The first friend was Sam, who I first met this year. He's 21 years old, married, and interested in philosophy and other people. He asked to meet me mostly so we could exchange stories. We both talked about the role of God and the Church in our lives, and when we parted I felt good about my story.
The second was David C., who I first met in university. We both lived in Pearson Scholarship Hall at the University of Kansas, but lost touch years ago. Then out of the blue I get a Facebook message from him: "Hi! Remember me? I found you, and read some of your posts. When did you become a Christian? I'd love to hear about it!"
I told him that I would get back to him. Which is what I am doing right now. And it's taking a while, because I didn't feel so good about my story at this point. I didn't feel so good, because by the time I first met him, I had been a Christian for years. Just not a very good one. Or at least not an obvious one.
The third request for my story coalesced from a few different directions: the first two requests, a sermon that my Dad is preparing, a marriage seminar Horyon and I attended that Saturday, Sunday's sermon, and a Sunday lunch conversation with my friends, Rick and Joe. By the end of lunch I shared with them the source of the third request: The Holy Spirit.
The Spirit was telling me a lot of things. "Share your story bigger, wider, farther. You are not disgusting to me. Your sins are covered, forgiven, forgotten. David won't judge you, your friends at Redeemer won't judge you, and even if they all do, We won't. Besides, you haven't posted to the Roblog since March. Seriously, it's been two months, and that last post was about your gout. You had no trouble publicly discussing the pain in your sole, so why not deal with the condition of your soul? Let's get something worth reading up there. Now get busy."
I only stalled for two days before getting started. Not bad for me. The 400 or so words up to here are the last of the stalling.
I grew up going to the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Leavenworth, KS. Sunday school, choir, youth group, camp and retreats. I turned 49 this year, and my childhood memories are hazy, but I was baptized around the age of 13, because that's when kids got baptized in our church. We took a class first, but I don't remember much about any of it. I certainly don't remember a sense of becoming a new creation.
If you had asked me, I'm sure I would have told you that I took my faith seriously, and that I believed in God, and that I was saved. I believed it then, and I believe my then-self's sincerity. I knew my Bible stories, I felt the love of God in my church. I believed.
I was a church camp counselor. I went to church camp and helped younger kids along the path of belief. In high school I attended a weekly morning prayer group, because I believed. I didn't talk about my belief in the halls or at lunch or in class, because people didn't do that, but I believed.
Then I went to university. I was on my own, and my weekends were mine to use as I pleased. I visited the local Disciples of Christ church a couple of times, but it didn't feel like home, so I didn't go back. Besides, I was home once or twice a month, and that was enough church.
I drank some alcohol there, but not nearly as much as a lot of people. Never more than once a week, and a lot less than that before I turned 21. And I know that I did some swearing, because there was no one telling me I shouldn't, or making me feel shame at it. And one way to blend in with a group and find acceptance is by using the same language that they do. So I did.
But I was still a believer. Not like David, but I believed. David wore his faith on his sleeve: relentlessly cheerful, kind to everyone, and always ready to talk about God. Church every Sunday, no drinking, no swearing. To him, I must have seemed like just another heathen.
Some time during this education, I took a couple of classes that struck some serious blows to my poorly exercised faith. The first was "Women in World Religions," a.k.a. "Being a Woman is Really a Bummer in Most Religions." It hit all the major religions, including Christianity, pointing out the inequities inherent in
That class made me compare my religion to others in a way that I had not previously. In hindsight, this was essential to my faith. After all, can one truly choose their faith if one has not even considered others? It did draw attention to a broad pattern of treating women as less-than-equals in faith communities. I do not recall whether or not the professor portrayed this as a fundamental flaw of religions in general (and by extension, of God), but it's a simple enough connection to make, even for a student as lazy as myself. This was never a core idea for me, but at the very least it colored my perception of God, and got added to the barrel of bad things that a good God would never allow to happen.
The other class hit harder. It was on the Bible as an historical document. There was some literary analysis, a lot of connections to previous and surrounding cultures, and a sort of clinical detachment that left faith completely out of the discussion. From my perspective now, I can see some advantages to this approach. Namely, it helps to avoid arguments that aren't going to be settled in a class like that. I learned a lot in that class, but my big takeaway at the time was that the Bible is a mess of a collection of documents written by people.
As I've mentioned, I had grown up with the Bible as a steady presence. Not that we had regular family Bible readings, but faith was lived out in our home. It was an underlying assumption, rather than a line to be toed. The choir practice and youth group meetings I went to were modeled for me by my parents going to their own choir practice, board meetings, elder meetings, celebrations, funerals, church gatherings, and Sunday School. Every year Chris and I got Sunday School attendance certificates, because we went at the same time as our parents. Never even occurred to us to try to avoid it. We went and we learned, because it was important. Bible stories and faith were sometimes talked about at home. Monthly giving to the church was not only done, but the percentage increased over the years.
My faith was based on our church, which was based on the Bible. And I felt like the Bible was starting to crumble around the edges, maybe even fall apart completely. (In hindsight, I am the one who was crumbling around the edges, making it possible for me to be renewed by God, but at the time it sure didn't feel like that!) In the following few years, I had some conversations with my pastor, and with a few other people I trusted. I gradually came to understand the Bible in a new way. Well, new for me, anyway. And by gradually, I'm not sure exactly how long that process took. In a sense, it is no more finished than I am.
I will return to this idea later (maybe in another post), but for now I will just say this: I stopped thinking (or I began to stop thinking) of the Bible as a book that God sat down and wrote, or even dictated to people.
That process of evolving faith continued into the year after I graduated from university. I spent that year joining the Peace Corps, though I had no idea that it would take that long when I started. Submitting all the proper forms, having an interview, getting a full medical check-up and background check, and lots of waiting, including a couple of false starts. I lived at home, with my parents, for more than a year. An extreme test of their patience which I am afraid I barely noticed. I worked with Dad building decks and doing other projects, and directed a youth choir at church.
During that year, I attended my parents' Sunday School class, The Seekers. (They were founded back when names like that were widely considered to be 'groovy,' and they still have the same name.) That's where my concept of what an adult group of believers could be, and my current style is still modeled on it.
It was a good year, and I wish that I could tell you more precisely how my faith evolved during that time. I was journaling then, but those journals are in my parents' basement, 14 time zones away from my current home in Busan.*
*That is a convenient excuse. I am not lazy enough to have my own meme about it, but it is easy to imagine that I would either not go look at all or get so distracted that this project would get left behind.
My time in Nepal with the Peace Corps was a Big Deal. A big enough deal that it calls for at least the beginning of its own post.
But as a reward for staying with me this whole time, I offer you photos of a more recent journey. These are a few family selfies from January of this year, on our way to visit my parents in Kansas. The first nine are of us waiting in the Busan airport for our first flight. You will notice that in each one of these nine photos, someone is out of focus, or looking the other way, or being extremely silly. In a way, this sums up our family very well. The tenth photo is in Chicago, about 16 hours later. It accurately captures how tired we were, with one more flight to go.
|Looking in Quinten's ear.|
|Blurry wife, Maxine starting to lose it.|
|Blurry everyone, me starting to lose it.|
|Wife stretching, Quinten fading, Maxine worried, me annoyed.|
|Maybe this time... nope.|
|We give up. Maxine is not amused.|
|I cannot explain my cheeriness in this photo.|