I received the following in an email about a week ago, and have wanted to respond, but a lot has been going on and I didn’t want to do so without some thoughtful consideration. What I am going to write tonight might not be of interest and may even offend some readers, but avoiding those conditions has never really been foremost in my mind as I’ve blogged in the past. This reader wrote, in response to a comment he posted and email I sent regarding a past post about Christianity and Gnosticism:
As I indicated in the posting when I discovered the Gnosticism item in your blog (as usual, it seems, in the course of looking for something completely different) I am interested in trying to understand the motivations with which rational people adopt religion. In exploring your site I think I have discovered or inferred some of what you believe, but I am still at a loss on the question of motivation. Would you be willing to identify (either privately or publicly as you choose) what besides an accident of birth leads you to believe in the uniqueness of Jesus as a path to “salvation”.
As a Christian, I have actually never been asked so directly to explain my faith before– And I certainly do not have any desire to put this light in my life under a proverbial bushel. I could write at much greater length in responding to this question, but in the interests of time and satisfying the inquiry of the writer, I will say the following.
I was born into a Christian home, which could certainly be viewed by some as “an accident of birth,” and I grew up learning the things Christians are supposed to say, many of the things they are supposed to believe, and some of the ways they are supposed to live. Despite this background and strong upbringing in the church, however, I think I remained primarily faithful in myself and my own abilities to accomplish goals and “do things” throughout both high school and even college. I had a general understanding of God’s existence, but I did not rely on Him to help me accomplish the things I wanted to do in my life or seek His will for my life. I think I mainly asked God to bless what I decided to do in life, and then went about putting forth 100% effort to bring those things to fruition.
It was not until after college, when I was actually in pilot training in the Air Force, that I had a series of experiences that led me to discover “the end of myself,” so to speak, or the limitations of my own abilities to impose my will upon the world and live the life that I had imagined and thought I should live… and even deserved to live. This is a rather long tale, and is likely much better told face to face rather than via a blog… but none-the-less (partly in the interest of accessibility) I’ll give this a try.
In the course of pilot training, on my first solo flight to the area (where we were permitted to perform different aerobatic maneuvers in the T-37 aircraft) I attempted a prohibited maneuver and almost killed myself in the process. As student pilots we learned and were permitted to perform single aileron rolls in the T-37, but I attempted to complete three consecutive aileron rolls without sufficient airspeed, nose-high attitude, and altitude that I later learned I would have needed to do this safely.
Because of these failures of judgement, I ended up in an inverted dive in which I performed a split-s maneuver that severely over-g’ed my aircraft and almost caused me to lose consciousness and hit the ground. We are not sure how many g’s I pulled during this manuever, because the T-37’s g-meter maxes out at 9 g’s and after the maneuver the g-meter was pegged to the maximum reading. I did lose all vision, going from greying out to blacking out entirely, but not losing consciousness. My altitude dipped well below the 10,000′ restriction for aerobatic maneuvers, and I could have come quite close to the ground, but no one actually knows how close I came to hitting the ground from what I know. I remember watching my airspeed indicator moving quickly over 250 knots (close to the max allowable airspeed in the aircraft) and greying out as I performed a g-strain, trying to keep the blood from rushing out of my brain– and just praying to God to save me from death. I knew if I pulled back too hard on the stick, I could cause a g-induced loss of consciousness, so I applied gradual backstick pressure which eventually resulted in a split-s maneuver and a dive recovery. I should have rolled wings-level when I found myself inverted and recovered much less dramatically– and possibly even considered ejecting if that failed– but I was quite disoriented and on my first solo to the area, so those thoughts did not occur to me.
I regained my vision slowly– from the middle to the outside, the opposite of how you lose vision when you are pulling excessive g-s, and I was in a nose high climb but well below 10,000′. I had remembered to pull my throttles back when I was in the dive, so I maxed my power and climbed back into the assigned airspace. I collected my thoughts and headed back to the Reese pattern to land. I noticed my g-meter was maxed out, and I should have declared an in-flight emergency, but my main thought was just landing the jet on the ground.
Upon landing and before getting out, I looked at the g-meter and the reset button. The aircraft g-meter is reset with a simple button push, but I knew the right thing to do was leave it as-is and report the incident as it had occurred. I realized there would be major repercussions for this incident (which turned out to be the first class-1 safety incident the base had had in some time) but I believed it was better to tell the truth and face the consequences, rather than lie and try to cover up what had happened.
The story goes on, but essentially I ended up washing out of pilot training and leaving the Air Force much earlier than I had planned. Growing up, I had been raised on Star Wars and later Top Gun, and I imagined myself becoming some sort of cross between Luke Skywalker and Maverick in real life. I had planned to make the Air Force a career, wanted to be a fighter pilot, and hoped some day to make general officer. Those were my plans, but it turns out God had different ones.
So, when you ask me about the source of my faith in God and belief in Jesus, I have to tell this story, because I honestly believe that God saved my life that day– on January 19, 1994, and he saved my life because he had a higher purpose and a higher calling for my life than flying jets. He has revealed to me in the ensuing years some of those plans for me, which include being a husband to my wonderful wife, and now a father to three of the most wonderful children ever born on God’s green earth.
I know that God exists because he saved me from death, and in the aftermath of my pilot training experiences, as I stood upon the shore of life and watched the tide wash away the sand castles that I had been struggling to build with my own hands… He showed me the great mountains he desired for me to climb, and the great journey which he had prepared for me to go on with the support and love of many family and friends. During that time, as I have studied God’s Word and fellowshipped with other believers, he has revealed to me that Jesus IS his Son, and he did die on a cross, and he WAS raised from the dead. Jesus is the bridge who permits us, mere mortals, to know God and be washed clean of our sins. Otherwise we would not be acceptable in His sight. Jesus is the gate, we are the sheep, and His invitation is extended to all humanity– it is not limited to only a select group of people.
It is a daily struggle to keep this reality in the forefront of my consciousness, because all the demands and distractions of the world cry out loudly for my attention and my energy. Yet I must remember that God saved me for a purpose, and he continues to call me to do his work, and it is a tremendous honor beyond words to be commissioned by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to strive do his will here in earth.
I don’t know how all of this sounds to someone who may not currently believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God– but hopefully this answer at least tells you a bit more about me and about my journey of faith. I certainly have been a doubter, a cynic, a seeker and a philosopher during different stages of my life– but today I am proud to say I am a believer, a follower, and a servant of God– and am able to know Him because of my faith in his Son. It’s a journey I know I’ll be on all my life, but it is an invitation that is extended to everyone– regardless of accidents of birth, background, creed, age or color. God’s love and his promises are extended to all by grace and faith, not by anything we can do or say. It’s a divine mystery, but that’s why God sent Jesus to explain it. Unlike the Gnostic message, this truth is not hidden– it is shared for all who seek, so they can know and also believe.
I hope you’ll keep seeking God, because He is seeking you– and if you seek Him you will find Him. And when you do, you might– like me, realize that it was really God all along who was seeking you. 🙂
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