Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm for it.

Perhaps you are surprised.  After all, I'm a born-and-bred, dyed-in-the-wool, baptized-when-I-was-4-weeks-old-and-proud-of-it Lutheran.  I do mark that early date, May 19 of the year I was born, as the beginning of my relationship with God.  I love baptisms, whether the baby is 5 weeks old or three years old, or 10 years old, or twenty five years old, or eighty-one years old.  I love baptisms.  I think my congregation will attest to this, the sheer graciousness of the event, every time.

And yet....

We had a guest preacher at church today, a woman from India who is also a missionary in India.  She told us powerful stories of God's movement in her life, her family's life, the lives of the students at the school where she teaches.  She told stories of how she came to the United States with $200 from her parents, and one suitcase, and how her mother said, "you'll make it."  She told a story of a ten-year-old girl praying for her family, a story of God opening a hard heart:  stories of conversion.

Conversion stories have always had a place in my heart.  From Anne LaMott reporting how Jesus dogged her like the hound of heaven, to Lauren Winner's strange dream and warm affinity for the stories of Jan Karon, I've been fascinated by stories of how people have come to faith.  When in high school a friend of my father's gave me the old classic The Cross and the Switchblade, and perhaps started right then and there my attraction to the dramatic conversion story.  It's so different from my own journey, from baptism to Sunday School, from Church camp to college, from Japan and back to the United States, from teaching English to working for an insurance company and then from seminary to where I am now.

Wait a minute.

What about my struggles and doubts in my senior year of high school, followed by that "leap of faith"?  What about the religious experiences I had when I was in college?  What about the experiences I had in Japan, when I realized (suddenly or not) that faith was a much wider, and varied thing than I had thought before?  Or what about the conversion I experienced after reading Ron Sider's Rich Christians in a Age of Hunger for the first time?  And there has been the long conversion I have experienced after knowing Gay and Lesbian Christians.

Perhaps it's wrong (actually I'm sure it's wrong) to limit conversion stories to the once-in-a-lifetime and dramatic stories of people who turn from the gangs of New York to the arms of Jesus.  Conversion is a natural part of the Christian life, even and especially for people who were baptized when they were four weeks old.  And I think that people who think they were converted once, and are now done, are wrong about that:  life with God means continuing to be open to being converted.

I have come to believe that in the life of a believer there are many conversions.  Some are dramatic and some are subtle, and none of them takes away from God's grace, God's coming-to-me-no-matter what.  Conversions don't save us, they don't make God love us any better, but they do something important in us, and, I believe that conversions are God's work in us, too.

When people experience a sort of conversion something is kindled or re-kindled in us, something necessary, I think, when we are in this Christian life for the long haul.  Let's be honest.  Whether you are a dyed-in-the-wool, baptized-when-you-are-4-weeks-old Lutheran or a hands-waving-in-the-air Pentecostal, or even Spiritual-but-not-religious, a lot of life is boring.  Church can be boring.  Seeing God in a cricket or a sunset can be boring.  Following God can be boring, because it is a daily thing, step by step, sometimes tracing the same steps.  Who told us that we needed to be constantly entertained, to entertain each other? You know:  chop wood, carry water.  Before and after enlightenement.

Except that there are these flames, small or large, that turn us around.  Sometimes it's a person you met or a place you went that changed your perspective, and kindled a new flame in your heart.  Sometimes it's a song you sang that was boring every time:  until today.   Sometimes it's the hard times when you thought that faith was gone and then there was a small pin-prick of light, and it got bigger.  Sometimes it happens in a strange place, and sometimes in a familiar place. 

Come to think of it, I do think that conversions save us, in a way.  Not in the long-run, but for continuing daily service and worship in this life, this amazing and boring life. Something is kindled or re-kindled in us.  God turns us around, turns the lights on bright again, for just a little while.

Conversion:  I'm for it.


Ivy said...

Wonderful post Diane. And I too, read the Cross and the Switchblade.

Diane said...

thanks, Ivy. One thing I didn't say was that conversion is necessary because it's so easy for us to be focused totally on ourselves. in fact, the human condition.

Ivy said...

Indeed it is the human condition. We are curved in on ourselves.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Maybe conversion is like that light bulb that comes on over the head of a cartoon character: the situation is there, but the light bulb indicates that the character sees something new, that he "sees the light", that the light shines on something in a new way.

The really unfortunate thing about one of the conventional definitions of "conversion" is that in some circles it is used to judge whether somebody (else) has been "saved."

churchlady said...

Thanks for expanding my view of conversion. Now I'm looking forward to my next one!