Bringin’ One In

Reaching eighteen and graduating high school is important for many reasons, most of which involve the “What am I going to do with my life?” question. Within the church, the implied question within the question was, “What is going to be your mission field?” That was the insider way of asking in what venue you were going to serve God and tell people about Jesus. Our church put a heavy emphasis on joining YWAM (Youth With a Mission). Many teens involved in the church, including myself, had gone on several short-term mission trips in high school; YWAM was a much longer commitment, usually at least a year or two. We frequently had young people return to the church and talk about the great things that were going on in the far-flung regions of the world. I was jealous in some ways, mostly the part about being in Africa or Ireland or Thailand. Due to my circumstances (getting married, going to school), it never worked out for me to go on a mission, and I was fine with that. I didn’t really want to, but I felt like I should.

I could never fully buy the implication that you serve God wherever you are. It seemed clear to me that some jobs, like being a minister or missionary, were more about serving God than others. Since I didn’t really want to be a missionary, I had to find some other direct way to serve God and convert people.

I should be clear that I don’t think people ever used the word “convert” in a verbal form in my Christian context. I use it because it is more neutral and accessible than “giving your heart to God” or “coming to Jesus” or “coming into the Kingdom,” among many other euphemisms. Besides, the rhetoric was that God converted people; we were just there when it happened.

Anyway, I found an outlet for sharing my Christianity through music. Though I’d only sung in choirs and church concerts growing up, I took up the bass guitar, and then acoustic guitar, in order to play music in church. I was only ever good enough to barely play worship music, but it’s not that difficult to play. However, I also began to play (a few years later) in a Christian band outside of church as well. I’ll talk more about that another time, as there are many good stories from those years. I bring it up now to discuss the only opportunity I can remember of praying with someone to convert, to “receive Christ.”

As I’ve noted, it was disheartening to me that even after my entire life as a Christian, I’d failed at my job. Throughout my twenties, this was a recurrent theme in my thoughts. While playing a gig in Portland, OR, though, I finally got my chance. My band and several others were playing a free concert in Pioneer Square in the downtown area. I can’t remember the details of our set, but I usually ended our last song by saying that the bandwould love to talk to or pray with people after the show.

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Usually, we just chatted it up with people that liked our music or wanted to buy a CD. In any case, a guy came up to talk to me afterward. I could tell he was bothered by something. We walked out of the crowd and began to talk. He told me that he was from the East Coast, but that his girlfriend worked in the Portland area. He had flown out because she had gotten pregnant with their child and he had encouraged her to get an abortion. She was uncertain, so he flew out and went with her to the procedure. When he came to Pioneer Square, he was on his way back out of town. He felt conflicted about what had happened and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t either.

My mind was racing because I knew abortion was wrong. (I don’t think the issue is so black-and-white now, but I did then.) It wouldn’t do any good to berate him about that, though. Instead, I just asked him if he wanted to receive forgiveness. To my great astonishment, he said yes. I led him through a simple prayer to become a Christian. Sadly, I remember very little else, but I know I failed to do much else. I’m sure I got his name, gave him a hug and some encouragement, and sent him on his way.

From a distance of over a decade since, the episode is extremely interesting to me. From an inside perspective, it was abundantly clear that the event was arranged by God. What other possible explanation could there have been for that chain of events that led him to me? Everything had to have an explanation. I feel no need now to give an explanation for how/why it happened. The guy was at a low point in his life, feeling conflicted about his course of action, both in the face of contradictory versions of reality telling him what to do and certainly the emotions of his girlfriend through what must have been a trying situation.

What would I do now in that situation? I suppose I wouldn’t be in that situation in the first place. All the bands who played in those concerts loved music, and we knew that it has a powerful effect on the emotions. It’s amazing, really. If you’ve been to a club or a concert or a church service, you know that people can get “interesting” when the music is pumping. Though it certainly wasn’t with malicious intent, we used the power of music to influence people with a particular message.

If, despite the contingencies, I was in that situation now, I would just listen. If I knew the person, I would make a point to check in withhim again. If not, I would try to connect him to someone local who he would be able to continue to talk with. The difference is the solution. I had one then, I don’t have one now. I could tell him that he’s simply anxious over the dizzying array of choices he must make in this existence that is a constituent part of his humanity, but it would mean little to him. Christianity was a solution for any problem, but it was a solution for me, not necessarily for him.

I wonder what happened to the guy. I’m sure he had a down time, and then he got through it and moved on. Is he still with his girlfriend? Are they married? Does he remember the day like I do? Is he a Christian? Unless he surrounded himself by Christians, it’s unlikely. You have to be trained to communicate with God. I’ll never know.

Conversion (and deconversion) is a complicated thing. The web of social and personal influences, known and unknown, that we are involved in is complex. But is no simple answer that lasts without consistent reinforcement.

2 thoughts on “Bringin’ One In

  1. What I find even more interesting is Conversion, deconversion, and then reconversion (which I faithfully pray for every Tuesday) if your brand of existentialism leaves you empty and without purpose in the end! Humanity is too powerful to not have a significant purpose for existence. I’ll keep loving life, loving God and loving you while you do your thing. Maybe our paths will cross again in a context of faith, maybe not, nonetheless, I know we are friends!
    I will always believe there is a minute place in your heart that wants God to be real, but your mind, full of new ideas, is racing to explore all that could be thought.

    On a separate topic, I’m curious what you have concluded regarding the resurrection of Christ? How did you dismiss the biblical/historical claims that CS Lewis, Pascal, and a few other million brilliant minds couldn’t dismiss? Even within scripture it is acknowledged that, “If Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain,” (1 Cor 15) so there is an admission that it all hinges on this event.

    • Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your comment. Your statement that “humanity is too powerful to not have a significant purpose for existence” is interesting, and one that I could interpret in a few ways. I agree that humanity is powerful in a sort of general, comparative sense, and I agree that we seem to want, or think we want, some sort of purpose. But what do we mean by that? I think you mean that we want some purpose outside of ourselves (and outside of humanity) that will give us structure to live by. However, that is by no means necessitated by either the power of humanity or our desire for purpose. It is obviously a choice to situate that structuring purpose in the supernatural, as many have done, and it is also possible to situate that exclusively in an earthly community, in the ideals and goals that humanity sets up by itself, for itself. I’m sure you also know that it is possible to love life and love others outside of a supernatural grounding, but perhaps you don’t think it is quite as authentic. I’m not sure how that would be measured.

      There is certainly a part of me that would like the supernatural to be real. It seems to solve a lot of problems that I otherwise have to wrestle with myself. There is however, a part of me that would also like to fly or be invisible. My point is not that those “wants” are the same, but that my wanting does not validate their independent existence. It would be easier for me if God were real because it would make navigating my particular social background much easier. But that also makes me realize that there are others like me, who participate in religion not because they believe in its truth, but because it makes living life in their context a little bit easier. There are also people that suffer because of this, because of our societal impetus toward conformity. While an increase in societal diversity makes it more difficult for the individual to navigate their world on auto-pilot, it also may prevent the unthinking abuse of those outside the norm (such as those that are not democratic, Christian, capitalist, white, etc).

      I’m sure I’ll talk more specifically about the resurrection of Christ in the future. Do you think, though, that the way to the answer would be found in stacking up the number of individuals for and against and tallying it? We could go back and forth for some time with intelligent individuals who are on either side of the fence. Nor do I think (though I’m not positive) that either Lewis or Pascal were Christian primarily based on Christian history or the claims of the Bible. A belief in the supernatural is not one that can be founded on historical or scientific truth; it requires a foundation of faith, a belief despite the absence of evidence, that is then validated in retrospect through personal experience, textual support, etc. If Christianity is to have a positive role in the world, it will do so not by defending itself with science or historical proof, but by creating conditions for a different life, a different kingdom. This kingdom is not created by lining up with the Right or the Left on gun control, railing against homosexuality, and selling WWJD bracelets. As I mentioned in my post on the Church and the Kingdom, it would be compelling in setting up a viable alternative to the status quo, economically, socially, and spiritually. This is a faith I might be able to support, but it has little to do with historical Christianity or the resurrection of Christ.

      I appreciate your willingness to post a comment, and hope that we can talk further, virtually or otherwise.

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