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Inexpert witness

How not to evangelize your mother

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I WAS SITTING AT A RED LIGHT the other day when I saw something really scary: a white city transit bus careening around one corner of the intersection. Through the broad windshield, I could see the driver muscling the horizontal steering wheel through the peculiar fulcrum of a right-hand turn. And above the windshield in white lights, the bus’s destination sign read: TRAINING BUS.

Training bus?

I supposed I’d known on some level that bus drivers are made, not born. But a standard city bus weighs between 20 and 30 tons. Did student drivers really have to throw all that weight around so near the citizenry?

Then, because I’m a weirdo writer, my mind leapt immediately to the weighty things we Christians throw around—in particular, the Word of God. They really should train us before letting us near the citizenry, or in my case, family.

As I’ve hinted here before, I was raised by wolves. I spent my childhood and adolescence in the company of jobless hippies, drug users, drug dealers, leering bikers, Est grads, and drag queens. Christ did not open my eyes until I was 28.

Soon after my 1991 conversion, my husband and I were visiting with my mother when the conversation turned to spirituality. Mom, who was Jeopardy smart, knew I’d become “a member of the Christian right,” a development she found astonishing. Still, I set about witnessing to her.

My mother loved gardening, and as I tried ham-­handedly to tell her about my new faith, she said, “I feel closest to God when I’m working in my garden … when my hands are in the dirt.”

Bah! I thought. Mom didn’t believe in the God of the Bible, so the deity she meant was likely some silly earth-mother goddess she believed was embodied in trees and dirt and dandelions.

“That’s pantheism!” I blurted in exactly that clanging-cymbal way the Apostle Paul warned us about. I had been studying cults, you see, and had a weighty new word to throw around.

What I wish I’d said is, “Yes! It makes perfect sense to me that you’d feel close to God when you’re working in His creation.” But instead of building a bridge, I drove my gospel training bus right over what I now recognize as an on-ramp, leaving tire tracks of spiritual pride where love might have made inroads.

When my mother died of liver cirrhosis in 2005, I went to her home to begin clearing it out. Amid her papers, I found a green file folder. Curious, I opened it to find she’d been taking actual, mail-order witchcraft lessons from—I’m not making this up—The Enchantress Wanda of Wisconsin.

There were worksheets directing student witches to, for instance, draw a rectangle on the floor, light this or that candle, face east, and recite incantations. Some lessons involved the strategic placement of cats.

I just sat there and cried. “Why, Lord, could I not bring my faith to her and be more compassionate?” I asked. “Why could I not love her into Your kingdom?”

Closing the file folder, I wandered into my mother’s bedroom. There, in a 1970s-style wicker étagère, I found a little altar. A creepy ceramic idol about 5 inches tall presided over a shallow metal vessel where Mom had apparently practiced some type of ritual burning.

The idol’s mouth could not speak, its ears hear nor eyes see. Still, in my mother’s eyes, it must have wielded some power. And maybe it was real power: The prince of the power of the air disguised as light, sucking away any glimmer of true light like a spiritual black hole.

I realize it is God who chooses His children. That no amount of love or reason or sharp apologetics can usher anyone into the kingdom whom God did not choose from before the foundation of the world. Still, it hurts my heart to think I could at least have represented Jesus better to my mother.

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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