July 16, 2019

Another Look: This is about the second turning

Outskirts of Paris. Van Gogh

Hi, my name is Mike, and I am a recovering separatist.

[Hi, Mike!]

It all started when I trusted Christ at the end of my senior year in high school. Conversion (which I now more thoughtfully consider a “spiritual re-awakening”) to me was like rounding a bend in the highway and driving straight into a blinding sun so bright that it washed out everything else in sight.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

Before that experience my life consisted of three major interests: (1) Girls, (2) Baseball, and (3) Music (and the accompanying lifestyle). When I met Jesus, I found I didn’t have to give up girls, because there were lots of pretty, nice Christian girls. I also discovered I could keep enjoying music. Back in those days before the commercialization of CCM, “Jesus Music” was emerging, and it was as important to the vitality of our Christian lives as the Bible. Of course, my old “worldly” LPs had to go, so I threw them in the dumpster (how often have I regretted that!). My heart was filled with fresh new sounds and for awhile, that was enough. I did, however, give up baseball (how often have I regretted that!). I had no conception of how sports fit with following Jesus, so out it went.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back.

I had all Christian friends all the time. The oft-quoted statistic — that most new believers have no non-Christian friends within two years of their conversion — proved true of me in a much shorter period of time (how often have I regretted that!). Within a year I had decided to attend Bible College and pursue ministry. My dad wisely tried to convince me to get a broader education and work toward a career in something I could fall back on if church work didn’t pan out, but I was too infatuated and immature to listen to him (how often have I regretted that!).

Three years of total immersion in Bible college — the cut your hair, wear a tie, no holding hands, no dancing, no movies, no rock music, room inspection every morning, mandatory daily chapel kind of Bible school — separated me from every facet of life in the world at large. I might as well have been stranded on a desert island. At the time, I didn’t mind. Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways it may have stunted my growth.

On to my first pastorate. Back into the world? Well…uh…sorta. It was still pretty much all Christians all the time that formed my world. We lived in the mountains. No TV. Listened to a ballgame every now and then. Tentatively dipped my toes in the water and started to attend an occasional movie. A little bit of folk music found its way into the house through the radio. I occasionally had a conversation with neighbors, but still felt like a newborn foal every time I did, stumbling around trying to find something we had in common to talk about.

Then we moved back to Chicago for seminary. After a year of school, we experienced a great disappointment. My funding source dried up. I had to go to work and drop out of school for awhile. An electronics factory became my daily world. Nary a Christian in sight (at least that I knew about). I made a few friends and was surprised at how much I enjoyed their company.

Soon I found my way back to school and, providentially, into pastoral work once more. This wasn’t the mountains where a person could hide out. Serving in the city began to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of my naive isolation from the world. I took my first course in Clinical Pastoral Education and was introduced to life and death in the hospital wards. My professors at seminary, to a person, said repeatedly that being in an academic atmosphere was fine, but if you really want to serve on the front lines of ministry, get out into the church and serve a community. It resonated. I was starting to see a difference between church work and the work of the church.

So we moved to Indianapolis and I served on the staff of a non-denominational church. All in all, it was a pretty good experience, but I struggled with many aspects of it. For one thing, our family was growing, and our children were starting to get involved in school and sports in the community. I had a conviction about sending our kids to public school, and I started coaching Little League. Through my sons, I got baseball back!

However, we were swimming upstream in the local conservative Christian culture. Where we live is a highly “churched” area, and I watched as Christians changed churches like yesterday’s clothes because of conflicting “convictions.” Many home-schooled their children (despite living in one of the most conservative states in the U.S.) because of the “ungodliness” of public education. Parents forbade their kids from participating in youth group because of an emphasis on reaching the lost and including them in activities. I saw people whose time and energy was totally taken up by church programs and activities. Churches began building mega-centers to provide full service, family-friendly activities for people of all ages, creating a world folks need never leave, allowing them to avoid worldly contamination. I started to feel out of place.

Following our kids’ activities, coaching baseball and working with young people and their families in the community was a constant joy. We had a “neighborhood.” We spent a lot of time together. For the first time in my adult life, I started to feel like I had a life outside of “churchianity.”

We moved down the road, and I took a senior pastor position in a sister church. It was a hard experience for a lot of reasons, but my own inward struggles made it even more difficult. As I look back, I must be honest and admit that, in a lot of ways, I was just not getting the “church thing” anymore and how it was supposed to work simultaneously with a life in the world.

Just before the ministry ended, I got involved with a family we knew from baseball whose son was terminally ill. Along with other members of the community, we spent hours at the hospital and walked with them through their difficult journey. The bonds formed then remain to this day. In the process, I received a taste of ministry outside the church walls that transformed my life. It was only a couple of months later that I was hired to work with hospice, and now my parish is as wide as central Indiana.

I never have been what one might call a wild-eyed, hard-edged fundamentalist separatist. I was just a kid who was found by Jesus and thought that meant the rest of my life should be different somehow — lived in a separate category from the ordinary course of human life. Now I know that becoming a Christian doesn’t put a person one step above the rest of the human race, or mean that one should separate from sharing common life experiences with one’s neighbors.

I’m still blown away by the grace and mercy of Jesus.

I still think the church is special, the amazing family of God in all times and places.

I just don’t want this whole “Christian thing” to keep me from being human.

By the way, I married a beautiful girl. I’m all about the music. And I got baseball back.

No longer does “the world grow strangely dim” when I look at Jesus. For some reason, when I’m most focused on him, the world takes on a strange, inviting beauty. And I’m ready every day to move more deeply into it with his kindness and love.

• • •

Two Poplars on a Road through the Hills. Van Gogh

This is…about the second turning.

In the first turning, a Christian experiences the transformation from a natural person to a spiritual person. Instead of the “self” being the center of life — exploring, cultivating, adoring it — God becomes the center. This miracle is brought forth by the Holy Spirit giving us new life in Christ. It is a necessary, indispensable, basic step.

But it is only a first step. The work of the Holy Spirit should not stop here but lead to a second turning in which the spiritual person again becomes natural.

• Walter Trobisch
Foreword to Out of the Saltshaker & into the World
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Comments

  1. Beautiful. I relate.

  2. Oooof. This one hits kind of hard. I wish we never had to do any of the turnings but could kust ripen into godliness like an ear of corn on the stalk.

    Something here reminds me of my first talk with Father Stefan of the first Orthodox church I came into contact with, before 9-11. I trotted out my testimony for him. It was a lot like Chaplain Mike’s but with more hippy-dippy crap. Father Stefan’s response was interesting;

    Is good t’ing you fin’ Cheezos Chrayss’. Cheezos Chrayss’ save sinnurs, yass? Maybe if you have born in Chorch we no let t’ings be so bad, an’ you stay wit’ Cheezos Chrayss’, no? The way I translated that was that the thunderous conversions Paul, Augustine, Francis, CM, and I experienced are probably not normative for the human experience. It’s hard to parse this out. CM and I were products of liberal Protestant Sunday Schools and involved in the Jesus Movement, something that didn’t come out of nowhere but carried a pedigree of revivalism and “come ye out of her”-separatism that goes back at least to the Cane Ridge meetings, if not the Covenanters.

    Someone once told me that Calvinist/Evangelical salvation is digital; binary or on/off, where as small c-catholic salvation is analog; it proceeds fitfully in degrees. It’s hard for me to accept that nothing ontological happened to me in the Jesus Movement, but the Orthodox Church (I’m not sure about Rome) teaches no distinction between justification and sanctification. Indeed the distinction makes no sense for us, since physical death changes nothing and salvation isn’t a good place/bad place fire insurance transaction.

    I’m still processing this. Any assistance would be appreciated.

    • As I say obliquely in the post, I now think of my “conversion” as a “spiritual reawakening.” I’ve written about this before. Here’s an example: https://internetmonk.com/archive/79292

      My “conversion” restored the sense of wonder I’d had as a child. It reawakened me to the “Joy” C.S. Lewis wrote about — that undeniable, inexplicable sense of Reality that sometimes breaks through to our dim senses. I think, Mule, in your words, “something ontological” did happen in my Jesus People days. Someone came in and turned the light on again and the electricity started flowing. The calendar turned and winter became spring; the ice melted and the waters flowed and refreshing breezes blew again.

      But it was there all the time, even in the darkness and under the snow. God knew me long before I knew God.

  3. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was strangely dim.”

    No? Not really? Thanks, Mike.

  4. Michael Z says

    When Trobisch (in the final quote) talks about the spiritual person becoming natural, I’d describe that in slightly different ways. When we first encounter Christ suddenly there’s a new “compartment” in our lives, the spiritual one, and it’s so bright and entrancing that we want to throw all the other compartments of our lives out to focus on that one. I would see the “second turning” as the moment when that light and energy spills out of the spiritual “compartment” and begins to suffuse even the parts of our lives that we thought of as completely secular. (I think that’s very much in line with what both you and Trobisch are describing; I’m just adding a different metaphor for describing it.) So it’s not so much that we’re learning to be okay with “secular activities” again, but that our lives are (slowly) becoming so suffused with Christ that the natural / spiritual divide no longer makes sense to apply to us.

  5. senecagriggs says

    Divorce, the death of a child; other major traumas – that just might change one’s viewpoint.
    We should teach our children:

    “Sooner or later, God kicks your ass.”

    [ a little blunt, but from my experience – all too true. We blame it on providence but God is providence]

    • Or to put it another way, nothing tests your theology like life.

    • Norma Cenva says

      Does God do the kicking or is it simply a roll of the dice on the great roulette wheel of life in which: –” time and chance happeneth to them all” ? –(Ecclesiastes).

      I think Judaism has a more practical handle on this thing we call life, enjoy its beauty and goodness in the here and now, while you still can…

    • Christiane says

      but Senecagriggs, don’t you realize . . . . ?,
      your vision of ‘a punishing God’ Who is above all of the human pain and death and loss no longer works.

      There is a REASON Catholics all kneel at the moment of the words ‘AND WAS MADE MAN’ in this prayer::

      “JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
      desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
      was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
      and when nine months had passed since his conception,
      was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
      AND WAS MADE MAN

      • Christiane says

        Senecagriggs, as to my meaning, maybe this will make more sense from your own faith tradition”

        That phrase ‘born again’ is beautiful,
        I see it in these connected images:

        “Deep is calling on Deep in the roar of waters;
        Your torrents and waves have swept over me”
        (Psalm 42)

        and

        “He reached from on high and took hold of me;
        He drew me out of deep waters.”
        (Psalm 18)

        Senecagriggs, the mystery of the power of salvation in Christ cannot be fathomed, but trust that if we perceive a ‘kick in the ass’ by God, it may be more of His Hand pulling us upward out of deep waters, like Our Hand reached out and took Peter’s hand when Peter faltered in faith and cried out for help . . . .

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        your vision of ‘a punishing God’ Who is above all of the human pain and death and loss no longer works.

        It does in Islam, where God is so Transcendent Other there’s no way to connect on a one-to-one human level, only on a seriously one-up/one-down POWER level.

        • Christiane says

          maybe all forms of ‘fundamentalism’ share an image of a wrathful God that is not seen through the lens of Christ

          I have wondered what ‘fundamentals’ were in Christian fundamentalism that made it so different from mainline Christianity. I guess the answer at least might be related to a fractured understanding that Christ is the Revealer of God. (?)

          I know a Muslim doctor who shared about his faith in the mercy of God, so I have much to learn and understand about the ‘Islam’ that is not of the ‘fundamentalist’ kind. I understand that it is said to be a beautiful religion.

          The ONE thing that evangelical/fundamentalism appears to lack is an understanding of God’s infinite mercy and kindness to us. That seems related to the intense negativity in fundamentalist Islam with its destructiveness.

          What IS IT about ‘fundamentalism’ in all the different faiths that makes it seem so aberrant ???

    • Seneca, you’ve just described the Satan that’s described in Job. God may have allowed Satan, but somehow let’s insist that God’s not the author of evil.

      Or are you just playing the troll the way you did on Damaris’s post?

      • senecagriggs says

        Ted, did not GOD in Job, allow Job’s ass kicking? Satan could not have done it without God allowing it.
        _______

        It served God’s purposes that Job suffered greatly for a season..The reasons apparently remained opague to Job.

    • Robert F says

      “Sooner or later, God kicks your ass.”

      A child who’s already getting his ass kicked doesn’t need to hear this — it would be sadistic to say that to him. And plenty of children have had or are having their ass kicked, some on a regular basis. Keep your advice to yourself; it stinks, especially for children.

      • senecagriggs says

        I let kids be kids; but truth, “bad things are going to happen in your life,” can provide some protection and understanding for the coming train wreck of your adult life.

        • Robert F says

          Kids don’t need to be told that bad things happen in life; they experience if first hand. Children’s literature is full of bad things happening to kids, because that is their widespread, common experience, and the literature reflects that experience. What they need when they experience those bad things is the love, acceptance, and assurances a Mr. Rogers, not an expression of the obvious by a senecagriggs.

        • Robert F says

          And if the options for what you could say to a suffering kid are theologically limited to “God’s kicking your ass” or “Jesus loves you”, always, always go with the latter.

  6. thatotherjean says

    There’s a Zen quote that I’ve probably already used at Internet Monk, but it fits here, too. “Before enlightenment, chop woo, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” You would expect a major religious experience to change you utterly, but it’s still necessary to do the things that brought you to that point. “Enlightenment, ” even Christian conversion, isn’t an end point; it is both a beginning and a continuation of what you were before. Both are necessary.

    • Christiane says

      I love this!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Also echoes “The Little Way” of St Therese of Lisieux, about finding Holiness in everyday routine.

      “God lives in the real world.” — Rich Buhler

    • john barry says

      I have studied over 5 viewings of Eastern mystic learning teachings under Mr. Miyagi who taught us all the lesson of Wax On and Wax Off. Mr. Miyagi journey transcended time and place as he was known at times in this physical world as Pat Morita but also somehow be Arnold , a Japanese hamburger restaurant owner who ended up in Wisconsin. This goes to show how everyone’s journey is different but we will all be where Mr. Miyagi, Arnold and Arnold are now. We all know our destination it is the journey that matters.

      anonymous, I do not know Latin as I labor to understand it and pray I do not have to pronounce it. My Spanish is limited but keeping with the subject? I thought Manuel labor was President of Mexico for years. I often pray I do not have to labor at all.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Three years of total immersion in Bible college — the cut your hair, wear a tie, no holding hands, no dancing, no movies, no rock music, room inspection every morning, mandatory daily chapel kind of Bible school — separated me from every facet of life in the world at large.

    And they’d denounce my church’s monastic tradition as False Romish Popery…

    CM, what you experienced is called “Of the World but Not In It”. Going from Altar Call to Homegoing without ever having to encounter a Heathen except for drive-by Witnessing sallies. Like Kirk Cameron hiding in his trailer to avoid contamination when he heard there were Heathens on the set of Left Behind.

  8. Richard Hershberger says

    “An electronics factory became my daily world. Nary a Christian in sight (at least that I knew about).”

    Of course that factory was chock full of Christians. You missed it because they weren’t your particular sub-culture of Christians, and so weren’t using the code words you associated with Christians. I suspect that at that point in your journey you might also have fallen into the common trap of using “Christian” when you actually mean “White American Evangelical Protestant.”

    “Parents forbade their kids from participating in youth group because of an emphasis on reaching the lost and including them in activities.”

    This resonates with me. I have two daughters, eleven and nine. I fully understand the urge to put them in a bubble to protect them. After much soul searching, I made a conscious decision not to do this. First off, you can’t, short of moving to a cabin in the Idaho woods. Second, even that doesn’t work in the long run. Quite the opposite. When they finally find themselves out of the nest, they are exposed to the world without having had the opportunity to build an immunity. It is much better to give them the tools to understand what they experience, and to respond appropriately.

    This can work in odd ways. My older daughter was invited to a beginning of summer pool party. I later caught wind that it was sponsored by the local chapter of Young Life, who start recruitment efforts in earnest in middle school. I explained to her what was going on, and encouraged her to go and have a good time: take the bait, while serenely ignoring the switch. I also discussed LBGT issues. She feels strongly about LGBT rights, and good for her! And good for me: I raised her right. This also provides a natural immunity to White American Evangelical Protestantism.

    • “Second, even that doesn’t work in the long run. Quite the opposite. When they finally find themselves out of the nest, they are exposed to the world without having had the opportunity to build an immunity. It is much better to give them the tools to understand what they experience, and to respond appropriately.”

      I’ve seen this happen time and again with home-schooled kids. I know one guy who went to a very conservative Christian college and he was scandalized by what he learned there! When the house of cards begins to collapse, it falls very quickly.

    • Christiane says

      “I also discussed LBGT issues. She feels strongly about LGBT rights, and good for her! And good for me: I raised her right.”

      yes, you did

  9. senecagriggs says

    Here’s the deal, God is a great and loving God beyond all we can imagine; but he can and often does bring great pain into His children’s lives. It serves His good and loving purposes; but it may be , and often, is opaque to us.

    But breaking it down; there is no “providence” outside of God. So when the pain comes – as it INEVITABLY will, you must look to God – because there is no “providence, ” there is only the all-powerful, eternal God.
    ________

    Let’s face it, a blog comment, No, even a blog post, will be insufficient to explain God’s providence. It simply can’t be done.

    • anonymous says

      ” . . . love knows how to make the best of everything;
      whatever offends our Lord is burnt up in its fire,
      and nothing is left but a humble, absorbing peace deep down in the heart.”

      (Therese of Lisieux).

  10. “….I was just not getting the church thing anymore.”

    Exactly.

    Same thing happened to me in college…realized that ‘the club’ (church) wasn’t where I’m /we’re supposed to live, so to speak.

    How is one salt and light if you have no relationships to those needing S and L?

    Figured out pretty quick that saying anything about Jesus/church/Christ was lame without a life that lived it out. Not perfectly, mind you, but directionally.

    Ouch, got hit a few times.

    My evangelical fundie parents/family have absolutely no unsaved (so to speak) friends. They can’t figure out why we do?

    By the way: still figuring it out.

  11. cheesehed says

    Several years ago I worked at a fairly large insurance company, complete with a couple of part-time nurses.

    I still remember one of the nurses telling me about what she’d observed with homeschoolers. She said
    they lived in a restricted environment and once they were ‘free,’ they made all kinds of unwise decisions,
    especially related to sex.

    It’s exactly what Greg said:

    When they finally find themselves out of the nest, they are exposed to the world without having had the opportunity to build an immunity. It is much better to give them the tools to understand what they experience, and to respond appropriately.