How I came to Christ, part I: My life before Jesus invaded it.

As we approach Easter, I’ve been mindful of Jesus impact on my life.
Easter has importance for all Christians, or atleast it should; it’s a celebration of Jesus victory over death and the changing of history.
Easter is also the time of the year I came to Christ. It was about one week before. I’m embarassed to say I can’t at this point, calculate whether it was 4 years ago or 5 years ago. (I’m fighting the flu today and a little muddle-headed. Maybe I’ll edit this post later when I figure it out.)
I thought what I’d do was post a series. This first one will describe what my life was like before Jesus. In the next one I’ll describe my conversion. In Part III, I’ll describe what my life has been like since then, how I think Jesus has changed me.
If I was Donald Miller I’d probably find something zany to say here to keep you interested and amused. Unfortunately, I’m no Donald Miller. But the good news is that it’s free to read my blog and you have to pay to read his books. So I guess you get what you pay for.
Anyway, I was not a Christian for most of my life.
This is probably an understatement. I was more-or-less anti-Christian all my life. I found Christianity cloying, superficial, hypocrtical, judgemental. The truth is, I sometimes still do. Sometimes– then and now– my irritation with Christianity is a result of my own sin, unhealthy expectations, and unfair expectations. Sometimes– then and now– my belief that Christianity is cloying, superficial, etc. is a result of the fact that Christianity is all those things.
I was fascinated by the person of Christ though. I was a seeker and found myself briefly flirting with a variety of traditions: Budhism, Unitarian Universalism, Hinduism.
I was raised in a home where I was encouraged to be inquisitive. Church was a thing we went to on occasional holidays to placate grand parents. Mostly it felt irrelevant. Occasionally, during the hymns, I’d get these little flashes of joy and truth. But mostly, it was this place that was embarassing to be. They all seemed to speak the language. They all knew what to expect. I felt like everybody was watching me and knowing I wasn’t one of them.
There were loud mouthed Christians in my life that caused me to doubt the movement that Jesus started. There were amazing, loving Christians that created this disconnect between what I wanted to believe about Jesus and what I actually saw.
I was an am a nature lover. I’d explore truth and Truth; wonder about what it all meant.
I became a philosophy major in college. The school I attended had some pretty heavy hitters. Folks who were also fascinated by the person of Christ. These are people I would have significant doctrinal disputes with today. One of these guys was a major player in the field of Religious Pluralism. Religious Pluralism is the belief that all the major world religions point to the same Ultimate Truth. Another of these guys was the major authorirty on the Gospel of Thomas. This guy flew to Egypt and created translation of this text that you can find at Barnes and Noble.
Many Christians would consider these guys dangerous. I think they are wrong… But I know that they had good hearts and I believe that the Holy Spirit was working through them, at least in as much as nurtured my fascination with this Jesus character.
If I was Brian Mclaren, I’d probably say something deep and provacotive here about how God works in the places we least expect him. But I am no more Brian McLaren than I am Don Miller.
I got a chunk of the way through graduate school. I was working on a Master’s Degree in Philosophy. It’s worth mentioning my life plan at this point. Those who know me generally find it amusing. This is what I’d planned for myself at the age of 22:
*To earn a masters and eventually a doctorate in Philosophy or Philosophy of Religion.
*To spend my life educating inquisitive college students.
* To climb up into an ivory tower, lock myself in, and throw away the key.
* To engage in serial monogamy: I’d given up on the idea that marriage makes any sense.
*To never, never, never have kids.

Contrast this with where my life is now:
*I’m a special education teacher… I did finally end up with My M.Ed.
*I’ve spent the last decade of my life educating behaviorally disorded adolescents.
*I’ve mostly taught in windowless, inner city class rooms. I once taught in a room so cold that we couldn’t use pens because the ink froze.
*I’ve been married to the light of my life for over a decade.
*I have 3 amazing kids.

At any rate, I had this plan.
Then I met my wife, a Christian. We had some challenges. We ended up with a child and not very much in common. We didn’t like each other much, in the early years of our marriage.
We’d debate Christianity. I was always super-proud of myself when I could trounce her faith.

My biggest issue with Christianity was the cross itself. It seemed like divine child abuse. It made so sense. I didn’t see myself in need of salvation.

I began to give on the Religios Pluralism program though. The more I studied, inquired, thought, and struggled the more it became clear to me that we have to do great violence to the world’s religious tradition if we’re going to try and line them all up to be saying the same thing.
I realized that there is some ethical common ground. (Though this sometimes gets over played.) But in order for the metaphysical claims of the great faith traditions to all be equally valid they have to be so utterly watered down that they are hardly worth adhering to.
One of my last requirements for my Master’s degree in philosophy was to pass a foreign language exam. Mounting bills for our newborn and my learning disabality got in the way of this. I ended up teaching in a residential facility. (Mostly because they were desperate not because I had any meaningful qualifications for the job.)
And at some point, my wife, just decided she wasn’t going to continue living the life she had been.
It was annoying at first. She had lines. I had lines. Had she lost her script? Didn’t she get it? On Mondays I was supposed to say foolish, hurtful things. She was supposed to retaliate. On Tuesdays, it was her turn to pick the fight. On Wednesdays, we’d both act stupid simultanously. On Thursdays… Well, you get the picture.
But she just stopped.
I didn’t for a long time.
I probably could have kept going forever if she’d continued to be as much an idiot as I was. But she wasn’t. I eventually got it: she’d made a decision to stop. She couldn’t change my behavior much but she could own responsibility for hers. And she just stopped.

This witnessed more loudly to me than a thousand debates. I don’t generally remember this very well: Serving and suffering are a thousand times the witness as argumentation and debate. But when I’m at my best I really do get it, because I experienced it.

We began going to a church. I mostly liked the music. But the sermons were relevant. I sometimes even found myself nodding my head to them, in agreement. (Whenever this was commented on by my wife I was sure to mantain rigid control over my head next time.) It fed my lifetime fascination with Jesus. (That was fellowship Church; there’s a link for it over to the right.)
I still struggled with the cross but I was able to articulate something I’d never been able to put words to before this: If I could just make Christianity seem plausible, if I could just make sense of things like the cross, it wouldn’t just be one possible explanation; it would be the full truth.

I shared some of my thoughts, fears, and struggles with the pastor and assistant pastor. (Marty also has a link over to the right.) In some sense, I was sort-of daring them, I think. Will you be able to handle this? Will you accept me even though I totally disagree with you?

Marty did more than accept what I had to say. He befriended me. When I’d share an objection to Christianity, sometimes he’d say “Well, some people believe this” other times he’d say “You know, a portion of the bible that seems relavant is…” In some ways, the type of response that impressed me most was when he said “I’ve never really thought of that before. That’s a really good point.”
Marty never made me feel like a product. He never engaged in a chess match. He heard me and agnowlodged that my wrestling match with God was legitimate. This witnessed to me more powerfully than a thousand business cards with bible passages written on them.
This was about the time that my wife almost died and a variety of other supports I’d always counted on completely fell apart. But I’m going to save that for Part II.

Leave some comments…. Are you a Christian? If not, what do you think of Jesus? What do you think of most Christians?
If you are a Christian, what was your life like before Jesus invaded it?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “How I came to Christ, part I: My life before Jesus invaded it.”

  1. Hey Jeff! I liked reading your testimony… do u think there is hope for my boyfriend? He’s Catholic but totally non commital and I’ve recently become interested in Church again and am freaking out because they say a Christian should not be with a non Christian. My best friends sister married a crazy guy like mine and he’s recently become a Christian.. so I’m hoping mine will too! It’s funny because he always wanted me to convert.. now I want him to! I just dont know how to go about it. If I don’t marry him I would want a man I feel as comfortable with as I do him, so it’s better if he becomes a Christian – right? Plus I think he needs God he’s like a raw diamond that hasn’t been cut yet; like me. I think he would be a fantastic. Anyhow do u have any tips?


  2. Thanks for your comments… and for asking my input.
    A few thoughts in no particular order:
    #1) The huge thing in my world was when my wife witnessed through her life and choices… She hardly at all talked about Jesus. It was much more when she acted on it that I was influenced… deeply. I continued acting like an idiot, mantaing old, destructive patterns. She just stopped. It was hard for me to miss this; when both people in a couple are acting like idiots this pattern can go on forever. But when only one person is, that’s a different thing. She put up with a lot of foolishness from me before it sunk in. I don’t know if I could have done it if the situation were reversed.

    #2) It might be wise to focus what you have in common: Jesus. It can be tempting, some times, to focus on what seperates you. I get that’s he’s only a lukewarm Catholic, but if I were in your shoes, it’d be tempting to focus on what seperates you: The Pope, centuries of Catholic traditions, etc…
    I’m not saying that these differences aren’t important. But I think focusing on them with him is just going to get his defences up… But if you begin by affirming the idea that Jesus is at the center of both of your faiths you can build a bridge rather than a wall… By focusing him on Jesus you’re almost reinforced by him, it’s like He joins the struggle.
    #3) I know that many people talk about not ‘yoking’ yourself to nonbelievers. I don’t think I could have come to Christ if my wife hadn’t come into my life and dated and eventually married me.


  3. Oh yeah, one more thing:
    I often hear Christian use the verses which speak of a yoke. After doing some homework, I’ve come to realize that this is more of a stretch than it appears.
    At Jesus time, a rabbi’s yoke was the specific way he understood what we call the Old Testament. For example some Rabbi’s had very strict, specific limits on the sort of work that could be done on the Sabbath. Others had more liberal expectations.
    When the bible talks about not yoking ourselves to nonbelievers, it’s not saying that we shouldn’t interact or have relations with them… When it uses the word “yoke” it’s quite specifically telling us not to submit ourselves to their religious rulings and expectations.


  4. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write to me I really appreciate it. Very kind of you. That was particularly interesting about the ‘yoking’ as everyone does refer to that. I guess I need to focus on my own relationship with God and hope he is somehow influenced. However at this moment I’m very sad and I’ll be praying that our relationship will indeed last as although I adore him I will be leaving him for a period of time so I hope we withstand the distance. Thanks once again.


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