“At death we will see that what we preferred to Him was naught.”
–St Francis de Sales
In 2012, age twenty-five, I decided to “try” Christianity in a serious way. The context was an upcoming Religion, Literature and the Arts conference at the University of Iowa. I had planned to present on the thinker most important to me up to then–Jean-Luc Nancy. One central line of his thought is the “deconstruction of Christianity.” Nancy’s Dis-enclosure (vol. 1) was one of my favorite books. A year earlier I’d translated his L’Adoration (vol. 2) for personal use. But as I contemplated my presentation, I realized: I need to come into comprehensive contact with what I’m deconstructing, if I’m to understand it. So, I made the wager: Let’s take the leap of faith in Christ and see where he takes me.
Now, I was no novice to Christianity. My mom had deep faith, and she shared it with everyone around her. We went to St Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and for me Church growing up was a life of service. Dad and I mowed the two-acre lawn every week or two in the summer months. Mom baked communion bread, prepared for worship as sacristan, and served on half the committees. I was in bell choir and played organ and piano for services. For my Eagle Scout project, I coordinated painting a Noah’s Ark mural in the Church nursery, which is there to this day. My mom taught Sunday School and Confirmation classes, and I never missed. We went to Saturday night services and some weekends doubled-up when we had extra commitments on Sunday. I recall deep discussions with the pastors at our Church in my early thinking years. So I’d heard the Gospel preached and seen it practiced through my childhood and adolescence.
In addition to that, my time as an undergraduate (2005-2010) had led me to numerous intellectual encounters with Christianity, most importantly Soren Kierkegaard. For the class “What is Faith?”, taught by Dan Boscaljon (the same mentor who invited me to present at the Iowa conference, 2011-2013), we were assigned excerpts from his work. I ended up absorbing and taking extensive notes on The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. The class also introduced me to Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Paul Tillich, Nietzsche, and Freud — it was formative. Classes with David Klemm (I also did an independent study on Nancy with him) brought me into contact with Kant, Fichte, Holderlin, Schleiermacher, Heidegger and again Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling. So alongside my discoveries of Victor Frankl, Ghandi, Ramana Maharishi, Ken Wilbur and all the other figures from that time, my diet of Christian or post-Christian philosophy was steady. (Worth adding here is my help with the Free Lunch Program in Iowa City, bringing food to the homeless of that community. I volunteered for about five or six years there and became a veteran on the all-purpose ad hoc team of preparers, servers and dishwashers.)
By Spring of 2012, I was two years graduated from my B.A. Living alone back in my empty childhood home in Hiawatha, I pursued all these paths of thinking — and written till the pencils broke. When I resolved to “try” Christianity, my go-to reentry was Kierkegaard. I revisited The Sickness unto Death and Practice in Christianity before going on to Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Post-Script, Judge For Yourself!, For Self-Examination, and The Moment. (This section of my bookshelf is brightly rainbow’d, for those who know the Hong and Hong editions from Princeton University Press.)
Very quickly, through meditation on Kierkegaard’s thoughts and words, Jesus Christ began to shine in my heart in all his glory and uniqueness among men. It is a mystery of the Lord how things progressed from here that Spring and Summer of 2012, but I wish to recall the broad strokes as I remember them. Continue reading