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As we continue our Thursday Spirituality series for the month of May, we draw another excerpt from Allan Cole’s newly published book A Spiritual Life. This comes from my friend Lauren Winner, who is asked all the time why she converted in her 20s from Orthodox Judaism to Anglican Christianity. People who read her books like Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath want to understand the kind of person who would undergo such a powerful religious change.
Everyone wants to know why Lauren is now a Christian. She wants to know: why are you?
The Pie Social
Lauren F. Winner
I am asked, all the time it seems, why I am a Christian. What people mean is: why did you become a Christian? Sometimes they mean: how could you possibly have given up the beautiful rituals and compelling community of Judaism for the pale performances of Protestant Christianity? Sometimes they mean: tell us a story of drama, of God’s arresting you on a road one fine afternoon, of voices from heaven and lights from the sky and certainty. Sometimes they mean: tell us about that dream you had, a million years ago, the dream about Jesus coming to rescue you from a kidnapping.
In all cases, they want an answer about something that happened to me almost half a lifetime ago.
But here’s the truth: I can’t really remember why I became a Christian. I can remember bits and pieces of the why, bits and pieces that you’d think might add up to a story, but they don’t, not really. And here’s the other truth: the events that happened to me 15 years ago – the dream, the purchase of a book of Common Prayer, the first shy church attendance – those vignettes have very little to do with why I am a Christian today. They are not wholly unrelated – they make a sort of genealogy, that dream and the prayer book. And perhaps they answer the question “Why did you become a Christian?” But they don’t do much to answer the question “Why are you a Christian today?” Why are you still a Christian?
Think of it like this: if at your golden anniversary party, someone asks you why you are married to your husband, to that particular balding, half-deaf man who fathered your children and once got fired from a job and loved you through the trauma of your mother’s death and took you to Italy for your twentieth anniversary and once wept in your arms because you recited him a poem that broke his heart; that man who in mid-life learned to cook and started hosting elegant dinner parties for all your friends on the first Friday of every month; that man who had the slightly annoying but slightly adorable habit of repeating what you just said before he responded to it; that man who stopped going to church for ten years and then started again and then stopped again; the man who always said that if you wanted to become a dolphin, he would find a way to make it happen, and he would get you the moon if he could – if your answer to the question “Why are you married to him?” were purely historical, about your first date and why you fell in love with him way back when, 51 years ago – that would be a sad and partial answer. It would be, maybe, no kind of answer at all. What the question wants to know is why you are married to him now.
And so with Jesus: why are you still here with him? What sustains your spiritual life this week? What makes you a Christian today?