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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Skeptic Who Got "Struck Christian" (A Book Review)

                                    



I first discovered Joan Ball through a Facebook comment she made on someone's post that read something to this effect: "Not everyone is seeking. Not everyone feels a 'hole in their heart' and is longing for something more than the 'here and now.'"


The statement caught me by surprise and gave pause for reflection, as someone raised with the conventional evangelical understanding that even the most successful people are still aware that "something's missing."

But not Joan. She had it all, as a brilliant NYC PR executive with a loving family and deep sense of personal contentment, she didn't "need God."

So He showed up uninvited one day gave her a heart attack, so to speak (you have to read the story; it's the most incredible conversion of an unlikely candidate I have ever encountered). Before she was "struck Christian," Joan describes herself this way:

"I knew very little about the Bible beyond my absolute confidence that, despite the heartfelt claims of the radio Christians, it was not the divinely inspired Word of God. I mean, how could it be? All of those writers with their hands all over it across the centuries and not one typo? I couldn't understand who in their right mind would ever believe that all of those angry monks and sadistic inquisitors never changed a little bit of this or that to tip the scales in their favor. How gullible could people be?

While it might have been a lovely notion that some benevolent creator of the universe whispered down two thousand pages of frequently contradictory texts because he loves people, I believed the whole Christianity thing had started as an elaborate ruse, perpetrated by powerful and wealthy people to control the uneducated masses. Then, like some centuries-old version of the kids' game Telephone, the rules and the false hope they promised became a sad and pathetic crutch for the weak and a powerful hammer for the pious."

When I read Joan's book, Flirting with Faith, I realized that, being the natural skeptic I am, if I had not been raised in a Christian home and later re-examined all I believe in order to fully own my faith as an adult, my  spirituality would likely resemble hers, pre-conversion. Apart from what I've come to know, love and believe about Jesus Christ, I am Joan in a sense. I feel an empathetic and understanding soul-connection to friends who doubt, question and even scorn my devotion to something that makes no sense to a rational thinker.

I invite my nonchristian, "thinking-though-not-seeking" friends to read this book, because I sincerely believe you'd enjoy it (one endorser compares her writing to Anne Lamott's), or at least find Joan's story intriguing. I'll close with another favorite excerpt:

"This might be a good time to directly address those of you who think I am making all of this up. I know you're out there. Those of you who, even if you believe in the existence of God..., don't believe that he, she or it would have the time or the inclination to drop in on suburban New York to knock some PR executive for a loop and transform her life by shaking it up beyond recognition. I'm talking to those of you in the 'She probably had a panic attack' contingent or the 'So you're telling me that you went to church one day and magically became a Christian; how very nice for you' folks. I'm stepping out of the story to reach out to you for one simple reason.

I am you.

Six years ago, there was no way I would have believed this story. In fact, I'm still enough of a skeptic that I question most of what I encounter in this faith. I can understand your thinking that a supernatural transformation resulting from a brush with God is ridiculous. It is the stuff bad movies and institutionalizations are made of.

I couldn't agree more.

What happened to me is entirely unbelievable. In fact, there have been many times since my experience that I thought I might wake to find that I'd dreamed the whole thing, or that I'd come to and discover I'd had a nervous breakdown or a bad acid trip. And yet, despite my own best thinking on the matter--and the fact that I am (mostly) mentally competent and decades away from my last experience with psychedelics--I am left with a simple truth: the Joan I was and the Joan I am are undeniably two very different women. Somehow, without an emotional altar call, or threats of hellfire and brimstone, or the softening that comes from the pain of a personal tragedy, this unlikely encounter with the Divine relived me of the luxury of unbelief."


(Used with permission by the author.)



2 comments:

From Mary's Pen said...

Wow ... Faith I can't wait to read this book... I had friends come strongly to mind while reading. <3

Kathleen Maher said...

This book--and your write-up--are very intriguing. It reminds me of Eric Metaxas's conversion story. He was a happy Yasle-graduate agnostic until the Lord spoke to him in a dream in a deeply personal way. When ordinary preaching and conventional means fail, God has a way of reaching those He calls. How encouraging!