Proposal For Conversion

The BeginningThis is a proposal I sent to an organization called Communion and Liberation.  They have an annual convention once a year called New York Encounter.  They are accepting proposals from people who have something to share that would fit with their theme.  A different theme each year.  For next year it is “something to start from”.  Hopefully what I write below fits.  It is attended by many people who are not necessarily Catholic or even Christian of any kind.  So I do speak in doctrinal terms here but hopefully in an approachable way.   

Enjoy,

Jason Miller

Greetings in Christ,

My name is Jason Miller, and I am a Catholic convert after over 30 years of practicing as a faithful and engaged protestant. Professionally, I am an Arizona-based therapist and my therapeutic approach is partly strengths-based in supporting clients towards their goals. In addition to my work as a therapist, I am also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Phoenix. 

My proposal for my exhibit is called “Critical Impressions in Conversion.”  I write, “Critical Impressions” due to first impressions of Jesus discipling people in the first week of His public ministry.  What could be limited to first impressions, I suggest, are to be always applicable “critical impressions” as Christians are called to ongoing conversion. 

In humanity we often are restless and repelled from conversion though it meets our  inner hunger summed up well by how “our hearts are restless for thee” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The chief traits of the gospel addresses this restlessness are how “God is with us” in the Incarnation, has “mercy on us” in the Cross, and continues victory in us by the Resurrection.  Grace can work in our hearts a conscious awareness of knowing Jesus is looking at us to engraft this reality in our souls.  It is in his gaze we know God wants holistic salvation as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  A good place to start from.  Engagement in communion with Christ and the Church lifts up those parts that are meant to be fulfilled in him.  Guesses with reason alone point only to natural faculties of the person and lack the dimension of the “religious sense” that Fr. Giussanni wrote of. 

In my experience as a therapist, where I cannot explicitly refer to sin or share the gospel, behavioral sciences show the gaps in the person to be recognized then perfect in grace. I want to address several inner tensions to authentic conversion, and how they look if  they can be contextualized with grace.  I use an acronym to groups that approaches this with a neutral then strengths-based perspective. These concepts are in the acronym GOSCAMP:guilt, openness, skepticism, confusion, anxiety, manipulation and preparation.  These are the points of the human condition we are meant to meet Jesus and be changed in. What I do with each is show how each in the pure sense are neutral. 

The analogy I make is without being an athlete I can push a large truck down the road on one condition: put it in neutral for me.  So too can someone dealing with the factors below without a reminder in the right direction or too often in this fallen world in the wrong direction on these key points.  After having “de-neutralized” each, I challenge the hearer to drive slowly forward rather than staying neutral on those terms. 

But Jesus, if fully interpreted as Savior, addresses these things and so should the Church.  I thus point to the first week of Jesus’ public ministry to illuminate how the divine encounter of Jesus transforms the very fiber of our being.  This Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) does this work in the full presentation of gospel essentials, proper formation of the conscience and a mindfulness of his presence in our silence before him alone.

More substantively, for “something to start from” I will be pointing to the first days of Jesus discipling people in divine yet mundane encounters.  Below I outline how Jesus, who does not change, converses with the common struggles in humanity and draws them to himself.  So too can those who want more of the light of Christ can be discipled in and pass on to others like one beggar telling the other where to find bread.  These are indeed critical impressions by which conversion fits largely on the merit that Jesus does not change. 

Day One is the prophetic encounter with truth.  In this case it was John the Baptist  who shook up precious paradigms and even personal places of power meant to be shifted.  Some hear this today and stay for more.  Those who do stay choose the way of preparation for whatever comes next in the Lord.  It is to “make straight the paths of the Lord”.

Day Two- – Some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they then would “Behold the Lamb” being baptized. We are meant for openness to see Jesus but on his terms.  God works to show us his ways in matter.  It is to be heavenly minded while in context of earthly good. These are like two rivers meant to flow together. Confusion is an initial reaction to this which can give way to see spirit and matter contradicting rather than complimentary like the gnostics. Grace perfects nature and makes them complimentary in contemplation. 

Day Three- – Some saw Jesus as someone to dwell with and therefore fellowshipped with the Lamb- Holy Friendship. One only knows more if they “come and see” as Jesus said to his first followers.  At 4pm the future apostles John and Andrew went and stayed with Jesus. 

Day Four- Jesus here calls one to personal mission of service in his kingdom as happens with Peter.  In the early encounters of Jesus with Peter his struggle with guilt turns into shame.  Guilt is spiritual pain. Guilt is for the mistakes we make or the sins we have done against our conscience.  Shame says that we are a mistake putting us into spiritual shock and not seeing hope for change.   Ongoing mission, like in the early encounters with Peter, is key here in grace. Though Peter tells Jesus to get away from him with his “resume”, Jesus responds with mission.  Mission is manipulation redeemed for it educates us in the pure sense like pure education.  Education comes from educare which draws from within.  The calling of Jesus addresses how his life is walked out individually. 

Also the same day Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry. Nathanael asked behind Jesus’ back if anything good could come out of Israel.  Jesus miraculously responded by complimenting him on his straightforward demeanor in place of “guile”.  While Ignatius of Loyola would call for contemplation, which is valid,  there is a beauty of skepticism. Ongoing engagement of reason is not an enemy of faith.  “The Truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority which holds out to theology and philosophy alike the prospect of support, stimulation and increase (Fides Et Ratio, para.92). Without skepticism, we are not stimulated. I could guess that he had anxiety, but his anxiety of Jesus that could have been on the exposing miracle, but changed to fear of the Lord.   

Days 5 and 6 on their way to a wedding in Cana-  One takes time in contemplation of Christ on their favorite angle of him.  I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all like flashpoints of conversion.  To sum up on these points I would say the first and ongoing critical impressions of Jesus are preparation over stagnation, contemplation over confusion, communion over isolation, grace over shame, and skeptical seeking over blind cynicism. 

But not with Our Lady since she is best disciple of them all.  She asked “how can this be”? about conceiving as a virgin.  It says, twice “she pondered these things in her heart”. She had a sense of esteem in God’s love in saying “I am the Lord’s servant”.  These first impressions of this mysterious carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth were critical and lifelong impressions for Mary who was full of grace and leads us to Jesus. In our case, gazed upon by Jesus in all of the parts of us, we can be also filled every day. 

Day 7-   The conversion of the heart.  One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey like the disciples did at the wedding at Cana.  You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding far above the one studied in the verses below.   Some wrongly think Jesus rebuked Mary for her approach about fixing a wine situation.  But the idiomatic impression meant there is nothing between him and her.  Though we were conceived in sin, we can be asked to be filled with grace now and push the throttle of faith on the upside of our internal struggles in receiving everything Jesus that he wants to be in us.  Today we can know God’s narrative of ourselves with a holistic understanding of the gospel that saves the whole person. 

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Seeking UNity

UnitedLast week was a great Easter celebration.  In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday.  I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love. 

Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world.  Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one.  That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.

For there is much that divides Christians too.  There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”.  And the world is watching.  Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points. 

But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story.  There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team.  I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her.   It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ.  There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.

I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is.  Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind.  I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season.  It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free.  This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now. 

1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.  If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church.  In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can. 

2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition.  It is not a matter of getting converted.  Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions. 

3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness. 

4:  Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity.  40 days won’t kill you.  I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter.  Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate. 

5:  On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions.  This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration. 

6:  Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition.  I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor. 

7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel.  In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”.  He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity.  What does that mean?  Worth prayerfully considering. 

8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some.  With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week.  If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it.   Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.   

As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path.  I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11.  I was baptized at 15.  All of this in the Protestant tradition.  At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church.  My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later.  As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband.  I love them all. 

I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself.  When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others.  No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply.  I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love.  Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love.  We must all keep love.  Love never fails.   

Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man

 

Changing perspective at a basic level can be hard.  Even more when a person has a privilege in perspective that is above their peers.  In someone at the pinnacle of the physical sciences the bias is called scientism in only confining what can believed by the quantifiable.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on meaning per what a person or group defines as true or good today.  Good can come from inquiry when one asks the right questions.  A high expression of truth is in the words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order. 

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed as divine “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and the lease for Jesus in his day was theology.  Such a man that had such qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodemus.  He could influence what was defined as truth among the leaders.  One night he encountered a man who was both a rabbi and a simple ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and last challenged him.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of spiritual hunger when one sees the introductory basics of Jesus. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom but anchored in heaven.  To accept that good news one transitions from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  This is the theological normative of baptism.  Amniotic fluid was never referred to as the context here by the early church.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says,”baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity. 

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit— This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to keep yielding to the Holy Spirit.  This is childlike trust unto God.

One may rationalize this call saying wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case. The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  When we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the word pneuma  (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel, 2002).  This spirit is that of adoption and fundamental transformation of the person in light of God’s voice crying out from us in the fulness of a divine adoption, suffering and always hope. 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).   

How can this happen?— Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit his theological paradigm.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus challenges him to get over it through the message of being born again unto God the Father in heaven. 

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to get the jist. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breathing, living and talking he offers something that is incomparable. 

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ. 

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Though not the words of Jesus, rich in meaning.  Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, contemplative and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ in the fulness of such belief.   

But we are to be also informed in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, if you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid,  great! But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are not walking by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Having spiritual credentials is not the same as knowing Jesus.  An actively challenging gospel to us is on our “spiritual privilege” assumption.  He does not change but we do.  The choice to stay only as inquirer is on us if we will turn to Jesus as more than just favored of God but as Lord. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity). 

Right Resolve. Not Just Resolution

Heart by hands in the sunAs I am writing this, It is New Year’s Day of 2018. People love to make resolutions with some of theme having a permanent effect.  Honestly, some of them can be superficial or easy.  They say “I have a resolution to change”.  Resolution means one has resolve to follow through if one takes the wording correctly. 

But people can lose the emotional fuzz and let go.  In fact, give the person enough time and they will forget they made it. 

But conversion is a different thing.  There is an indelible mark on the person’s soul and their biography is not the same.  The story of their life has a reference point for context. 

There are some dramatic conversions that can change someone’s story.  Governor George Wallace was a racist, pro-segregation governor who changed his mind and heart and apologized.  There was one man who was party to religious persecution and the death of at least one good person who changed and became the Apostle Paul.  I knew someone who was a Neo-Nazi, violent meth dealer who came to fulness of life as a Christian minister.  By the time I knew him he was a soft-hearted man serving the mentally ill and addicted with tact and wisdom.  There is a line of before and after in an encounter with divine love.  True Love is a person who loves us as we are but too much to stay the way we are. 

This is why in a way we who call ourselves by the Christian name should always be converting.  Constant conversion speaks to constant grace that stirs us on to our calling.  Jesus said,  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  And this is not impossible to attain at temporary, precious moments to be savored just as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  Standing by grace is good but walking continually in grace is the gospel taking on flesh in our lives. 

I can testify that I became a Christian at a young age but I am having a conversion season right now and it is not the first time.  Below is my history.

1:  A rainy day in Newport, Oregon my cousin explained the gospel and led me in the “Sinner’s Prayer” of the Protestant tradition.  I accepted Jesus in my heart and meandered clumsily through the Bible for the next few years. 

2:  At 14 I met a friend who took me to my first regular church (I was not raised by Christians) and got more grounded on the fulness of Jesus and the Bible. 

3:  At 18 I was stressed with a lot of self-confidence issues, struggling with learning disabilities and discord with my parents when a spiritual older man came into my life with some light and some mixed bag insights.  Some conversions can be a mixed bag but God allows it so we can know more about what the pure is when we get our feet back under us.  When it was good, it was good.  But when it was toxic…Jesus gets very blurry when a pseudo-savior gets in the mix. Long story, ugly story. 

4: At 27 I got my feet back under me.  I went back to a well rounded church on a day they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”.  My wife at the time was leaving me for another man.  Our children  were 5, 3 and under 1.  I used only a Bible for a year with few commentaries so that I would be re-grounded with the simple Jesus Christ. 

5:  By 35, life as a non-custodial father was hard and unfair.  Bitterness and entitlement over time had set in.  Through a combination of events and also brothers and sisters in Christ that served me “black coffee with no cream or sugar”.  I really let go of my entitlement. And then I got married to my best friend at 36.  Sigh.  The end.  Or so I thought. 

6: By 42, life was sort of looking good outwardly.  I had finally got my bachelors degree.  My wife and I had two beautiful children together.  We had moved from cloudy Oregon to sunny Arizona.  What could I want spiritually when we were also going to a good, local church with a very committed pastor?

But by then, skepticism had been setting in which is good if you distinguish it from cynicism. Below are some questions that had been on my mind for a few years.  

Up on the stage, there should be some focal, physical point of worship to God that is not some fallible human being.  Why has this not been figured out?

Christianity was so divided with so many voices and divided interpretations of the Bible.  There should be some environmental thing or something by which the Body of Christ can be united.  Why not?

I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for some reason very often the last two months.  Why do I not see something authoritative that I can recognize? 

Jesus had the answer for all of that.  The answers begin with him and end with him.  After months of prayer, study of the Bible and viewing history I realized the reference point was the Catholic Church.  I “came out of the closet” to my wife that I was being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church.  She was not thrilled but I knew, ironically in the words of Martin Luther “Here I stand I can do no other” and was received in 2013.  She was received in 2014. These recent years have been my most grace and joy filled years as a Christian I have ever had.  

  But I am still converting.  I have discovered the beauty in the Catholic Church with approved ecclesial communities that have respective concentrations on some parts of the kingdom, include intensive Bible study and intentional fellowship.  My wife and I recently discerned out of one and I am investigating another. God’s grace sustains me. 

There is a phrase from Buddhists I like that is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  There is applicable truth from that in how God is living and active with the gift of mystery to our “figure-it-out” tendencies.   

So with that here are my impressions. 

1: Christianity at its core is not as much on the small details one knows but who you know.  And the Who is the central person by whom one is truly known.   

2:  Jesus is The Way.  But Jesus allows in our lives persons and faith communities by which one finds a way that reflects part of the Way.  This is why I still cherish the Protestant pastors and friends that instilled in me much of my understanding of Jesus. 

3:  God is practical.  He took on flesh and bone in Jesus.  Talking up in the clouds gets old and it should. Likewise on click, inside track Christian- see.  Speak plainly when possible. 

4:  Take the Bible thankfully but not literally.  Sounds blasphemous?  Should I take the library literally? Depends on the genre. 

5: Thomas Jefferson said ”Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question even God.  For if there be a God, he must want honest questioning rather than blindfolded fear.” We are invited by Jesus to ask the touch questions.  And so, dear reader, come to Jesus and bring your honest questions with you.  Jesus can take it and any movement connected to him can take it too.      

So, there your have it.  It is not the end for me.  It is a process by which faith and reason work together.  

—— The Ongoing.

Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Come, See and Stay at The Well Part I

samaritan-woman-edit

There can be many points of bias that one can have in spiritual seeking whether they are honestly skeptical or even a cynic.  In this line of study in doubt and inquiry in an encounter with Christ there is something to be appreciated for those who are marginalized from a societal influence that makes them think that by the group they belong to or what they have done that Jesus as Savior need not apply.  It would be almost like a given that a message like a goodness that is “up there” cannot be projected “down to” the one who feels marginalized.  Case in point to be seen below in one woman who felt unworthy for the reasons above of Jesus’ friendship and attention.  I should also point out that the Christian message is that Jesus is the same always.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:7-29).

Come 

A woman of Samaria came …”“How can you, a Jew…?”— Here is a socially based assumption.  Then and now there are assumptions in cultures about Christianity and even about Jesus due to a lack of good representation of the basics of Jesus and lack of universality in the representation by Christians.  A clash of Jesus and one who is alienated through such suppositions is not inherently bad.  In this scene Jesus can especially see conflict as an opportunity for a proposal of sorts.

you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?— Here is a part of the dialogue where they are sort of speaking past each other.  The woman thinks only by a natural terms but Jesus speaks in spiritual life.

The key term is life with a definition analogously informed by biology.  Definitions of a life include eating, growing and reproducing.  For this life to dwell and overflow means that she can be touched by the life of Jesus and that this life can extend through her to others.  Later that day this seems to play out.

Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

This is a baby step to conversion.  She is taking a step that Jesus can do something life changing but limits it to only changing her physical circumstance.

This points to two thinking errors.  The first is motivated by her basic needs taking precedence.  The second is that Jesus will make her literal well give endless water just for her like the earth should literally revolve around her.  The gospel has good and bad news: God loves us and has a plan for our lives that we should submit to but the bad news is that it is not all about us individually.  That said, at least she is starting to see Jesus as being able to deliver something though with limitations.

I do not have a husband—  This is a moral turning point in being encountered by Jesus. As a person or a group gets engaged with the gospel it should be known that the message of God’s kingdom, though of grace, puts our lifestyle on trial.  In a post-Christian culture the rhetoric gets only better and better at putting objective moral values on trial.  Yet, the Christian Church of the 1st century was known to be “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Objective moral truth can be put on trial, albeit wrongfully.

But there is even more of an increase in her faith emerging in the encounter that is good.  She did not yet know all of Jesus’ capabilities and could have lied.  She could have said that her “husband” was away on a trip.  What is implied is the beginnings of confessing how messed up her life has become.  She is starting to slowly rip the band-aid off.  But Jesus picks up the pace.

Conversion Hindsight

Entering Catholic Church

I need to interrupt my series on Sermon on The Mount.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this Easter on what my life is like since the big change.  Not a sex change operation.  Not a marriage situation.  A lot less of a change than that but some would say more.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I became a Catholic at Easter Vigil 2013 in Wickenburg, Arizona.  This was after considering myself a lifer Protestant for thirty years.  I had been in several denominations and one underground church.  My direct formation had included periods of discipleship from godly men and a semi-formal theological institution at a good church that I went to for several years at Living Hope Fellowship in Aloha, Oregon.  For a few years I was educated in theology, biblical hermeneutics and church history.  With the richness of those experiences, one would think that would stay a Protestant.

But being a Protestant was not enough.  After my wife and I left a great church in Portland when we moved to the suburbs, something seemed to be missing.  I had these occasional “bread crumbs” that I was not getting resolved.  Where is there a solid, unifying stance on social issues in Christianity?  Why did communion always seem to have something missing?  Why is there so much division?  And one question that I always had was: How can Christianity reclaim the lost,mysterious truths of the 1st century?

When we had moved to Arizona for a few months, I had some inexplicable obsession on the Lord’s Prayer.  It was so much in my head that it felt like a touch of insanity.  All I could pray was something like, “God, get this out of my head or show me your kingdom!”

One fateful night I stumbled on a show while channel surfing called, “Genesis to Jesus”.  It was a bible study led by Dr. Scott Hahn that traced patterns through the bible that anticipate both the coming of Jesus as Messiah and also The Catholic Church with it’s expression of grace and truth in the sacraments.  I went to many resources on the internet soon including from Protestant websites that presupposed that Catholics do not live a Christian life.  I prayed for God’s wisdom and really tried to “play both sides of the chess board”.  God won out and His leading has been the Catholic Church.  I was received in 2013 and my wife was received in 2014.

So what has changed concretely in how I live my life?

In the words of Catholic concert from Protestantism, “I get to know my sins are forgiven”.  This is not to say that I could not ask God for forgiveness before.  But in the sacrament of reconciliation unveiled in Sacred Scripture (Matthew 9:28, John 20:21-23, James 5:14-15) and Sacred Tradition there is a more holistic experience of God’s forgiveness.  Let me be clear on one point: I do not confess my sins to a priest instead of God.  I confess to God, occasionally, through a priest because when I sin it is against God and the Body.  God is not lessened but magnified.

That brings me to another aspect: Mary.  She said “my soul magnifies the Lord”.  When i reflect on Mary and ask for her intercession as the Queen of Heaven (Revelation 12:1-6) my appreciation of Jesus in the Incarnation and Atonement is only more well rounded which includes that the Kingdom is not “an old boys club”.  Starting with Mary, and not only because of her, I would say that the Catholic Church is the most feminist organization in the world.  And I say that with complete confidence as a masters level social worker.

And as a social worker I can turn to social issues. There is not enough space in one blog to address this property.  Suffice it to say that I appreciated Humanae Vitae and the parts of Theology of The Body that I have read.  The phrases that stand out in my years as a Catholic are the life and dignity of the human person and “We are called to love people and use things, not love things and use people”.  This ethic full explained has helped me to be more consistently pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and even to be less of a conservative Republican regarding immigration.

Speaking of humanity, there is two more portions of humanity that have been effected by my wife and I coming into the Catholic Church: Josiah and our unborn daughter yet to be named.  We were content with the game plan of having our two kids together my previous three.  But looking into the limitations couples put on the blessing of children stirred something in my wife first when she was not yet joining me in discerning the Catholic Church.  As of August I will hold in my arms by seventh child.

So, yes, I am glad to be Catholic.  The scary part in my research process was that I was not entirely sure what I was losing and what I was gaining. I can say that I am still an evangelical  and charismatic and definitely “a Bible Christian” (The Catholic Church ratified the canon of Sacred Scripture).  What I gained was the Church founded by Jesus, maintained from error on faith and morals and as universal as John 3:16’s words imply.  I am just glad to have hopped aboard and off the “protest”.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.catholicscomehome.org

http://www.catholic.com

http://www.instituteofcatholicculture.org