they did much better than the professionals recommended!

3. How did you meet your wife?

I met my wife offline in 2003 when Yahoo Personals was still in business. It is the first marriage for both of us after a lot of very dysfunctional relationships.

4. When were you diagnosed? Have your children been diagnosed as well?

I was diagnosed in April 2008, shortly after being placed with our son. The challenges of marriage were more than enough to stress my usual coping mechanisms beyond the limit; parenthood only made the situation more stressful. After a series of referrals, I ended up with an excellent neuropsychologist who pinned the problem down in a single office visit! My son (adopted and no genetic relation to me at all) was formally diagnosed this year; we had suspected he was on the spectrum, and some of the people who worked with him back in California thought so as well but the diagnosis was always considered of secondary or lower importance compared to his severe ADHD. My daughter is so far as we know neurotypical but still very bright.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Jannah Leah

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This is my first interview with an Eastern Orthodox Catholic. Thank you, Jannah Leah.

1) How was your childhood?

Fairly average, I guess. About the biggest thing that impacted me was my parents’ divorce when I was six. I was also bullied all throughout school, which affected my self-esteem. To this day, I still suffer from self-esteem issues.

2) How did you become a Christian?

Really it was a combination of a few factors. I have suffered from depression for most of my life and in some ways faith has aided with that.  I also have an interest in history, theology, etc.  Religion is a subject that I’ve always found quite fascinating despite my family’s own irreligious background.

To give the short answer, I chose to become Christian because the messages were appealing to me.  I also found the historical evidence for Christianity, particularly Orthodoxy, to be overwhelming. No other religion can claim their historical figures performed public miracles.

3) How has your family taken your conversion to Christianity, given that they do not share your beliefs?

It’s been mixed. My mother is of the mindset that it’s a good thing if it’s what makes me happy. Others still don’t really know since they’re not particularly fond of religion.

4) You said that you used to be somewhat of a troll. What led to the change?

I guess the easiest answer would be that I simply grew bored of it and matured.  It also got rather tedious to have to constantly create new Facebook accounts.

5. When were you diagnosed as autistic?

I was fourteen I believe. Somewhere in my early teens.

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One Faith, Many Paths Follow-up: Arri Lemons

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My Facebook Friend Arri was my first interviewee for my “One Faith, Many Paths” series. You can read her first interview here. She asked for a follow-up interview, so I sent her some new questions. Arri had a troubled past to say the least, and she’s since risen above it. Here’s what she had to say.

  1. When you decided to become a Christian after being a Buddhist, did anyone help you in your conversion? Yes and no, maybe? It’s hard to say. Thinking back on it I was a kid that was angry, grieving, and depressed. At the time, my grandmother and best friend had passed away close to the same time. My thought was what many others tend to think when losing a loved one: if God was kind then why did He take them away? I turned to Buddhism when my biological father mocked about being one, and so I began to study it and several other religions. Buddhism is a philosophy, and so I gravitated towards that aspect.  My path to being a believer in Christ happened one evening when I was home alone; I was hurt and angry and over all of it and grabbed a knife. Before I could go further, I felt a great presence wash over me which I still cannot adequately describe. It felt as if someone was there to tell me I wasn’t alone. I broke down and had my first real talk with God. Since then, I have done my own study of Christianity through the lens of artwork. Mostly, if anything has helped me continue my religious path, it has been the people I have become close to–you, being one. It has given me a new perspective to look at God, which to me has helped immensely. Religion isn’t a fixed thing; it’s also about the journey, not just the destination.
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One Faith, Many Paths: Therese Johnson

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This time around, I interviewed Therese Johnson, mother of a non-verbal autistic boy named Ben.

1. What was your childhood like?
My childhood was amazing. Surrounded by love and laughter and having everything in abundance but my parents always instilling wisdom and knowledge in us. We spent lots of time bonding as a family.
2. When your child was diagnosed with autism, what was your initial reaction?
Ben was diagnosed on Friday 23rd January 2015. Our initial reaction was relief and confirmation of what we already knew.
What caused this reaction to change, if it has?
It hasn’t changed, if anything it’s helped the whole family learn more and more about autism spectrum disorder in order to understand/ help Ben.
3. What methods of non-verbal communication have you been teaching your child? Which one seems the best?
Right now we use speech, but one sentence at a time giving Ben time to process and we speak slower. We also use visual cues i.e.: show him the actual nappy when it’s time to change him and we are using PECS but with our own pictures. As he gets older and understands more then we’ll move on to other visual cues.
4. What is your favorite Bible verse?
I have so many favourites but the one that really touches my soul has to be Isaiah 55: 8-11
Isaiah 55:8-11New International Version (NIV)

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

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Debunking Myths: Just How Many Atheists Are There, Anyway?

If you were to go on YouTube or Facebook, you would see a largely atheist presence. Go on any YouTube video about Christianity or atheism, and you will find the most vile attacks on Christianity from atheists. They seem to outnumber Christians comments. I’ve even seen a video once (it’s taken down by now, I think), where a vicious atheist claims victory, only by the sheer numbers of pro-atheist comments he’s seen on his own videos and the number of likes his videos have received. But are these a good gauge of the influence of Christianity vs. the influence of atheism? What is the reality?

According to a recent Gallup poll I looked up to research this post, 77% of the US identified as Christian (despite our current President saying that we “are no longer a Christian nation”), while 2.4% say they are atheist. Something seems wrong to me. The atheists are often saying that their arguments are winning, that Christians are leaving churches in droves. They say that in a matter of time, Christianity will be outmoded by atheist philosophy. I disagree. They are still a small segment of the population, and they can push us out of the “public square” all they like. Many other hostile groups have tried the same, and instead of Christianity dwindling, it has thrived.

So, why is it different online? Why do we appear to see a trend towards atheism? To be honest, I think the “trend” is a myth. I think what’s really going on is that these people see the advantage of the anonymity that the Internet gives them.  They can say things they wouldn’t dare say in public. You can troll all you like. No one will hunt you down.

Continue reading “Debunking Myths: Just How Many Atheists Are There, Anyway?”