Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

13 June 2013

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has been doing the rounds of the blogs for a while.  It found its way onto my pile of books to read late last year but I have just got to reading it very recently.

Written by an English professor it is, as you would expect, beautifully crafted.  It's an autobiography - Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's journey from successful English literature professor at Syracuse University specialising in Queer Theory and committed lesbian to a pastor’s wife who now spends her days teaching not university students in lecture theatres but her adopted children around her own kitchen table.

I have read quite a few reviews on this book - I was interested to see what other people thought.  There are many positive reviews out there on this one and interestingly, each one picks up on something different.  This books meets different people in different places.

Three things struck a chord for me - all from the first half the book.

The first is the lesson that it is not up to us to decide how far we think the gospel can reach.  The gospel can makes it way into all sorts of tiny nooks and crannies that we would never have imagined to be within its reach.  It's just not our job to decide who we think will respond to the gospel and who we might consider to be a lost cause.  I felt rebuked for times of being judgmental.

The second is that sharing the gospel is not about shiny programmes and polished performances.  In this case it was through quiet conversations around the dinner table over many, many months of calm, kind, patient hospitality, slowly answering questions and never forcing the issue or pushing for a result.  I felt rebuked for my impatience.

But it is the third that most captivated me. 

There are many victorious stories of conversion to Christianity out there, where the new convert is full of joy and zeal and energy.  And it is a great and wonderful thing to be brought into a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, so don't get me wrong. 

But my own conversion was not like that.  The day I became a Christian I went from being the consummate goody-goody to discovering that my life was full of sin.  The day I became a Christian marked the beginning of six weeks of being more depressed than I've ever been in my whole life as I came to realise how much of a goody-goody I wasn't and twelve months of utter exhaustion as I set about rethinking every thought and opinion I held to make sure it lined up with what I newly believed.  I remember crying for someone when I heard they too had become a Christian, knowing that they were now heading into a hard time of re-evaluating everything and appreciating their own sinfulness.  Becoming a Christian turned my whole world upside down.  Now I am glad for it - for having my world turned upside down and for the things I learned during that time - but at the time it did not seem an easy start.

And my experience was nothing compared with Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's start to the Christian life.  She says towards the end of chapter one:

When I became a Christian I had to change everything - my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts.  I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in...I was writing a book I could no longer write... 
Page 26

And later on of her conversion, "I lost everything but the dog."  (p. 63)

I don't want to celebrate her pain.  But I was glad to read her honest account.  I suspect that this experience of having one's world turned upside down is more common than our cheery books or blogs would have us believe.  Life is messier than that.

This is good, honest writing.  I didn't agree with everything she had to say - that seems to be a common thread in the reviews I've read as well - and so perhaps that needs to be said by way of warning when sharing this book with others, but none the less, it's a worthwhile, instructive and encouraging read.


Deb said...

Meredith, your always a book ahead of me! Friends have been urging me to read this book for at least a year now and I haven't gotten to it. Your book reviews always make me want to dash out and grab the book straight away. Your three points of encouragement really hit home for me today - thank you so much. I'm full of impatience especially in this area and often intimidated by thinking it will be "impossible" for the gospel to reach him or her. But God can, and God does, call people to himself. Wonderful grace!

Anonymous said...

And Meredith I am encouraged by your good, honest writing. Thanks for this post.

Meredith said...

Thanks Deb for adding the word "grace" to all of this, which is exactly right. Amazing grace.

As a heads up for you, after you have read this book you will then be reading "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen.

And thanks Sal. Thank you. Let me know if you would like to borrow the book. I could bring it next weekend if you are going the conference if you want it.