I don’t always read Roman Catholic books, but when I do, I read them on the Baptist bus. And when I do it, I think about suitcases.
A friend recommended Lead Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome by scholar Thomas Howard (brother to Elisabeth Elliot and convert to Roman Catholicism). I read it on the weekly 20-minute church bus ride. I’m a Baptist, but I like it anyway.
My friend questions me about the book every time we meet. Have I finished it yet?
“You never know,” he warned me. “You may be led to Rome on the Baptist bus.”
The Baptist bus goes nowhere near Rome. It goes through three-lane traffic to a gathering of lusty-lunged saints with exegesis as thick and thorough as your friendly good-morning oatmeal. And as good as Mr. Howard’s words taste, I prefer the Baptist oatmeal. In church I cry my makeup off because I love the Bible. Because I can’t believe God planned me as a part of his big story. Because the people sitting around me share my convictions and my ideas of how church should work. The unity has the kind of sweetness the psalmist talks about, like the oil running down Aaron’s beard.
But Mr. Howard’s clean and conversational explanation of his journey from fundamentalism to Catholicism made me think of suitcases.
When two people meet and talk church and theology, they each bring along a metaphorical suitcase of conclusions they’ve drawn beforehand. What makes things difficult and fascinating is that everyone’s suitcase has more than a string of principles inside. It contains people, places, books, and wildly divergent circumstances that have shaped the principles.
When two people begin talking, or decide to build a relationship of concord, they begin showing one another the contents of their suitcases. When Mr. Howard writes a slim book about his journey to Rome, he tells us what’s in his suitcase and how it got there.
I don’t pretend to know all the contents of Mr. Howard’s suitcase—I haven’t finished his book yet. But I do know that Mr. Howard makes great conversation. Whether he will challenge me so that I replace some item in my suitcase with one of his, remains to be seen.
What and who is in your suitcase?
Mine sits in my heart, full of preacher-men in loafers who bled the Bible when pricked, some city-smooth, some irreversibly rural, some with education, some without, and all taught by God’s Spirit. It sits full of John Piper’s preaching on Christian hedonism, which felt more like food than preaching to my teenaged soul. It contains counselors and preacher’s wives, two hymnals, four notable churches, a few youth song leaders, a half-dozen college professors.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens his friend.”
I used to think that in order to get people to know the contents of my suitcase, and thus know an important, pulsing part of me, I would have to break the suitcase over their heads.
But these days I take a helpful cue from Mr. Howard. Instead of a braining, I can open it up slowly and share.