Friday, June 20, 2008

The Best Thing I Ever Did For Myself

I'll spare you a comprehensive version of my spiritual journey. Save a few episodes of truly bizarre behavior on my part (that I so wish I could blame on drugs) it's really only interesting if you are me. So, here is a thin outline to help make sense of the rest of this post.

What FGC Quakers, Bahai's, Pentecostals and Vineyard people have in common is a fixation on believing the right things. You would think that a scene as universalist as Friends' General Conference would be all about inclusion and even relativism. That's true up to a point. They are pretty fast and loose in some areas of theology. But as I grew up some things were not open for discussion. Pacifism was an absolute and religious practice more formal than unprogramed Meeting was for simpletons and fascists.

I think where I really got off the rails on the question of being "right" and believing the right things was in my Pentecostal phase. Word Of Faith/RHEMA Pentecostals conceive of faith in a do-or-die way foreign to most other Christians. The teaching is that the believer has the duty to trust God for specific blessings so that they will happen. For example if you are sick you are obliged to believe God will miraculously heal you.

This is the essence of faith in the Word Of Faith community. In these and many other Pentecostal churches believing that God will heal you is not only beneficial and good it is right. Failure to believe in and experience miracles is wrong, shameful and risks grieving the Holy Spirit[1][2][3][4].

By the time I settled into the Vineyard community as a married adult my natural insecurity had mixed with all of this very black/white, right/wrong Heaven/Hell thinking to make me highly motivated to be--and appear to be--a "good Christian." Of course, also being somewhat contrary, I had to obsess about my behavior and try to impress everyone with my spiritual devotion while wearing mismatched Converse All Stars and lots of earrings. Needless to say this is not the road to happiness.

Rather, it lead to a lot of anxiety. Specifically, a lot of internal conflict when what was coming from the pulpit or the mouths of my friends was obviously wrong but had been propped up with (decontextualized) scripture. Other times the conflict was entirely internal. "What if they knew?" "What if they find out?" ...even though they wouldn't find out and may not have cared if they did.

I said before that insecurity figured in all of this. I believed that I was accepted by my church because of being a "good Christian" and in spite of my personality. Since Kerri and I quit The Vineyard (over their teachings against homosexuality) our friends from the Vineyard still greet us as old friends in public, return our e-mails, etc. I had it backwards. They all now know I am a rotten Christian (by Vineyard standards--I approve of my daughter being a lesbian) but are still good to us.

In retrospect, I probably didn't have anybody fooled in the first place.

The change probably started when my daughter came out to me and I realized I couldn't take her to a Vineyard church anymore. It is one thing to disagree with your church about something. Putting your kid in a spot where they may hear themselves used as an example of how America has turned away from God is something entirely other.

That is probably when I stopped caring. Concern for my daughter's wellbeing trumped everything else. Rather than feeling conflicted, angry or frustrated I felt increasingly free and at peace. Being free of concerns for what other people thought of my spiritual walk I could turn my attention my actual relationships with people and . . . my spiritual walk!

I highly recommend this particular type of apathy. Worry about your friendships. Worry about your intimate relationships. Worry about your family. Even worry about your job if it seems warranted. How "good" others think you are at walking your chosen path? Don't give it another thought.

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