My name is Tim Ronk. I was born in Belgian Congo. My parents served there under Baptist Mid-Missions. Later we went to Guyana for two four-year terms. I attended Cedarville from 1977-1981, majoring in English. I minored in Journalism and bulked up with loads of philosophy classes when not guzzling chocolate milk and the cafeteria’s “burp burgers”, as we affectionately referred to them. I worked with the Cedars layout team and wrote a column called “Conversations with Self” for the paper, as well as articles for the alumni magazine.
To encapsulate the spiritual journey of half a lifetime in a few paragraphs is a daunting task. How can I be honest? By that I mean, how do I account for all the dips and rises and tediously level terrains? What of those minutes, sometimes days, weeks, even months of doubt, disbelief and despair which only attain significance when set against the heights, where grace descends, when reasoning and answers do not matter anymore, indeed are vanity; when, bowing before the mystery and beauty of a dark and bright world, my spirit rejoices in the Source in whom all souls live and have being?
I start by telling you of a moment I do not recall, only “remember” through my missionary parents’ repeated telling? “You were four when you knelt beside the bed and asked Jesus into your heart.” Do I place my faith in that forgotten moment? Or do I place it in one of the many moments thereafter, when just to be sure, to be safe, I repeated that same prayer, over and over, fearing my own unsure heart, terrified I had not had quite enough faith during the most recent of the confessions and submissions to His will to be welcomed as one of the redeemed? Over the years growing ever more skeptical of my parents’ excessively eager recounting of their son’s salvation, I asked the Holy Spirit, Does the story of my early salvation hide some concern for my soul, or theirs?
So, do I then place my faith in the moment when, as a young teen, I walked down the aisle at a missionary conference in Iowa to rededicate my life to Christ, knowing that I still was not willing to “surrender all” and “go into all the world” to become a missionary like my parents? Definitely not, I have little faith in that particular moment because for the preceding week I’d had a crush on the handsome minister who now stood at the front of the auditorium to draw me into his arms, and praise my good intentions before the congregation. My motivations and passions, like everyone else’s, have always been mixed. I have been Judas, Peter and Thomas. This adolescent crush and “duplicity” I dutifully confessed immediately, silently, as one of manifold sins, a habit I’d fallen into as a necessity for spiritual survival, to overcome the abomination I was, and I kept repenting perverted lusts that assaulted my imagination, hour upon hour, day after day, though my hormones never got it.
Well then, does true faith and hope begin on one of those golden evenings at Cedarville when I paced campus footpaths as the sun went down? Tortured, I imagined myself to be like the apostle Paul, with a thorn in the flesh. I felt I was a special case in those days, and alone. I was alone; this was the seventies, “gay liberation” a phrase describing a lifestyle very far away, unrelated to me. The few on campus whom I sensed to be my sort, I denied. I distanced myself, certain I was not like them. I was not effeminate, or so I imagined, and so I strived never to be. I refrained from being in their company. I was like a certain Pharisee.
I prayed and I prayed all the more. I jogged six miles a day, often near midnight, after studies. By this time I’d moved off-campus, to get away from temptation, to be yet more isolated. I dared not talk to anyone about It. I rarely took time out to have fun. I was an overachiever. I took pride in my monastic life, and confessed that pride as sin, and surrendered and re-surrendered myself to my Savior, “Lord, I am yours, I will do anything for you if only you will purify me, change me, turn my love of men into a love of women. Work your miracle in my heart.” But He didn’t. He never did. Not that miracle anyway.
Maybe it wasn’t a thorn after all? Maybe I thought too highly of myself? Maybe I was no martyr? Maybe I was a lot like you?
Questions: they’ve turned a profile heavy on abstraction and short on biographical details into a rhetorical pose which somehow seems apropos, for from a number of engaging and funny, tough and kind professors at Cedarville, I learned the importance of dialectic. (Among them were Ron Grosh, my sister Jody Grosh, Uncle Al and Dr. Grier.) But by posting this profile I may well be damning myself in the eyes of some I have known. Perhaps others I have never met will view this attempt at rapprochement from the compound of a superficial compassion that quickly draws from an arsenal of Bible verses, yet hesitates in disbelief, turns back at the barbed wire, preferring support of the ego by solicitous overtures and patronization to taking that one fatal step, the one step over into - but I hope not. To look out through my eyes of joy at a world I have accepted as right and good, one for which I am grateful, that Tim wishes upon you, yes, I want you over here, to break bread and share the wine of your experiences with me, to open my eyes to you.
At Cedarville we kept inquiring in my small circle of friends, which included Bonnie Price, though I never breathed the truth about my sexuality, not even to her, my best friend. Encouraged to question everything, we did: preconceptions, one’s family prejudices (however camouflaged), philosophical underpinnings, cultural frame, one’s limited reading, an interpretation of a passage of scripture selected only to advance a particular cause, the history of conflicting interpretations of the Book as a whole, even our awareness of how the Book came to be. Not all of these cerebral investigations flowered the ramifications I see today, but the buds formed then.
For a long time my heart shied away from some questions to protect my faith. (I do not doubt that questions still hide up ahead to waylay me; my journey is not over.) Thus a weakening faith atrophies until a personal crisis exposes it. Not that it was always a sham, but at puberty I had begun to compartmentalize my life. Instinctively I must have known that faith and sexuality alike permeate the whole person, but I tried to keep them in closed chambers, sealed off from each other and from the open air and sunlight where the realities of an outer existence continue. You see I could never give up the fight, the fight for certainty. But my desire for certainty was misplaced. I could not open the fist of my hand and let go, nor fall backward into the Everlasting Arms. I would not put away childish things, though I was becoming a man. My will had to be broken.
I assumed my old faith had merit. I wanted my faith to function absolutely, in only one way, like a set arithmetic equation. I wanted it frozen in time. My earliest questions were not really questions, for they were expressed within a framework that had all the answers. All of us had been trained to think too highly of ourselves, to shake our heads in sadness at the foolishness of our wayward brothers and sisters. We had 20/20 vision when reading the Bible, didn’t we? Everyone else needed spectacles. We sold the lenses. Such a faith may like to think it holds ‘unmerited favor’ as one of its tenets, yet it refuses the captive heart the spacious room required for the dance between belief and its eternal shadow doubt to the tender music of divine grace. Only after I opened myself, accepted the disturbing gift of my sexual orientation, did I hear again the first strains of that Love Song. Rooted thus to the earth the Lord had made, I understood for the first time the phrase, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”