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?