While ultimately my faith sits at the feet of Christ, the steps that got me there were ‘friends’ who took the time to sort out their faith on paper: Phil Yancey, Cornel West, Frederick Buechner, CS Lewis, Anne Lamott, NT Wright. My heart holds Annie Dillard in a special little corner though, for she was the one who broke the final straw of my resistance to faith.
In her essay The Book of Luke, Annie Dillard captured my reconversion perfectly. To this day, I cannot read it with dry eyes. She draws her observations on Luke to a close by describing how it ends with the disciples enthusiastically ‘praising and blessing God,’ moving the fledging church forward. A skeptic reading her words, I rejoiced at her unexpected critique of the developments that followed Christ’s crucifixion:
“What a pity, that so hard on the heels of Christ come the Christians. There is no breather. The disciples turn into early Christians between one rushed verse and another. What a dismaying pity, that here come the Christians already, flawed to the core, full of wild ideas and hurried self-importance.“
Internally, I cheered her on, “Yeah! Those Christians…crazy, arrogant, obsessed.” She continued her rant:
For who can believe in the Christians? They are, we know by hindsight, suddenly not at all peripheral. They set out immediately to take over the world, and they pretty much did it. They converted emperors, raised armies, lined their pockets with real money, and did evil things large and small, in century after century, including this one. They are smug and busy, just like us, and who could believe in them? They are not innocent, they are not shepherds and fishermen in rustic period costume, they are men and women just like us, in polyester. Who could believe salvation is for these rogues? That God is for these rogues.
I’d now climbed right up on my own soapbox behind Annie, fully entrenched in my private choruses of “You go, girl!” She’d hit the nail on the head. These rogues – they were crazy. They converted unethically, didn’t think about anything critically, and threw their Bibles around carelessly defending their narrow-minded political causes.
But then – unexpectedly – she inserted the words
Unless, of course –
I paused my internal pep rally and furrowed my brow, feeling the winds shift slightly,
Unless Christ’s washing the disciples’ feet, their dirty toes, means what it could, possibly, mean: that it is all right to be human. That God knows we are human, and full of evil, all of us, and we are his people anyway, and the sheep of his pasture.
Tears brimmed. I was human, wasn’t I? I was not merely brain or body or achievement-after-achievement. Sometimes I stumbled and didn’t know how to get back up. Sometimes I failed to love those who I claimed I would give my life for. Sometimes I failed to love myself.
She wasn’t just talking about them; she was talking about me, too. The breeze shifted again and I read on:
Unless those colorful scamps and scalawags who populate Jesus’ parables were just as evil as we are, and evil in the same lazy, cowardly, and scheming ways. Unless those pure disicples themselves and those watercolor women – who so disconcertingly turned themselves into The Christians overnight – were complex and selfish humans also, who lived in the material world, and whose errors and evils were not pretty but ugly, and had real consequences. If they were just like us, then Christ’s words to them are addressed to us, in full and merciful knowledge – and we are lost. There is no place to hide.
We are lost. There is no place to hide.
Those last words, they undid me permanently for they exposed the truth that every one of us tries to hide from our humanity with our adherence to traditions or non-traditions or skepticisms or fanaticisms. Plain and simple, we’re not all that different from one another when you strip us straight-down to our skivvies. Underneath the masks we don, we’re all just broken, bumbling, and beautiful creatures, a-little-found and a whole-lot-lost, sitting broken and bare at the feet of the One who made us, whether we know it or not.