Sunday, March 01, 2009
A testimony of sorts, from ER
We were both college kids working a summer in a factory. He was a major skeptic.
I was surprised to learn from his Facebook page that he'd become a Christian, at age 37. So, I asked for his testimony -- quaint term, useful exercise -- and he gave it, and I did so in return.
Here 'tis. Feel free to do likewise, or not -- with a testimony of faith, conversion, deconversion, rediscovery, whatever. As we like to say in the United Church of Christ, "whereever you are on your journey, you're welcome here." (Srsly, despite occasional flare-ups.)
First, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks, or to change my mind, like the Book of Jonah says God did regarding the destruction of Ninevah (a point I will drive to anyone who insists that "God never changes," or, that God is not "still speaking, or any such:
First, some nuts and bolts:
I was saved at 8 at First Baptist Church in XXXXX. I remember consciously responding to the invitation to become a Christian and follow Jesus during an altar call. Over the course of the next several weeks, the pastor came to our house several times and walked me through some Scriptures -- the main one being the very one that to this day keeps me grounded:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Then I got dunked. Part of the youth group through high school, and I developed a taste for beer at the same time. At 19 or so, as the Southern Baptist Convention got more and more fundamentalist, and my church did, too, I saw a temperance statement show up in the front of our hymnals. It pissed me off, because I was there every time the church doors were open, including the monthly business meetings, and this had never come up: The deacons had taken it upon themselves to put it in there. I knew enough about Baptist polity to know that was wrong. So, I quit going.
Rarely ever went to church during college, but never left faith otherwise. ... For 10 years in Texas, I attended but never joined a United Methodist church. ... Early-mid 1990s, I was in love with, and lived with, a girl who was a recovering alcohol and crack addict -- until she quit being clean. Long story. Point being, those were some dark days, but I don’t think God has ever seemed closer. In 1997, I married a cradle Catholic who had been abused by Baptists as a kid.
Moved to OKC and (my job) in 1999. Grad school, M.A. in history, completed in 2004, which is when I started my blog, where I found myself regularly cussing and discussing politics and religion and matters of faith with fundamentalists, as well as others. I realized that as long as I was not active in a church, I really had no leg to stand on to make any kind of argument about the faith life, Christianity or anything else. That prepared my mind.
Hurricane Katrina prepared my heart -- it broke it for me to see all those helpless people, and it reminded me that I had lost sight of the fact that the main object of the faith life is not the salvation of ourselves but the extension of Grace, and Love, and Kindness, and Giving to others in Christ’s name.
About the same time, I saw the United Church of Christ “Bouncer” TV ad; it shows a bouncer turning people away from a traditional-looking church if they looked “different” -- make that “gay.” And I wept. And I repented of the unthinking homophobia I grew up around and inherited.
And I started attending a local Congregational church that is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. That was in 2005. In July 2006, I joined. In 2007, I volunteered for the Communications Committee. This year, I’m a deacon.
Those are the nuts and bolts!
A couple of years ago, the Lenten reading-lecture series at church was on “This I Believe,” the book and NPR program. We wrote out our own 500-word “This I Believe” essays. This was mine:
“This I Believe’
The preacher’s message was so clear I thought I could draw it. So I did.
With a dainty “lady’s” pen and pad from Mama’s purse, a huge black thing with a vicious metal snap and a hard, flat bottom with sharp corners, I drew what I heard the preacher say.
At top: “God,” just the word, with some lines for light rays around it. At bottom: A stick figure of a boy: Me. Between, another stick figure, a cross, for Jesus.
I put the cross there because the preacher said, according to the Old, Old Story, God loved us so much that he put it there: “A Savior came from Glory.”
I looked up and Mama smiled at my handiwork. As a hymn played, I stepped out into the aisle and I walked to the front, and I prayed with the preacher.
This I believe: At that moment, the spirit of Jesus, my friend, helper, Savior in ways even more mysterious to me today than then, at age 8 -– his spirit of honesty, openness, willingness, kindness, love and justice -- did, in fact, come into my heart.
Grace, Grace -- “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed” -- found me, in a Southern Baptist church in a small Southern town. In that congregation I first learned my privilege and obligation as a Christian to give grace away as freely as it was given to me.
That was then. Jimmy Carter knows. Bill Moyers knows. I dare say Bill Clinton knows.
The sprit of Jesus saves.
The spirit of Jesus saved me from racism when in my teens, the Ku Klux Klan tried to resurrect. I could not square such rhetoric and meanness with the Gospel as preached at that little church.
The spirit of Jesus saved me from the mood of greed that dominated the 1980s when I was in college, a worldly spirit perfectly depicted in a familiar dorm-room poster of the era: “Poverty Sucks,” it says, over a big photo of a big man, a self-satisfied prig wearing jodhpurs, tweed jacket, sporty cap and riding boots, glass in hand, wine in an ice bucket on the bumper of a gaudy Rolls Royce.
The spirit of Jesus kept me in the 1990s, lingering, loitering it seemed at times, whispering, tickling the ears of my soul, pricking my heart, even as I went my own way in my own prodigality, wasting my substance, living riotously.
Not long ago, the spirit of Jesus wrecked a particularly stubborn cultural vestige of my upbringing, destroying my selfish, unthinking bias against same-sex orientation, as sure as he destroyed the money changers’ tables in the temple.
But, I want to be greedy. I want to waste my substance. I want to think myself better than others, black others, homosexual others, other nations' others, other religions' others. It’s natural.
There is God, me, and the spirit of Jesus, saving me from myself, when I let myself go. It’s supernatural, but really so clear you can draw it.
In a discussion later, I added: “The only thing 'fundamentalist' in what I wrote is the setting. Very careful to use the ambiguous 'spirit of Jesus' to signify that, to be honest, I don't know whether it is the Lord God Almighty himself in the Person of the Son, or Jesus in the squishier and mystical 'where two or three of y'all get together, there I am in the midst of you' sense -- but that whichever, the point is, it TOOK that day back in '72, and my God consciousness, in the Judeo-Christian sense, has followed me around like the bowl of Creme of Wheat in that old TV spot ever since.
A few weeks ago, an atheist asked me why I am a Christian. I said:
In the words of the great American philosophers, The Byrds, later seconded by The Doobie Brothers, and later others:
Jesus is just alright with me.
Truths, by the way, are universal if they're truths. So no, as far as the teachings of Christ, they're not unique.
Teachings *about* Christ -- which is usually what Christians disagree about most -- even share some similarities with other belief systems.
I think Jesus of Nazareth was divine in some way -- that is, closer to God/theGround of All Being/the Creator/pick a label, than most other human beings.
I think the things he is said to have said about God, so radical in first-century Palestine, are radical still today. Not only "Love God, love others, love yourself" in a mental-philosphical-emotional sense, but get out among the least of humanity, love them with your presence as well as your giving; blow off religious structures and traditions and rules when they get in the way of living and loving.
I think that interpreting this radical Galilean sage as the Messiah was a logical thing to do for his earliest followers, since by following him they already had started to make a fundamental break with the orthodoxy of their day; they either had to find a way to extend some strains of their pre-Jesus world view and concept of God to envelope Jesus and their experience with him, or experience an even more violent psychic break, the kind that would have left them spiritually adrift and hopeless.
I think the Greek interpretation of Jesus as a human expression of Logos also is a logical way for Greek gentiles to interpret the Jesus phenomenon, tying him, as it did, to existing concepts of the divine principle of the universe, the basis of the cosmological order, or however you want to say it.
Both, the Jewish Christian interpretation and the Greek interpretation, which ties together sort of in the Jewish concept of Wisdom, or Sophia, express the same basic idea:
The man Jesus, whether by pointing to God by attracting human beings to one another through his teachings; or by demonstrating fidelity to God and humanity by standing up for God's love of (or animation of, or empowering of, or whatever) humanity and the divine call for humans to love one another to the bitter end of his own execution -- whichever -- I find the attraction to him, the study of him, the call to follow him and mimic him, irresistible.
As much harm as Christians have occasionally done to the world, I find the teachings of Christ worth pondering and worth basing, or attempting to base, a life on.
And the sheer scope of differences over time, and among contemporary believers, as to who Jesus is/was, what it all means, etc., make the casual but serious study of theology fascinating to me.
Anyway, there’s more than you ever wanted to know. Yourself?
I went through a "crisis of faith" for a while in college, but it was neither very deep nor very serious, at least in retrospect. I suppose for my 19 yo self it was traumatic. In fact, though, it really wasn't.
After a bit of life smacked me about the face and neck and shoulders after college, I thought I wanted to be a minister (my father said it was like the Foreign Legion with me and he was right), and that's how I ended up at Wesley Theological Seminary. Funny enough, not being a minister was fine, but I ended up marrying a seminarian, and have spent my adult life in the midst of church.
I have to admit that where I stand now is not where I stood five years ago, and in all likelihood "stand" is hardly a good word at all. I usually use the story from Genesis of Jacob wrestling with the angel as a metaphor for my own faith life. The story says the wrestled all night long, and Jacob got the better of him, until the angel cheated a little, hamstringing Jacob. Funny enough, the angel seemed to understand his victory was pyrrhic, as Jacob demanded a blessing, even though he lost.
I don't wrestle with the usual "belief/unbelief" stuff of modernity; nor do I wrestle with the "relevance/irrelevance" stuff of post-modernity. Rather, my struggle has always been about whether or not I should make sense of it all, then get going, or just get going and hope for the best. Funny enough, when I realized I was going even while wrestling with whether I should start out or not, I realized I had already lost.
Also - full confession here - I must admit that there is a part of me that seems to be in prayer, or some kind of contact, with God. I find myself at the oddest times - driving down the road, at work, sitting with a cup of coffee - in some kind of monologue with God. Paul's admonition to "Pray without ceasing" has always been a cornerstone of my adult faith life. Whether this makes me sound weird or not, I don't know. It's who I am.
Sonme people "get" saved. Others realize they *are* saved. Still others never knew a time when they didn't have a thing going with God through Christ. And for others, "saved" is jargon not in their experience.
Dr. ER went to a parochial school in first through third grade. In publis school in fourth grade, she told me just yesterday, some Baptist kids cornered her one day and demanded to know, "Are you saved??" She said she said to them: "From what??"
:-) I love that story.
By 27 I weren't to sure.
By 40 I was down to a handle full of certainty.
By now I just not bound by any of the things I was, say, when I was 18 or so.
Like GKS I sense I'm connected to and in touch with the source of the cosmos. Whatever "Saved" means it is a certainity that all souls will be.
Even though I've been on the trail a long time and seems like I've gone far, I can still look back and see where I came from but looking ahead it seems a long long ways to what ever is up there.
I tend toward universalism, myself.
I was in a (VERY bad) christian rock band throughout my 20s, still very traditional in many regards, fire and brimstone, gays can't marry, etc, etc. BUT, the advantage and great blessing of my upbringing and my pals in the band was that we ALL did try to take the Bible extremely seriously, to take the teachings of Jesus pretty literally.
Well, the more I did that, the less comfortable I was with the traditional church in general and SouBapts in particular. One day, I picked up a book by Art Gish called "Living in Christian Community," and read about the Hutterites, the Amish, the Mennonites and other traditional peace and simplicity churches and said, "Whoa! THIS is me! THIS is my faith tradition!" and here I am today at a very anabaptist-y community where I can be challenged meaningfully to live in Jesus' footsteps.
And I never had to leave church to find it, for which I'm thankful.
I do have to disagree with your thoughts that all will be saved and I hope that does not upset you, but I have never found that in the Bible and that is what I depend upon. Thanks, ER. mom2
I truly do not have any biases against any people, but I do have biases against bad behavior and bad language.
Given that you only criticize those on the Left, though, even when bad behavior and bad language is being used by the Right (oftentimes at the places we frequent, mostly by those on the Right), can you forgive us for thinking that there are biases in your criticisms?
That is, if you'd criticize Rightey X when he refers to "faggots" and worse when we're having discussions about gay marriage, or if you criticized Right Y who spreads lies about others (ie, bad behavior), then your own claim not to have biases would hold more water with us. As it is, you seem to tend to do drive by snipes at those you disagree with without ever engaging in actual conversations and without ever criticizing your Rightish Comrades and thus, claims of no bias are hard to believe.
If The Friends (Quakers) didn't have their own linear conservatives I might have gone to their fold years ago. But since then I have begun to see the "Church" as something less than it presents itself.
Is that a comment that relates somehow to this blog or to our comments?
It is obvious to reasonable folk, but for others, allow me:
1. No one has said we're perfect. In fact, I'm pretty daggone sure each one of us has given testimony to our lack of perfection.
2. No one has claimed to know mom2 so well. Rather, we have evaluated her hateful, antagonistic and biased comments based on the words she used. If she doesn't want us to form an opinion (that she only criticizes the Left, that she is mean-spirited, etc), then perhaps she should use different words.
I was wondering (in a nice way) if you and drlobo believe there is a hell, because "if" everyone is going to be saved there would be no need of a hell.
I read this Heartlight daily Bible Verse and devotional this morning and think it is very good.
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Thoughts on today's verse
No matter how we try to perceive God, he is still God and we are not. We must forever remember that the original, and still primary sin was to try to become like God in terms of knowledge and understanding. We are to know God, but we can never fully know about him. We are to take on his character, but we cannot approach his majesty. This is both exciting and frustrating. But the promise remains that one day we will be like him and see him as he is.
Tender Shepherd, thank you for being so patient with me when I cannot fully understand and appreciate your holy and transcendent character. Thank you for sending Jesus so I can know you better and trust you to know me better than I know myself. I look forward to seeing you face to face when Jesus comes to bring me home. Until that day, please know I love you. Through Jesus I offer my thanks and praise. Amen.
Hi mom2. Thanks. I miss my mama every day.
On hell: Boy, that's such a can-of-worms topic.
Do I believe in a Lake of Fire? No. Eternal "torment"? No.
Eternal separation from God? I find that hard to accept, as well. What kind of god would DO that? That's not righteous. It's sadism.
But, clearly evil exists. Clearly, if there's anything to anything, evil must have its "reward" -- and it must have an end separate and different than love, otherwise none of thesr words have any meaning at all.
Rather than "hell," I think I'm more inclined to believe that selfishness is a dead-end road. Maybe the more selfish people get, in the day-to-day as well as metaphysical sense, the smaller they get, until eventually "blip!" they're gone.
On the other hand:
God in Christ descended into hell, Scripture says.
"If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there," the Psalmist says of God. (139:8).
Frederick Buechner then observes: "It seems there is no depth to which he will not sink. Maybe not even Old Scratch will be able to hold out against him forever."
Imagine that. The devil himself gets saved!
At it's first- and second-grade Sunday School lesson level, though, the whole idea that good little boys and girls get to go to heaven and bad little boys and girls have no choice and are consigned to eternal perdition is contradicted by the massive weight of Biblical testimony; indeed, there is nothing Biblical at all about this idea, but is rather an accretion of myth, legend, and pop philosophy baptized sometime in the late Dark Ages, and given some kind of imprimatur not by Scripture but the poetry of Dante Allegheri.
Now that's a Hell of a question!
I've been working on that one for some time. If there is a Hell, I don't think it will be the lake of fire or ice river as depicted in the popular writings and art of the past two millenium. It will be, as GKS has said, a place where God will not intrude upon you. If it does exist the Anguish and Angst of not being with God would be an agony that fire nor cold could approach.
But in that I believe that God is the core of the cosmos and being such he is in us and we are of him, also as GKS infers, how can we be without him.
Heaven is a corollary concept that might explain my concept of "Hell". I believe everyone can have all of the heaven they can tolerate.
Now I know that Purgatory is a concept, defunct in the Roman Church, but still (under another name) current in the LDS Church.
Maybe that's a temp hell where "the reluctant" go until they give it up. Of course the concept of a temporary holding area for souls to work their way through is very much ancient Egyptian, That is if they were not so bad that Anubis just feeds them directly to Ammut and he digests their soul and shits them out into oblivion.
If we're saved by grace and not by works, as they supposedly believe (but don't, apparently) what's the point of threatening the unsaved with hellfire and eternal perdition anyway? And certainly those of us who are already saved don't care about the threat anyway.
I think we need a faith that gets past the boogymen of prehistoric religious thought and focuses on stuff that actually matters. At some point in the past we stopped throwing virgins into volcanos. It might be nice if our childish faith grew up a little bit in other ways as well.
When I was a kid, if I misbehaved (especially if I misbehaved in late autumn) my Dad, Mom, or even my brothers would say something like. "Uh oh! I just saw Santa, peeking in the window. He saw you being naughty!"
That's Hell. Actually, it's most people's belief about God too, now that I think about it. Perhaps that's why the fundies are so concerned about Hell ... because they don't know the difference between God and Hell. It's all the same Big Angry Santa to them.
Anyway, that's a bit sidetracked from the topic of offering testimonies, I guess. Funny how that happens.
But in that I believe that God is the core of the cosmos and being such he is in us and we are of him, also as GKS infers, how can we be without him.
Sheer choice, perhaps? In the same sense that we can be lonely in a crowd, or fail to see the beauty of a perfect sunset, even though we're outside watching, due to a bitter hatred eating at our hearts for some perceived or real slight?
I agree with many here: Hell is separation from God and I believe with some here that God will not force God's Self on others. We are free to stew in hatred and solitude, even if we are surrounded by friends or by God's own Self.
For the sake of discussion would that not deny free will?
Or if we are a spark of God that is simply seperated from him why would He have to wear us down to get us to rejoin the whole?
Or if he has selected only a certain group of us as some would contend how would you escape him if you were of that group and why bother with him if you are not?
And your last is a GREAT question better posed to someone who is sure about who's in and who's out.
Let's see now, if for example, Angelina Jolene sat on your lap and wooed you and coaxed you and for for unknow reason Dr. ER insisted you go with her. That you say requires an act of will?
Even I am not that weak....er strong...oh well... I mean...what free will would there be involved in that?
God love ya. these posts rawked! i've never been "born again" however.. just part of the "once born". always try'n to walk with Jesus despite his followers. ;-D