In the previous post, I talked a little bit about finding myself outside the “inner circle” of church leadership, how that left me wounded and angry. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how lonely I also felt.
What it looked like a the time was craziness. People whom I thought deserved trust proved directly otherwise. I say craziness not because people were doing crazy things — in fact, since my wife and I weren’t making a huge deal about it, hardly anyone knew what was going on — but we felt a deep sense of disconnect with that body. Where once we had been in the warm center of the group, we now found ourselves struggling on the frigid outside. Feeling like we were being quietly fought by the leadership of the church caused us to have these guarded conversations with our friends, trying desperately to still make connections without being able to share the deepest sorrow of our life at the moment. (Then there was the friend who told us, “If something bad is happening, don’t tell me. I like it here.”) I felt like I wasn’t being real with people, and I hate that. What I would have hated even more would have been creating a rift in the church of finger-pointing and destruction.
My wife and I were in this together, but we were talking it to death at home. We circled the same angry conversations over and over. One good thing about that: nothing unites like a common enemy. It solidified our oneness, but not in a healthy direction. I had to start making a conscious effort to heal.
That’s when I started this blog. It was misguided at first; I think that’s obvious if you read a lot of the “my internal dialogue” stuff or the “church agitator archive.” I saw my complaining as having some holy purpose, and that was the embodiment of arrogance. There were also good things sprouting in the midst of that, and I really believe those were the early signs of health returning.
hearing and then reading
Trying to stay at the church where the difficulty was happening was a challenge, to say the least. Every Sunday, we’d go and sit in a large room for an hour, most of which was filled with a sermon. For the most part, these were preached by the very man I was having a conflict with. I found myself unable to process what he was saying, good or bad, because of the anger I felt toward him. I would sit in the pew and read Martin Luther. I would read the Bible. I was not healing.
Hearing the word preached has always been central to my spirituality, and being without it was leaving me dry. If I was going to stay at the church among conflict, I had to find a new preacher to listen to. (I know. I realize I was crazy.)
I started surfing podcasts, and I found a church in my hometown, led by a guy I went to high school with, his name was Adam. I listened every week. I found a deep healing salve in his words, and also found some challenge. At first, I did what I was accustomed to doing: listening to what he said and cherry-picking the stuff that made good sound bites in my head. Eventually I stopped doing that, because what he said was starting to resound so deeply with me that I wanted to make changes. I didn’t just want to heal, I wanted things to be better. He would throw out challenges, and I would internalize them. He would throw out a punch in the gut, and I would stand and take it. There were many times I found myself in tears. I started listening more, sometimes two or three times a week to their audio archive.
There was Francis Chan. Hearing his slant on God’s word helped me break through my anger and frustration, refocusing me on Jesus. That’s what I needed but didn’t quite grasp: all of Jesus. Not just the stuff that makes us feel victorious, but the stuff that challenges and changes my patterns of behavior.
I was prompted to read scripture more. I started doing scripture-reading plans in YouVersion. I greatly enjoyed the “catch me up” feature since my passion for scripture was very much cooled, and missing five days would leave me feeling overwhelmed. I stayed with it, sometimes taking a month to finish a 2-week plan. I accepted that I didn’t know everything. I chased after more.
a prayer of foreshadowing
In the midst of this rediscovery of scripture, I started to pray in a different way. I will dedicate an entire section later to my odyssey of prayer, but there is one that happened sometime in the “voices” period that I prayed quickly, somewhat carelessly, but out of sheer desperation to get a handle on my situation. I don’t remember the words exactly, but it went something like this: “God, please let me see the truth.” It was for all the reasons I’ve already said, mainly the opposition that I felt from spiritual leadership. What I was really wanting was God to say, “look, they’re wrong and you’re right,” but he was not going to say that. What he did was slowly answer that prayer, something like this: “You want truth? Let me introduce you to Jesus.”
I was a Christian. No doubt in my mind, I was a Christ-follower. I just wasn’t ready to follow him to places that weren’t my idea. I wanted him for convenience and eternal life and validation, but that’s not really Jesus at all.
voices that led to other voices
We went home to see my parents for Christmas, and I ran into Adam’s wife in the grocery store. I was instantly emotional, although I think I hid it well. I held her hostage in the produce section for a few minutes and tried to cram in as much gratitude and information as I possibly could, thanking her for the lifeline their church had provided me. I know I overwhelmed her. She responded with grace and appreciation, and gave me another gift: the podcasts that both she and Adam listened to, the stuff that inspired what he was saying. I took my phone out so fast, I nearly ripped the pocket off my pants. That is when I discovered Brian Zahnd and Greg Boyd.
There’s not ample space to talk about everything I absorbed through the lessons from those guys and the churches where they serve. I didn’t always agree with them, and then there were other times when I didn’t agree at first but did later. There was wrestling going on in my heart. What I believed about Jesus began to give birth to clarity in things I hadn’t considered before.
God wasn’t leaving me there, though. Sitting and listening to someone talk is one thing, but God forming who you are is a different issue entirely.