Monday, June 27, 2005

As I was saying

To sum up... the years between 1990 and 1997 were the seven lean years prophesied by the ancient wise men. 1996 in particular was a year in which I hit rock bottom. Use any metaphor you want- the swamp, the forest, the black hole- my desire for God was lost. It was gone.

Or so I thought.

Deep in the vast expanse someone sent up a flare. I felt a spark arise. I began to think of the ways in which I once felt close to God, the days when the Bible sustained my soul, and I wondered if there was any way those days could be revisited. After all, if God is eternal, then he could do the same work in my spirit now that he did then, right? It might take a little longer to break through all the junk that had attached itself to my psyche, the wall that had developed around my heart, but it wasn't impossible, was it?

I began to attach myself to that thought. I hadn't attended a church regularly for a few years, I really had no use for the church anymore, but I decided that I wanted to go. The Catholic/Protestant discussions would have to wait for another day to seek their denouement. I needed to see if God was still willing to touch the surface of the pond so I could see the ripples.

In 1994 a religious revival began in the city of Toronto which was dubbed by a soundbite-eager press "the Toronto Blessing." Thousands of people flocked to Toronto to seek revival, renewal, a spiritual a**-kicking, whatever you wanted to call it. Supporters raved, critics raged, but neither side really had a handle on the history of religious movements in North America, which can be summed up in four words- "this too shall pass." But I digress. The reports of this movement and the testimonies of changed lives took hold of whatever desire for God still remained in my spirit. I wanted what these people had. If the "joy of my salvation" really existed, and wasn't just King David's clever turn of phrase, then I needed to investigate this thing. And in the fall of 1996, I had my chance.

Metro Church South was(is) a church pastored by one Steve Witt. Steve was on staff at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship as an itinerant speaker, but moved to Brunswick, Ohio to plant a church. I stumbled across a radio commercial for this new venture, in which Steve described it as a "Toronto Blessing-style" church. The hook had met its goal, and I wanted to check it out. I went for two services and enjoyed it, but as was my pattern at the time, I didn't go back. But now, with 1997 still in its infancy, I decided that I wanted to go back. I made the 30-minute drive every Sunday morning to the Strongsville Recreation Center, walked past the pool and the gym equipment to the assembly hall, and immersed myself in acoustic-led worship music, preaching by Steve that was void of $20 theological words, and a congregation which was quite at home with jeans and the occasional body-piercing.

Metro Church South introduced me to things I had never seen before. Part of the draw of the Toronto Blessing were the (supposed) manifestations of the Holy Spirit present there- shaking, crying, laughing- whatever the imagination could dream up. Go back to my description of the prayer meeting of November 18, 1988. Psychological or spiritual? The same question arose here. I didn't want to entertain these thoughts, but that's the way my brain is wired. And besides, God wasn't visiting me in the same way. I was jealous. We would have meetings in which people were (supposedly) being prophesied over, and they were all the same. The youth would be at the vanguard of a great revival, the token black guy was going to have a ministry to Muslims, the women were going to be set free of the pains and burdens of the past. That last pronouncement was usually accompanied by moaning, shaking and screaming, which was par for the course- the women in the crowd were usually the ones to (supposedly) manifest God's presence the most. Whether this was truly God's presence or just an avenue to express emotions that had been bottled up for years I really don't know.

But all of this armchair psychological analysis is hindsight on my part. At the time I was drinking it up like a beggar in the desert. I had found a church that I was comfortable in and I had every intention of staying.

Until March 22, 1997.


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