In their most inner thoughts, even the most devout Christians know that there is something illegitimate about belief. Underneath their profession offaith is a sleeping giant of doubt In my experience, the best way to conquer doubt is to yield to it.
Dan Barker, pastor-turned-atheist i
Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at time without despair, believe only in the idea of God, an not in God himself.
Madeleine L'Engle, Christiain 2
The lawyer had a tip for me-a human interest story, he said. The tale of a reformed gang member. An inspiring yarn about a former street terrorist who had found religion and gone straight. It will be heartwarming, he promised. A good Sunday read.
I rolled my eyes. The story sounded much too saccharine for me. I was on the prowl for something hard hitting, something gritty, something that would land me on the front page of the weekend Tribune. I wasn't interested in a naive fairy tale about some flaky born-again fugitive.
But the weekend was approaching fast, and the story leads I had been pursuing had taken me down nothing but blind alleys. So I reluctantly wrote down the lawyer's tip. Who knows, I thought, maybe I can expose this con man's phony story and get the kind of article I was after.
I picked up the telephone and started calling my police sources. Had anyone ever heard of this Ron Bronski character? Sure enough, my contacts in the Gang Crimes Unit were well acquainted with him. He was the street-toughened second-in-command of the Belaires, a gang that terrorized parts of Chicago's Northwest Side. He was dangerous and violent, they said. He had a hair-trigger temper, an appetite for illicit drugs, and an encyclopedic arrest record.
"The guy's a sociopath," said one investigator. Another snorted at the mention of his name, then dismissed him with a single word: "Garbage."
They told me there was a warrant out for his arrest on a charge of aggravated battery for shooting a rival gang member in the back. I scrawled the word coward in my notebook.
"We haven't seen him around for a long time," one undercover cop told me. "We figure he's fled the city. The truth is, we don't care where he is as long as he's not around here."
Then I called some church leaders in Portland, Oregon, where the lawyer told me Bronski had been living for the last couple of years. While working at a metal shop, he had met some Christians and supposedly abandoned his life of crime, married his live-in girlfriend, and became a devout follower of Jesus.
"Ron is one of the most beautiful, loving people I know," his pastor told me. "He's totally committed to Christ. We pray together several times a week, and he's always doing things like visiting the sick and praying with them, and using his street knowledge to preach to troubled kids. I guess people would call him a 'Jesus freak."'
He said that Bronski had been reconciled with God but not with society. "He knew there was still a warrant out for his arrest," he said, "so he saved his money and took the train to Chicago to turn himself in."
That piqued my curiosity. A guilty plea to aggravated battery could bring twenty years in the penitentiary. I decided I would go the next step in my research by interviewing Bronski as soon as his lawyer could arrange a meeting.
That night I was sitting at our kitchen table, mulling the conflicting portraits that the police and pastor had painted of Bronski. "On the surface, it sounds like a miraculous change," I commented to Leslie as she stood at the stove, brewing her evening tea.
"On the surface?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "When I dig deeper, I'll find out his scam. She eased into the chair across from me and sipped from a mug. "The police weren't hunting for him, but he gave himself up anyway. What would motivate him to do that?"
"That's what I'm going to find out," I said. "He's probably pretending he's reformed so he'll get a lighter sentence. Or his lawyer is trying to cut some sort of deal with the prosecutor. Or he knows the witnesses are all dead and they can't convict him anyway. Or he's hoping to get some positive publicity to influence the judge. Or he's setting up an insanity defense. . ."
I went on and on, my hypotheses getting more and more outlandish as I speculated about the real reason he was turning himself in. I considered every far-out possibility-except that his life had legitimately changed and that he had decided to do the right thing by facing the consequences for his crime.
Finally, Leslie put up her hand. "Whoa, whoa," she said. "Those are pretty bizarre theories." She put down her cup and looked me in the eyes. "Tell me something," she said with an edge to her voice. "Are you trying to poke holes in his story because you really think he's a con man? Or are you raising objections because you don't want his story to be true?"
I jumped on the defensive. "Hey," I shot back, "it's my job to be skeptical!"
But she had struck a nerve. To be honest, I didn't want to believe that Christianity could radically transform someone's character and values. It was much easier to raise doubts and manufacture outrageous objections than to consider the possibility that God actually could trigger a revolutionary turn-around in such a depraved and degenerate life.
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