The Early Years of a Heretic

Come back with me to the Warsaw Community Public Library, second level, about a decade ago. Do you see her? The awkward kid with a growing-out wedge cut that looks like a sad, accidental mullet. The one who has never actually been in the nonfiction section except when looking for scrapbooking magazines and Calvin and Hobbes collections (why are those there anyway?).

She’s looking over her shoulder, tracking her mom over in the inspirational fiction section, making sure she isn’t watching. Where is she going? you wonder.

Pictures of me at age 13 are as rare as pictures of Bigfoot. This one will have to serve. It at least approximates my nerdiness. ("Science is magic, guys!")

Pictures of me at age 13 are as rare as pictures of Bigfoot. This one from age 11 will have to serve. It at least approximates my nerdiness. (“Science is magic, guys!”)

And you watch her take some thick books off the shelf in the theology section and run—sneak?—downstairs to check them out. With her own library card, instead of just mooching off her mom’s account like she normally does. And she slides them into her bag with some innocuous historical fiction novel on top.

If you were to follow her home (which you shouldn’t, that would be creepy), you’d see her stuff the books under her bed, read them under the covers with a flashlight, hide them when her twin sister comes in.

What are they? The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, all by Lee Strobel who apparently needed to make a lot of cases. New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (all 600 pages of it). The thick commentary from the office with the King James Version and words she pretends like she can understand but actually doesn’t.

There they are, in a nice little stack under the bed, hidden because she is afraid. Afraid that if she asks too many questions, God will get annoyed. Afraid that doubts make her a bad person. Afraid because she is so used to having all the right answers that not having them makes her feel lonely and empty and lost.

Hello, young Amy. You have so much to learn. But you are loved and you are a work in process and that’s what matters.

Ten years later, you can find her in a library again. Still, in many ways, awkward, but hey, at least the wannabe mullet has died a dramatic and permanent death. She does look around once, making sure there’s no one from her church who might see what she’s holding and wonder.

And then she laughs at herself and charges forward, and you can’t help but smile too, because there is something smile-worthy about a Christian who finds joy in thinking for herself, who isn’t relying on secondhand faith, who has never stopped asking questions and probably never will.

She tries to check a book out, but her card won’t scan. And if you’re close enough, you hear her mutter that it’s probably a user error, but what is this newfangled technology anyway and why do we use it?

So she goes up to a real, actual person—a librarian at the front desk—to check out the book. And when the librarian slides it back, she makes a point to smile and say, “Thank you,” in a quiet, demure voice that is not the voice of a fire-breathing heretic. Because she knows that librarians must look at their readers and what books they check out and make creepily accurate Sherlock-Holmes-like deductions about them (that’s totally what she would be doing if she were in their place).

The book she is checking out is God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question: Why We Suffer by Bart Ehrman, Bible-scholar-turned-agnostic, filled to the brim with critiques of the Christian faith.


It’s actually very interesting and thoughtful, unlike some atheists’ books (*cough* Dawkins *cough).

This time, she is not struggling with doubts. Those issues—both head and heart—have been resolved. (Lee Strobel didn’t do that, or Matthew Henry. They left that task to Puddleglum…but that’s a different blog post.)

Still, she is checking out a suspicious volume from the library…and she is no longer afraid of what others think or if her faith will be able to stand up under the pressure, because she has learned a few things about freedom.

Oh, what a difference a decade makes.

I hope that in ten years, I can read this again, and smile, and say, “Hello, young Amy. You have so much to learn. But you are loved and you are a work in process and that’s what matters.”

And if, a decade from now, you see me in a library checking out a suspicious-looking book…ask me what I’ve learned since the last time.


  1. I love Puddleglum! I actually just listened to him (again) and thought, “Hmm, I should wrestle through this theology to see what actually shakes out.” I would be interested to read your thoughts!

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