Saturday, August 27, 2005

Drive, he said

When I was first saved back in 1982, I knew that I wanted to read the Bible. The Bible held an undeniable attraction to me. I was drawn toward it like a moth to a flame, and that analogy actually fits, because I really wanted to lose my life in Christ. Whatever He would have me to do, that’s what I wanted.

As I pursued Christ I wanted to hear people talk about the Bible, so I gravitated towards media ministries. We didn’t have cable TV back then, at least not right away, so I latched on to Christian radio and whatever Christian TV programs were on broadcast TV. I would wake up at 6AM on Sunday mornings, do what needed to get done to get ready for church, and then watch TV preachers until it was time to go to Mass. This was before the televangelist scandals of the late 80’s, and Sunday morning was filled with shows by Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell. I did what I had to do to hear the Bible preached. I had a passion for it.

Soon that passion became diluted. In my desire to soak in the Bible I took in everything I could find. I was naïve enough to believe that if someone named the name of Christ that they would share the same passion and desire for the Lord, and would want to fellowship with others who did the same. I was about to get a lesson in real life. If I was reading a book by Witness Lee I could count on someone to show me the error of his ways. Pentecostal preaching would be countered by a three point John MacArthur sermon. I brought some Christian rock albums to a Catholic retreat, a place where theoretically people would be focused on the Lord and would want to hear songs about Him, but no one cared. As soon as my back was turned Petra was replaced by the Footloose soundtrack. Catholics and Pentecostals and Fundamentalists were as separated as cliques at a junior high school dance, and no one wanted to break the ice and ask that cute blonde if she wanted to share the dance floor.

It got old after awhile. My feeling was (and still is) that if Christ didn’t establish the boundaries, and Christ didn’t want the boundaries, then why should I respect them? But no one cared. The Bible turned into a weapon, a hand grenade to lob at the fundies when they started passing out tracts, a Scud missile to obliterate the papists who were unarmed, a rifle to temper the enthusiasm of the Pentecostals when they got out of line. The passion I had was replaced by a cynicism that could sniff out a fake from a mile away.

And yet… there was (and is) some part of me, somewhere in the recesses of my soul, that wanted what some of these people had. I began to think of people like Jim Johnson, an usher at Church on the North Coast who has been there for years, long before I started going. What drove him to stay at this church for that long? Why did he always have a smile on his face? Why is it that every few years when I showed up for a visit he always remembered me?
What did Homer Chambers, Bob Madison and Olvin Smith see in the writings of Witness Lee? Witness Lee is a great Bible teacher, but what was it in what he taught that grabbed ahold of them and said “This is it- you’ve found your home”?
Sometimes late at night I like to listen to AM radio. Stations come in from states as far away as Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Preachers filter through, backwoods preachers who have congregations numbering 50, with an average age of 70, who scrape together money from what little they have, just so their preacher can be on an AM radio station at 12:30 at night and preach the gospel to drunks and guys like me who like to pick up something of the local flavor. The piano is out of tune, the soloist will never challenge Amy Grant in a singing contest, but they do what they do because they feel driven to do it.
The enthusiasm of the members of St. Innocent Orthodox Church came out of nowhere and blindsided me. Orthodox? People actually choose to convert to Orthodoxy? I always thought Orthodox churches were populated by immigrants who were pining for the old country, who were too Catholic for the Protestants but too Protestant for the Catholics, who held festivals and made baklava, good baklava, really freaking tasty authentic baklava, but didn’t see the Lord as truly present today, just someone who showed up in a lot of interesting Russian-looking paintings with titles like Christ Pantokrator. Boy was I in for a rude awakening. First off the people were actually friendly. Second, the priest remembered that he had a visitor that Sunday, linking my blog to his website and sending a lot of rabid Orthodox my way. Third, my friend Jennifer, who has seen some of the same parts of the spiritual jungle that I have, is head over heels in love with the place.

Why? What drives her and Father Michael and the beloved baklava makers and the choir members who sang so beautifully I wanted to weep? Is it the same thing that drives Pastor Smale to preach out of the authorized King James Version of the Bible every Sunday and go out of his way to see mentally handicapped people brought into the fold? Is it the same thing that causes some Evangelical Protestants to make a spiritual U-turn into Catholicism, becoming book-worms and tape-worms and following Scott Hahn around from conference to conference like 1970’s Deadheads who want to hear “Dark Star” just one more time? Is it the same thing that drives that one person out of 10,000 to put up the John 3:16 banner because they actually want someone to read the Bible verse and not just to get on camera?

What is it?

And how can I get me some?


Blogger Doug said...

I know this post of yours is a little old now, but it seemed like the most appropriate place to leave a comment.

I just want to identify myself as a reader and "appreciator" of your blog. My name is Doug. I'm another American convert to Orthodoxy. If you follow through my profile you'll find my old blog Xanthikos that charted my journey to the Orthodox Church, if you're interested. At present, I'm an occasional contributor to the Orthodox Way blog at Conciliar Press that you link to on your sidebar.

You've got your own road, though ours share a few similar turns and corners. It would be presumptuous of me to offer you any advice, but I'll just share something that I heard a priest say a while back, something that is now permanently lodged in my brain and heart. He said that when it comes to finding a wrestling with questions of where to worship or how or with whom (and this is applicable to most anything in life), if you do what you do for the sake of the love of Christ and for the sake of your salvation, then you can't be too far wrong in God's eyes.

Anyway, God bless.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Typo: cut "finding a" from the third paragraph in the above comment.


2:19 PM  

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