I re-read Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith this week for my church’s book club. Though it had only been a few months since I read the book, I found it to be just as compelling and fascinating as the first time through.
When I was a young mom with small children, our mornings not yet dictated by the school bell, every morning without fail I would sit at our small kitchen table and listen to the Focus on the Family radio broadcast. I loved Dr. Dobson and I was greatly encouraged by each day’s show. I remember one particular episode in which Dr. Dobson’s guests shared their testimonies of the Lord radically saving them. Like Rosaria’s story in Secret Thoughts, both had identified themselves as openly gay and, also like Rosaria, both discovered new life in Christ in what almost seemed miraculous happenstance.
I remember thinking then much what I think now upon reading Rosaria’s story. In a word: Wow. What an amazing story of salvation and redemption! The Spirit reminded me then as he reminds me now: my conversion is no less radical and no less miraculous. I was dead and now I’m alive; how great a salvation the Lord has worked! I too am an unlikely convert, rebellious and without hope, dead in my sin apart from the saving grace of a merciful God.
When I read Secret Thoughts I am struck by the relationship Rosaria shares with pastor Ken Smith. He welcomed her into his home, he shared her world, he was respectful and honest and genuine in his care for her. They could not have been more different, she a radical lesbian professor and he a Presbyterian pastor. This speaks volumes to me about the Christian culture that surrounds me. We sometimes, often, pride ourselves on our separation from the world. Consider the trend among some of the mega churches that are building their own gyms and coffee shops and such. My church has no such financial windfall where we could even consider such endeavors but, really, am I any different when I choose to only patronize Christian businesses, just for example?
I understand we are to be in the world but not of it but I think we forget we are *in* the world and for good reason. We are not to insulate ourselves away from everything and everyone that doesn’t look just like us; we are instead to be like Rosaria’s pastor, engaging, seeking, talking, and building relationships, true and genuine relationships of respect and care, yes, even with those who are diametrically opposed to all that we love and stand for.
I’m not sure what this would look like in my real life. I am ashamed of my lack of contact with those who are different from me.
I listened to a sermon by Matt Chandler not too long ago and in the course of his exposition he mentioned getting “swoll.” I chuckled a little because that’s the phrase my son uses when he works out in the weight room at school. As he works his muscles he’s (presumably) getting “swoll.” Matt (can I call him Matt?) described the same context, working out, but he asserted his primary motivation was not to get “swoll.” Rather that’s where the world is, there, in the gym, not a church owned facility reserved for the saints.Matt wants to engage and build relationships with people as he meets them on a common ground, in this case working out.
Recently a missionary family spoke at our church. They serve the Lord in one of the most volatile and politically charged areas of the world. When they speak of engaging the culture they describe their approach as “intentionally inefficient.” What do they mean? Instead of doing all their shopping at one single market, for example, they may frequent several different stands. In other words, they spread out their daily errands and obligations in order to be in contact with as many different people as possible. Each transaction, each errand, each contact made is an opportunity to reach out and impact a life for Christ.
Rosaria speaks a lot about hospitality in her book, like big time hospitality. As in feeding over 200 people on Sundays, every Sunday and that’s just one example. I’ve mentioned many times that I am a hospitality disaster and stories like Rosaria’s set the bar so high that I can only despair. I wonder, though, about the possible differentiation between the hospitality commanded to all believers and that of those who have been gifted with hospitality as a spiritual gift. Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps. I do think the practice of hospitality is not limited to only those instances like Rosaria describes. No doubt there are many ways I may practice hospitality within the grace and equipping the Lord has so generously granted me. The fact remains this is an area I need much sanctification!
Though, as I stated in my first post about Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith back in January, I have some areas of disagreement with Rosaria, on the whole I am thankful for her book and for her testimony to the saving grace of a sovereign God. Her story challenges and encourages me and I am glad I read it. Twice.