Join us at Gino's East Pizza in downtown Wheaton on Thurs, Nov 18th at 6:30pm. We'll be discussion discipleship and providing feedback to David Zimmerman on his (soon-to-be-published) manuscript "The Parable of the Unexpected Guest". It's a quick read and intended to frame the discipleship conversation. If you'll be attending, please let us know so we can send you the manuscript to read in advance.
For our December meeting, we have 3 options that we are proposing to the group:
1) Thurs, Dec 9 6:30pm at Gino's Pizza in Wheaton discussing Bonhoeffer's "Life Together"
2) Fri, Dec 10th 7pm Wheaton Center Towers Clubhouse - Watching the movie Elf
3) Sat, Dec 11th volunteering at the Outreach Community Center's Christmas Store in Carol Stream
Last month, we gathered to discuss the question, "When does the Christian life begin?" We asked three people to tell their stories. The rules were fairly simple: our experience is not your experience – so don't feel judged if things differ and please withhold judgment until the whole story is on the table. It is easy to write people off because they don't start where you started or don't draw the conclusions you would have, but, in reality, discussing real people's lives, things are not always simple and not always as easily concluded.
Mark Williamson began the evening framing his experience by pointing to the Sacrament of Baptism as the start of his faith journey. For Mark, his life in Christ started before he could say or do anything. Before he was someone “worthy” and before he had performed a single good deed, in his baptism God accepted him. For Mark, the Christian life did not start with a decision he made -- it started as an act of God. It started in the faith of his family and of his church but most importantly it started with a God who loves us before we are lovable. His tradition (Lutheran-ELCA) baptizes infants (and people of any age who haven't been baptized before) and he was himself baptized as an infant and brought up within the church. Fast-forwarding from his early childhood to high school, he recounted a story of being brought to a mega-church event by a friend – an outreach “Target” night. Apparently Mark had a bulls-eye on him. They played games, broke into groups by school, and then gathered for a concluding worship service. Near the end, the speaker asked everyone to pray a particular prayer which he led. Mark followed as he was told, after concluding the speaker asked everyone who prayed the prayer to stand up. So Mark did. As it turns out he had prayed some form of the traditional Sinner's Prayer and was sent to the back to discuss what it means to be a Christian. Mark commented to us, “But I already was a Christian.” He had been baptized, taught the Scriptures, been confirmed in the church, and given himself to the faith – before walking into that church.
Patrick Green then shared his story with us. He told us that he knows when it was clear to him that he was a part of the Christian life, but that it must have started earlier. He told us of his isolation in high school and that he was lonely. In the end he joined the drama club for various reasons and made friends there. The majority of the club was involved in church and split about equally between two congregations. Pat recalls one day he decided to go to church. The decision between the two congregations was easy, one was closer and he had to ride his bicycle. So he put on his finest clothes, a suit, and peddled his way to church – with an enormous bible in his backpack. He got there and discovered himself overdressed and unsure how he fit in. But the pastor, a polio survivor with serious physical challenges gave a message that showed a beauty and love within the faith. He was shuffled off to the youth program, but, according to Pat, that guy was a complete jerk. He continued to attend and after a while shifted to the other congregation because, “the girls were cuter” where he met a different youth pastor and felt more welcomed. From there he went off to college to be a pastor, and ended up in youth ministry himself. He remembers when he knew that he was living the Christian life. One of the girls in his ministry was pregnant. The senior pastor and the church board indicated that she was banned from the ministry so as to not set a bad example. After some debate, Pat quit on the spot. For Pat the Christian life started at some point, but all the events leading him up to this decision, when totaled, do not seem to add up to any definitive starting point."
Kristine Socall then shared her story, a story without a definite point in time to look back upon and say - there is where her Christian life began. What existed was merely an ongoing series of pivotal faith moments drawing her closer to God. Her earliest faith memory is an experience at the age of 5 when she shared her understanding of the Gospel ("a description of Heaven and Hell, where do you want to go, then just say this prayer-kind of Gospel....) with her Jewish neighbor and then recited the Sinner's prayer with him. A few years later, while sharing the "Gospel" with another neighbor, and being called into the house to do the dishes, she responded, “I am about my Father's business.” Needless to say, the spiritual transformation towards humility came a bit later. She went to a Christian school for part of her elementary education years, but eventually ended up in a public jr. high school where she was mocked and bullied to tears on a daily basis, which continued mostly through high school. However, when she was alone a few of her classmates would approach her with questions about faith. She would answer them as best she could, but later her responses were further used as tools of ridicule. She felt unwelcome and unloved – set off rather than set apart from everyone around her. However, she was filled with an increasing desire to know God and to help broken people like herself. She went off to a Christian college; yet, though theology was a option, she majored in organizational relations, having been told by a family member, “What do you call theology majors? ...Unemployed.” During her life she has been baptized 3 times, once as a child and twice as an adult. But while those later events marked spaces of doubt and uncertainty in her faith and came from a desire "to be sure", they do not mark a change in her dedication or passion for the faith. For her, if the Christian life had a particular event or point of beginning, it is beyond her memories. She has not known a time in life without knowing God and talking to Him during the times when she had no one else to talk to.
What's your story? We'd love to dialogue with you!