Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conversion, A Positive Possibility

I grew up in the Midwest and went to Bible College in Oregon, so I find the following story of great interest. When the United States Senate proposed in 1824 to build a fort on the Pacific Coast of the Oregon Territory, New Jersey‘s distinguished senator, Mahlon Dickerson could see only problems. He vigorously opposed the idea--ludicrous. Deserts, rugged mountains, distance, mode of travel, and the time separating Oregon from Washington’s East Coast made Oregon’s statehood utterly impossible.

Dickerson agreed an elected official might cover twenty miles a day, but that would require 350 days of traveling time. Good government made traveling that distance to and from Washington impossible, especially in those times.

Senator Benton of Missouri, angrily denounced Dickerson’s reasoning as irrational and blind. He could envision a day within one hundred years when the nation's population west of the Rockies might exceed that of the then current nation.

Dickerson 's negative-thinkers won the day; they defeated the proposal. In doing so, they lost the opportunity of a lifetime. Unable to imagine possibilities we enjoy today, they voted against the Oregon Territory, boxed in (or out) by their problem. History proves their negative thinking wrong; they lacked vision and lost a corner-turning opportunity.

How glad I am that I was not punished by those negative Senators. Today, we face problems rooted in centuries of hatred and hostility. Oh, for the ability that Alexander Pope prayed for when muttering, “O Lord, make me a better man.” Pope’s Page wisely responded, “It would be easier to make you a new man.” How wonderful ...

Watson, the father of Behavioristic Psychology, insisted “we need nothing to explain human behavior but the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry.” That unfortunately is short-sighted, negative, and does nothing to resolve contemporary problems, or create better people. We have patched, politicized, rehabilitated, medicated, and given therapy for centuries, but have yet to design adequate means of resolving either our problems or transforming people.

But this, I have found true: while the Church has many critics, it has no rivals in working human redemption, when converting to Christ. Giovanni Papini described beginning his monumental writing of the Life of Christ; he was not a Christian. His study, however, led him through the sequences of experience from the Jesus of history to the living Christ (Elson/And Still He Speaks/118), and he experienced conversion.

Conversion is a possibility we claim to believe, but we largely disregard it. Giovanni Papini found it real, when he met Christ. Thus, Jill Briscoe discovered that transforming love of God while viewing a sunrise in the Swiss Alps.

Vacationing with her parents, and finding no overnight lodging, the family determined to sleep in their compact car. Jill, cramped and not resting, awoke early. She wandered out and about the small ridge overlooking the popular tourist area. “And there” she writes, “I watched the sunrise.”

Later, the Book of Romans told her God revealed Himself in nature. Admitting she had not read the Bible much, she added “I did ‘read’ that sunrise and a huge sense of God’s glory overwhelmed me.” Her consciousness of her own unworthiness met God‘s transforming presence that morning and she concluded in lines she called “Conversion”:

The day breaks softly, filling me with awe.
It seems the other side of heaven’s door.
That God forgives my sin, to me is plain. . .
Today, ‘spite of my sin - the sun doth rise again!’1

The rising sun reminds me we have a great possibility that we too often overlook and even deny, but it remains our one great hope.
1 Jill Briscoe, By Hook or By Crook, (Waco: Word, 1987), p.37.

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