Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – a short review

A few weeks ago, I completed a book titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, in it’s entirety. I had begun reading this book when it first hit the market, but never finished it. I loaned my copy to a friend, for her to read, and frankly, allowed the book to ‘fall off my radar’. After a number of months, my friend actually bought me a brand new copy – which happened to be the ‘Expanded Edition’ – because she had marked my copy up so much – so with a new copy in my possession, I placed it at the top of my reading list, and launched in, with a view to complete it. Doing so was quite a journey. I was moved profoundly.

Rosaria-Champagne-ButterfieldSecret Thoughts, as the title implies, recounts the unlikely conversion of the books author, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, to Jesus Christ. She saw her conversion as ‘unlikely’ because, as she relates: ” When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was teaching associate in one of the first and strongest women’s studies departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed I was helping to make the world a better place.”

At age 36, she continues, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured activists’. She goes on to say how by all standards, she had made it – but how that same year, Christ claimed her as His own (Secret Thoughts, page x).

How did this happen, you may ask? Chapter one, ‘Conversion and the Gospel of Peace’, answers this question in quite a bit of detail – and it in itself is a powerful testimony about the overarching and providential working of God’s grace as it is fleshed out in someones life. I was moved profoundly by this chapter, writing on a blank half page in the book, “This is perhaps the most honest chapter I have ever read about someone’s conversion and the questions a true encounter with Jesus surfaces – and I find I desire this level of honesty and this type experience of God – although I have supposedly walked with Him for years – it’s the raw honesty that speaks to me.” 

The account of Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christ is definitely NOT all her book is about, however. Chapters two and three speak just as honestly and profoundly about repentance, sexuality, sanctification, public worship, and family life. About repentance, she observes, “In this crucible of confusion…I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin” (page 21).

About sanctification she writes, after quoting Paul’s profound statement about forgetting what lay behind him in his life and reaching forward to those things that lay ahead (Phil. 3: 13), how “this forgetting was a painful process. Like grief, the cost of relief is the you that you used to be. Surviving means sacrificing something of you.” (page 41). She then goes on to share what her faith and following of Jesus cost her practically and personally – when she dared come out, as a follower of Jesus, in a most public fashion (page 41-50).

MIS86-2.gifRegarding sexuality, she observes, “What good christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death: nothing more and nothing less” (page 83). And in another place she asks and answers, “How did the Lord heal me? he way that he always heals: the word of God got to be bigger inside me than I” (page 25).

On worship, one insight, found on page 92, explains: “The more God-centered our worship practice, the more mercy centered our life. Worship sour rehearsal for how to live today and how to glorify God in heaven. It is not merely a Sunday morning exercise meant to make us feel good.” And after stating the pressure the Regulative Principle places on real issues, she continues, “Either Jesus comes to worship with us and the Holy Spirit fuels and fills us and God is honored, or we have, simply, painfully, nothing at all.” (page 92).  

For many, the first chapter alone will be worth the price of the book – but to stop with chapter one is to see this book far short! I found chapters two through five and the Expanded Edition Features to be equally insightful, compelling and encouraging. Fully half the book, from The Home Front, which begins on page 95, and Homeschooling and Middle Age, which ends on page 148, addresses family life, the home and adoption of children in need – and I was often brought to tears, and/or compelled to lift up praise and prayer to God as I reads those portions.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a book I highly recommend to every follower of Jesus – and especially in our present day. But, it will prove to be an excellent read for Christian and non Christian alike, for that matter. I ended my reading journey feeling the book came to an end too abruptly. But then, one mark of a solid piece of literature, in my opinion, is that one doesn’t want it to end. To my joy though, it seems the story will continue in the sequel – Openness Unhindered – Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.    

An Encouragement to Christian Women to Action after Obergefell

images-18As I scanned articles on the First Things web site (a periodical hailed, by the way, to be america’s most influential journal of religion and public life), I came across a little  gem I found refreshing. Titled ‘Renewing My Plea: Humanae Vitae after Obergefell‘, author Luma Simms issues a call to women to resist the present downward moral spiral of our culture – and specifically SCOTUS – not politically but rather, by ‘rising up and using their feminine genius”. What does she mean?

Here’s an excerpt from her article: “The culture that now finds itself in a post-Obergefell mishmash—whereby marriage is whatever anyone wants, for as long as everyone involved thinks it’s still fun for them—blossomed out of no-fault divorce. Every act of faith within this sphere, then, is an act of resistance to the SCOTUS decision and to the culture that bred it. At the heart of this resistance are mastery over concupiscence, a deeper understanding of the spousal meaning of the body, and a grasp of sacramental marriage.”

Further, she suggests: Women must stand athwart current feminism, yelling “No!” to contraception. And “No!” to abortion.“No!” to sex outside of marriage. “No!” to men who want to “try things out” by cohabiting. “No!” to the temptation to act on same-sex attraction. “Yes!” to sacramental marriage. “Yes!” to an open and fruitful womb. “Yes!” to adoption if the womb is closed. “Yes!” to religious vocations. “Yes!” to spiritual motherhood. “Yes!” to life at home with young children, even if it means less income. “Yes!” to anything and everything that makes the woman fruitful both in and out of the home. “Yes!” to the abundant life that typifies womanhood qua womanhood rather than as “feminine machismo.” 

Simms writes as a Roman Catholic while I’m clearly Protestant. But despite this difference, her article challenges me and convicts me (in a good way) to continue to stand fast and hold the line in upholding the true worth and support of women and motherhood, the sanctity of covenant marriage, the value of celibacy, and the blessing of many children (whether through natural birth of adoption), or both.

In this post-SCOTUS world, many who follow Jesus Christ wonder what to do. For both women and men of faith, Simms journal article reminds us that a significant part of the answer abides closer than we might think; and clearly, ANY woman who purposes to live out the challenge Simms puts forth, will be absolutely, totally, counter-cultural.You can read the full article here.

Worship as Subversion

During the early centuries of the church Caeser-the head of the Roman state- was considered divine. It was therefore expected of citizens of the empire to give allegiance to Caeser and to the civil religion revolving around him. Jesus followers didn’t, however, and for this failure the early Christians were called atheists-godless-and persecutions came in waves.  On page 217 of his book Simply Jesus, N. T. Wright gives us insight into why. Wright observes:

“All kingdom work is rooted in worship. Or, to put it the other way around, worshipping the God we see at work in Jesus is the most politically charged act we can ever perform. Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is. What’s more, it doesn’t just declare it as something to be believed, like the sun is hot or the sea is wet. It commits the worshipper to allegiance, to following this Jesus, to being shaped and directed by him. Worshipping the God we see in Jesus orients our whole being, our imagination, our will, our hopes and our fears away from the world where Mars, mammon, and Aphrodite (violence, money and sex) make absolute demands and punish anyone who resists. It orients us instead to a world in which love is stronger than death, the poor are promised the kingdom, and chastity (whether married or single) reflects the holiness and faithfulness of God himself. Acclaiming Jesus as Lord plants a flag that supersedes the flags of the nations, however ‘free’ or ‘democratic’ they may be. It challenges both tyrants who think they are, in effect, divine, and the “secular democracies” that have effectively become, if not divine, at least ecclesial in that they try to do and be what the church is to do and be, without recourse to the one who sustains the churches life. Worship creates-or should create, if it is allowed to be truly itself-a community that marches to a different beat, that keeps in step with a different Lord.”

Put another way, to proclaim Jesus as Lord, to worship him as Lord and to obey and follow His teachings is politically subversive, for to do so is to declare that Caesar, SCOTUS, or any other earthly power, AREN”T.

The implications of this are staggering!!