Woman touching Jesus' hem of his garment

Testimony of Barbara Büchner

I was born in Vienna in 1950, the oldest of three children. My older brother died in 1985 in a motorcycle accident, the younger one is alive, happily married and a great success in business.

I was raised a Catholic – Austria is 99% Catholic. My grandfather was a builder and built the small church in our neighborhood, so when people spoke of “the Church” I always thought of this little chapel and thought that we somehow owned the church, because my grandfather served also as a sexton (church servant). The priest used to come to our house to have a glass of wine and chat with my grandfather, so religion was a rather comfortable thing in my early years. Especially the priest never was harsh on us in confession, whenever I told him I had once again beaten my brother – which was my chief sin at the time – he would say: “Well, be sorry and do better next time.” I was a rather pious child, praying the rosary of my own accord and also praying to Jesus whom I considered a very dear friend and told everything.

When I quit school at eighteen, it was the year of the great turmoil of the year 68. I felt a growing dissatisfaction with our little church and the old priest who still considered me a little girl. I had many questions he couldn’t answer. So I looked around for a more satisfying type of piety. At that time I also had a special problem: I went to art school after my graduation and there I found many people with all sorts of beliefs, some downright atheists, some what you would now call New Agers and so forth. I was completely confused because I had grown up thinking there was us Catholics and maybe a few Protestants and Jews (erring, but nevertheless decent people) and that was it. Now I was in the middle of the great upheaval of those years, amongst communists, New Agers and people with all sorts of religions. I hardly dared open my mouth because if I agreed with A, then B would pounce on me, and I wasn’t raised to stand my ground in intellectual debates. (My parents are of the “hush up and nobody will get hurt” sort.)

Now in that situation, wanting desperately to find an indisputable truth, I met a group of x-ian fundamentalists, and suddenly it seemed all my questions were answered. I had been warned of sects, but then people who read the Bible and prayed certainly weren’t sectarian, how could they? My parents grumbled about the “sectarians” but also encouraged them when they heard they were all for the family and children being obedient and girls being demure and nicely dressed and so on.

Then, something happened that had a lasting effect. Until then, I had thought Jesus liked me just as much as I liked him. Now they told me squarely that He hated me, that He had prepared hell for me and would send me there if I wasn’t born again. It was a shock like finding out your beloved husband is planning to murder you! This group was also strongly interested in the occult and told me my flat was full of demons and they would come in night and get me, and that if I was to die unsaved I would become a vampire.

At that time, I had a dream I will never forget: I dreamed I was in a crowd surrounding Jesus and suddenly felt a great desire to touch him. I elbowed my way through the crowd and came up at his back. I cried “Dear Jesus!” and he turned round and looked at me – and it was the sneering face of the Joker in the Batman comics! Still, I got converted and was immediately swallowed up in the group.

Now I won’t say much about the years that followed, firstly, because I guess you have heard the story a thousand times already and second because I have forgiven those people and don’t want to be reminded of them. Those were years of constant fear and oppression, years in which I was constantly afraid of the “invisible forces” around me and afraid of God, who – as evangelical literature has it – loves to send all sorts of dreadful unhappiness to his children and then demand that they praise Him all the same. It seemed to me that, born again or not, punishment was my fate: First God had punished me because of my sin, now he punished me to “make me grow in the Lord”. I never dared to say it out loud, but I had the growing feeling that “free grace” was like a loan: first they hand you a lot of money, and then you pay interest the rest of your life, much more than you originally received. There was a saying “the devil promises much, gives little and takes all.” To me it seemed that was equally true of Jesus: He had promised me “life, and life abundantly”, had given me very little and taken away all the joy and pleasure I might have had in life. I grew to hate him, but I also was very much afraid of him, so I would go on praying and testifying. I gave witness to my friends, but secretly hoped that none of those dear, interesting and friendly people would become a born again X-ian: all saccharine sweet smiles and icy cold eyes. Sometimes I wished I were an animal, who would one day die and know no more. I was an active member only for a couple of years, but though I got out of the group, I never got out of x-ianity. I had many contacts with x-ians (by which I mean the BAD sort of Christians) and until last year did translations for an evangelical publisher.

It wasn’t until 1993 that I decided to question the faith. Until then, although I often hated it and constantly squabbled with x-ians about it, I had never asked questions. The Bible was the Word of God, so if I didn’t agree with the Bible it was me who was wrong, wasn’t it?

But I felt a growing interest in sects and cults, getting lots of books to find out how they worked, how they draw their members in and mind-control them. I learned a lot about how cults function – I finally wrote a book about them – and I also studied the history of faith. I was baffled when I read that Pietism was no older than the 17th century and Fundamentalism no older than the 1920s. I had been told “the old-time religion” had existed from the beginning until now, an unbroken chain of true believers whose light was darkened by the menacing shadow of the Great Babylonian Whore in Rome.

Well, a lot of things happened during these years, I married and got divorced four years after that, I became a journalist, and then in 1986 my first book was published by an evangelical publisher (the same one I worked for later on). He and I thought it was a very Christian novel, but the readers resented it. It was labeled “satanic”, and it not only flopped, it made my name such a scandal in evangelical Germany and Austria that I had to use a pen name for the translations I did – otherwise x-ians wouldn’t have bought them!

Then in 1990 my first children’s book got published and was so successful that suddenly I found myself a writer of children’s books, while I had wanted to do horror novels! By now, I have published 35 titles, mostly juvenile books, but also a mystery story and two books of short stories. At present Germany’s most important publisher, Wilhelm Heyne, gave me a contract for two books.(Horror novels at last!)

During that time, a girl from the “born again” group had left the group and joined the Lutheran Church and through her I met the pastor there. I had left the Catholic church and didn’t want to go back even if the Fundamentalists should prove wrong, but though I never went to his church, I loved talking with the pastor. Imagine a very quiet, harmless-looking man with a soft voice and a soft short beard and a penchant for innocent jokes, and you have him. (It is important that he isn’t a flashy personality). At first I thought he was rather square the way he acted and looked, but by and by I found out that this girl was right when she said: “He looks as if he would fall over when you touch him with your little finger, but he is really tough.” You see, he was a man who would listen quietly and respectfully to everything I told him, always trying to understand what this and that meant to me, never judging rashly – and I DID tell him some very kinky things.

During the last three years I also did psychotherapy with a doctor who is both a theologian and a psychotherapist. I liked him very much and all in all the therapy was a pleasure I looked forward to every week. In the beginning, I debated theology with him, (he is a Catholic but the Church hates him for his views), but then gradually my interest in religion ceased. At the beginning of this year I told him I didn’t want to talk about religion, I wasn’t interested in it any more. And this was exactly how I felt.

Then shortly before Easter I put up my will and bequeathed my body to medical science, but I wanted a farewell service held, and then somehow, quite suddenly I decided I would join the Lutheran church. Than at Easter night, I went to the service and there was Holy Communion. Now I had never gone to the Lord’s Supper in all my fundamentalist years because I was afraid of being sinful and really thought if I took the bread with all those sins in my heart I would choke on it. So now I stood there in that candle-lit church when all the people walked forward to the altar, and then I said: “Jesus, you know I am a sinner and will be a sinner for a good while yet, but you have invited me to your supper and I accept the invitation.” So I did and I was deeply moved, because at that service they used “real” bread, just an ordinary white loaf, and suddenly I realized clearly: I had come to the faith hoping for real bread and wine, but what they had given me were those pale, sticky little wafers that didn’t nourish nor satisfy. It became a symbol for me.

That Easter night I prayed as easily as I did when I was a young girl, and now I pray almost daily. I have joined a charity group in that Lutheran church, but I’ll never join a “religious” group again – well, never say “never”, but I feel that in those groups one is constantly supervised and told what to do and what’s the newest fad in X-ianity. I still resent the Bible and I guess it will take quite a while before I can open it again. So I pray at home, but I see the pastor from time to time and tell him of my adventures.

I have become almost whole again – oh, well, let’s say all the parts work, and I usually feel quite well. I am now living alone with my two cats, Laila and Namira, and spend the greater part of my time writing my novels and browsing through the internet.

And if you ask me if I am a Christian, I will answer like Joan of Arc did when she was asked if she was in the grace of God: “If I am in his grace, I ask that he may keep me in it, and if I’m not in his grace I ask him that he may take me into his grace.”

Barbara Büchner

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Become like a child and be healed.


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