Patheos is celebrating its fifth anniversary today (Monday), which has seen an outbreak of nostalgia and warm feelings across the site — and especially from those of us who have been with it from the beginning. I had the great joy of joining the Patheos team well before the site went live in May of 2009. It’s been an extraordinary adventure. I believe as firmly today as ever before in the value of creating a better conversation on life’s most important questions. In fact, I think it’s the Judeo-Christian culture that taught me to value the dignity of all people and the importance of the freedom of conscience. So when I’m questioned by fellow evangelicals why I would participate in helping to build a site that platforms pagans and atheists, I typically respond (a) because I love pagans and atheists, (b) because God respects the freedom to choose and so should we, and (c) because I think there’s eternal value in building relationships and friendships that can help all of us understand ourselves and our options better.
We’ve been asked to reflect on our all-time favorite posts, so here are a few of mine. One of the earliest pieces I published at Patheos was an interview of Harvard Law School professor Bill Stuntz, and it remains (to be clear, his comments remain) one of the most honest and thoughtful reflections on death and the afterlife I’ve ever seen. Bill was dying of cancer at the time, and knew that he was dying of cancer. Bill was a unique presence, and he’s dearly missed by his friends. If you’ve never read it before, you really owe it to yourself and to your eternal soul to read “He Will Call, I Will Answer.” It was one of the first pieces to go “viral” at Patheos. It was, for quite some time, our most-read post, by a longshot. It provoked discussion in many places, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, back when we were just an upstart outfit. But most importantly, I heard from Bill’s kids, after he passed away, that they treasured the interview and it meant a great deal to them. That meant more than all the rest.
Another interview I conducted early in the history of Patheos was with a little-known Harvard basketball star by the name of Jeremy Lin. Jeremy was not widely known at the time, at least not in the United States. But I was still teaching at Harvard, and Jeremy was well known within Harvard Christian circles. Someone suggested I should track him down and interview him, because of my own story of faith and sports. I did, and it led not only to this interview with Jeremy entitled “The Faith and Fate of Jeremy Lin” — but it led ultimately to a book on Jeremy after he exploded to international superstardom. I still correspond with Jeremy from time to time, still have all the respect in the world for him, and still regard the story of his emergence in the NBA as one of the preeminent faith-and-sports stories of our time. The interview was later cited in a David Brooks column in the NYTimes.
Which, I suppose, is reason enough to link to my OWN faith and sports story, “The Olympic Promised Land.” By the time I met Jeremy, he had already read my own testimony in this article. For anyone who might be new to the blog, I was a junior national champion gymnast and a hopeful for the 1996 Olympic Games before I broke my neck in a fall from the horizontal bar while competing for Stanford University in my sophomore year. It has proven, undeniably, one of the pivotal points of my life — and mostly for the better. In the essay here, I wonder what it must have been like for Moses to get so close to the Promised Land and yet not to pass over across the Jordan. What must that have felt like? We all struggle to believe, sometimes, that we shouldn’t want anything for ourselves that God doesn’t want for us.
I haven’t blogged much over the past year, in large measure because I founded the company called Polymath Innovations that now works with Patheos under the brand of Patheos Labs. I figure, though, that if I am to return to blogging more regularly, I just might write more about family and fathering. It’s my favorite topic. Case in point: “Why We Have Children,” where I describe a frightening experience when we nearly (or so it seemed at the time) lost my first daughter. Of all the blog posts I’ve written, I would say that the process of preparing this post was the most grueling, the most painful, and ultimately the most enlightening. The response was wonderful and life-affirming from friends.
But I’ll close my citing a blog post that summarizes, for me, what my Patheos experience has been about. The internet, especially when it comes to questions of religion and faith and society, is a veritable festival of hatred and scorn. I got engaged at Patheos because I wanted to be a part of modeling a better way of addressing life’s most important questions. When I wrote “An Open Letter to Harold Camping and His Followers,” I had no idea how much it would take off. Harold Camping’s prophecy has just proven false. And while everyone else was collectively snorting in laughter, I wrote something that expressed a good deal of compassion toward those who had been honestly deceived. They had yearned for a better world, and their yearning and their intuitions that we are made for higher things were not wrong. But they had believed someone who led them astray — and who had made them to look like fools. But what’s important is not what I wrote — what’s important was the response. Within a few minutes, I was getting constant pings from people sharing and tweeting and reposting the post. I’ve had posts since then that have garnered a lot more traffic and a lot more shares, but this one will always be special to me. It showed me that there’s a place for compassion on the internet. It proved that, even here, people yearn for compassion and connectness. It gave me hope for this crazy venture.
I believe “Naked Women, Naked Girls” (a post about pornography and the way your perspective on it changes when you become a father to girls) has collected over a million page views by now (not many Shares, but lots of search engine traffic!). It remains the most read post from Philosophical Fragments. It was, at one point, the most read post at Patheos, although I doubt it holds that record any longer. There have been other posts, too, on the tea party or Peter Wehner’s guest post on James Dobson, guest posts from Ravi Zacharias and others that have meant a lot to me because of my respect for them — But if I had to pick my five favorites, they would be the above.
Thank you to all of those who have read along and commented and joined the conversation. Many happy returns.