The other day I came across an article in a local newspaper from sometime in the summer, because, you know, I like to stay on top of things. The article was describing the best Christians in the city of Seattle, so naturally, I was looking for my own name. Hey, I’ve only been in town for a year, and I think any fair ranking system would put me somewhere around, oh, say, seventh in my own house, but lets be honest, it was somewhere in the back of my twisted little mind as I read through the short list.
After getting over the disappointment of not quite cracking the top ten (I was probably eleven, I assume), I went back over the article just to read up on what it will take to better myself in the eyes of the local press, you know, for next year. But I think I’m probably out for next year, too, it looks like. And I’ll tell you why.
I have convictions. And nobody likes to hear about those anymore.
It’s like the interview I listened to on NPR, about the tendency for people my age to abandon traditional faith in favor of, well, I guess you can call it spirituality. The main difference in this case being that being a part of a traditional faith requires a certain life change, while having your own spirituality gives you, in the words of Wilbur Rees, the warmth of the womb (without) the new birth. The new spirituality is ecstasy without transformation.
In the course of the interview, the interviewee, a twenty-something woman struggling to find her way into a community of faith, made a very honest, and very common statement.
I am looking for a faith that doesn’t call for a life-change. I want a community that does not judge any actions as right and wrong.
Ecstasy without transformation. That is the desire. And who could argue with her, really?
When life is going according to plan, who needs transformation? Who needs the pain of spiritual discipline? Who needs the monotony of faithful living? Who needs to sink their lives into an outdated and silly old religion when the sun is shining down? If the old saying about friends being made for rainy days is true, how much more is it the case that our faith- you know, the one that requires us to submit our lives and wills over to God- is made for rainy days?
I look at the lives of my friends, one battling cancer for all he’s got; another grieving the senseless murder of his cousin; and another with a baby whose complications at birth have caused, as yet unknown consequences for the rest of his life. I look at my friends, and I know that they need something stronger than a spirituality that cannot save.
And what stands out to me about all three of these twenty (or thirty) somethings is that I knew them when the times were really good. I was around when they met their sweethearts and fell in love. I was at their weddings. I knew them all when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. So it does not surprise me that their faith is strong.
All three submitted to the hard work of transformation before the hard times came. Before the doctors came in with bad news. Before they seemed to move in at the hospital. Before they walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
And none of them would have won the award for Best Christian, because they have all three had convictions all this time. People they worked with thought they were weird, old-fashioned, closed-minded, and pious in their twenties. But when the hard times have come now in their early thirties, they have been ready. They have been prepared. They have cried- but not like those who have no hope. They have laughed in the face of death- bearing witness to a type of courage that seems to have gone away. It is the courage that comes only to those with convictions.
In a time when we embrace and hold out spirituality as an experience that may or may not give us a perspective on abortion, war, poverty, or sexuality, we cannot wonder why we are not ready for hard times. Spirituality outside of faith is vacant. If we refuse to submit to the work of transformation when times are good, how can we expect to have courage when the hard times come?
As I grow out of my twenty-somethings, I am starting to see the value of developing convictions. Not so I can argue, not so I can convince everybody I am right. But I want to believe in the face of doubt. I want to be ready when the hard times come. I want to trade in momentary popularity for being a man of courage.
So somebody else can have the ecstasy. Give me the transformation.
Little by little.
And let somebody else take all the headlines.