It took me ten years to come back to church after having a Bible tossed at me by a youth minister. I asked too many questions, it seems, and I challenged some literal interpretations of scripture he held.
After that I was invited not to return. And I didn’t.
Some of us, myself included, don’t consider ourselves “Christian material” at one time or another. Sometimes it comes from being raised in a secular environment or a painful religious experience. For others, such as Dallas Jahncke, the primary focus of Ted Kluck’s memoir, Dallas and the Spitfire, it’s harder circumstances that drive a wedge between the man and God.
Dallas’ life is hard; that much is clear from the outset of the story. His homemade prison tattoos tell us as much. And though I took some issue with Kluck’s approach to discipleship as well as his overall writing style, the story at the heart of the book is universally gospel, or “good news.”
I’m not one for statements of faith or counting victories for Jesus in baptisms, per se, but I do identify with the transforming value of a life centered on discipleship. Though this takes many forms for many people, the discipline and intentional nature of such a practice inevitably will reorient one’s life – for the better, if done with a healthy guide – around the chosen discipline.
Does someone have to go to church to practice such discipleship? I don’t think so. But it’s hard as hell to do on your own.
I remember one particular Sunday, not too long after I cam back to church. My girlfriend at the time persuaded me to set my skepticism aside and give her small community of folks a try. I found something thankfully that I didn’t expect. But it took me, the intellectual, too-smart-for-religion heathen to fall for a cute associate minister at a Denver church to get over my grudges. Not everyone is so fortunate.
The pastor was talking that day about discipleship. He began by asking a handful of folks how they came to be there that day. One by one, nearly everyone pointed to someone else in the group that had invited them. Almost no one responded to an ad or came because “God told them to.” The covenant of faith-centered community began with one-to-one relationship.
That’s precisely the best of what Dallas and the Spitfire has to offer. It’s clear that the brotherly love between these two guys runs deep: deeper than the dark, muddied wells of hurt and anger Dallas sifted through, a little at a time.