As 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.