Monday, February 24, 2014
As we all know, most of us have our issues with church - meaning; I'm not the only one out there that's been "wounded" by religion - you've got your own various reasons for disappointment and disillusionment with Christianity, and I've got mine. In my life as a Christian nothing has caused me more heartache and confusion than speaking in tongues. I have a long, sad history with it; a love/hate relationship, if you will. Because charismata has always pushed the "outward signs" and "spiritual gifts" on Christians, speaking in tongues has long been the standard "mark" of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues = you're a spirit filled Christian. Don't speak in tongues = you're not a spirit filled Christian. That being said, just try fitting into an evangelical, charismatic church without displaying the most touted outward gift. You're like the nerdy, unpopular kid who came to a birthday party without a present, so you awkwardly stand there empty-handed while all the cool kids are having fun & games with the gifts they brought. Yeah, trust me. It IS like that... At least it was for me.
A little back-story to help this make sense. Because I didn't grow up in a church-going home, most of my early experiences with Christianity were when my dearly loved Catholic grandma or a Lutheran auntie let me tag along to church with them on a rare Sunday. As a kid, what I heard on those occasions was classical liturgy, so basically the sermons made no sense to me whatsoever, I never knew when to stand up or sit down, and I didn't know what the songs meant or how to sing them. But I heard bits about Jesus there, how He loved me so much that He died for my sins, and about the hope I had for eternity. God, the Bible, and the church purely enchanted me! Everything about it - from the moment I stepped in the door till after the potluck shut down - gave me a sense of belonging that I couldn't explain. From my earliest memories, I've always been drawn to the God of the Bible. And even though I couldn't make heads or tails of the random puzzle pieces of church that came my way, and I didn't know which end of the Bible to start reading first or why or how, I wanted my life to be about following God, whatever that meant. I knew He loved me and I wanted more of this whole Christianity thing.
Fast forward to my very first experience with charismata and speaking in tongues: I was 18 years old and had just moved from the Great Plains to be a nanny and attend art school. This was my first opportunity as a young adult to pursue the Christian life and go to church on my own. Soon the day came when my new big-town friends invited me along to their church, and since I was beyond excited to finally be invited by someone, I jumped at the chance! There I was, fresh from the wheat fields of North Dakota, now standing in a megachurch outside of Philadelphia. Everything was huge, exaggerated, and just so different from the bits of liturgical church I'd experienced as a kid. After a couple of Sundays I started to settle in to the services and get used to the action. And I was really starting to like it... until one day. It was the day a white-bread lady right in front of me caught my attention during praise and worship. She was singing a different song than the rest of us, quite loudly, kind of just sing-songing the mystery words in a foreign language. "How neat," I remember thinking, "this really is a multicultural church!" I asked the friend beside me if she knew what language it was and she said, "tongues." HUH? What country is that from? I was told in a whisper it was a spiritual gift and that God gave it to people who were filled with the Holy Spirit. Well that sounded awesomely terrifying. Or terrifyingly awesome, depending on how you looked at it. I had no idea what speaking in tongues meant but knew it had to be very cool because I didn't do it.
The longer I went to that church, the more I heard about the gifts of the spirit, so the more I became increasingly aware of my lack of said gifts. Not speaking in tongues made me begin to lightly question my salvation. I started to wonder how could I be REALLY saved if I didn't do this thing? Oh, but I was saved!... wasn't I? Hmmm. But there was no miraculous moment in my life that I could remember God dumping His Spirit out on me, so if I didn't have that outward sign of an inward work, was I truly a Christian like the people in the book of Acts? Naturally my thinking began to curve in on itself - away from God and onto poor little me. Wasn't I good enough? Was I praying wrong? The ongoing silence of tongues made me look at what I was doing (or not doing) to keep God from blessing me with that audible sign of favor that everyone said I should have... And that's when I started to get sad and lose a little bit of the joy I had when I first started going to church. My focus shifted off by one degree from the person and work of Jesus, and that one teeny degree of shift - from Him to me - began to slowly throw my trajectory off by a million miles. Yeah, there was the gospel and all that, but it was beginning to seem like "the good stuff" was just out of my reach and too wonderful for my smaller-than-a-mustard-seed faith. I really was the nerdy kid at the party without a gift to play with, and that misconception was breaking me down slowly by slowly.
Next week: Episode 2
I hit the skids and God is nowhere to be found. Check back to read more of my misadventures with charismata. Trust me, there's a good ending!