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The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 2

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2011 at 3:09 am

Submitted By: Gentry

At the end of the last post I intimated that God had slowly started to “transform my contrarianism.”

This phrase is additional evidence that I neither love words nor am anywhere near patient enough to make a living by writing. Neither God nor anyone else has “transformed,” by contrarianism. I think that anyone who has walked with me for a number of those years would agree that my contrarianism has been re-oriented – hopefully, most of the time, for the good – but it damn sure hasn’t been transformed. The latter word would suggest that one of the core components of my personality has miraculously changed into something else allegedly more noble. I assure you that it has not.

Now that the clarification is posted we can move on.

Over the years I’ve heard a number of earnest eyed preachers appropriate Leonard Cohen’s line that “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Let me assure you that the aforementioned conversion that I experienced must have been a hairline crack, because it took a lot of time for the light to get in. If my fractured self hadn’t been set by the right window, I’m not sure the light would have ever gotten in at all.

When I arrived at that window by curving around the backside of 100 campus view drive, I almost immediately felt out of my element. I was greeted by a dorm dad who informed me that “yes, you can purchase cable, but know ahead of time that MTV is blocked and not available.” When I responded to that restriction with a poorly reasoned jeremiad about a station I didn’t even watch (since Beavis and Butthead was no longer on), he smiled and said, “Doesn’t this one sound like a preacher?”

I’d heard similar, apparently baseless, inquiry shaped assumptions before, but it still didn’t resonate with me. In the few days that followed, as freshmen herded through the common areas like cattle, and I carefully avoided assumed attendance at an orientation day at a Christian camp (talk about two strikes against an activity), I started to wonder whether I had made a huge mistake exchanging $3,200 in compulsory alcohol counseling and a subsequent bench warrant, for a room on E-1 and enrollment at Lincoln Christian College (sorry, I can’t say university, because much as I love ya, you’re not).

Fortunately my initial reactions were completely wrong. Although Lincoln was a socially conservative environment – marked by the Republican campaign signs taped onto many windows – it invited honest theological inquiry and surprisingly flexible social regulations (I smoked many cigarettes in both the hole we dug on the hill behind Titus and the bed of Wes’ truck and never gave a thought to obeying curfew).

My contrarian tendencies did not disappear at Lincoln. In Interdisciplinary Studies 101, I quickly realized that I wasn’t aligned with James Sire’s gold standard of Christian Theism, but was, according to his lights, a Christian Existentialist. This tendency wasn’t rejected, but I was challenged to work them out. Likewise, after a damn near soul numbing internship at a traditional church in the armpit of the universe (ask Aaron Monts where that’s located), I caught on with a Willow Creek Association (WCA) affiliated church in a fairly rich suburb of Milwaukee. Although at the time the majority of LCC professors were vigorously critiquing, rather than moonlighting at, WCA inspired megachurches, I was encouraged to invest myself fully in this more culturally sensitive ecclesiological context.

All this is not to say that every day was rosy at LCC. After years of frustration, I finally learned that, try as I might to avoid it, my personality is bound to piss off one professor, fellow student, or person in 10. Although I received an unexpectedly nasty note or two in my campus box and a couple of professors questioned my character, usually in the passive aggressive way that has long been mastered by evangelicals and southern mothers, I was blessed to meet a number of amazing conspirators who might not have always stood behind (for good reason) but have stood beside me until this very day (you know who you are).

On my way out the door at LCC I, perhaps stupidly (since I would have learned more sitting under Dr. Lowery and Dr. Castelein than damn near anyone at Gordon Conwell), turned aside offers to attend Lincoln Christian Seminary in order to attend GCTS. In addition, instead of interning again in a church I decided to go live in a L’Arche community that was led by a remarkable man who also happened to be a homosexual. Although the latter fact gave both my spiritual director and I pause,  he ultimately encouraged me to head to Toronto. Both my insolent rejection and, I can’t help but believe it was truly inspired, decision to head to L’Arche were evidence that my contrarian tendencies were intact.

LCC helped fix my eyes on following Jesus and learn to long for the new tree whose leaves bring the healing of the nations. The gifted students and staff helped me realize that my contrarian take needed to be reoriented, but not replaced as I moved forward hopefully, mostly, in the steps of Jesus.

My trajectory has since led me away from Christian Churches, Churches of Christ tradition in which I was raised and which serve as LCC’s base, but without those four years I shudder to think who or where I might be.

I’m thankful for that window that let the light in and for the additional cracks that were to develop in the years to come.

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