Colin my son left last week for Florida on a mission trip to build houses for the victims of Hurricane Andrew. My wife and I were pleased with his desire to minister to those in need. His mission truly reflected his parents’ heart. He went to do their will. He would have to go into an imperfect world and live with “sinners.” The young people who accompanied him lived in poverty and in those palaces called shopping malls. They sweated in the hot Florida sun and worshiped on the altar of Miami’s white sands. It didn’t matter to him. He was willing to hobnob with the great and the small.
Our delight turned to dismay when we tried to contact him by phone and discovered that he was not to be located. What had happened to him? Was he all right? Did anybody know where he was? My wife suggested that we contact his close friends who went him, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Surely they could tell us about their friend and our son. Like most parents, we know our son’s friends in varying degrees. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar guys while John is a little different. So we began to question them. As we suspected, his three friends all told a similar story, while John’s account was profound but didn’t seem to match the other three.
I decided to use my historical training and find out what really happened to my son. Where was the historical Colin? I asked John because he seemed to have a deep insight into the events of the week and my son’s mission among the unfortunate victims. But I was skeptical because his account didn’t follow those of the other three friends. Some of the same events were there, but they didn’t follow the order of the other three. My skeptical historical sense said John was an unreliable witness. Matthew, Mark, and Luke would be more accurate.
I began to worry when I discovered that my son’s friends told the same story with slight variations. Yes, Colin arrived in Florida and was staying at the hotel. Many people heard him give a lengthy talk out by the pool one night and were awestruck by his insights. Yes, he helped many needy people and was firmly fixed on fulfilling the mission for which he had come. In fact, the agreement between Matthew, Mark, and Luke was uncanny. Most people take comfort in the agreement of several witnesses, knowing that, even if the details are unclear, at least they point to the real Colin. But I am a historian, trained to look behind the sources. Too much agreement is suspicious.
Each of Colin’s three more reliable friends had certain stories of his own to tell. Matthew had heard Colin lambasting the religious leaders for their obstinacy and unrepentant spirit. Luke had his stories too. Colin had showed special compassion for the poor, outcasts, and women. According to Luke, Colin is a great storyteller. He told of a young man who took his father’s wealth and squandered it in riotous living. He told of a woman who had lost a piece of precious metal, no doubt an heirloom with more sentimental than economic value, but she rejoiced when she found it again. Thanks, Luke but this isn’t helping me find my son.
So I compared the stories that Matthew, Mark, and Luke gave me, and I discovered that Matthew and Luke only agreed with one another when they agreed with Mark. Aha! Now I knew that Matthew and Luke really didn’t know much about Colin’s activities except what they learned from Mark. But wait! Matthew and Luke have some stories in common that Mark doesn’t have. How did they come to share stories that Mark didn’t have if they knew about my son’s exploits only from Mark? Someone suggested that Matthew and Luke knew a German fellow nicknamed Q, and that’s where they learned about Colin’s speeches around the pool and building projects. Okay. Now I was on the right track. The next step was to find this German guy Q. Nobody at the hotel could say whether he really had been there. No one ever actually had seen him, but I concluded that he must have existed because otherwise Matthew and Luke could not have the same stories about Colin if Q had not told them. But since Q could not be located, I still couldn’t be sure that the stories Q told Matthew and Luke were true. Where was my son? Maybe nobody down there in Florida really had seen him.
As the week wore on, I got so worried that I decided to seek therapy. Since it was my son that was missing, I decided to go to a marriage and family therapist. Marty was a kind and understanding counselor who, temporarily, also had lost his son and could feel my pain. As I poured out fifty dollars each visit, Marty asked me how important it was for me to recover my son.
“What do you mean ?” I exclaimed. “It’s essential. I want to know that he’s all right.”
“Don’t you trust your son, Ken?”
“Of course, but that’s not the issue. I just want to locate him.”
“I can understand your feelings, but does your faith in your son depend on whether you can locate him?”
“What are you saying, Marty?”
“In the final analysis, it isn’t whether he’s in Florida or not. It isn’t whether his friends really know where he is or whether what they’re telling you is true. Isn’t the only important thing how you feel about him in your heart? You have him in your heart, don’t you?”
“Absolutely! That’s why I have find him. I have to see him.”
“I don’t think you really need to see him. Your historical investigations haven’t gotten any closer to him. In the end, how much do we really know about those we love the most?”
“I don’t about you, Marty, but I want to know as much as I can about my son even if I don’t know much at present.”
“Sure, Ken, that’s only natural. But maybe it’s not so important that he’s really in Florida as it is that you believe in the Florida event.”
“The Florida event? What do you mean by that?”
“You believe that Colin is in Florida. You are proud of him for his desire to help others. You and your wife are praying for the success of that event. That strengthens your faith in your son, and that’s laudable. What’s really at issue here is how you feel about his being in Florida.”
“Oh, I see. So, even if I can’t be sure that he’s in Florida or that he’s okay, the best thing is to hold him in my heart.”
“Now wait a minute. I’m a historian, a detective. I’ve got to know whether what his friends are telling me is true. Otherwise, I’ll worry for the rest of my life.”
“But that’s your problem. You want to base your faith in your son on facts, on truth as it were. Faith in your son doesn’t depend on whether he’s in Florida. It only depends on whether you believe in the Florida event. I admit that in every other area of life such as medicine, law, or business, facts do matter. But in faith relationships like those in the family, it’s more important how we feel about one another, not so much where the other one is.”
“I’ll think about what you’re saying, Marty.”
I pondered my next steps carefully. Should I go to Florida to do “archaeological” research, some digging as it were? Maybe then I’d turn up my historical son. Then a devastating thought hit me. Perhaps Colin’s friends, my four sources, had no real knowledge of him at all. Teens sure can tell whoppers. Maybe they just heard some stories in the early mission community and were transmitting them to me. If so, what hope did I have of ever finding where my son really was?
Wait a minute, I thought. I’m a historian. Do I normally display such skepticism about my sources when I study the sixteenth century? Oh, sure. All historians ask questions about dating and reliability of sources, but this was going way beyond normal historical inquiry. Here was a wholesale skepticism about anything these witnesses said, even when they agreed in the main.
Yet the search for my son was no ordinary historical quest. The kind of detachment I was used to exercising on sixteenth-century figures lay beyond my g.asp. This is my son, and it was matter of life and death. But then what’s life or death? Wasn’t my son going to die anyway someday? Maybe I should hold him in my heart as Marty suggested. My therapist’s historical faith grew in attraction.
When I got home, Sharon asked, “What did you find out from his friends?”
“Honey, I have plenty of stories and quotations from him that his friends gave me, but I don’t know if they’re reliable — you know, true.”
“Mark’s pretty reliable, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know any more. It seems that the most reliable source of Colin’s whereabouts is this German guy known as Q, but nobody seems to know where I can find him or even whether he actually exists.”
“Ken, this is eerie. You know Colin is always watching ‘Star Trek,’ and there’s a guy on the show named Q. He’s from the continuum.”
“What’s the continuum?”
“I don’t know, some sort of parallel universe, I guess.”
“Lately I feel that Colin must be living in some universe that’s parallel to ours. Some thinkers say our universe is Historie and that there’s another universe called Geschichte.
“Will you stop speaking German? I can’t understanding what you’re talking about.”
“Okay. In plain language. This whole thing is beginning to resemble science fiction. We can’t find our son, and we can’t trust the sources of information about him. Probably he’s down there in Florida, but we can’t know that for sure. All we can do is hold him in our hearts.”
I could see that my wife was getting worried. I wanted so badly to comfort her. As I lay trying to think of something consoling to say, my mind went back to Marty’s advice. “Sharon, maybe what we need to do is hold Colin in our hearts and stop worrying about whether he’s really in Florida. Marty says the most important thing is that we believe in the Florida event.”
“What in the world does that mean?”
“Well, you know, we love Colin and are very proud of him. We know that he symbolizes a great religious ideal. We need to have faith in him.”
“Yes, but how do we know he’s really where he said he would be?”
“I am not sure that mattes anymore. I wonder if Marty’s right. Maybe the most important thing is just to believe in our son.”
“But how can we trust him if we don’t know he’s where he said he would be?”
“I don’t know. We just can’t give up hope.”
“Marty has messed up your mind. You don’t make any sense. I’m going to sleep.”
“Okay but the questions won’t go away.”
I laid awake thinking of how I could initiate a new search for the historical Colin. Somehow I knew Sharon was right. Faith in the Florida event didn’t console me much. How long could I hold on to faith in my son if I didn’t even know whether he was where he said he’d be? Suddenly a brilliant idea struck me. What was needed was team effort. Gather the best historians available, and bring them together to evaluate the sources. Then we’d know how to distinguish my real son from the myths that had grown around him. Yes, that would do it. We could call it the Colin Seminar. We’d have subcommittees working on each of his friends: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each group of scholars could distinguish the true stories from those had grown up in the early mission community around the hotel where the teens were staying.
What conclusions would the Colin Seminar come to? What if it concluded that a sixteen-year-old named Colin probably did go to Florida but we can’t know much about him? Where would that leave us? Only in greater despair. No, that wouldn’t do. Marty must have been right. It’s not important whether my son is really in Florida, only that we believe he’s in Florida. After all, aren’t our perceptions more important than the actual historical person? History and faith have nothing to do with one another. What’s Florida anyway? Just dead sand and high-rises. It’s the Florida event we’re after . . .
Just before daybreak the alarm went off. As I turned to hit snooze, the front door opened. “Mom, Dad, I’m home.” What? Colin’s voice! I’d know it anywhere. Sharon and I jumped out bed, ran down the hall, and there embraced the Florida event.