CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
As the world and the calendar turn, from 2016 to 2017, there are so many statements of “The year just past was pretty bad, but the new year will be better.” We seem to be predisposed to assume that what comes “after” will be better than what comes “before.” We are a future loving people.
I suppose there is a literature in fundamentalist circles of how the author used to be an open-minded “liberal” tolerant Christian or Muslim [liberal in quotations here because in this context it is a bad word], but had an encounter with the true God and now knows that the only correct way of serving God is the narrow way that not only shuns those who are not true believers but actively works against them, either to convert them or to subvert them.
I don’t know those books/testimonies, but I suspect they are there, because I know their opposite.
Their opposite is the former fundamentalist who has had an encounter with the true God and now knows the only correct way of serving God is the open way of tolerance and acceptance and love, working to allow into the fold those who are shunned and vilified by their former fundamentalist brethren. Folks like Frankie Schaeffer and Brian McLaren come to mind. Or the pastor of a UCC I heard say of his former life as a Baptist pastor, “I have been in prison, and I have been free. Free is better.”
In these cases, and in any other where a person has changed her mind [i.e., I used to be a Bears fan but now I love the Packers], the assumption, at least by the one making the testimony and their admirers, is that the latter position is the correct one precisely because it is the latter, the one changed TO instead of FROM. We are a future-loving people. If we have changed from something of the past, the newer position has to be better.
A good example Nadia Bolz-Weber. I read her book, Pastrix. She grew up in a terribly restrictive fundamentalist home and church and rebelled by going deep into booze and drugs and promiscuity. She had an encounter with God through a Lutheran seminary student, and she is now the Lutheran pastor of The Church for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, a congregation that is the exact opposite of the one she grew up in.
Another example is Anne Lamott, whose story is similar to Bolz-Weber’s, except that she grew up in a benignly atheistic home. She stumbled into a rundown little African American Presbyterian church one day when she was at her lowest, and now she writes about her new life as a Christian. I appreciate Lamott because she writes so well, and because she doesn’t sugar-coat the present [the demons are still with her, but so are the angels] to make the contrast with the past, and because she helps others to realize it is okay to come out of the darkness into the light, where they can get help.
I also envy Nadia and Anne, yea, even get sort of angry at them at times, because I can’t get the sort of accolades they do, because I don’t have a sordid past to live down. They are able to get such good testimonies from their dissolute pasts and ragged presents. That kind of past is what fundamentalists call “building a testimony.” People like the stories of “I once was blind but now I see.”
I have tried to build a testimony. It’s difficult, though. I grew up in a little open-country church in hillbilly country. It was open-minded. It brought a black evangelist into a culture that was racist, both personally and institutionally. It not only accepted a woman pastor when such folks hardly existed, but asked for one. I’ve always felt God was with me. I’ve had one wife, who loves me against all odds. My children and grandchildren are wonderful, and so are my boozeless, drugless, non-promiscuous friends. Sheesh, what kind of attention can you get for a life like that?
Not everyone can be like Nadia and Anne, not just because they’ve had boring lives like mine, but because of concern for others. Some folks would have great testimonies to tell from their former addictions and dissolutions, but they can’t tell about them because of the damage they would cause, not to themselves, but to others.
I am sure that being open about your demons is a good and health-giving thing. I admire people who can do that. It’s okay, though, just to admire the folks who have built strong testimonies and now have interesting stories to tell. We don’t have to emulate them.
Not everyone can tell about their demons, but we all have them, so we need to listen to any kind and helpful word spoken to us, regardless of who speaks it, in the before or the after, in the memories of years past or in the hopes of years to come.
John Robert McFarland
I tweet as yooper1721.