Converting Again for the First Time
When you hear the word “conversion” it’s often about someone changing faiths. Or at least from nothing to something.
But I imagine conversion as a continual process of maturity. Maybe like going from Private to Corporal to Seageant. I’ve been converted several times, each time to a more mature faith. Each one authentic. But let me tell you what I mean.
I grew up going to church and talking about this Jesus God-man. It was fascinating, threatening, sometimes boring, but also mind-stretching. One of my first conversion experiences was sitting in the pews at Knox Church in Bracebridge during Communion. The minister was saying these mystical words about Jesus body, blood, wine and sacrifice; and I remember thinking that nothing so far in my life was so compelling as this story of love poured out. Conversion.
I remember rediscovering the Bible through the rugged lyrics of delta bluesman Son House. Conversion. Or learning about world religions in the great metropolis and feeling an undeniable kinship with the Son of Man. Conversion. Or talking with a drug addict in a boarding home in Toronto about the power only God can give. Conversion. Making promises before God with my wife on our wedding day. Conversion. Becoming members at St. Andrew’s in Toronto to profess and adhere to the apostolic faith alongside other sojourners. Conversion. Reading the Bible in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew for the first time. Conversion. Or on my knees in humbling desperation. Conversion. Or when Satan became more dramatically interested in my life. Conversion. Or prayerfully contemplating what it would mean to say “Yes” to my ordination vows. Conversion. Making myself a mission project for Jesus. Conversion. Baptising our children in the household of God. Conversion. Working as a pastor day in and day out and witnessing how God could let a sinner like me be a leader and still let me live. Conversion. Watching you live out your faith. Conversion.
St. Francis spoke of having several conversion experiences—each one bringing him to a deeper understanding of God’s activity in his life. If you’re the same you you were last year is there a problem? To make a crude analogy, I was on a run this week listening to a Stone Temple Pilots song called Trippin on a Hole in a Paper Heart on my ipod. It was as if I had only heard the guitar solo previously on mono and was just hearing it now in stereo with the 2nd guitar for the first time. Rewind, rewind. I heard something new and exciting that wasn’t there before. Conversion.
The great Swiss thinker Karl Barth was once asked when he became a Christian. He knew the kind of answer they were fishing for—for a specific moment at a youth camp, or at a crusade rally, or some moment alone in prayer; some time in which he could recall a day and hour. But he wanted to teach them something about God taking the initiative in conversion. He said: “I was saved on a Friday afternoon, in the spring, outside the city of Jerusalem, in or about the year 30 AD.”
I try to convert to Jesus every day. We have this picture (it gives no photo credit) of a wide-eyed kid looking at a bird with a quote from Sister Barbara Hance: “Show me a day when the world wasn’t new.” That’s conversion.
No alcoholic ever quits for life. They give up drinking one day at a time. Then another day, then another. That’s faith. Totally dependent. Conversion today, then tomorrow, and again.
Shuffling ahead one knee at a time.