I have strong and comforting Evangelical roots. They go deep into the soil of my heart. The seed was sown early by Baptist missionary parents and nourished faithfully by a missionary community. That seed grew into a small leaf of faith, strong in identity despite being in a Muslim country. And at some point, it became a full-grown plant — bright, green, and sure.
The plant was hurt along the way. Hurt by well-meaning but clueless pastors, hurt by life circumstances, hurt by feeling alienated. But the roots? The roots were strong – I knew God loved me. I knew I needed a Saviour. I knew I couldn’t do life alone.
In the warm summers on a mountain hillside in a Muslim country I learned hymns of faith – Great is Thy Faithfulness, It is Well with My Soul, At Calvary, The Old Rugged Cross, and The Love of God. And that was just a few of them.
In teenage years I moved into the camp-fire song movement that became the grandfather of today’s worship songs. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around will warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it. You spread his love to everyone – You want to pass it on”. the weak theology made stronger through the fervor and passion of the singers. We sang “For Those Tears I died” at every Sunday evening service, sometimes as a duet, sometimes as a solo, always with sincerity.
This was Our God. These were Our Words. This was our moment.
These roots are why I am the “Reluctant Orthodox” instead of the enthusiastic, because they are good roots. They are planted deep and are what led me to my current journey of Orthodoxy.
For the faith and experience of my youth are not what characterizes the Evangelical church in America. That church is characterized by rootlessness and confusion, a tendency to paint Christianity with the colors red, white, and blue, and a willingness to bend with the wind. Turns out that my roots have more in common with orthodoxy than with what I now see in practice in Evangelicalism.
I say “Lord Have Mercy” and mean it with all my heart. I have moved into icons as windows to worship, and understanding more of the Theotokos – the God Bearer. I have learned about the Church Fathers and traditions of the early church. Instead of quoting Tim Keller, or Rick Warren, or Anne Lamott, I’m more likely to quote Dorotheos of Gaza or St John Chrysostom or the Apostle Paul. It is a different journey.
And it’s a difficult one to explain to family and friends. It’s easy for me to sound like this is the better way – for me to come across as arrogant. But the last thing I feel is arrogant. I’m like a toddler on the road, exploring the world around me and questioning everything. I know but one thing, this spiritual path is reviving a middle-aged faith.
In this journey I thank God for my roots, my strong, secure roots that taught me the central message of the Gospel. Because without them, I would not be where I am today.
And I continue to pray that God will see fit to challenge, humble, and remind this Reluctant Orthodox that his creativity in offering the mystery of grace to all of us knows no limits, other than that of the closed heart.