I wrote this a very long time ago and have debated whether I should ever put it on my blog. I don’t share a whole lot of personal material on my blog, and the following is the story of a much younger man who was in a lot of ways very immature. It might well take some patience to get through to the end. Nonetheless, it is an important part of “my story.” I am sharing it now in the hopes that some might find it helpful.
TThe following account grew out of a paper I was assigned to write when I had just began my doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame that was supposed to have been titled “My Approach to God.” As I wrote at the time, I find it a bit misleading to write about my ‟approach to God” because I have not had an approach to God. Rather, I have approached God in a number of ways or, to be more precise, God has been chasing me all my life, and I have perhaps used a number of approaches to keep from getting caught. But that’s not right, either. God and I have been approaching each other, I think, but sometimes more like wrestling opponents than lovers. The biblical character with whom I identify most is the patriarch Jacob, who wrestled with the angel and refused to let go until he had been blessed. After many years of wrestling, God blessed me and, perhaps, like Jacob, I limp a little. Sometimes I feel like the prophet Jeremiah—‟Thou hast seduced me, and I have been seduced.” Anyway I cannot talk about how I approach God without telling how I have approached him—so this is an account of my spiritual pilgrimage, at least up until the point I became an Anglican.
Faith has not come easily for me. I have known many people who seem to have no doubts and are constantly aware of God’s presence in their lives. People like this no longer make me as uncomfortable as they once did. I am sure that many of them have a superficial faith and are masquerading—pretending an assurance which they really do not have. Probably a good many more than I would like to admit have a genuinely simple faith. They are perhaps saints and, if so, they leave me in awe. But I am not one of the simple. Faith has been a struggle for me.
On the other hand, in some sense I have never been without faith. I cannot remember a time when Jesus Christ did not play an important part in my life. I say ‟Jesus” because, for me, faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ are synonymous. I cannot conceive of one without the other. Jesus is the paradigm through which I have come to know God. Evangelical (or perhaps Fundamentalist) Christianity goes back at least three generations on both sides of my family—although the name we preferred was ‟born-again Christian” or simply ‟Christian,” since both expressions meant the same thing. You couldn’t be a ‟real Christian” if you weren’t a ‟born again Christian.” For Fundamentalists, religion means Jesus. My parents were uneducated blue-collar Southern Baptists, conservative Democrats, labor union supporters.
After wandering in sin and darkness for several years, I ‟got saved”—at the age of five! This was not nearly as dramatic as people who have seen only television evangelists might think. One day I simply asked Jesus to ‟come into my heart” and forgive my sins—hardly a long list at this point. (It should have been obvious already that I had been touched by the finger of God—for better or worse. I used to set up a toy box as a pulpit and preach to my younger sister and her dolls, who were my faithful congregation. Apparently I also once warned my Aunt that she would go to “hull” because she drank beer. This was perhaps only excess enthusiasm on my part as my parents later assured me that they had never taught me such things.) (more…)