I've been a Christian for a while. I believe sometime in the next year I will have reached the point of being a Christian for half my life. This time has been chaotic, peaceful, treacherous, filled with love, perilous, and beautiful.
I've been a biblical studies major for a while. It began with a desire to do youth ministry, and evolved into the hope of a professorship. I was transformed from religious conservative to relational liberal. I began to question everything, and regret none of it.
One of the interesting things about these parts of my life is that they overlap, yet somehow seem at odds in my mind. If I had grown up in a home with no god, had not attended church or Christian schools my entire life, then a degree in religious studies and ministry would appear to conflict with my past. But the two are actually quite similar, which is why their opposing natures are strange to me.
Perhaps the reason they do not stack up with each other is because a fundamental shift happened inside me during my undergrad years. I grew up in a pretty conservative Church of Christ, where I distinctly remember having classes taught on why Baptists and Catholics weren't Christians. I taught a "Bible" study (which had very little actual Bible in it) on the validity of Young Earth Creationism when I was a Senior in high school to a few other members of the youth group. I was enveloped in a system where the Bible was a sort of rule book which fell out of God's lap onto the earth, and the way God loved us was nothing like any kind of love I'd ever heard of—in fact, he was downright harsh and sometimes cruel (though those words were never used to describe him). Instruments were evil, women were to keep their mouths shut, and a "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it" mentality was normative. Then came college.
I encountered views completely alien to me: of the physical resurrection of people and the remaking of the entire world at the end of times; of imperfect people who compiled texts for worship, transformation, and community; of Gnosticism and other fun historical heresies; of Catholics who loved Jesus more than I did, baptists who worshipped more earnestly than me, churches with authority structures which seem to work; of a God who reveals himself throughout time and continues to do so; of a God who may not be strictly a "him" at all. And, most importantly, of a God who loved us with a love like nothing I'd ever heard of.
What happened? I am not the same person who was baptized by his father at a summer camp when he was 12 years old. I am not this boy who got so upset at the immorality of others that I found them utterly repugnant. I am not one who despises those who call on the name of the Lord in a way different than my own. So what happened?
I believe God happened. I believe God placed in my life people who would challenge me.
He placed a Michael in my life who could point out that Jesus is seen differently by different people and different books of the New Testament, who could show just how beautiful the Gospel is and how marvelous the Gospels are.
He placed several Marks in my life. One to show me simplicity is not such a bad thing. One to reveal just how much God can use really goofy people. One to show how the kindness of a few people can bring out the best in others, and that the Old Testament is not worthless to Christians.
He placed a Steve in my life to tell me the way we relate to people, the endless complex connections that make up human relationships, are important because God experiences these connections with us.
He placed a Brandon in my life explain that God's love is bigger than any evil, that the Bible is about God and not about me, and that true wisdom comes out of often painful experiences.
These are but a few, and there are so many I have not mentioned. And I thank God for all of them.
Take a moment to consider the people God has put in your life to transform you. Some of them will be wonderful, God-fearing people. Others may make you wonder whether God is listening at all. Some will lift you up, and others will tear you apart. But consider how God uses any and all of them to enact his redemptive work in you, in your community, in your world.
Know that God seeks to transform, to gather together, to cleanse, to purify. And he hasn't stopped yet.