Monday, May 30, 2005

February 1995

You know, I'm sitting here watching TV and all of a sudden I start thinking about Steven Shipley. The idea of starting a church in a house because you want to has a certain appeal. Bible studies, man! I miss serious Bible study in a group. I miss Mike McDermott, I miss Johnny, I miss the "hidden, secret" meetings in Marie's apartment, I miss Toledo Home Fellowship, I miss Solid Rock II, I miss Christian Assembly, I miss FCS (well...), I miss... I miss that sense of immediacy, of spontaneity, of closeness to God... the idea that you can crack open the Bible and that's all you need. The experience. Something tangible that you can grab ahold of and know that God is there. The correctness, the (seeming) sterility of having all your doctrines in a row isn't as important as the fellowship of believers with JESUS CHRIST!!! at the center of the conversation. I fear that I have lost something that will be well nigh impossible to regain.

But that kind of feeling is not impossible to capture and live within the Catholic Church! John Michael Talbot, man! Thomas Merton. Scott Hahn. Gerry Matatics. The list could go on forever of people who live a vibrant Catholicism. Then why can't I meet these people and go to Mass with them? Where is the vibrant Catholicism lived out on a parish level?
---journal, February 15, 1995

I was at work today and all of a sudden I started to think about Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, man. Heaven's hustler and God's Tom Vu. When I first got saved they were all I had. For the longest time Jimmy Swaggart was doing a study on the life of Christ (gospel of Mark) on his daily TV show, on the old channel 61. And I used to just watch this show, and the Sunday show which showed his crusades, and I soaked this stuff up. But Jim Bakker was my favorite. He could preach, he was funny.... The show was just entertaining. I can't really put my finger on what made his show attractive. But in my first days as a Christian I jumped on anything that looked good. Now, as a cynical and jaded old man, I don't put blind faith in anything.

But I miss those days....
---journal, February 16, 1995

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Psalms of lament

I know there's always something
We have to go through
That has some deeper meaning but
Right now I just can't say
I know there's gonna be a lesson somewhere
I'm gonna think a lot about it later
But right now I'm miles away
---Marc Cohn, "Miles Away"
There is something incredibly wrong here. When retarded girls like Gretel have heart problems and die; when Hannah dies at four years old after open heart surgery; when a decent, nice guy like Randy gets cancer- he has it in his lungs and I'm sure the outlook isn't good... and Lutheran ministers rape their daughters and Catholic priests rape little boys... was Christ present during the Mass these men celebrated?... good people die, little children die, evil people live to use the word "n****r" one more day... people are hurting, women are suffering from the years of sexual abuse at the hands of men who violate the sacred trust of fatherhood, and you expect me to get excited over a discussion of whether a Catholic sins by going to a Protestant worship service... where are some people's heads at? And where is the justice in all this?
---journal entry, August 4, 1992
Before weblogs became all the rage I kept a journal. At least I tried. I kept a journal from 1982 through 1988, and in those pages I was as honest as honest could be- from the excitement of new life in Christ to the depression of being rejected to the rage of love spurned. I destroyed those pages in 1988, and I'm sorry I did. I tried again after college, and quite a few of those pages survive. Occasionally I will present some of those entries. I warn anyone who might be reading (assuming anyone is there) that the language often got raw, and I don't plan on cleaning it up, save for a few well-placed asterisks. In the passage of time I've grown to detest the masks people wear and the fronts people put up; I won't be doing that.
I crawl to you
With ten fingers smoking
From turning the pages of sin
With my spirit choking
From earning the wages of sin
A bridge away from justified
A step away from whole
Restore my soul
---The Choir, "Restore My Soul"

Monday, May 23, 2005

The day the music died

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well, yes, I'm still running
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
And my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
---U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"

I had reached the pinnacle of the search, the top of the mountain. Biblical Christianity was finally within my grasp. I had a verse for every objection, and if I didn't, I could always fling some Karl Keating or Scott Hahn tapes at someone. I moved back to Elyria after graduating from Bowling Green and started attending Mass regularly. I wasn't really committed to any particular parish, I was just trying to find my place in the grand scheme of things.

What did/do I like about the Catholic Church? The mass is a calming agent to my soul. It's not about entertainment, it really is about prayer and worship. And they had explanations for the mass from the Bible.

What didn't/don't I like about it? In the same way zealous Protestants don't see the good in the Catholic Church, zealous Catholics don't see the good in Protestants. Arrogant people exist on both sides. The Catholic Church has as much right to call themselves biblical as any other church, but there are an awful lot of dead Catholics and liberal Catholic churches. Judgmental? You're right, it is judgmental, but that's how I felt at the time. I couldn't understand how people who had been given such a treasure could just sit on it and cover it up, not concerned whether anyone else ever new what they had.

What did I do about that treasure? I certainly alerted people to its existence. I got on this new thing called the Internet and took on anti-Catholics, I gave a talk to a charismatic prayer group about apologetics, I listened to all the latest tapes from the top apologists like Hahn, Gerry Matatics and James Akin. I studied the menu until I could recite it backwards and forwards, but I never ate the meal. My spiritual life was suffering, partially for reasons that won't be expounded upon in a public forum, but partially because I didn't put the same effort into seeking God that I put into collecting the latest and the greatest Christian music. I bought Catholic books but didn't read them. I called myself Catholic, but I didn't do Catholicism.

Somewhere about 1992 I stopped going to church at all. I went for a good 5 years without going to any church two weeks in a row. I visited several churches but never stayed. I constantly pined for "the good old days" of my spiritual life, when I looked forward to attending church and I read the Bible for food and not for ammunition.

The three men I admire most
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
---Don McClean, "American Pie"

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Drowning man

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes and make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt and make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing, sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them how to carry
Take these hands, don’t make a fist, no
Take this mouth
So quick to criticise
Take this mouth, give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn
Still waiting for the dawn

The sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Why the dark before the dawn

Take this city
A city should be shining on the hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break
---U2, "Yahweh"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The end is the beginning

1990 marked the end of the Bowling Green years, as I finally graduated from college after taking the six year route. It was the end of the FCS years for me. FCS was the center of my spiritual life for a couple of years, and I loved the people. 1990 also marked the end of my relationship with many of them, as we all scattered to the four winds, never to be as close again as we once were.

My parents had gotten heavily involved in the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. Part of that involvement included attending a large conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and I benefitted from the "conference high" that usually settles in after such highly emotional events, as they offered to pay my way to a young adults conference later in the summer.

For students at the school, Franciscan University is the center of the Catholic universe. The school has positioned itself as a beacon of light, a standard of orthodoxy in troubled times, the picture of what dynamic, living Catholicism should look like. I attended the conference with Karl Keating and Scott Hahn's defense of Catholicism fresh in my mind, and the need for a fresh spiritual vision to plant itself in my soul.

I'm a cradle Catholic, OK? I've been through confirmation, first Communion, boring Masses, guitar Masses, and hours and hours of catechism and religion classes. Anyone who is actually reading this blog knows that I have seen it all. But I wasn't expecting the Masses at this conference to have such an effect on me. You've heard the stereotype that Catholics can't sing? Someone forgot to tell Steubenville. The singing was rich and hearty, the devotion was heartfelt and ran deep. My experience at Mass was everything my heart knew it could be but my experience knew it never would be. I may not be able to see God, but I could sure see the ripples in the pond as he stuck his finger in the water.

When I returned to Bowling Green after the conference, I came back with a conviction. Biblical Christianity? Catholic Church. Case closed.

Monday, May 09, 2005

At The Moment

with a sigh i greet the day
i feel the morning on my face
weary at the moment i awake
even as i lie the thought returns to mind
"welcome to the rest of your life".
somewhere i've lost my way
from saved to stray and failing
in silence my spirit pleads,
"is the vision lost or has it been passed on?
is there any use continuing?"

my soul will wait
my soul-wait silently
for God, my God(God my refuge)
and i will live
and i know some destiny
still waits for me

his faithfulness, my hope
it brings comfort to my soul
with a still small voice whispering,
"call upon my name and i
will set you up on high
be still and know that i am God"

creation speaks to me
i'm stricken to my knees
in reverance and fear
forever my Almighty
the heavens in your hand
surpass the grains of sand
who am i before you
elieonai eli adullam [God my father, God my refuge; Hebrew]

---Stavesacre, "At The Moment"

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Interlude II

Before this story is all said and done it is going to seem like I'm flighty and I never want to settle anywhere. That's only partially true. I will admit to not staying at some churches as long as I should have, but I did so out of noble purposes. I wanted to do what was biblical. I operated under the assumption that the goal of a Christian should be to live their life according to what the Bible taught. If someone said they were the biblical church I felt like they deserved a hearing. How else am I supposed to know if something is right? Frequently people tell me that I should just settle on something, stop the confusion and the church hopping, and just plant some roots SOMEWHERE. And my response is always the same- if you haven’t put your beliefs to the test, if you don’t look at what other Christians believe but just blow them off, then quit pretending that you want to be biblical. You don’t. Because in truth, most Christians don’t want to be biblical, they want to be comfortable. They want to settle somewhere because they met their spouse there, or their family has been a member there for eternity, or they like the music, or the pastor makes them laugh. It doesn’t really matter what they believe.

I’m a reader, and I like to frequent bookstores. Sometime in 1988 I was perusing the offerings at the local Catholic bookstore, and I picked up a book that would have a profound effect on the next step in the journey. It was titled Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating, and it was a biblical defense of Catholicism. I read this and thought, oh my God, this all makes sense. People are constantly telling me that Catholicism is not biblical, but geez louise, it’s all right here- communion, Mary, the pope, the saints… hey people, you wanted Bible to back up the Catholic church’s “outlandish, idolatrous” beliefs… right here, buddy! I also discovered a speaker named Scott Hahn who was putting up the same kind of defense. I “accidentally” found his appearance on a Catholic cable show while flipping the channels one night. The station was offering a free tape of his conversion story, so I sent for it. This tape and Karl Keating’s book made perfect sense, but they also were disturbing to some extent. If the Catholic church was biblical, then…well…then I needed to be a part of it. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to go down that road, so I didn’t. Yet.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

November 18, 1988

(I issue my usual disclaimer that the account of these events is but one view, my own.)

The Fellowship of Christian Students had regular meetings on Wednesday evenings in the student union, but we also liked to get together on off nights for Bible study, prayer, or some pizza and goofing off. We enjoyed being together, so when one member said that she had use of a conference room at the hotel she worked at and would we like to use it, we jumped at it. It was a Friday night, November 18, 1988; we had nothing to do the next day except sleep, so off we went.

I mentioned earlier that my favorite worship band setup consists of merely two acoustic guitars. Our regular worship leaders provided that, settling into the usual list of our favorite songs. To this day, when people ask me about feeling God's presence in a meeting, I point to that day. I have never before or ever since felt the presence of God as I did that day. It was so tangible you could cut it with a knife. At different points in the time of singing people fell to their knees, and then some fell on their faces, in a posture of prayer and reverence. Eventually the music stopped and we were silent. I can only speak for myself- I didn't want to move. Someone then had a "word of prophecy" that the Lord wanted us all to remain silent before him, but really, we didn't need to be told. We just knew.

Eventually the glory cloud dissipated and we continued the meeting. In true charismatic fashion we decided to begin praying for one another. One person volunteered, we put them in the middle of the circle, laid hands on them and prayed. Same with the next. And the next. The prayers weren't that in depth, no big personal issues being discussed, it was just a way of supporting each other.

At some point the room divided in two. A woman drifted off into one corner, lost in a funk of depression, and a few people went over to pray for her. I was in that group. In another corner another woman was being prayed for. As good as I am at remembering minutiae, the details get kind of sketchy for me at this point, especially regarding the woman I wasn't praying for. At some point things began to get weird. She began to get loud, much louder than I would have expected from her. The people in that corner stepped up their own volume, and began praying with an authoritative tone reserved for Satan and his minions. In my corner the woman being prayed for was sitting cross-legged, crying, and bending over until her head touched the floor. My corner looked like a 70's encounter group session. The other corner? Well, the very male-sounding voices coming from a female body kind of tipped me off that we were seeing something we hadn't encountered before. When I took short glances that way I saw her being held down and being prayed for/prayed at.

Then the woman on my side let out some sort of guttural roar. It was a deep tone that she shouldn't have been able to make, and although I don't get scared per se, it definitely got my attention. This whole thing was just getting too bizarre. The prayers continued. Some people left the room, unable to handle what was going on. What I didn't realize until later that night was that someone from the hotel staff called the police. They were circling the place in their vehicle, and I saw two officers in the lobby when I went out briefly to get a drink. Why they didn't break the thing up I'll never know.

I said before that Bowling Green Covenant Church saw themselves caught up in the charismatic fads of the 70's, and what took place that night was what they would call a deliverance session, a la Derek Prince, Don Basham, the Pigs In The Parlor book, etc. In both corners demons were being cast out. At least in theory they were being cast out. Only the two women in question could tell you for sure, all I can offer is my theory, and that theory's possible. I wasn't on the other side, I don't know for sure, but what I saw looked like demons being cast out. In my corner? I think it's possible that some sort of psychological event was happening, the release of pain that hadn't been dealt with, the release of emotions that couldn't be expressed in any other context.

Whatever happened, it was very real to the women involved, and that's all that matters, right? Well.... is that for me to say? Does the existence of free webspace to spew my opinions mean that I have to have one every time? Religious experience can be a touchy thing.

It took two months before someone from the church gave us a framework for understanding what happened that night, two months before an in-depth Bible study answered some questions and raised more. It shouldn't have even taken two weeks. In that two months we became deliverance crazy. We began to see demons hiding behind every rock. Some people just took off from FCS at that point, not wanting to be a part of such craziness. Me? I stayed. I had issues of my own, battling a depression that threatened to devour me, but "deliverance ministry" wasn't offered to me. The spiritual experiences of men and women, and whether one sex is more prone to ecstatic experiences, would make an interesting study. Alas, another story for another time.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hey Jesus, it's me

i'm not gonna call on you any more
i'm sure you've got a million things to do
all i was trying to do was to get through to you
because when i die and i get up to your doors i don't even know if you're gonna let me in the place
how come i gotta die to get a change to talk to you face to face?
---Indigo Girls, "Hey Jesus"

I took Elizabeth to an FCS meeting and she fell right into the social circle that the females of the group had developed. (Guys had no similar social circle- as much as I was exhorted to spend my time with the brothers, they were too busy spending their time with their girlfriends.) Pretty soon she dropped out of ACT and started going to FCS. That really pi...umm...peeved me off. She didn't have time for me anymore. She was told to hang around "the sisters" by one Dave Heindel.

I equated her pursuing the Lord in a different direction with her rejecting me. Not that we were together, at least not officially; but as far as I was (and still am) concerned, while not officially dating, we were together. I got pretty depressed and was a real jerk to her, trying to guilt trip her into "officially" dating me. (note- guilt does not work!) At one point (the day after election day 1988-I remember) she introduced me to a woman named Marie who had dealt with depression (and a whole h*** of a lot more). I fell for Marie big time, I started attending FCS. Notice a pattern? But I stuck with FCS and Bowling Green Covenant Church (BGCC) for a couple of years. My next church.

What did I like about BGCC? The better question is who I liked about BGCC. Mike McDermott. Mike Peterman. Jennifer Barnard. Marie. My friends were there, and I wanted to be with them. FCS meetings had some fantastic worship times. To this day my favorite worship band is two acoustic guitars. I will never forget college worship. Jim Barth was another thing/person I liked about BGCC. I have always had the knack for developing a good relationship with my pastor, and Jim was no different. I liked him. I've tried to get in touch with him recently to no avail. (If you know where Jim Barth is, tell me.)

What didn't I like about BGCC (and by extension, FCS)? Hmm. Do you have a few years? No, just kidding. But there were several things about BGCC that I grew to dislike. And you know me- I ask too many questions, and people don't like that. I don't think many people in FCS knew too much about the theological underpinnings of the discipleship movement, or the Christian Reconstruction movement. I started to read about both. I started to hate the phrase "did you get counsel on that?" How about having to consult your shepherd and do what they said? Who ever questioned guys like Dave Heindel? Well, I did, and was called rebellious and cocky. The ensuing years have proven me right about discipleship, but not about Dave. We had some good conversations before he moved and I grew to really like him.

The history of BGCC was shaky because they pursued every fad in 1970’s Christendom. Faith movement extremism ala Hobart Freeman. Reconstruction. Discipleship. Greg Weis was zealous but also just ridiculously condemnatory toward those who disagreed with him. No surprise to me when he was busted for adultery. Joseph McAuliffe was/is an intelligent man, but he had faults too. The church was built on a shaky foundation by people who were young Christians and not that stable.

I was with FCS from November of 1988 until the fall of 1990. One FCS meeting I will always remember; I think everyone who was there will remember it. November 18, 1988. Next time :)