In churches where being Born Again is all the rage, it is fashionable to swap conversion stories. If not your own, then those of people you know or people who know people you know. These are the sorts of stories which warm the heart of every budding evangelist and reassure them that they have something to keep going for.
Over here in Sanity, where we like our converts to keep their brains functioning, we don't tend to swap heart-warming stories so often. Our stories are less spectacular, and we are more inclined to debate theology than talk about personal revelation.
I offer you the anecdotal story of Miss Q, who taught our family in our primary school days.
Now, Miss Q was the soul of loveliness in a primary school teacher. It was to Miss Q that my mother forced my shame-faced brother to return the precious hoarde of blu-tac that he, seven years old, had been filching from the classroom all term. It was Miss Q who called my mother to let her know that Joel had been praying every morning in class devotions that his father wouldn't die in an aeroplane fuel tank.
Miss Q, like many of the teachers at our school, was young, idealistic and conservative. I never had anything much in the way of theological conversation with her, so I can't share any horror stories or anything. She was simply nice, and narrow.
Anyway, time went on, and God was consistently failing to bring Miss Q the husband and family every conservative girl grows up knowing He will bring her. She and Miss G, who was in the same boat, were getting up and singing All my friends are getting married
at the school ball. God comes through for Miss G- that's another story in itself, and rather a rather amusing one at that- and not yet for Miss Q. By now, Joel and I are both in high school and we don't see or hear very much from her. After a while, Miss Q can be seen leaving school on the back of a dashing gentleman's motorbike. A year or so more ticks by and word on the small-town gossip line says that she is engaged; bumping into her in the shops we hear she's married and pregnant. She glows with delight and the joyful faith of someone to whom God has given everything she truly wanted.
Over the winter break this year, i take my mother to the School Of Discipleship
with me. Mum comes home all fired up and inspired by the experience of being around so many enthusiastic young people. Not something you get often in the church anywhere, let alone out here.1
Shortly after I go back to uni, Mum bumps into No-Longer-Miss Q in the local supermarket. She and her husband have moved in just down the road from us, as it turns out. She asks how Mum is going, asks after Joel and I. Mum tells her about SOD and the joys of being around enthused young people, and also says something about the fact that she had felt a bit swamped by all the theological language being tossed around.
Miss Q says she understands... her husband has been to theological college2
, and since they started going out, he has taught her about reading the bible in context
She says she sees things differently now. No details are exchanged as to what things, or how differently, but nevertheless. It may only be a small change. I doubt she will ever be a screaming liberal. But somewhere in the last few years, Miss Q has figured out that it's a good idea to think
about God as well as read about Him. That, if you ask me, is pretty darn cool.
I often end up discouraged by the sheer numbers of stupid conservatives... I keep saying that there's no point anyone trying to change Christianity from the outside
, that change has to come from within, from people like my mother and myself and Miss Q's husband, but I am always turned off by the hard vigour of the likes of Rev. Dr John Hirt, my chaplain, who is indeed fighting a dauntless crusade for the future of intelligent and honest christianity. Arguing with a conservative is like asking a brick wall politely if it would mind moving for you. Talking
to a conservative about, say, why it might not be necessary to submit to your husband, or why Gay People might not be evil, just produces confused looks. So what's a girl to do? Go and hide out in the Centre For Medieval Studies with the sermons of Wulfstan, who was a hardline bastard but due to being dead for 1000 years can be forgiven for this.
This is one of those stories which come along every now and again and remind me that there is some value in living and believing honestly. That quiet, sane people can be the fulcrum on which quiet, sane changes turn. That it needn't be a crusade... That simply being here and being honest leaving the rest to God may be enough.
Here endeth the sermon for this Sabbath day.
1. In an amusing counterpoint, I have real trouble feeling like I know where i am and what i'm doing surrounded by groups of excitified young disciples all out to change the world. Knowing that my quiet, elderly congregation are coming together- twenty of them at best- every week and just... being there, getting on with their quiet lives and unspectacular faith, that's what gives me
inspiration. Or balance, or something.
2. Theological college, not bible college. There's a difference. One of them requires a brain, the other requires only a highligher and a good memory for internalising bible verses.