The journey begins!

It took me a few months to actually read the Worship Directory I had plucked from the paper. For many weeks it sat on my desk, growing crispy from the sun. One morning I realized that the newsprint would soon be too faint to decipher, and only then did I sit with it for over an hour, carefully going over the names of the various denominations. It occurred to me some options were missing—one just down the street from my house wasn’t listed—so I consulted the phonebook to fill in the gaps. The religious landscape was even more confusing than I had imagined.

I tried to decide which option to select. Go to the one closest to my house? The one whose representatives come to my door? Should I attend with my church-going friend I met volunteering at the local animal shelter? How about the biggest, modern one that sits on top of a hill and looks poised to stab passersby with its giant cross? Or should I pick an older, more traditional-looking building with a picturesque steeple? But how would I know which was the absolute best fit unless I had experienced the entire spectrum?

My husband plunked his beloved volume, History of the World, into my lap. “Read,” he said, pointing to the open page. “The Protestant Reformation,” the text was labeled. Over several paragraphs, I learn the condensed version of the story: the devoted monk in medieval Germany whose dissatisfaction with the prevalent Catholic leaders of his day led him to challenge their interpretation of Christianity. His bold gesture of posting an outline of complaints to his local cathedral door is credited with starting a wave of religious rebellion throughout Europe. I suppose I had been taught the broad strokes of these events in high school, but presented in too dry a manner to stick with me.

So, I turned to history for guidance. From our colonial origins, the United States has been largely a Protestant nation. Even today, of the 76 percent of Americans who identify as Christian, over half belong to a Protestant denomination. So what better place to start than with Martin Luther, the “father” of the Protestant Reformation?

I went online to order a book about him. The one I selected was called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World. I picked it because of the title, it sounded so authoritative. I thought: this is just the thing to start me on the scholarly path of religious knowledge. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my tome.

Two weeks later, I came home from walking the dogs to find a big, square package. Too wide to fit in the mailbox, our mail carrier had propped it against the garage. What’s this? I wondered, ripping into it.

My book! Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World.

The cover, realistically rendered in gloomy colors, showed an unsmiling young monk holding an old scroll against a wood door.

But, wait, my tome was no thicker than a magazine.

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World is a picture book for children.

At first, I’m annoyed. Now I have to repackage the thing, send it back, hassle with customer service. Then I stop that line of thought. This whole project is about learning to see things differently.

I’ve heard people say that the funny little blips in life, the quirky twists of fate, are the quiet whispers of God. If this is one of those, I thought, God is hilarious. I was being put in my place, but gently. “Not so fast, kid.” I imagined the words blown by the wind. “You have a lot of growing up to do.”

Something clicks, some spark of recognition, and I promise to take note of all the goofy things that happen along this journey—even if they are ridiculous or seem to take me backward instead of forward. I’m likely to learn as much about God from these as I am from sermons or the Bible.

I decide to keep my picture book, and set it where I can see it every day.

I also decide to use the local college library from here on out.

18 thoughts on “The journey begins!

  1. i was raised to identify as neither protestant or catholic, just restoration of 1st century christianity…which seemed to fit well with frontier thinking with a minimum of organizational bureaucracy

  2. I tried to send this little tidbit when I first saw your article in the Yakima, Wa newspaper. Martin Luther is a good start to learn about Protestants. I have been a member of the Christian Reformed Church since 1980. (Raised Roman Catholic) My tidbit is this: RELIGION is MAN’s attempt to reach GOD. Beware any religion, even reformed. The Biblical challenge is simple, NOTHING can take the place of a PERSONAL relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. This is where religion fails, if the emphasis is NOT leading into the development of that relationship, no matter the RELIGION, you will be wasting your time..
    I HOPE and PRAY this will help you to grow a FAITH that will be REAL for you.
    Chris Jensen

    • Chris, religion is man’s attempt to reach wealth and power, and nothing can be more satisfying than a personal relationship with God – plain and simple.

  3. Corinna, you are on a most wonderful journey. My choice of church, when I finally made it, was a Lutheran church. The preaching emphasizes the boundless love God has for us which is free. Our only proper response is to accept the gift and say Thanks You. (Gracias, in Spanish.) Is it any wonder this Gift is called “Grace”. I had been a secret seeker like you for many . When PBS broadcast the Joseph Campbell series on The Power of Myth in the 1990’s, it felt like yeast had been added to my cauldron of God-seeking dough. So when my daughter got married to a Lutheran, I finally told the pastor about my seeking path, and he directed me to several books. The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade, The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, anything by Thomas Merton, Meditations with Meister Eckhart by Matthew Fox, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, and The Heart of Christianity, both by Marcus Borg, A History of God by Karen Armstrong. These were wonderful, eye opening books.

    I know I would not do well in a church that believed that we people have the POWER to increase or decrease God’s love by what we do or fail to do. Or a church that insisted everything in the Bible was literally true. Or in a church that seemed to put God in a box, so to speak–by being so audacious as to assume they know the Mind of God and can authoritatively speak for God. More humility, please! So I wish you well in your voyage of discovery. To undertake this as an adult can be an exciting thing because you come to the subject with a grown-up mind and the ability to appreciate abstract concepts, the ability to appreciate the Bible as not necessarily literally true, but as containing Truth with a capital T overall, in answering the big questions like Why are we here? How are we to live our lives? How are we to live in relation to others? How do we get spiritual help?

    • Hi Jan, There are some that do know the mind of God, and they know because they were chosen to know, (Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of Secrets) and you’re right in assuming that the New Testament is not literally true, but the Old Testament is the record of God’s dealings with mankind through the prophets. Truth can be found in other more ancient writings also. We are here because God put us here in His image. He was once human, does He not call Himself the Son of Man. His civilization may be 100,000 million years older than ours and His civilization has become completely spiritual, (spirits) and we will someday be the same. We live our lives by using God’s laws as a guide,but the Commandments should be followed as closely as possible, for it is they that allow us to live side by side with others. God does not expect us to be even close to perfect, but to be wise to the world and its failings. There is no place in the Bible that tells you the secrets of spirituality, nor will you find it in any churches. You must first know yourself, your soul, and your inner shadows.

  4. Why start at the Protestant Reformation? The canonizatioon of scripture was complete by the Apostle John before 100 AD. No mention of any denomination other than Christian! No Catholic, no Protestant in the Bible. The divisions of Christianity have created confusion and private intrpretation. If we stick with the original message, we have the best chance of the clear and unadulterated message of Christ to ALL humanity…not just one select group with their own spin.

  5. I am tempted to comment from an observation to more thoughts than you will ever want to hear. But instead I have a question. You seem very open and honest hearted so my question is: have you defined your hoped for destination? Bill

  6. Corinna,
    I noticed your comment on my own blog where I quoted your LA TIMES op-ed. It warms the very cockles of my heart (wherever and whatever those may be) to hear the honest and clear spirit of adventure that animates your blog. The reason I am planting a new church in Brea called “The Journey: a vineyard community” is that I see the concept of a journey as a beautiful metaphor for what faith actually is. In the book of Hebrews 11: 8, it says, in my own paraphrase: “Abraham, as an act of faith, obeyed God and left home (the comfortable and familiar) and embarked on a journey to a place that he would later receive as his inheritance, even though he had absolutely no idea where he was going.” May God’s grace guide you on your Journey. Pastor Mark.

  7. Thanks, for this post, Jan (and thanks to Corinna for her exellent blog of her search journey and experiences). I can relate to your choice of the Lutheran church because I too turned to Lutheranism (joined an ELCA congregation about four years ago), switched from Catholicism (the religion I was born into and brought up in). I feel very comfortable in the Lutheran religion, specially the concepts of being saved by grace alone if we sincerely believe and that of a personal confession (rather than confessing to another “fallible” individual-a priest).

    Thanks also for listing the various books which were referred to you. I will look them up; they should provide good material for further study and discussions (bible and other) at our church.

    Thanks again, and Blessings to you.

  8. Abraham is our example of the journey of faith. It began when God called him and he obeyed. However, now God calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. Our journey begins when we obey God by believing in His Son as our Saviour, as being crucified and resurrected from the dead for sinners, for us all because we have all sinned. When we do this, God makes us His children; we are born again. Jesus is the beginning of our faith and He is the end. We look and wait for His return, as He promised. Once I became His child, I have had an interesting journey through several different denominations, some claiming to be the true church, each with their own set of “man-made” rules and regulations. I chose the Bible to be my light throughout my journey; God’s word has served me well. It has taught me that my journey will have many trials of faith. It has taught me that the most important thing is Faith in God and to serve the family of God in love, whereever I may find myself. Bill

  9. Love your sense of irony, Corinna! As to those little quirks in the path….like rubbing shoulders with un-nun-like neighbors at the monastery, the “book for children” fits in with what Jesus has to say about coming to him and receiving the Kingdom of God (e.g., Mark 10:14,15)….I’m sure you’ll find more adult-like books at the college library, but perhaps none truer.
    By the way, while watching the film “Luther” (starring Joseph Fiennes), I was struck by something he was telling his congregants about the “father friendly heart of God” (as opposed to the angry God who had been preached to them for so long). It was an authentic reflection of this quote:
    “If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but only looks upon a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.” (Sorry I don’t have the reference, but you can google it).
    A good thought for those of us on the treadmill hoping to get life “right”….

    • Jesus is not your Savior, God is. Chech Isaiah 43:10 Don’t let church dogma confuse you. God wants you to seek truth for yourself.

  10. Why don’t you pray and ask God to lead you to the right church. God may give you a grand tour, so don’t expect to get a simple answer, necessarily. You are not getting married to it so if you can’t take a particular church, you can always leave. It will only crush the pastor for a few hours.
    You are right on about “people say that the funny little blips in life, the quirky twists of fate, are the quiet whispers of God. If this was one of those, I thought, God is hilarious.” You can bet God is the source of that picture book. I like to talk to God in prayer and ask, “What do you mean by that? What are you trying to show me?”
    I’ve never thought of the images churches project – “and looks poised to stab passersby with its giant cross.” Well, that cross does stab and that’s the problem. But don’t let it keep you away. Beyond the cross is something absolutely transcendent. Martin Luther tried so hard to reach God he was accused by his superior of being insane. Then one day he was studying the Scripture and it all became clear. I’m sure your book will talk about that. You are studying the right person.
    Blessings, Ginger

  11. Many people, for good reason, bemoan the many divisions within Christianity. Historically, though, it’s hard to find a time when Christians weren’t divided, even in the early church. It took centuries to distill what has come to be called traditional Christianity. However, some recent writers take an alternative view. What if at least some of the divisions can be viewed as positive, opening the church to more people? Can God be offering different paths, all leading through Jesus (“I am the way and the life”), to salvation? Isn’t the insistence that one’s denomination is the sole “correct” path just another way to limit God’s work in the world? The constant bickering and splintering of the church is certainly something to be lamented, but God often makes man’s weakness His strength.

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