By her own account, Joan Ball was an atheist, albeit one who faithfully attended church. Faithfully as in regularly. The kids liked it, and her husband was a Christian.
But the church thing was Ball’s private joke. She knew better than to lean on the ”crutch’’ of a magical God who would make you rich, cure your ills, save your life. Religious hocus-pocus was not for her, although one time an answered prayer for urgently needed lost keys gave her momentary pause. But really she didn’t want to be bothered.
Life was good — a loving spouse, three great kids, the ideal job — getting to make a lot of money in public relations while working from a nice office at home. That home was a palatial residence she and her husband had built by themselves with their own hard work and sweat, a house that was a metaphor for a life she had rebuilt after squandering several youthful years on drugs, booze, a failed marriage and financial turmoil. A lovely, well-cushioned future lay ahead.
But we know what happens to best-laid plans. Sitting in a church pew one Sunday, Ball suddenly found herself undergoing an excruciating and then amazing experience — one that turned her life 180 degrees around.
Ball chronicles that upheaval in "Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey From Atheism to a Faith-Filled Life."
She describes reading everything she could find on faith and Christianity. She spent hours in coffee shops, reading and talking with everyone she could about religion and spirituality, and the age-old questions surrounding faith.
Upheaval including quitting a lucrative job, selling the big house, and her husband changing his career as he decided to pursue a newly discovered personal dream involving music and acting.
Ball also talks frankly about her family facing a financial crisis, a child’s serious illness and being attacked from within her church family.
The most famous conversion in Christian history is, of course, that of Saul on the road to Damascus (headed there, until God dramatically intervened, to persecute that heretical new sect known as Christians). As I read Ball’s account of her conversion, I kept thinking of the man named Saul-turned-Paul, and the comparison made me feel a trifle uneasy.
I don’t doubt that Joan Ball had a conversion experience and that she is a Christian. I believe everything she says in her book.
Paul’s being zapped, so to speak, by God caused a Jewish zealot who hunted down and punished Christians to, within days, become one of them himself.
He went on to become one of the apostles, or founding leaders of the early church, and traveled throughout the Mediterranean preaching and converting people to the faith, helping to found congregations and writing the letters that came to form part of the New Testament and source of faith and guidance for Christians to this day. He gave his life to the cause, becoming one of the early martyrs, slaughtered for his belief.
Ball’s journey was different. It didn’t lead her to sell all her worldly goods, join the missionary service and go preach to some newly discovered tribe in Outer Wherever. I suppose one could say hers was an American-style conversion, involving career change and personal fulfillment, and from public relations maven to business college professor.
Perhaps it’s a new chapter in an ages-old story.