Thursday, January 08, 2009

Conversion, the Easy Bake Oven instructions

I ran across this interesting summary of the Stages of Conversion, courtesy of Byzantine, Texas, who got it from another person. It's a silly portrayal. Some parts I resonate with, others not so much:
Phase 1: The Cage Phase
So you've found your new tradition, and you've finally discovered all the answers to life's problems encompassed within it. You've also read a few books that explain how every other Christian tradition (especially the one you just left) has absolutely ruined the piss out of the Christian faith as a whole. As God's apostle to the unconverted, it now falls upon you to save the world (especially your friends and family in the old tradition) by enlightening them as to just how perfect everything is about your new tradition and how stupid and wrong everything about their current tradition is. It is very important for you to have a blog during this time so that you can enlighten as many people as possible.

Phase 2: Addiction
After having ruined all your relationships from your past life, you are now disillusioned with the willful ignorance and impiety of all those outside your new church. Let the heretics stew in their heresy. It is now time to busy yourself with drinking as much religious Kool-Aide as you possibly can, preferably until your skin becomes the same color as Purplesaurus Rex and your body's pH levels are completely thrown off. You need to read every theological or devotional book you can, buy lots of the assorted trinkets associated with your tradition, and make lots of pilgrimages to either theology conferences or monasteries, depending on how your church rolls.

Phase 3: Apostle of Renewal
You've recently noticed that most of the other people in your church are not nearly as obsessed with it as you are. They aren't reading those books, and they aren't buying all that crap you've strewn your house with. They're more concerned with paying the bills than why those awful sectarians are wrong. They even have friends outside the church! Many of them are not aware just how right and perfect their church is, or how great their lives would be if they would just fling themselves with total abandon into the kind of obsession you yourself have. This is clearly a problem that must be fixed, for it threatens to destroy the purity of the faith. As God's chosen agent of change, you busy yourself with trying to whip up everyone in the congregation into the same frothing devotion you yourself exhibit.

Phase 4: Beaten by Reality
You've finally faced the harsh truth: The people in your new tradition are, at their core, a whole lot like all those people from your old tradition that you despised so much, with all the same foibles and failings. You give up on saving the world, on restoring your tradition to its purity, and have lost your confidence that God himself has appointed you to fix everything. You've discovered that your new church in fact has a lot of ugliness in its history, has a lot of jerks in its power structure, can't solve all of life's problems, and isn't always all that consistent or believable in what it teaches or what it does.
I am grateful to have known a lot of converts over the last 12 years who never harbored anger or resentment toward their former religious affiliations or the people in them. In my mind, it is the mark of a balanced and mature faith... a pilgrim's eye toward God. There is always a little frustration, but it is formative rather than destructive.

While I was still utterly convinced of the truths of the Gospel and the fullness of revealed truth in the Catholic faith, I was always profoundly grateful for my experience as a (non-baptized) Baptist -- particularly after I had rediscovered my faith early in high school. My youth pastor was a passionate woman of God who took the time to work with me privately, to help me get my footing in the Scriptures, to pray and intercede for me. Even after I had begun attending inquiry sessions in RCIA at my local Catholic parish, she insisted on continuing to meet with me, and I continued to do so, quite willingly, for about a full year and a half before I entered the Catechumenate and began preparing for baptism and initiation in the Catholic Church (which, of course, she didn't like, but that's another story...)

Yet, in my time before my full initiation, and for some time after, looking back, I would have to identify myself as a cocky convert. I think a lot of that had to do with my being a brand new, know-it-all college student, primarily. I simply had a lot of growing up to do. I am also profoundly grateful for all of the balanced teachers in the faith who showed me how the Catholic faith could be lived out faithfully without falling into the traps laid by the culture warriors and those issues that divided everybody so severely and often destroyed faith. Coming to grips with how human our Church was -- that was the most purgative experience for me, and it doesn't end. I suspect I am a better Catholic today because of those experiences, yet one with a long way to go toward holiness in Christ.

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