According to McLaren in the introduction, when discussing the vision of this book, We Make the Road by Walking states:
It is a work of Christian theology, but people of any faith tradition will find seeds of meaning they can let take root in their own spiritual soil. It is a work of constructive theology—offering a positive, practical, open, faithful, improvable, and fresh articulation of Christian faith suitable for people in our dynamic times. It is also a work of public and practical theology—theology that is worked out by “normal” people in daily life. The title suggests that faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always being extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unfinished—even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of its past.
Excerpt From: Brian D. McLaren. “We Make the Road by Walking.” iBooks.
This book and its vision appeal to me and the vision for Untold Stories, in that it gives me a tangible connection to dig deeper into living out my faith authentically in today’s world. However, with that, it is very important for me through that process to be open and to listen to others. Christianity is the faith where I have found meaning and spirituality my entire life. As my site and story eludes to though, the details and make up of that faith have changed along the way. I know that others find spirituality, fulfillment, faith, and comfort in other faiths, other Christian circles, or other communities entirely. You do not have to have my background or share my views to be a part of Untold Stories. That would defeat its purpose. So while the posts surrounding this book and my particular experiences shared will largely draw on Protestant Christian tradition, please feel free to join in the discussion and bring in different perspectives!
Today we begin with Chapter 40, titled, “The Spirit is Moving – Pentecost” as it correlates with last Sunday, June 8th, Pentecost Sunday.
So as I have written in my beginning posts, an important theme and challenge running through the vision of Untold Stories is vulnerability. I find it ironic that the first chapter in the book I have selected to start working my way through sends me back to a place I once felt very confident and comfortable, but if placed into it today would make me feel very vulnerable indeed. The title of this chapter alone might send some running, given it brings up the uniquely Christian topic of Pentecost.
I know this topic is a difficult one for me to write on, because, where I once was confident and comfortable expressing myself in a diversity of Christian spiritual terms and phrases – I now am not.
For many within Christian churches, there is a familiar vocabulary, just like we have our own terms and vernacular in the military community. However, for me that Christian vocabulary itself was a mask – it was something I had mastered from a young age and could speak from with ease, authority, and confidence. It set me apart as part of a greater whole, while at the same time distanced me as unapproachable from anyone on the outside who could not identify with it. For so long I didn’t even realize that was the only way I knew how to communicate with people or attempt to relate to them through. While I may have genuinely felt like I was being really nice in how I talked to, perceived of, and talked about others with my oh-so-comfortable Christian world view – I now know in the process I immediately and oftentimes ignorantly judged anyone different than me. So as I moved into secular college circles and then into the military community and encountered people from various backgrounds and faiths – suddenly I became painfully aware of how others viewed me.
Different, strange, stuck up, a prude, better-than-thou, religious, sheltered, ignorant, naïve, close-minded, judgmental, sensitive, easily embarrassed… the impressions of me came swift and unwavering as I struggled to find a safe ground to relate from.
My chameleon tendencies went into overdrive as I found new masks, new ways to hide, and plenty of stories and life experiences to push into the untold box. This characteristic of my life and personality is one that is ingrained from a young age, and it is one that I am working to overcome but still fail at very easily. I am blessed to have a husband and a trusted circle of friends who often see through my blinders and attempts to hide, and call me out of my fear and prejudice. It is not always pretty and often painful, but worth it for the authenticity of true friendship I have found because of it. With that being said, just know for this first chapter to be an imagery filled text, full of spiritual rhetoric about experiencing God’s Spirit makes for one very nervous writer.
Pentecost, in a short overview, is a story from the New Testament in the book of Acts, Chapters 1 and 2, where Christ’s disciples are gathered together waiting. At this point in the story, Christ had already been crucified, buried, resurrected, reported to have appeared to a number of the people, and ascended back to heaven. According to the text, Christ had instructed the people he had reappeared to, to wait for a gift–a gift of His Spirit. So they waited, and then a strange miracle happens, where according to the story, “the people in the room suddenly felt the Holy Spirit come into the room, flaming tongues of fire were seen dancing above their heads, and they all began to speak and pray in a diversity of languages.”
I cannot think of many other subjects out there within the Bible that makes people feel as uncomfortable as this story does, both within Christian circles and without. If you happened to grow up or spend any time within a Christian charismatic church circle then you are probably very familiar with this story and the Christian traditions and doctrines associated with it. However, if you did not grow up in this circle or within Christian circles at all then I can only imagine the crazy mental images that arise from late night televangelists, to “Christian Weirdos” who speak made up languages, or worse.
Pentecost for me brings back memories of my high school church, where I first heard someone “pray in tongues.” I remember my family moving to this new church when I was 14, and the strange new world it opened up within our decidedly Christian social circles. I remember watching over the next year as my parents began to actively study Christian doctrine concerning the “Holy Spirit,” “Praying in Tongues,” and the prominent idea within charismatic churches of being “Filled with the Spirit.” This was a strange new vocabulary and one I had very little knowledge of. Prior to this we went to a small town Methodist church, and our social circles mainly consisted of fundamentalist homeschoolers, who believed charismatic Christians were strangely deluded and emotional. Charismatic Christian traditions have a reputation both within and without for its flare for the dramatic. Depending on what your level of encounters with it, you may have heard someone speaking what sounds like another language or pure gibberish, you may have seen people showing all kinds of emotion and flare during a Church worship service from swaying, to dancing, to shouting, to crying, to waving flags, to falling down, to shaking, and the list goes on. From an outsider’s perspective, a charismatic church service is a people watching experience on steroids. Just ask my husband, who was for most of his life a non-practicing catholic, turned atheist, turned back to his faith with a very private and personal understanding of it. His first experience attending church with me was the church in Colorado Springs that I served an internship with right after high school. It was our first week of dating, and I thought I should invite him to church with my family. To this day, we often laugh about how strange of an experience it was for him. I am pretty sure that one church service required every ounce of his discipline to not sit there like a codfish and laugh out loud at people, as I know to him the behavior seemed nothing short of crazy.
Having spent several years of my life within this kind of atmosphere and church though, while it at first seemed novel and strange – my family soon came to embrace it with vigor. Suddenly the Christian contemporary rock music or worship music with drums in it that I had been taught in fundamentalist circles was of the devil, was no longer bad. We raised our hands and danced without a care for how it might look. We were filled with the Spirit, feeling emotions with music and prayers we had never experienced before. The first day I prayed in tongues was at my first church camp experience. The speaker on stage was calling for anyone on stage hungry for God to run to that stage before God’s spirit left. I was actually a Camp Counselor and was up in the lighting booth in the ceiling helping to run lights for the stage, and remember vividly jumping down the ladder and running as hard as I could to throw myself on the stage. Growing up I was taught that God was the most important thing in my life, and this experience of “Feeling Him” and “Feeling His Spirit” was so emotionally charged you could practically taste it in the room. I remember strange words coming to mind and so I just started saying whatever popped in my head. Looking back now I know that many people experience something very spiritual and feel very close to God when utilizing what is often called a prayer language. Far be it from me to know and judge what is real, possible, or not as I once felt the exact same. However, I know that today that has changed. Now, often silence speaks more volumes to me through silent petitions for peace and serenity beyond my racing thoughts, constant stressors, overwhelming worry, and never ending fears.
That time in my life feels like a lifetime ago and I see a young girl who was so desperate to be noticed, to be heard, to feel something exciting, to see a world beyond the small town I grew up in, to be a part of something bigger that I was completely swept away by the emotion of it all.
From summer camp, missions trips to Spain and Germany, to a year long internship, to numerous Christian conferences, to countless prayer meetings and church services, to hours upon hours of rituals of prayer, singing, and dancing both alone and corporately at church – the memories come crashing back in waves.
Now when I think about Charismatic Christianity, I have in the past four years been so increasingly removed from it both in location and practice that it has become something very uncomfortable for me to talk about. For those who knew me then, on the occasion we reconnect I find myself easily able to slip into the old rhetoric given its what we knew then and many of my friends from that period are still very involved in those circles. However I remain uncomfortable and feel a heightened sense of vulnerability, wondering how to convey how much I have changed and how distant I feel from that life that once consumed me. For some who know me now, just writing these stories filled with so many “Christianese” terms and openly sharing what that was like for me also feels uncomfortable, as its hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it before. For myself alone, I find it creates even more vulnerability because I have a hard time knowing exactly what I think of that time period in my life now. It brings up such a mixture of feelings. Those were some of the most exciting and endearing first memories of my life on my own for the first time. It all felt so real. I loved deeply. I lived every day eager for what awaited, and as McLaren talks about, I had never felt so alive.
Yet I also see someone who was deeply insecure, grossly ignorant and naïve of societal and cultural cues, desperate for attention, too eager to please everyone, a sitting duck for manipulation and being used, and largely clueless to the world outside my own little Christian bubble.
In some ways it might be easier to want to write it all off as yet another crazy period in my life, but that is far too simple. Those years changed me and set me on a course that brought me to today. I wouldn’t have ever moved to Colorado had it not been for my high-school church experiences. I would never have met my husband. So as different as my life has turned out from both my childhood and first experiences outside of my home, I don’t regret them as they were essential to making me who I am today.
Ultimately, what I took away from this chapter can apply to life spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally – whether or not one ascribes to Christianity and any/all of its sub-cultures. In the example of Christ’s life and message in particular – this chapter’s description of his death, burial, and resurrection process translating into a lifestyle of letting go, letting be, and letting come I found to be breathtakingly simple. Perhaps this is why I love yoga so much these days. It forces me to sit and concentrate on truly relaxing and clearing my thoughts.
For me letting go means:– To let go of all the masks and fears and insecurities that I will never measure up to the expectations of others or my own – To let go of the parts of my past that still haunt me – To let go of worrying about my future – To let go of trying to control my present and future
For me letting be means:– Finding serenity – Accepting myself and others – Accepting my past with grace – Accepting how my faith and spirituality have changed – Accepting that God, who once seemed so vocal and expressive in my life, is also found in utter silence.
For me letting come means:– Feeling hope again – Waiting for the Sunrise – Trusting again – New understandings of God, faith, people, life, and lessons from my past.
Questions for Discussion:
I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
What did you think of this chapter?
What stood out or spoke to you?
What have been your experiences and understanding of Christianity and what it means to be filled with God’s Spirit?
What does letting go, letting be, and letting come look like in your life?
Do you agree with the analogy that faith is better as a journey, path, or way?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!