This week I have met in my reading an individual who has been challenging me in new and unique ways. Rosaria Butterfield was an English professor at Syracuse University. She was a stalwart feminist and defender of gay and lesbian rights. Rosaria met Jesus in the life and witness of a pastor who was willing to sit and discuss her worldview with her. The book is a fascinating read and very well written. There is so much in it that is challenging me, and so much that could be discussed. But perhaps the biggest thing that stands out to me as I work my way through the first half of the book is her discussion of her entrance into the christian world, and the complexities that this process caused.
As you can imagine, a person of her background, entering into christianity, would literally have their whole life turned upside down. If she was going to follow Jesus it would cost her all that she knew and came to call home. Her entire value system was turned upside down. All the people that filled her life and she held dear suddenly saw her as a traitor and enemy.
Rosaria’s conversion was real. Meeting Christ meant reexamining her most fundamental presuppositions on life and weighing them against that which Christ said. Her conversion is not a neat and pretty packaged story of “asking Jesus into your heart”. It was not a moment when everything suddenly made sense and she was forever in and joyous jolly state feeling all “warm and fuzzy” about God.
Jesus never promised health, wealth and prosperity. He never promised instant emotional and psychological healing. He promised us his life for ours. His life was not easy. He wasn’t the most beloved and appreciated individual of his day. He cried a lot. He was abandoned by his closest friends in his greatest moment of need.
Rosaria came to Jesus not because it was gonna make things easier. In fact, it made a whole lot of things worse. She came to Jesus because she came to the undeniable reality that he really was who he said he was. And if that was true, nothing else mattered.
The complexity of her story reminds me of the reality of the complexity of all of conversion. Too often, christians who spent their whole lives in the church become totally out of touch with the real Jesus. We somehow think that following Jesus is what makes our life so nice and jolly. We glide over Jesus’ words about taking up our crosses and following him so many times we literally get disconnected from the reality of this text.
Jesus came into the world to save us from our sin. He came into the world to open the door to knowing the God against whom we have rebelled. Growing up in the church does not make us any more savable. Coming from a christian background does not make me any less a sinner. Real Christianity is a daily dying to self under the conviction that there is nothing that we would not give for Jesus to own our lives all the more. This daily process is challenging, complex and painful. Anyone who calls themselves a christian but claims that all is well and peachy is living a delusion.
The Christian life of faith is not, as C. S. Lewis put it, like “some mist steaming upward” but rather like “strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, perhaps even to destroy.” There are a thousand reasons why you should not come to Jesus. And there is one reason that you should. But that one reason does not cause that thousands of reasons against it to fade away. Following him is a daily crash course through those reasons. Rosaria’s story reminds me of that. It reminds me that the tension I experience on a daily basis makes sense, and it shouldn’t be expected to go away. At least not in this life.
Butterfield, Rosaria. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Crown & Covenant Publications..
Lewis, C. S.. That Hideous Strength: (Space Trilogy, Book Three) (The Space Trilogy 3). HarperCollins.