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Making Conversion Stick

Making Conversion Stick by Meghan Johnston Aelabouni

“I used to be neutral about this. I’m not neutral anymore.”

“I never understood why it mattered so much. Then one day, it was like a light went on.”

“I don’t know how to describe it, other than to say that God changed my heart.”

I’ve heard many conversion stories like this. People are converted to Christian faith (or away from it), converted on social issues like immigration or sexuality, converted like Shakespeare’s character Benedick, who railed against marriage and then fell in love. (“When I said I would die a bachelor,” he backpedals to imagined critics, “I did not think I should live till I were married.”)

The old way of thinking gives way to something new and different—even contradictory—with a sense of conviction that the new thing was right all along. Even my 2-year-old daughter was converted recently: absolutely certain she hated quesadillas, until she nibbled a piece when no one was looking. Her eyes widened in surprise, and an evangelist was born: “Mama, I LOVE ’dillas! They’re delicious!”

Conversion can be like falling in love: passionate, thrilling, and terrifying by turns. We discover some- thing deeply true about the world, about ourselves, about the meaning of it all—what theologian Paul Tillich called the “ground of being” and some of us call “God.” We become vulnerable, risking ourselves in commitment to the new. Little wonder that stories of conversion sometimes sound like a romance: a pivotal moment of epiphany, and “happily ever after.” But what happens in that “ever after”? How does a blazing realization become a lifelong fire? What makes conversion stick?

Meghan Johnston Aelabouni serves as co-pastor with her husband, Gabi Aelabouni, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colo. Meghan has blogged for the Huffington Post and written for The Lutheran magazine.

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