I often say Brian McLaren is the reason I'm still a Christian. If given time to expound, I'll mention his book A New Kind of Christian and then I'll talk about the person behind it all, Andy Meisenheimer.
Andy and I first met in the hallowed walls of The Christian Bookstore. If memory serves correctly, he started working there his senior year of college and eventually became Book Buyer. We developed a great friendship. He was like the older brother I never knew I always wanted.
I opted to graduate a trimester early my senior year of college. I needed to save for graduate school and figured not having to pay extra tuition coupled with a few extra months of full-time work at The Christian Bookstore would put me in the right direction.
While grateful for the income, I felt a certain amount of angst in working there. I had lost and found my faith during college and what had emerged on the other side little resembled the faith of my childhood, even less the contents of the Christian Bookstore. I no longer fit. I had few confidantes to whom I could divulge my doubts and questions without fear of judgment or prayers for my soul.
Andy was an exception to the rule. He was the one who opened my eyes to the cliches contained in much of the worship music we sold. He took a blue pen to a popular Christian fiction author's latest book, editing away the predictability and passive voice. He talked about the relationship between faith and good art and contrasted this to much of our inventory. He was honest about his doubts and arrived at conclusions that astounded me.
With Andy, I didn't have to hold back as I made sense of an outside-the-box faith. I had no desire to return to church but I did want to make sense of God and whether faith was compatible with doubt. He listened and allowed me to not know the answers.
At a time when I was ready to walk away from Christianity altogether, Andy walked before me and showed another way. He did this in ways big and small.
As the Book Buyer, Andy began stocking the store with books that didn't quote the party line- going so far as to add a Spirituality section. They were still Christian books, while differentiating themselves from the Old Guard of the Christian Living section. Many of these efforts were under the radar but it says something that many of these books didn't stay on the shelves for long before being purchased.
I've long turned to books for answers and solidarity. In spite of this new section, I wasn't hoping for much when I asked Andy for recommendations. He didn't hesitate before placing A New Kind of Christian in my hands. It had been published almost a year earlier and when he described its impact on him, I immediately sensed it would have the same effect on me.
I took it along on a road trip to New Orleans. While my travel buddies slept in the hotel room, I curled up with the book, thinking I'd read a chapter before turning in for the night. Only I ended up reading half the book before I forced myself to go to bed.
Dan and Neil's conversations spoke of truth and healing. McLaren's book showed me it was possible to still claim Christianity for myself. I didn't look like many of the Christians in my life but I wasn't the only one grappling with these things. The book changed everything.
And, thanks to Andy, I soon found others walking the same path. He started a Yahoo! group (remember those?). Our conversations went all over the place, tackling every subject we could think of. Some believed Jonah was allegory, some questioned the inerrancy of the Bible, and some of us simply wanted to know if our political affiliation was compatible with Christianity. We didn't all agree but we left space for civil disagreement and the mystery of questions without easy answers.
Because of that group, I knew Christianity was not one-size-fits-all. It was so much vaster than I'd ever known it could be. We could believe Christ was our Savior and agree to disagree on the rest. This is what has carried me the last decade or so.
Of course, not everyone agrees to disagree with me. I often felt like the black sheep at my previous churches. But what keeps me going is people like Andy and the friends I've found in the years since who ask the hard questions and embrace the unknown.
I'm not alone.
I'm grateful for Andy's presence in my life those years ago. He gave me hope. I am a better person because him.
This post is part of the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering this prompt: ‘What saved your faith?'
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