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I saw Undercover today


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So on Thursday I got a reminder on Facebook of a local annual music festival taking place this weekend. It's called Spaghettifest, an indie rock festival held at Natural Chimneys, in western Augusta County, Virginia. So I click on the link to check out the line-up and there's a band Undercover. "It can't be THE Undercover," I think. "But I'll check it out."

Lo and behold the link takes me to Ojo Taylor's MySpace page. I find out on there that he's been teaching in the music department at JMU, where I began working a few weeks ago. He's been here in the Valley of Virginia for two years without my knowing it!

My favorite band of all time is playing in my rural county, 18 miles from my house.

In all of the 20-plus years I"ve been an Undercover fan, I've never seen them in concert. They were a West Coast band. I couldn't make it to Cornerstone the years they played there. So it goes.

So I buy two tickets for the festival. You can't buy partial tickets. Fair enough. They are so worth it.

It's been pouring down rain all day today. Undercover came on at 1:30 pm. And it was them: Ojo Taylor, Gym Nicholson, Sim Wilson and Gary Dean Olsen. They were so good, so amazing, so tight, so energetic. I was so blessed dancing in the rain. How God loves me to send Undercover to my back yard to play for me!

They were so surprised to see a woman in the crowd wearing an Undercover t-shirt! They had to meet me! We hung out! What great guys!

I am still flying high on this, as you can see!

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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Sounds awesome, Annelise. I can see that being a high point of your year, especially given the fact this is the only time you've seen them!

And it was them: Ojo Taylor, Gym Nicholson, Sim Wilson and Gary Dean Olsen. They were so good, so amazing, so tight, so energetic.

Help me out here, I'm having a hard time thinking of which singer was which... Is this the Undercover from the era of "Holy Holy Holy" and "God Rules" and "Hey Wait a Minute?" Or is this the Undercover from my personal favorite era -- from Branded -- which would be "The Fight For Love," "Where Can I Go" and "Come Away With Me?" Or is this the Undercover from their later, much more rockin' years: "Devotion," and "World Come Crashing Down?"

I had a lot of fun with these guys years ago. Saw them in several states, got to play with them in at least three countries I can remember. I seriously love the heart and soul of the guys themselves -- OK, of Joey, cuz he's the only one I ever got to really hang out with -- I love their tudes even heavier than their tunes.

Branded is a tape I wore out, in what... 1987? It was about the time when Gym was playing in concert with Steve Taylor at Cornerstone. It was a good time for CCM, but IMO it was way before ccm went Nashvegas and got "cool" and "Christian."

I would love to get a copy of Branded on CD or digital download.

I'll bet they played all of the songs I just listed, no matter which singer I'm thinking of...

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Not that I'm jealous, but, yeah, I'm jealous. Hosted a website for them for years, run the YahooGroups mailing list for them and I've never seen them or met them.

So do you run the undercover.medelle website that's still up? It looks dated. Is the YahooGroups mailing list still active? I suspect it would not be, because they play so rarely.

Last time was 4 years ago in Memphis, before that was the reunion at Cornerstone in 2000.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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Persona:

This would be the Undercover of the Branded-->Devotion, I Rose Falling albums.

Annelise:

Yes, I still have that site and that list running, though the site is so... um... 2000 in style. It needs a facelift and a coat of paint. Problem is that to do a proper job would take a fair bit of time, and with two little ones... well, it's not likely to happen soon.

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Annelise wrote:

: Is the YahooGroups mailing list still active? I suspect it would not be, because they play so rarely. Last time was 4 years ago in Memphis, before that was the reunion at Cornerstone in 2000.

I subscribe to the digest for that YahooGroup, and there have been three digests this year -- all in April.

There were two digests in August 2008, ten in all of 2007, twenty-five in all of 2006, eighty-three in all of 2005, nine in all of 2004, and so on. (I switched from receiving individual e-mails to receiving digests somewhere in 2003.) So the list HAS been rather active in years where the band did no concerts. (Not sure WHY it would have been active, though; were any albums re-issued in those years, or something like that?)

Alas, I had to miss the Cornerstone 2000 reunion because somebody, in their wisdom, scheduled it to happen at the same time as the Daniel Amos reunion (and I was a huge fan of DA long before I became a fan of Undercover, but I had never seen DA in concert either, so I didn't have a choice really: I had to see DA; if memory serves, Ojo said he understood because HE would have liked to catch the DA show too).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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DA is, yes, among the very best. I had been a typical evangelical Christian until I heard DA. I could never go back to CCM -- or any other platitudes, for that matter -- after Fearful Symmetry. DA led me to the other good musicians such as Undercover. DA led me to William Blake, then to other poetry, then to English lit, now one of the passions of my life. I saw DA at a little riverfront bar here in Richmond, Va., a long time ago. The Choir opened for them. Then I saw DA at Cornerstone too. The concerts have been too few.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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  • 10 months later...

The newest issue of Down the Line magazine (a PDF download) is out, and with it, an interview with Ojo Taylor, in which he talks about his current beliefs and Undercover's place in music history. (I wouldn't have minded a follow-up question or two about the possible effect of Ojo's current beliefs on the music that Undercover is currently recording.)

FWIW, I pitched an article like this to CT over a year ago, but for whatever reason, they passed on it. (This was around the time David Bazan went public with his loss of faith, and I guess they could only handle one article in that vein at a time.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'm on a different computer this weekend and can't view this document without also downloading a bunch of other apps that may or may not be desired. Too bad, as it sounds interesting. Why would they only put it up in a format that is hard to download?

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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The newest issue of Down the Line magazine (a PDF download) is out, and with it, an interview with Ojo Taylor, in which he talks about his current beliefs and Undercover's place in music history. (I wouldn't have minded a follow-up question or two about the possible effect of Ojo's current beliefs on the music that Undercover is currently recording.)

FWIW, I pitched an article like this to CT over a year ago, but for whatever reason, they passed on it. (This was around the time David Bazan went public with his loss of faith, and I guess they could only handle one article in that vein at a time.)

Since the concert, I've actually become friends with Ojo and have had many talks with him about his beliefs. He's been gone to California for the summer, busy teaching and recording, but is due back in about a week. I am really excited about hearing how the recording went and get a preview of of the songs on the album. You see, the rest of the guys -- Gym and Sim especially -- are still very much Christians. So I also wonder what they've come up with ...

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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  • 10 months later...

Ojo Taylor ("A Heart Cry For Legitimacy") responds to Jon Trott ("A Heart Cry for a Skeptical Friend").

Hate to say it, but Trott's post reminds me of something an atheist nemesis of mine once said, over a decade ago, to the effect that Christianity is inherently nihilistic. I thought my atheist nemesis was overstating things then, and I think so now, too ... but something about this post brought that to mind, just now (and I hadn't even thought of that atheist's statement for quite some time, until Trott's post reminded me of it).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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What do you suppose he means by legitimacy?

In his essay/blog, Ojo says this (italics mine):

"There is no framework in Christian orthodoxy for treating people who have lost or suspended their faith with dignity and equality, those genuinely asking legitimate questions, trying their best to navigate the maze of suffering and elusive meaning in every human life. They are considered backslidden, rebellious, hard-hearted, in error, blind, apostate, sinful, in all kinds of language, less-than. Their faith must not have been genuine, it must have been shallow, of dubious and weak commitment, insincere, fraudulent, perhaps for illicit gain. 'They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.' I get comments like these all the time."

I can't say it any better than that!

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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What do you suppose he means by legitimacy?

In his essay/blog, Ojo says this (italics mine):

"There is no framework in Christian orthodoxy for treating people who have lost or suspended their faith with dignity and equality, those genuinely asking legitimate questions, trying their best to navigate the maze of suffering and elusive meaning in every human life. They are considered backslidden, rebellious, hard-hearted, in error, blind, apostate, sinful, in all kinds of language, less-than. Their faith must not have been genuine, it must have been shallow, of dubious and weak commitment, insincere, fraudulent, perhaps for illicit gain. 'They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.' I get comments like these all the time."

I can't say it any better than that!

Ah, I see. Well, I don't see it that way myself -- my soteriology and overall philosophy doesn't incline me toward the style of thinking Ojo describes here -- but I understand what he means. I've even experienced this phenomenon myself, when I became a Catholic.

If Ojo and I were friends and were talking this over, I think I might be tempted to redouble my question what legitimacy means, and what it means to claim or treat for legitimacy from the perspective of the "searing daylight of the large and growing body of scientific truth" that he says is the basis for "any claim of any nature" and which supersedes all "philosophies and propositions" that can "go this way or that." Or perhaps again i wouldn't.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Yeah well Ojo seems pretty sold on the whole academic emphasis on research, peer-reviewed, as he says. When I see him next week I'm certainly going to talk with him about numerous points in this essay. I guess my question is, What about other ways of knowing? Like, revelation knowledge, intuition, etc.?

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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Yeah well Ojo seems pretty sold on the whole academic emphasis on research, peer-reviewed, as he says. When I see him next week I'm certainly going to talk with him about numerous points in this essay. I guess my question is, What about other ways of knowing? Like, revelation knowledge, intuition, etc.?

Or what about the premises upon which all knowledge depends, but which can't be proved? Like the premise that we're not brains in vats, or otherwise in some epistomologically perverse situation? That sense experience actually corresponds in some way to objective reality? That the universe didn't just spring into existence yesterday, with physical processes and our memories and all in medias res? What about other minds? What about knowing other people? Is that a form of knowledge, or does it fail because we don't subject our friends and loved ones to double-blind tests or attempt to measure and quantify their friendship or love under controlled conditions? What about historical events, which can be studied but can't be replicated or experimented upon?

Finally, is moral knowledge a form of knowledge? What does it mean to say that the Holocaust was wrong, or that rape or genocide is wrong? Ojo says he no longer worries about the line between temptation and sin. Is there such a thing as sin, or is all human behavior simply that -- behavior? Strategies that can be more or less successfully leveraged? Compassion and altruism can be successful strategies; so can rape, genocide and general assholery. Some people prefer the former; others choose the latter. Is that all we can meaningfully say on the subject?

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Or what about the premises upon which all knowledge depends, but which can't be proved? Like the premise that we're not brains in vats, or otherwise in some epistomologically perverse situation? That sense experience actually corresponds in some way to objective reality? That the universe didn't just spring into existence yesterday, with physical processes and our memories and all in medias res? What about other minds? What about knowing other people? Is that a form of knowledge, or does it fail because we don't subject our friends and loved ones to double-blind tests or attempt to measure and quantify their friendship or love under controlled conditions? What about historical events, which can be studied but can't be replicated or experimented upon?

Finally, is moral knowledge a form of knowledge? What does it mean to say that the Holocaust was wrong, or that rape or genocide is wrong? Ojo says he no longer worries about the line between temptation and sin. Is there such a thing as sin, or is all human behavior simply that -- behavior? Strategies that can be more or less successfully leveraged? Compassion and altruism can be successful strategies; so can rape, genocide and general assholery. Some people prefer the former; others choose the latter. Is that all we can meaningfully say on the subject?

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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SDG wrote:

: What about other minds?

FWIW, a few weeks ago there was a really long thread on Ojo's Facebook wall, following a link he posted to what you might call his "deconversion" story, and I chimed in a couple times. In one of my posts, I wrote:

Second, with regard to the hope (lost or otherwise) that we might see our loved ones in the afterlife, I had some curious reactions of my own to the deterioration and death of my grandmother two years ago, and what it all came down to, for me, was that if my grandmother doesn't exist *now*, then she never really existed in the first place; everything I took to be "her" -- her personality, her spirit, her whatever -- was really just the end result of whatever electrons got passed around inside her body according to the purely impersonal laws of physics, etc. And if *she* never really existed, then neither do the rest of us -- yet here I am, and I find it hard to believe that "I" do not exist, so I somehow persist in believing that she does too. I'm just wondering if you've ever considered or pursued that line of thought, or anything like it.

(I once asked an atheist friend of mine if she basically believed that the brain/mind was like Parliament or Congress, full of various elements that bounced off of each other and produced an outcome of some sort, but you couldn't really say that there was such a thing as "the will of Parliament" or "the will of Congress" because there was no single entity that truly embodied that will -- and she said yeah, that wasn't a bad analogy. In other words, when she really thinks about it rationally, she doesn't believe that "she" really exists; she's just a product of genes and memes, all interacting selfishly and without any particular view of the big picture, just like all those members of Parliament and Congress. I can see where she's coming from, but I still find it difficult to really swallow this idea -- and I find it difficult to believe in any sort of unified personhood without, in turn, appealing to the source of personhood in God, or indeed in the Trinity. So my motto -- my theological starting point -- for the last several years has been "Either God exists, or I do not." For whatever that's worth.)

In response, Ojo wrote:

We wrote before about the afterlife and the death of our relatives before, you and I, having come to different conclusions. Who “we“ are is a darn good question! Sam Harris has a number of great articles recently on this, on what he (and many neuroscientists) consider the myth of free will, on how the mind registers stimuli and lights up certain areas of the brain before we are aware of, and make decisions based on those stimuli. This all happens in the brain and there is nothing to suggest that there is any other mechanism that comprises “we,” so yes, who are we? What are we? Seems to me those are questions slightly beyond (but not nearly as far as they have been in our own lifetimes) the reach of what we now know. I honor your thinking and conclusions on all that and really have only one question about it. How do you get from there to a specific belief system or religion, to a doctrine on sin and hell, atonement, salvation, you know, all those lovely things? I don’t really know what you believe about those, but I do remember you telling me you have become more orthodox in recent years. I mean this question respectfully and sincerely, and would really like to know.

So never mind "other minds", even just the question of our own minds is a puzzler!

And yeah, I did answer his last question there, but I don't want to stray too far from the "minds" business right now. :)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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All good points, which you are more qualified to address than I. He needs to be engaged on an intellectual level. Why not reply on his blog post?

I don't know, maybe I will. I've been engaged recently with atheist polemics on a couple of fronts lately, and I find that that's a battle I want to fight, but on a limited scale. Skepticism is a powerful corrosive and I don't like what too much of it does to me. I'm not looking for a new battle at the moment. But Ojo's music was a part of my life once, and engaging him is something I might consider doing. In a blog combox, though, there can often be a lot of piling on, and that's definitely something I would want to avoid.

So never mind "other minds", even just the question of our own minds is a puzzler!

Yeah, I know what you mean. In passing, I'm impressed with Ojo's literary and rhetorical chops as well as what seems to be his breadth of reading.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I don't know that Ojo would be to troubled by the brain in a jar conundrum, and to be honest, I think that makes the skeptic's point better than the Christians. Ojo is not an atheist. He has stated as such to me in recent interactions in e-mail and Facebook exchanges (Ojo is an artist I have had interaction with for over a decade, when I sent a letter, troubled by accusations of the band getting drunk made by a young upstart band. He called me on the phone and briefly conversed about it). My greatest regret when I was in L.A. for a few months in 2004 was that I never got a chance to take up Ojo on his offer to hang out. It had been a few years, and I was surprised to see when I met up via Facebook last year that Ojo had been asking himself the same questions as I was asking myself.

One of the things I have noticed is how people *do* pile on. I am sure he would appreciate that being a concern of yours, SDG. The problem is, Ojo didn't arrive at this out of hate or bitterness against God or religion. He considers his churched years positive ones and still loves spending time with his Christian friends. And yet, people want to lob pretty harsh accusations. And of course, some critics latch on to the fact that he started questioning "because of a girl." Of course, I fail to see the problem with that. Specifically because if you reverse the situation...if you had Ojo talking about how he did not believe in God...and then he met this cool lady, but she would not go out with him...then he finally just asked why. He explains how she told him she was a Christian and she could not date a guy who did not know Christ... and he was stunned. He hadn't expected that... he started to question and investigate...and one night he gave his life over to the Lord! Christians wouldn't deride him for that. It would be one of the funny ways God used to meet a person where they were at.

The funny thing I find from reading Ojo's interactions with people is that he is far more graceful to his critics than they are to him. I saw a guy state that he was not willing to listen to Undercover's music. He was afraid they would lead him down the same path as Ojo. In spite of the fact that all of their music was written when every member was a professing Christian.

I confess I found this bit from Trott troubling:

When I appeal to my experience at conversion and in the thirty-eight years since — which you seem less than impressed with — I appeal to data more readily to hand than most of the data such “religious” conversations churn up. I know I met Christ. You do not know that.

He's right. I don't know that. The problem is...Jon has no evidence. He backs it up with what amounts to "I am sure of it!" Yeah, Ojo (or myself) cannot say he has definitely not met Christ. And that was the very point I started to question. When I realized I was going off of "a feeling I had that it was true."

I also find it immensely frustrating that so many Christians think, "walking away" is so darned easy. That it is "comfortable". In spite of the fact that each time I tell a friend, it becomes harder and harder. And the exploration has been painful. And the things that people presume are always flat out wrong. It has nothing to do with how "hard" the Christian life is. Or fear of having to give things up. For me, the greatest fear was losing the comfort that faith so easily gives. No, sticking with faith and ignoring the doubts? That is where the comfort is. Looking into the questions? It's hard. It hurts. And the reaction from Christians to presume it was anything but a tough process? That is like a dagger in the heart. And it makes wanting to return less and less attractive.

Edited by Nezpop

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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SDG wrote:

: What about other minds?

FWIW, a few weeks ago there was a really long thread on Ojo's Facebook wall, following a link he posted to what you might call his "deconversion" story, and I chimed in a couple times. In one of my posts, I wrote:

Second, with regard to the hope (lost or otherwise) that we might see our loved ones in the afterlife, I had some curious reactions of my own to the deterioration and death of my grandmother two years ago, and what it all came down to, for me, was that if my grandmother doesn't exist *now*, then she never really existed in the first place; everything I took to be "her" -- her personality, her spirit, her whatever -- was really just the end result of whatever electrons got passed around inside her body according to the purely impersonal laws of physics, etc. And if *she* never really existed, then neither do the rest of us -- yet here I am, and I find it hard to believe that "I" do not exist, so I somehow persist in believing that she does too. I'm just wondering if you've ever considered or pursued that line of thought, or anything like it.

(I once asked an atheist friend of mine if she basically believed that the brain/mind was like Parliament or Congress, full of various elements that bounced off of each other and produced an outcome of some sort, but you couldn't really say that there was such a thing as "the will of Parliament" or "the will of Congress" because there was no single entity that truly embodied that will -- and she said yeah, that wasn't a bad analogy. In other words, when she really thinks about it rationally, she doesn't believe that "she" really exists; she's just a product of genes and memes, all interacting selfishly and without any particular view of the big picture, just like all those members of Parliament and Congress. I can see where she's coming from, but I still find it difficult to really swallow this idea -- and I find it difficult to believe in any sort of unified personhood without, in turn, appealing to the source of personhood in God, or indeed in the Trinity. So my motto -- my theological starting point -- for the last several years has been "Either God exists, or I do not." For whatever that's worth.)

In response, Ojo wrote:

We wrote before about the afterlife and the death of our relatives before, you and I, having come to different conclusions. Who “we“ are is a darn good question! Sam Harris has a number of great articles recently on this, on what he (and many neuroscientists) consider the myth of free will, on how the mind registers stimuli and lights up certain areas of the brain before we are aware of, and make decisions based on those stimuli. This all happens in the brain and there is nothing to suggest that there is any other mechanism that comprises “we,” so yes, who are we? What are we? Seems to me those are questions slightly beyond (but not nearly as far as they have been in our own lifetimes) the reach of what we now know. I honor your thinking and conclusions on all that and really have only one question about it. How do you get from there to a specific belief system or religion, to a doctrine on sin and hell, atonement, salvation, you know, all those lovely things? I don’t really know what you believe about those, but I do remember you telling me you have become more orthodox in recent years. I mean this question respectfully and sincerely, and would really like to know.

So never mind "other minds", even just the question of our own minds is a puzzler!

And yeah, I did answer his last question there, but I don't want to stray too far from the "minds" business right now. :)

Good for you, Peter, for engaging him. And good questions, on both your parts. I must admit, I am more intuitive than I am intellectual, so that is how I engage with people, including my discussions with Ojo. I appreciate that he is willing NOT to answer the questions, but continue asking them. I did not read the de-conversion story, but I've heard it from him, and there may be two different versions. Like difference between C.S. Lewis's two testimonies: "Mere Christianity," the intellectual version, and "Surprised by Joy," the experiential version. I've heard Ojo's experiential de-conversion. The two divorces, raising 5 kids as a single father, the cut-throat Christian music business, so many unanswered prayers, etc.

Ojo does need Christians to engage on an intellectual level. He's had way too many Christians (who can't handle the possibility that it's possible to know Christ and turn away) questioning the legitimacy of his prior relationship with Christ. Way too much fundamentalism -- which as you know, is not the same as orthodoxy! Most of his best friends are Christians, and I daresay that in the end, love could win him back.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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