I got sick one morning not so many years ago, thinking about going to church. I suddenly felt dizzy and tired. Incredibly tired. I sat down on the couch (with a plate of brownies for sustenance).
“What’s this about?” I wondered. Church had been my life. I volunteered for hours every week, attended services at several different denominations, read just about anything I could find regarding what it means to live a God-centered life, what it means to know God. But I realized, while I was thinking, that I didn’t much like church. It felt like a waste of my time. I resented having to go.
I took another brownie and asked myself, “Is there anything wrong with church?” I knew that I believed in an active, living, present God, and we were spending a lot of time talking about God. I wondered if maybe that’s the problem. We talked God to death every Sunday. But when did we experience God’s presence with us in corporate worship? Did we ever feel God or hear God? Did we know God?
I was 16 when I stumbled into speaking in tongues. I was praying. Some words fell out of my mouth, and I wondered if this was The Gift. But I didn’t know what to do with it, and I wasn’t sure what was supposed to come next.
I tell people that’s how I found the Quakers. Let me explain.
I met with my pastor, who took an “open but cautious” stance on the charismatic gifts. My best Christian friends had mixed responses and no experience. Several of them disapproved of all charismatic phenomena. Nobody I was close to knew much outside of YouTube clips of hotline preachers. But I was desperate to nurture whatever God was doing in me, confident that she was.
I sought out people who were involved in a Filipino charismatic Catholic community. I sought out everyone. Any inkling that somebody was into tongues, and I found a way to talk to them.
A woman at my church heard from her son that I was talking about the Holy Spirit. She affirmed what God was doing in my life and gifted me with a box full of DVDs, CDs, and books from John Wimber, a founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination. I discovered in John’s words an integrated Evangelical spirituality that valued mysticism and biblical authority; tradition and new wineskins. The way John ministered was not typical of charismatics; it was grounded in deep listening. His theology celebrated God being present and alive but also embraced the eschatological tension of the “not yet.” He was different.
I was alone in my bedroom the night I decided to follow Jesus. I was sixteen years old, and I was done with religion. But I couldn't stop thinking about Jesus.
I’d grown up in the Unification Church, and Jesus was barely a part of the cosmic narrative there. Actually, what I knew about Jesus was that – among our very ecumenical pantheon of sages and saints – he was a failure. But there was something about Jesus. His grace. His forgiveness. His sacrifice. Something about Jesus that spoke to my condition. He was absurd. And beautiful.
Jesus had shaken my faith before that night. In my sophomore year of high school, I attended a Mormon ward for six months, hoping that I might meet Jesus there. But I never received the promised "burning of the bosom,” so I gave up.
Later, as I tried to detox from religion and keep my distance from anything “spiritual,” my desire to know Christ kept coming back. I didn't want to be a Christian. I didn't want to have to listen to shitty Christian rock music or vote Republican or reject evolution. And more than anything, I didn't want to be seen as a nutty born-again. But I wanted Jesus.
White supremacy is the foundational organizing principle of American public life, and for centuries has held the distinction of being the most consistent animating force in our national history. This reality affects every social institution, certainly including our most visible Christian gatherings. In the Christian tradition, we see this problem in both "multiethnic churches” and in more progressive Emergent circles to the point where people of color are actually emotionally hesitant to participate in these communities, or are sidelined when they do. Although the structural racism embedded in these spaces—whiteness—is an enormous stumbling block, relatively simple changes can be put into motion to make it less lethal at your progressive Christian gathering.
Charismatic movements throughout Church history have identified water-baptism as a charismatic experience, an awakening or activating experience that stirs up the gift of God within and enables a believer to walk in the power of Christ’s ministry.
Quakerism has never practiced water-baptism. From the beginning, baptism was seen as an inward work of God. Water-baptism was seen as empty ritualism that gave a false sense of spiritual security to those in the corrupt established churches. But even though Friends do not practice water-baptism, the Friends view of baptism shares some dimensions with that of Charismatics.
Isaac Penington wrote, “The promise of receiving the Spirit is upon believing, and it extendeth to every one that believeth. ‘He that believeth on me,’ as the scripture hath said, ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;’ but this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…but every one received so much of the Spirit as to make him a son, and to cry Abba, Father, and to wash him.
A friend wrote of his struggle to figure out what is truth and what is trash in popular belief. But his efforts to wrestle with issues have won him few friends among his Christian peers.
“I guess what bothers me about religion and a lot of people in religions is that they completely block out what I have to say just because I have different views, and they refuse to listen to my logic.”
People try to argue him out of his way of thinking rather than seriously considering whether he has anything worthwhile to offer.
That kind of Christianity seems foreign to me (and a little bit hypocritical). After all, if we believe that God gave us minds, then why wouldn’t we expect or allow people to use them? How might that possibly threaten our faith (unless there isn’t really any substance to the stuff that we claim to believe)?