Why I Stopped Believing in Jesus On A Mission Trip

By Emily T. Wierenga

a deeper story

It was the Lin Yeng Temple, a Hindu temple in Richmond, BC, and we were supposed to be praying over the false spirits, we were supposed to be converting lost souls, but I found myself taking off my shoes instead.

I found myself on holy ground and all of my 18 years of being a preacher’s kid did nothing to prepare me for that moment.

The moment in which someone else’s faith in something other than Jesus would be stronger than mine.

The temple smelled of incense and all I could see were the soles of people’s calloused feet, the posture of their bent backs, and I’d never found this in a church.

There was no live band, there was no projector or stage or pulpit, there was just the awe-struck silence of worship.

I tiptoed down those temple steps leaving my faith there at the top, dead, for crows to pick apart.

And we were supposed to be telling people about Jesus that week but all I could do was feed them sandwiches and listen to their stories.

I didn’t have any magical words for them, I just sat there on East Hastings Street in the parks with men and women who had needle marks in their arms and red around their eyes and we did church together, the only kind I knew how, the real kind.

And after a week of serving hot dogs on fancy china and sorting through clothes at a distribution center and watching the homeless fall on the floor during a charismatic drop-in service, my Mum called.

She called the church basement where I was staying with my sleeping bag and my suitcase filled with bell bottoms.

And she asked me about Vancouver and what we’d done and then she said in her British accent, “Emily, can I ask you what’s been going on this week?”

I said, “I thought I just told you, Mum.”

And she said, “No, Emily, I mean, why has God been waking me up every single night at the same time, the past seven days, to pray for you?”

I nearly took off my shoes right then and there.

My faith, it just picked itself up from those temple stairs and ran back into my life all pecked by crows and disheveled, but alive.

Jesus loved me.

He loved me enough to wake my mother up seven nights in a row to pray for me.

He loved me enough to pursue me.

I don’t know why I felt such holiness at that temple, why I’ve never found that kind of reverence in a church, but I know that Jesus Christ is real.

And that is enough.



My memoir, ATLAS GIRL, is releasing this month, and I am excited to give away a copy today.

Our own Mike Morrell says this about #AtlasGirl:
“Emily Wierenga’s Atlas Girl is a heartfelt reflection, poignantly told, of growing up in the shadows and light of ministry life. She spares no longing, sensuality, heartbreak, ambiguity, or epiphany in telling her story. I wish that all spiritual memoir coming from evangelical circles would be this true-to-voice, grounded, and real. Take and read–you’ll be glad you did.”
~ Mike Morrell, journalist and party-thrower; mikemorrell.org, buzzseminar.com

Just leave a comment below to win!

From the back cover:

“Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it.

“Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.”


Click HERE for a free excerpt.


I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

Atlas Girl_700x175_2

ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Attention Authors & Bloggers: Spend 2 Days with Me + a Bestselling Author this July at the BUZZ SEMINAR – We Spill All Our Secrets!

Save the Date: July 4-5th in Orlando, Florida.

Through my work with many gifted authors via Speakeasy, two of the most frequently asked questions I get are:

1) How do I get people to read my blog – and actually make money blogging?


2) I’m a new author and I want to know how I can find the readers I know are out there. In fact, I’d love to hit a best-seller list while I’m at it. What separates the word-of-mouth phenoms from the hundreds of thousands of forgotten books published each year?

buzz_seminar_headerBecause I’ve worked to help launch best-selling books like Paul Young’s The Shack, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes the difference between ubiquity and anonymity. My experience using movement-building social media strategies to help grow events, including one I grew from just an idea to 1700 attendees in its first year can be used to grow your readership as an author.

So I decided to co-create a seminar to show you just how to do this – while earning a steady living as a full-time blogger, if you’d like.  I wanted to help create a seminar that helps you create Buzz – around your passion, your message, and your writing. And so, The Buzz Seminar was born.

I always say that relationships are my greatest source of wealth; to truly make this seminar be all that it can be, I turned to my long-time friend Frank Viola to co-lead The Buzz. Frank is an amazing teacher with a wealth of experience;  he’s mastered earning income through blogging, and five of his books have hit four different best-seller lists.

Frank has distilled all of his knowledge into priceless, practical strategies to help bloggers and authors become successful at their craft. And he’ll be sharing it all in the upcoming Buzz Seminar.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me be clear on what this 2-day seminar is and isn’t:

1) The Buzz Seminar is not a faith-based event, nor is it ministry. It’s a business event that’s designed to train any blogger and any author, regardless of their faith orientation (or lack thereof).

2) The Buzz Seminar is not a casual event. It’s a highly intensive training; think of it as an immediately-practicable certification program in the skills of branding and community-creation. The Buzz Seminar provides tools, resources, skills, and expert knowledge on how to use a trade (blogging and writing) that earns real income.

3) The Buzz Seminar is not inexpensive. Like going to school for a trade, the Buzz Seminar is an investment for your career and your future. Unlike so many seminars for platform-builders, we aren’t promising that you will get rich off of your blog or book. But we are telling you that it’s very possible to earn consistent, livable income if a.) You have a compelling message to share, and b.) You put the principles we teach into practice. For that reason, we’re calling this a seminar for “blue-collar” bloggers and authors – ordinary people who are willing to do what it takes to earn a living from their passion.

4) While this event isn’t inexpensive, it is less expensive than any other seminar or workshop covering similar topics. We’ve investigated them all; those other seminars and workshops charge anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000 per person! The Buzz Seminar is less expensive, yet the content is equally (or more) valuable.

Who this seminar is not for:

  • Casual bloggers who blog as a hobby.
  • Best-selling authors who already have an enormous platform (Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin, and Anne Rice need not apply! But call me…).
  • Those who are unwilling to make a financial investment to learn how to earn income.
  • Those uninterested in earning money by blogging or writing books.

You won’t want to miss this seminar if . . .

  • You are frustrated that very few people read your blog posts.
  • You already have a decent readership, but you want to take your blog to the next level.
  • You want to earn income by blogging.
  • You want to know how to publish a book – and publish well.
  • You want to know how to get people to notice and read your book.
  • You want to learn how to build an audience that regularly reads your work.
  • You want to know how to hit at least one best-seller list with your book.
  • You want to network with other bloggers and authors and learn from them.

If this describes you and you are interested in attending this event in July, registration closes June 1st. Register today!

When Times Are Tough – Breathe

breathe_by_sibayakHave you been having the day from hell? The week? The month? The year?

I feel you. I’ve been there.


I believe that G-D is right here with you;

I believe that what is growing is nothing less than the seed of G-D inside you, waiting to be birthed.

G-D, transcending and including everything.

G-D, creating you, breathing you, living in you and AS you.

Loving you with unconditional presence and immediate affection.

Calling you by name;

Inviting you to witness the surprise of your own unfolding.

G-D, Who, when you’re feeling crazy and wanting to crawl out of your own skin, is as close to you as your own breath.

An Invitation to Breathe

deep-breathartIn my main staying-sane practice, centering prayer, my breathing creates a sanctuary – awareness of my breath connects me to awareness of G-D, life, the universe, and everything (with apologies to the late, atheistic Douglas Adams).

This breathing-awareness “tunes my heart to sing Thy praise” – re-keying me in (apologies in advance for the pun) I AMbic pantameter.

Unconditional presence. Just as I AM-ness, without one plea.

Opening the eyes of my heart, I imagine myself participating in the uncreated life of the Godhead, dancing in the joy of G-D-as-community, the shared life of the Trinity. Sometimes (perhaps all-to-seldom) this literally sets me moving and dancing. Most often, I experience it in stillness and relative silence while sitting – relaxed yet alert. The center of the Wheel does not move.

You’ve been traveling at a frenetic pace, n’est–ce pas? Both outward and inward.

I wonder if you could slow down…right now…and breathe. 

Of course you’re already breathing. And I don’t even mean to suggest that you should change one thing about your breathing…about the quality of your breath. Only that you expand your awareness of your breath.

Your are breathing…right now.


You, dear reader, are Breath Itself, breathing through the soft animal of your body.

G-D having an ‘You’ experience.

Breathe and enjoy the simple feeling of being!


soularizeiconIt was 2007; I was in the Bahamas. Ostensibly working. Helping run a ‘learning party,’ SoularizeRough, I know. It was the first time I’d spent time with a teacher whom I’ve come to greatly respect, Richard Rohr.

We’d had just over 100 people out at Soularize that year – not the largest of crowds. Even this number was winnowed down, to 35 or so, for a little after-learning-party retreat we were throwing at a supporter’s massive house. Richard was our retreat-master.

In addition to teaching us the Enneagram and typing many of us himself, he told us a story from a science and spirituality conference he’d attended (this one I think).

There was a presenter there who was a Rabbi and a physicist. This gentleman simply and confidently asserted that the divine name I AM – more specifically, YHWH – mirrors the sound of breathing.

Richard modeled for us what the Rabbi apparently modeled for him – breathing loudly, slowly:

YHHHH (on the in-breath)Breathe B

WHHH (on the out-breath)





The first sound a baby breathes in this life – YHWH.

The last sound a person breathes on their way out – YHWH.


G-D’s name, on humanity’s lips from cradle to grave.

Ruah, holy breath, breathing in and through each beloved child of G-D from start to finish.

Breathing in us, as us.

(Now, is this debatable up and down the line? Of course it is. I don’t know if make that sound when I breathe, or what it would ‘prove’ in any case. But this isn’t a theorem, it’s a poem. It’s an open invitation to experience Divine ubiquity everywhere. And as such, I find it beautiful and moving to consider.)


Richard Rohr is by far not the only person pondering the connections between breath and divinity. To name just one more among many Rob Bell – who’s a big fan of Richard Rohr – ended up making a NOOMA video around this idea called ‘Breathe.’

Rob says – and this is a long quote, but I like how he puts it –

“With all that all of us have going on every day, who actually thinks about their breathing?

Do you ever think about your breath?

Have you ever thought about your breath from a spiritual perspective?

Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5-6 (NIV)

Moses has been walking this land for 40 years. I mean, it isn’t as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. The ground didn’t just change. It’s that Moses becomes aware of it.

Which raises the question for us, ‘Are we standing on holy ground, all the time?’

Passing burning bushes on the left and the right, and because we’re moving too fast and we’re distracted, we miss them.

What do you believe it means to be “standing on holy ground”?

Are we standing on holy ground, all of the time, but are not aware of it?

Moses says to God, ‘What is your name?’

And God responds, ‘Moses, you tell them the LORD sent you.’

Now this name, LORD, if you’re reading it in an English translation of the Bible, the name is spelled capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D.

The name appears in the Bible over 6,000 times.

But it wasn’t originally written in the English language, it was written in the Hebrew language.

And in Hebrew the name is essentially four letters.

We would say Y, H, V, H. But in Hebrew, the letters are pronounced: ‘Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.’

Have you ever thought about God’s name?

Have you ever thought about God’s name being anything different than just a name?

YHWHvayomer od elohim elmoshe ko tomar elbenei yisrael YHVH elohei avoteikhem elohei avraham elohei yitskhak velohei yaakov shelakhani aleikhem zeshemi leolam veze zikhri ledor dor

(Transliterated Hebrew)

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:15 (TNIV)

Some pronounce the name ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’ although in many traditions the name isn’t even pronounced, because it’s considered so sacred, so mysterious, so holy. In fact, the ancient rabbis believed that these letters actually functioned kind of as vowels in the Hebrew language. They believed that they were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.

Is the name of God the sound of breathing?

If the name of God is the sound of breathing, how does that change the way you view yourself as a living being?

How does it change the way you view others?

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7 (NKJV)

There’s this paradox at the heart of what it means to be a human being.

We’re fragile and vulnerable, we come from the dust.

And yet at the same time we’ve been breathed into by the creator of the universe.

And this divine breath is in every single human being.

In what ways do you feel fragile and vulnerable?

Are there ways in which you feel sacred and divine?

Do you think it’s possible to feel both ways at the same time?

In the Bible, the word for ‘breath’ is the same word as the word for ‘spirit.’

In the Hebrew language it’s the word ‘ruah,’ in the Greek language, it’s the word ‘pneuma.’

One Scripture says that when God takes away the ‘ruah,’ the breath of all living creatures, then they die and return to dust. But when God sends the ‘ruah,’ the Spirit, they are created.

Breath, Spirit, same word.

If the words for ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are the same in biblical context, does that affect your view of yourself and others?

When you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of.

If you were to be totally honest about what’s going on inside of you, is there anything you need right now to breathe out?

What do you have that you need to let go of – what do you need to breathe out?

What can you do in your life to make sure you don’t miss that you’re “standing on holy ground”?

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6 (NASB)

You are a sacred creation of God. The divine breath is flowing through you, and it’s flowing through the person next to you and it’s flowing through the person next to them.

You are on holy ground. There is a holiness to the people around us and how you treat them.

Jesus said that whatever you do for them, you’ve done for him.

Do you believe God is inherently in every single person?

If so, when we treat someone disrespectfully, does it mean we’re really treating God disrespectfully?

And if we do things with love and care for others, are we inherently doing it for God?

May you come to see that God is here right now with us all of the time.

May you come to see that the ground you are standing on is holy.

And as you slow down, may you become aware that it is in ‘Yod,’ ‘Heh,’ ‘Vav,’ ‘Heh’ – that we live and we move and we breathe.”

Thanks, Rob.


nondualWhen I bring the gift of awareness to my breath, feeling Ruah breathing in me and as me, I find that I feel her embrace. And then – sometimes, in this space of YHWH – the sense of me and Ruah being two distinct entities or ideas or instantiations of Being utterly evaporates – replaced by oneness. Replaced by bliss.

I’ll never forget when I first encountered the idea – it was right there in the Bible. It was in the late 1990s, at Harvester, the Presbyterian church where I sort’ve led worship. I was sitting in the back of their then-tiny upstairs sanctuary, waiting for the worship team to show up I think, when I read John 17 straight through for the first time. Here’s Jesus praying this crazy mystical prayer that would surely be deemed heretical (at least by my fellow PCA-ers) if it Jesus wasn’t recounted as praying it, to his originating Abba: 

That they may be one even as We are…even as You are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. 

 “Just as” –  oneness. No separation.

It’s all summed up in what this breath-name (YHWH) is most commonly translated as: “I AM.” It’s an inherently subversive name, because in speaking it, you can’t help but declare something about yourself even as you’re naming G-D.


(I am?)

(Why, yes!)

Being G-D gets a bad rap in conventional Western religion, does it not?

And I get it.

Besides any dogma or beliefs one way or another, it can be dangerously narcissistic to equate the ‘small self’ ego with G-D; voices like Stuart Davis and Marc Gafni do superb jobs showing the pitfalls of this mis-identification from Buddhist and Jewish vantage points, respectively. But both agree with the most sublime mystics, poets, and sages that there is an element of our selves that transcends fragmented, grasping ego – this true Self is the One and Only in all the universe. 

And further, it delights this Self to incarnate in our myriad forms – to be G-D having a uniquely ‘You’ experience! And G-D having a ‘Me’ experience.

For me as a student of the Way, I recognize this Advent season as one celebrating the Mystery of the Incarnation – G-D’s re-entry and re-affirmation of the world of matter and meaning, of flesh and blood and spit and sinew – of the incalculable pain and glory of human existence as we’re graced by the kiss of Ruah.

As The 14th-century German mystic Meister Eckhart provocatively asked,

What is the good if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 2000 years ago, if I do not give birth to God today? We are all Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.

As the first-century Apostle Paul would put it, Christ is the firstborn of many sisters and brothers.

As the 19th century priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins told it, Christ plays in ten thousand places.

And as I put it once upon a time, Christ’s incarnation is ubiquitous – his love, promiscuous.

DervishIt’s fitting that in this season, when we celebrate “the true Light that gives light to everyone…coming into the world,” that we honor the common grace given to the spiritual adepts of the monotheistic lineages – Hasids and Kabbalists (Jews), contemplatives and Hesychasts (Christians), and Sufi Dervishes (Muslims) – each have a means of cooperating with grace for the purifying of ego (as in a refiner’s fire), so that True Self and Unique Self might be real-ized, so that our identification with I AM comes from a healthy, vital, and life-giving space. And it all begins with re-membrance of G-D (DaveningEucharistZikhr), and attention to the breath.

Freedom Songs

I invite you now (don’t just bookmark this – why not right now?) to practice this remembrance and breathing –

first toward G-D,

                               then yourself,

                                                           then in the space where G-D and Self are joined in union.

The first ‘song of remembrance’ I offer for your consideration is a bit CCM-ish in sound (as its composer acknowledges), but I find the lyrics inspired:

The Sound of Our Breathing – Jason Gray


Everybody draws their very first breath with Your name upon their lips
Every one of us is born of dust but come alive with heaven’s kiss

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

Moses bare foot at the burning bush wants to know who spoke to him
The answer is unspeakable like the rush of a gentle wind

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

In him we live and move and have our being
We speak the name as long as we are breathing

So breathe in
Breathe out…

Doubters and deceivers, skeptics and believers we speak it just the same
From birth to death, every single breath is whispering Your name

(for the full story behind the song, and some other related reflections on YHWH/breath from its author, check this out.)

I AM THAT I AM – Ben Lee

This one is sparse on lyrics, big on feel – let it wash over you.

And finally – as usual – Joseph Arthur nails it:

I AM – Joseph Arthur

You live in a darkness
Made out of your fear
Looking to the future
Never are you here

You are not a person
Nor are what you see
Beyond this world you live in
Beyond your memory

To find out what you really are
You must wake up from this long night

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

Your world is in danger
But your world isn’t real
You see what is imagined
Dreaming what you feel

To find out what you really are
You must wake up from this long night

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

I Am, I Am, I Am

You are beyond the sun and the stars
You are the ever present light.

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

I Am, I Am, I Am


An Open Letter to Billy Humphrey of IHOP Atlanta on ‘Homosexuality and Gay Marriage’ – from Kimberly Knight

Blog - Humphrey - Knight





Dear Billy,

Good afternoon. I am an Atlanta-born, Christian mom who recently read your post A Christian Stance on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage. I am writing because I am concerned about the same things you are. As a mother and a Christian I am personally – and ardently – concerned about the rapid changes in our society that reveal a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.

The source of my concern springs from my deep faith and desire to honor and protect families – especially Christian families like mine who it seems are under constant attack in the public sphere. As I am sure you can understand, my family is everything to me, our children the light of our lives. Every day I am shocked by the rising din of vitriol directed at families who want only the best for our children as we seek to follow the Light of the World. I can hardly explore Facebook or turn on the news without hearing how wrong I am and how twisted my faith is. When my family is in public, we even hear the searing conversations at supposedly family-friendly establishments.

I feel called, like you, to stand in the gap. To pray, and work to stem the rising tide of darkness that seeks to confuse the hearts of faithful followers of Jesus Christ, and citizens of our great land.

What might surprise you is that I am a lesbian – a wife, mother, and Christian, who feels the promptings of the Holy Spirit to stand up to the anti-gay agenda that is tightening its death-grip increasingly over the Evangelical and charismatic church in North America.

In light of having quite a different experience of the Living Christ from you, you might question my motives for writing this open letter to you. No need to question – here’s what inspires me:

  1. There are Christian leaders and believers who seem to believe they have the authority to speak for the Church Universal when in fact they do not. There are people of deep faith, churches actively engaged in life-changing ministries and whole Jesus-following, God-loving and disciple-making denominations who think, believe, worship and work very differently than what you propose in your letter.
  2. There are churches, quite clear in their walk with Jesus, affirming their LGBT sisters and brothers in the life of the church and as citizens who deserve equal treatment under the law in a country that has pledged to uphold the separation of church and state.
  3. This clarity – born out of Scripture reading, discernment, Christ-like empathy and loving our community – has lead to deep conviction that Christians are called to work with and for their LGBT neighbors as we seek to live into the radical hospitality of Jesus, together.
  4. As you are well aware, all indicators point to the fact that 18-30 year-olds know full well that marriage has been redefined throughout history to suit the needs of powers and principalities. (Might I recommend a book on spiritual warfare that you are likely unfamiliar with? The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink. It might just change your life and ministry.) We both know that it is a lie of immense proportions that the Bible only condones the marriage of one man to one woman. Between Levirite marriages, the sample of King Solomon and the projections of weak and broken men who claim that God would commend them for raping conquered peoples, Scripture hardly has a consistent message about marriage.
  5. Churches everywhere are answering a call to participate in sacred activism that seeks to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for LGBT people. The United Church of Christ, the PC(USA), the Alliance of Baptists and the Episcopal Church are just a few that represent thousands upon thousands of churches that are working together to shine the light of God in new and exciting ways.

Billy, I have heard of Atlanta’s International House of Prayer, and your reputation for having a passion for both God and reaching people. I commend this, as it is near and dear to my heart and ministry also. It is because of this mutual affinity that we have in Christ that I feel so grieved, as your sister in Christ, to read your words in this and other recent posts. I am afraid that your hyper-focus on individual sexual morality, and homosexuality in particular, draws neither from the Gospel of Jesus Christ nor the cries of God to let justice roll down like water. Jesus said not one word condemning same-sex relationships but did have a pointed word about divorce.

Make no mistake about it, your differing opinion (not your right to differ) is being challenged because you are vilifying people who are children of God, not an “issue.” Your position is being challenged because you strive to impose a single, narrow interpretation of one stream of faith on a sexually and spiritually diverse nation.

I am called as a mother, a wife, a Christian, a church member and a citizen of this country to stand up and speak boldly in the face of a Christianity that has been twisted by xenophobia and willful ignorance.

A suggested attitude for Christians

In a spirit of love and peace, I am inviting you to a true posture of humility.

  1. Receive in your heart the action of the Holy Spirit in the world today. Here is truth: I am a Christian. I am a mother. I am also a lesbian. I love God. I follow Jesus. I am devoted to my family. I am not struggling with my sexuality or my faith. I am struggling with fellow Christians who are spending so much time and energy trying to defraud me of the Grace that is freely given. I am struggling with a wing of the Church that chooses to spend the trust, time and talent of good people trying to prevent me from living in peace and pursuing happiness in my own country. I am struggling with churches that waste their faith on policing people’s bedrooms rather than seeking justice for the poor, the weak, the imprisoned as we Christians have been called to do by Jesus.
  2. Recognize that you are continuing to inflict the very pain you claim to renounce. When you parrot misleading oversimplifications and blatantly stereotypical phrases such as “gay life” you are contributing to a persistently painful paradigm. There is no such thing as a universal gay lifestyle or gay agenda.
  3. Cease the notion that what you are doing is compassionate. You cannot reach out in compassion if you refuse to see me as a full human and my sexuality as a gift from my Creator. If you think truth in love is “love the sinner and hate the sin,” then your love is a sham, a dangerous lure and conditional. This is contrary to the Grace revealed by Jesus.
  4. Stop the false polemic of gay vs. Christian. It is simply a lying dichotomy. You are either lying to yourself or to everyone who trusts you. The only agenda I have is to follow Jesus while I work for my own justice and the justice of my sisters and brothers.

I am not an issue. I am a child of God.

  1. Love compels me to speak truth to power. Your voice is not the only voice of Christianity and to claim it is (or should be) the only true voice is pure hubris. Hubris is not a fruit of the Spirit.
  2. I am afraid your salt is laced with the arsenic of bitter lies, and your light is fanning the flames of hatred.
  3. What you are preaching is not the Gospel of undeserved liberation, unmerited grace and unending peace revealed in the Word Who is Christ.
  4. Your version and vision of Christianity doesn’t speak for all Christians.

Blog - Believe Out LoudSexuality is as intensely personal as it is communal and (these days) headline-making. I don’t wish to speculate as to what formed you – and many, it seems, in the contemporary Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘prophetic’ stream of the Church – to focus and fixate on what you perceive to be sexual brokenness. Was it some personal pain? Is it simply the ‘meme’ or message you’ve imbibed? I don’t know. But I want to exhort you, brother, that there is a better way – a way filled with more sweetness, and light. Repent – by which I mean metanoia, change your mind! – in a direction away from obsession with sexual behavior. I understand that you identify as a man of prayer, and of worship, beholding as in a mirror the glory of God. See once again this God’s face, and see if your attention isn’t turned, re-oriented, back toward what Jesus actually beckons us to do – care for the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned.

As a fellow Christian, minister, American, and Atlantan, this is my prayer for you and the IHOP community under your influence.

Your sister in Christ,

Kimberly Knight

Kimberly Knight is a self-avowed church nerd with nearly 20 years experience in a wide range of technology settings + an M.Div from Candler School of Theology. She has a long history of back-pew sitting, Wednesday night supper eating and generally trying God’s patience since 1969. She leads “social media for ministry” intensives around the country, helping faith leaders explore authentic ways to enrich, engage and expand progressive communities in the 21st century.

She is the former pastor of Koinonia Church, an online church in Second Life and currently follows her dual calling as writer, primarily for her blog Coming Out Christian at Patheos, and the Director of Digital Strategy at a small liberal arts college for women in Georgia.

Kimberly lives with her partner and their two children in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta where they are active members of Kirkwood United Church of ChristCome hear Kimberly speak at the Wild Goose Festival! Enter WILDGOOSE13 here to get 20% off registration!

Mike’s Note: Why I’m inspired to share this guest-post.

OneThingWhen Billy Humphrey shared his posts on Facebook this week after the Supreme Court DOMA decision – An Apology to Homosexuals from a Christian Leader, A Christian Stance on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, Homosexuality and Gay Marriage: Answers to 7 Common Questions, and Addressing Homosexuality From The Bible: How Do You Know It’s A Sin? – I felt grieved, and deeply ambivalent. I’ve learned to largely tune out shrill voices calling for a rollback of spiritual dignity and civil liberties for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, but Billy is from my tribe. Though we’ve never met (or if we did, it was only briefly – at a OneThing gathering back in 2004 or 2005, possibly), his International House of Prayer was influential on me during my early formative years. As a teenager in the 1990s, the IHOP (then Friends of the Bridegroom) and Rick Joyner‘s Morningstar were – perhaps ironically enough – breaths of fresh air and liberation after the staccato conformity of both the Assemblies of God and Presbyterian Church in America, where I spent around five years each. I wore out Mike Bickle, Andre Lefebvre and JoAnne McFatter‘s Fire of Love album, which is a kind of audio lectio divina riff on the Song of Songs – what IHOP-ers call ‘Harp and Bowl’-style worship. Bickle’s theology in particular – then a combination of the Calvinist ‘Christian Hedonism’ of John Piper and Sam Storms, combined with medieval Catholic love-mysticism and a fiery apocalyptic emphasis, appealed to me. And I wasn’t alone: Dear family friends of mine were among the first to support IHOP – in Kansas City, and then Atlanta. I’ve had friends and acquaintances move cross-country to become full-time, support-raising “intercessory missionaries,” worshipping day and night in the 24/7 prayer that IHOP popularized among U.S. charismatics. My parents gathered with the IHOP-Atlanta community for a time, until they moved locations and the drive was too far. Finally, my tongues-talking, extravagantly-worshiping, Spirit-filled self had found community.

And then, several things shifted for me in the new century. After 9/11, I was no longer able to abide by the Christian Zionism and American Nationalism implicit in virtually all of the Pentecostal/charismatic/evangelical theology I grew up with, which was at Defcon-4 amongst the ‘prophetic’ wing of the charismatic church. I found a stronger biblical honoring of the transnational Body of Christ, inclusive of every tribe, tongue, and nation, via the Kingdom Now 95 Theses circulated around then, ironically enough, by a group of radical Vineyard pastors. From there I discovered Anabaptist resources like Jesus Radicals, Greg Boyd, and Mark Van Steenwyk (who was just featured on CNN’s FaithBlog today – Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement) who showed me just how different and subversive a “citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven” could be. I learned pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian Christian alternatives to Zionism through voices like Stephen Sizer and the Telos Group. My eschatology was forever rocked and real-ized by Presence International as I understood biblical prophecy to be “symbolic language unveiling the spiritual significance of temporal events,” with prophetic language in the New Testament centering primarily on the impending Jewish Civil War and Roman destruction of Jerusalem which ended up coming to fruition in 70 AD.

Suddenly, my eyes were opened: I saw how the message of God’s Kingdom wasn’t an evacuation from planet Earth as in Premillenialism, or a bloody battle for theocratic domination as it was in Postmillenialism, but instead it was Jesus’ upside-down Gospel calling first century Palestine to renounce violence and embrace love, or face the inevitable, disastrous consequences of colluding with religion and empire instead. We face this same choice today: Embrace the creative, nonviolent love of the Trinity manifesting in creation, or face political, military, and ecological disaster. I could no longer see IHOP, Morningstar, and much of the ‘prophetic’ infrastructure as having their ear to the heartbeat of God’s purposes for the Church and planet. Indeed, as my developing convictions saw it, this “End-Times Intercessory Army” was often standing opposed to the Living Jesus and New Creation Ecology in our midst. 

Embracing queer folk as sisters and brothers in Christ – and friends – was the final heart-shift for me. Utter fear of the “Satanic Homosexual Agenda,” as fanned by Bickle, Joyner, Lou Engle and others (as well-documented in the recent documentary about the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, God Loves Uganda) had kept my heart frozen for several years while my mind had renewed to embrace biblical and spiritual alternatives to seeing LGBTQ people as ‘abominations’ in our midst. It was a mind-and-heart-change that I’ll be giving more space to in an upcoming post, but for now I’ll say that having many friends, both queer and straight, teach me throughout the 2000s, complimented my studies and helped love overcome the lies I had been taught since childhood. Reading my now-friend Sara Miles‘ touching memoir Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion sealed it for me. New charismatic/Pentecostal churches like Church of the Misfits in the West Metro Atlanta area, and my own faith-community, North Raleigh Community Church (a Foursquare congregation), give me hope that the anti-gay charismatic/prophetic hegemony of the 1990s and 2000s is giving way to a diversity of voices on this matter. The behind-closed-doors conversations I have with dissenting leaders in this movement (conversations I have mainly via my work in publishing) encourage me further in realizing that Redemptive History is not over yet. Just as we’ve come around on the dignity of women, abolition of slaves, and most recently, immigration reform, I believe that us ragamuffin followers of Jesus are ultimately gonna do what’s right for God’s rainbow of diversely-oriented friends.

And so: I share Kimberly’s open letter because she is passionate, articulate, and still lives near Billy in my native Atlanta area. And because I did not have the grace and energy to craft a response like hers. The Body of Christ is the better for it; I hope Billy, IHOP, and my charismatic and Pentecostal family and friends tune in, and keep talking.

Recommended Resources for Further Reading

God's Gay AgendaIf you’re one of my friends or readers who’s more conservative on this subject, and want to know more about how sincere friends of God in the Way of Jesus can possibly work for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, here are six resources I’ve encountered in the past decade that I think will help you understand where we’re coming from:

Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. This is a tour-de-force recent history evangelicalism’s morphing into the Religious Right, by someone who helped make this history: Jerry Falwell’s former speechwriter, Mel White, who now works with SoulForce to undo the damage he did to himself and others.

God’s Gay Agenda by Sandra Turnbull is an excellent summary of the Biblical counter-argument to the anti-gay agenda by a conservative, evangelical, Spirit-filled charismatic pastor! Check out her site for more.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. Justin, in addition to being my neighbor here in Raleigh, is the Executive Director of the evangelical Gay Christian Network. In Torn, he weaves his own story with biblical exegesis, saturating each page with his characteristic kindness and grace.

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Written by an evangelical Presbyterian layperson who was part of his congregation’s inquiry into affirming their LGBTQ members, this book is probably the best summary response to Scripture’s “clobber passages” for left-brain verse-by-verse types.Dirt Greed Sex

Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today by William Countryman. Simply put, if you find many progressive Christians’ arguments that Scripture contains no coherent sexual ethic ‘lazy,’ but cannot stomach the all-too-certain conservative alternative, this book by a respected biblical scholar is for you. It’s clear, lucid, and life-changing.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth – Revised Edition. Produced jointly by the Alliance of Baptists, BPFNA, and AWAB, this is the 400-pound gorilla (360 pages, f’r reals) that you want for an in-depth compendium of biblical, scientific, sociological, liturgical, psychological, and pastoral reflection on full LGBTQ inclusion into the life of church and culture.

The Way of the Heart Part 9: Christ is Living in Our Midst

This continues my series on Cynthia Bourgeault‘s recent day-session at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. You can start reading right here, or scroll below to see the previous sessions. 

Regular centering prayer encourages our direct knowing, without which there is no actual living Jesus tradition.

While we call Jesus our ascended master, our risen Lord, we act like we’re absentee landlords. Why do we invoke Eucharist in third person as though he’s not here?? Why not second person? Surely he didn’t go away when he died!

[Mike’s note: I love how Cynthia says Jesus “is” and “does” rather than “was” and “did” like so many of her fellow progressive Christians, who do indeed see themselves as absentee landlords presiding over a Jesus Christ estate sale!]

Surely our hearts can pick up a connection with our living master if we’re only shown how.

The heart is the original spacecraft, for time travel – connecting us with all that is true, beautiful, and real.

Recognition of power is a profound kriya; Peter walking on water is the perfect example of this. If we want this connection in a similar fashion, we have to become serious students of the heart.

Nondual consciousness must be carried by the heart. Orthodox (Eastern) Christians have known this from the start. “The mind must be in the heart.” If you talk to a good Buddhist, they’ll say they know through the mind, but this carries inherent limitations. Unitive oneness, compassionate action, the grace & clarity we attribute to the saints – this is never attained by the mind alone.

In utero, the heart & brain begin as a single organism (according to an embryologist she spoke to). There can be a feedback loop between the two of them. We are becoming students of the magic of this extraordinary cardiology, opening up a unitive way of seeing.

(A humorous aside – Cynthia visited some older monks who knew Thomas Merton. Their take on Merton: “Oh yes. The little silence he knew, he spoke about very well.”)

I’m not trying in any sense to trash the mind; it’s a wonderful instrument. When the mind and heart work together, they’re brilliant. But anything which makes the mind rigid, fearful, simplistic creates a human being who uses neither the mind nor the heart.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I recommend checking out her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and MindCentering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.

If you’re interested in exploring the myriad of ways in which apprentices to Jesus can navigate change in the 21st century – in our worship, our spiritual formation, our way of engaging the crises and opportunities we face today – I hope you join me at Co-Creation 2012, happening this April 12-15 in the same space where I saw Cynthia. Brian McLaren, Diana Butler-Bass, and Integral Christianity author Paul Smith will be joining with the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro, North Carolina and a half-dozen artists and musicians to bring a truly unforgettable, interactive experience. To register, click here; to read more about this in an in-depth blog post, go here.

In This Series:

The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Speaking of Life Divine
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery
The Way of the Heart Part 9: Christ is Living in Our Midst

Nondual Week: David Henson on ‘How Hinduism Saved My Christian Faith’

Nondual week continues, perhaps out of bounds of the ‘week’ as conventionally understood (because hey, from a nondual vantage point all weeks are in some sense one, right?) with David Henson, a journalist/husband/father/Episcopal priesthood postulant. Here goes!

Hinduism saved my Christian faith. Like others who have engaged in interreligious study, — most famously of late Paul Knitter, it was the introduction to a completely different strain of spiritual thought that opened up my own Christian faith to new, more complex depths of God. As part of my studies in comparative religions, I sought out an interreligious dialogue partner, and when I came to him, I was on the brink of leaving the Christian faith together.

When I left, his wisdom had so enlivened my soul that for the first time in years, I encountered Christ during Holy Week.

But things didn’t start off quite so easily at first, as I brought with me, a great deal of religious baggage I thought I’d left behind. Growing up, my family read the Bible religiously. We didn’t so much reflect on its teachings, its stories or meditate on its truths to tease out its meanings. We read the Bible. I vividly remember, with no small amount of residual angst, the year our family pledged to read the Bible cover-to-cover and how my brother and I would frantically read five dense chapters in Deuteronomy five minutes before dinner on pain of losing our allowance. The only thing I remember from our readings that year was the uncomfortable silence of not being able to answer a question after speed-reading the scriptures. Nevertheless, we still read the Bible.

When I prepared for my meeting with my dialogue partner, I thought I had left all that behind me, the progressive, enlightened Christian that I was. Yet, as if by unconscious habit, the first thing I did after scheduling my first meeting with Swami Vedananda at the Vedanta Society in San Francisco was to purchase the Hindu scriptures – the night before nonetheless – and try to read as much of them as possible. How very Protestant of me.

When I met Swami Vedananda for the first time at the, I told him I had brought the Hindu scriptures and asked him to suggest some readings in it to start off our time together. He smiled wryly, his kindly face bathed in an earthy orange glow from his monk’s robes and wool cap. “Which Hindu scriptures?” he asked.

The look on my face must have betrayed my confusion as I fumbled through my book bag for the texts and handed them to them with a feeble, “Um, these Hindu scriptures.”

Vedananda chuckled good-naturedly as he thumbed through the book, its spine uncreased and the price sticker still on its cover. Not every religion, he said, viewed their holy scriptures the way some Christians do – as the first, foundational and sometimes only needed ingredient for a proper understanding God and the faith. Hinduism, he explained, was not only ancient, but rooted in a culture that sometimes doesn’t translate readily or easily to other modern cultures, and I probably wouldn’t get much out of reading the Upanishads or the Bhagavad-Gita. It would be much better, he said, to begin to learn about Hinduism from experience or at least the experiences of a Hindu teacher, rather than an ancient book that can’t talk back. During most of our first talk, Vedananda held the book of holy writings in hand, close to his chest, seemingly holding its truths outside my reach. At first, I felt irked. He seemed to imply I wasn’t able to grasp what the scriptures taught without some handholding. But, I was seminary student at the time of our meeting after all, and I had made a few As.

“Hinduism is not an acceptance of a certain set of beliefs. It is a path,” he explained warmly.

Then the dim bulb brightened, and I began to understand him. My mind scurried form one topic to the next, trying to keep up with Vedananda as he spoke extemporaneously and eloquently about the Divine, seamlessly weaving the words of the Upanishads with Christ, Buddha and Swami Vivekananda, who founded the San Francisco-based society. Though it took him years to get around to reading Christ’s teachings, Vedananda seemed to hold a better opinion, in general, of Christianity than I did, perhaps a reflection on his training as a monk and mine as a journalist. He focused on the good in Christianity, holding up mystics like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I focused on the bad, mentioning people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the Church of Christ, the sect of my birth and childhood. I asked him how a Hindu could see good in these things that seem to repress the spirit rather than give itwings. His answer surprised and pierced me. He said one should look for and treasure the eternal truths each teaches and disregard the temporal fallacies. While I hate to admit it, I have too easily demonized these elements of the Christian faith and refused even to consider whether they do perform some good in pointing to or revealing the Divine.

The ability to see the good, the actual Divine in everything is the most striking, the most attractive and most challenging aspect of Hinduism, particularly for someone brought up in an uber- Calvinistic tradition. The doctrine of Original Sin, though I have had no particular affinity for it recently, still echoed inside my head when Vedananda said the Hindu believes that a human’s true nature is good, that humanity and the world is Divine and that one should strive to see not only that the Divine is in everything, but that everything is the Divine. The two positions seemed at odds. The emphasis on Original Sin in the Christianity seems to impress on the human soul a pessimism, where humankind and the world are broken, fallen from grace and in need of redemption that won’t be truly complete in this life.

This is what brought me to contemplating the central nondualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, the notion that God and humanity are not two, but neither are they one, while, at the same time, holding in tension the unity of reality that, in fact, “this atman (self) is brahman (the Divine).” In other words, God and humanity are best described as more more than one, but less than two.

The striking juxtaposition between the idea that when one does evil, she or he does violence against the soul’s true nature and the idea that one can’t help but do evil because that is our true, inescapable fallen nature gave me pause. I began to wonder which Christ taught. When Christ said that the kingdom of God is within and that what we have done to the least of these, so we have done to him, was he speaking of humans as Divine, the divine in us or of a torn, half-faded carbon copy of God’s image.

Colored by Hindu thought, I began to gravitate more toward the human as divine, seeing Original Sin as implying our true nature as Good and Divine. Original sin and “original virtue,” as Vedananda phrased it during our second meeting, have become opposite ends of the same continuum, trying to answer the same question of good and evil in the world, so seemingly polar that they reach around the mountain and almost touch.

In short, though I did not know it at the time, I was moving closer to the Orthodox notion of theosis.

Viewing Christ’s teachings through the beliefs of a Hindu presented the familiarity of my own faith in surprising newness, giving our interpersonal relationships a sense of holy urgency and joy with the idea of meeting the Divine, not a mediated metaphor of God, when we meet someone. So often an eschatological meaning is placed on Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount that, “The pure in heart shall see God.” In effect, the pure in heart shall see God … eventually, when the world ends, when we die or when Christ returns. Maybe what he meant was that the pure in heart will see God here, on earth, now, everywhere, as everything and in everything.

Shining the blue of his Hinduism onto the red of my Christianity time and again revealed not only depths to my own faith tradition I had never considered, but also echoed and gave definition to unstructured thoughts about the transcendent Divine that have been slowly forming for several months. God isn’t either/or, but often both/and in some mystical way. Or in the words of scholar of religion Raimon Panikker, “no religion, ideology, culture or tradition can reasonable claim to exhaust the universal range of human experience or even the total manifestation of the Sacred.”

But it did more than that. It forced me to face my past a strident religious literalist and conservative, and it made me look for the Divine even in those experiences for which I so often feel guilty. In other words, to use a Christian metaphor, it redeemed my past and made my faith whole again.

Other posts in the Nondual Week series:

Radical Incarnation: Thoughts on Nondual Spirituality by Matthew Wright
Nondual Week: Ken Wilber on ‘One Taste’
Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?
Nondual Week: Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity

Spirit Week with Crowder & Morrell: Charismissional – What About The Poor?

This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. Here we talk about whether or not Spirit-filled types are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. This is an important read for anyone who listened to my Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Leif Hetland on Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes.

I’m penning my prelude to today’s Crowder & Morrell piece while listening to Newwine Party, an album TR Post handed me today when I rendezvoused with him at the Raleigh Greyhound station. It seems that this week’s blogging series is making me new friends – and (in some cases) possibly straining old friendships! I hope new friends and would-be foes alike hear this dialogue out ’till it’s conclusion tomorrow. We’ve saved my most urgent two matters ’till last, both looking at the fruit of ministry in ‘bizarre, creative miracles’ and experiencing Spiritual inebriation.

Please note: All hyperlinks in the interview below are my fault doing.

Mike: Today we talk about something that a ton of folks have asked in the comments section – what do new-pneumatics have to say (and more importantly, do) about justice issues, compassion for the poor and widow and stranger? How does basking in the glory of God’s manifest presence enable us to live into the beloved community, as embodied in Jesus’ beatitudes?

Now before I give you the floor, let me say that I’m actually aware of a ton of ‘Spirit-filled’ folks out there whose life-paradigm seems to be soaking in prayer and worship, then expending their lives in the service of society’s least wanted. Jackie Pullinger comes to mind, as does Heidi and Roland Baker. Blood-N-Fire is a former Vineyard church movement focusing on ‘the youth, the poor and the nations;’ YWAM has manyPete Grieg and Andy Freeman‘s initiatives involving 24/7 Prayer and Boiler Rooms and missional monastic orders in the UK and US. So maybe the charge of navel-gazing is unfair. But let me put two things in your court, John – chapters focusing on lives of embodied service, as does

1.) Even with all these wonderful initiatives going on, how does the charismatic movement evolve beyond a ‘let’s give to charity’ mindset? What kind of involvement is encouraged of the average ‘pew-warmer’ beyond financial support to other people to do the work of ministry? and,

2.) What are you guys up to in this arena?

John: People who are not directly involved in prophetic/supernatural-focused ministries are rarely aware of the vast amounts of time, effort and resources being invested around the globe to improve society.

I am a strong advocate of presenting a holistic gospel. Even before we started construction of our India children’s home (this is hopefully the first of many, by the way), we were always traveling to developing nations and investing in other ministries which had a focus on orphans, widows, etc. But as you said, the vision for societal change must be embraced by the “rank and file” pew warmer. It is not enough for a few high-profile ministries to do a few projects within their own respective budgets. The average believer, by herself, could easily raise $15,000 to house a widow and 10 orphans in Africa or Asia, just by taking up collections from “secular” people at their office place. It does not take much for a citizen in the Western world to literally save lives around the globe. But most people are clueless on issues of global poverty, the sex slave trade, the AIDS crisis, etc.

Mike: Ain’t that the truth. I’ve been working with some amazing people both nationally and locally on transcending the slave trade in particular. It’s a daunting ‘issue’ with real lives at stake daily, and so much public ignorance on the matter even now.

John: Is this lethal apathy an epidemic found solely in an inward-focused charismatic stream? Is the continual desire (by Spirit-filled believers) for the next “spiritual fix” the real enemy of distraction here? Forgive me if I am blunt, but that is sheer stupidity. There are sluggards and nominalists in every denomination of Christianity, along with every sect and cult on the face of the planet. The apathy of the church is clearly not selective to the charismatic stream alone. If we are going to have a witch hunt, I think we could blame Western materialism, television idolatry or Sudoku addiction for distracting our focus. Why blame an emotional attraction to Jesus (or a distaste for sober, boring services) for the problems of a fallen world? Crowder Poor

The root issue here is deeper. The question posed by many – “What does all this hyper-spiritual extravagance do for the poor?” – is eerily reminiscent of Judas’ question, when Mary “wasted” the costly spikenard on Jesus, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold … and given to the poor?” Jesus said “Leave her alone. … you will always have the poor among you.” Was Jesus inward and self-focused? Was He unconcerned for the poor? Was Mary wasting her time and money on a pointless “spiritual fix?”

[Editor’s note: John 12 should never be read without Deuteronomy 15 squarely in mind]

Jesus cares about the poor more than any of us. But He also understood priorities. God knows that He alone is the Source from which all of society’s problems find their resolution. I think that what Jesus says here in John 12 is this: if ever posed with the uncanny and difficult choice between feeding the poor and worshipping Him, choose rightly – you should worship Him.

As much as we may like to strike at the perceived “inwardness” of the charismatic stream (and yes, I see this with many individuals), none of us can deny that the first commandment (Love God) is still the first. And the second (Love your neighbor), is still the second. The second is like the first (and not to be forgotten! Remember the poor) – but it is still only secondary. Otherwise, what differentiates us from the pagans (just a figure of speech, emergent world – sort of)? The world is full of do-gooding do-gooders, but Christ is interested in relationship above service. I may sound fundamental here, but actions alone are not going to save the planet. Only the Glory of God is going to do that. It’s a supernatural thing (and I’m not talking about some eschatological rapture crap). What I mean is that this problem is too big for us. We need more of His presence above all. Do we sit by and twiddle our thumbs while we pray? No. But our number one priority should be to continually focus on the answer, not focus on the problem. Jesus is the answer. The more I inject Him in my veins, the more I want to go spill His love into the garbage dumps of the world, kissing lepers, feeding the hungry and bringing joy and hope to the depressed and downtrodden.

Mike: I hear you. But do you really mean to pit loving God against loving neighbor? I don’t know if Jesus’ two commandments can be prioritized; John’s gospel has Jesus conflating the two. Or as my friend Kevin Beck likes to say, “Love God by loving your neighbor.” (For more on this perspective see Kevin’s piece on Agapetheism)

John: Before I am pinned as being uncaring or enabling the problem of Christian passivity, let me make something very clear. I believe that to feed the poor is true religion and is a viable means of worshipping Jesus. But there is more. Christianity is not a moral club. The gospel is not a community ethics program. It is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” The Holy Spirit is not just a tool that inspires us with a goosebump so that we can get to the REAL work of the Kingdom, which is to go do a bunch of stuff. That is the Galatian bewitchment. Ideally, our service to humanity comes in great gobs and heaps as an overflow of God’s love working through us. When the priorities are right, we are no longer workers who happen to love God. Rather, we are lovers who do stuff. Find your primary identity as a lover, continually fixated on Him, and your heart will burn to heal the brokenness of the world more than ever was humanly possible. The work of societal transformation is an overflow, not the main focus. But the main thing has to be the main thing. Otherwise, our efforts become idolatrous grounds for boasting. The more I get tanked up on the wine of Heaven, the more love I have for the things God loves. The more I give.

In all fairness, I would also like to add that I know very many “rank and file” folks who are extremely generous, going above and beyond the call of duty. I know people who will spend weeks trashed out in an ecstatic trance on their couch [Where can I get a job that lets me do that??], apparently doing nothing for the poor, but then they will go drop $10,000 in one fell swoop into orphanage projects [I guess the same vocation that lets people do that. Sigh.]. We simply can’t judge by appearances, can we? Just because someone does not appear to be concerned for the world’s problems does not mean they aren’t part of the solution. I do not walk around depressed all day, thinking of the planet’s woes. I do my part, but not out of an anxiousness that it all relies on me. I’m just convinced that God is going to pull through on the human experiment.

Mike: I am too, John! I think God is indeed pulling through right now. Thanks for your perspective.

Ever since the milieu of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), there has been tension between the ‘priests’ and the ‘prophets.’ (Don’t be confused by how we might be using ‘prophetic’ in these contemporary blog posts, ’cause I’m about to make the opposite point about ancient Hebrew prophets) The priests were concerned with temple plans and instruments and extravagant worship, whereas prophets were likely to rail against the worship-preoccupations of the priests. And yet there is a mystery present: God spoke in and through both. Apparently, God both inhabits the praises of his people, and yet desires mercy (justice) above sacrifice (worship). And this is precisely the tension we’re called to inhabit, living an integrated life loving God and neighbor, friend, stranger and enemy.

This was originally posted on June 3, 2008.

Spirit Week: Crowder & Morrell Dialogue – What About the Fam? (Or, ‘Sex-Crazed Charismatics?’)

This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. The conversation picks up…

Over the next several days, John and I will have a 3-4 part dialogue about some questions and concerns that occurred to me about their lives and ministry. Some are specific for them in their unique ministry, and others are general questions I’d have if I was talking to any itinerant prophetic minister or revivalist in this Spirit-saturated stream of faith. I learned a ton; read on…

Crowder Family

Mike: So John, what do you’re your and Ben’s wives think about all this recent ministry? Particularly yours, John! I mean, with four kids and all, being out all the time at Holy Ghost House Parties with beautiful sisters in Christ all around…itinerant ministry of any kind can be tough, but poured out in this fun ‘party’ manifestation, I’ll bet it’s extra challenging. Too often we only hear from the ‘alpha-male’ front-line ministers (when the ministers happen to be male)…what do the wimmin think??

John: Not sure why you ask this, but I have a hunch … Of course, my wife can speak for herself [Ooh! Can we have her do a guest blog?], but she loves the wildness of God. She often gets more plastered in the love of God than I do. She has seen me dry, bored and performance oriented. And she very much prefers the joyful, whacked, spiritually inebriated John much better. It does wonders for a marriage when the two of you are actually happy all the time (not just pretending to be so). Understand for starters that we are NOT Pentecostal, just because we interact with Holy Spirit. So you have to do away with all those old AG/holy roller mindsets of dominating women and forcing them to play the part of pastor’s wife (Pentecostal churches on the whole don’t like us very much, by the way). By this, I mean we are not chauvinistic abusers who keep our wives’ heads covered, barefoot and pregnant. We do not take the Mars Hill approach at all in this regard. The first person I ever ordained was a woman. We think the entire family needs to be integrated into the things of the Spirit.

Mike: Very cool. The family that drinks together…It’s nice to know she’s ‘with you’ in this adventure.

John: I would like to say that in terms of healthy families, marriages, sexual purity and other similar issues (if this is what you are hinting at), then there is a tremendous misconception (lie) among non-charismatics that all Spirit-filled persons somehow lack character and integrity in these areas. I would like to see a statistic on this, because it is simply not fact. I would contend that the opposite is true. It is not a common thread that spiritually gifted/charismatic people are shallow in the area of personal integrity, character and taking care of their families. This has been a common, baseless judgment coined off the back of a few televangelist scandals in the ‘80s. This “character argument” is really just an excuse for many non-charismatics NOT to pursue the Holy Spirit. I’ve even heard people say “I don’t need the anointing, I just want to have good character.” How silly is that? The anointing is the very unction of God the Holy Spirit Himself! How arrogant to think we can muster up good character on our own, without the help of God. Only the Spirit of God can sustain a healthy marriage. Lily Crowder

Mike: Ah, geez. Now I feel like a tool. I’m sorry for how my questions about your wives seemed. (And by ‘your wives’ I mean ‘yours and Ben’s’ – I’m not adding a fresh accusation of polygamy!) I was not insinuating unfaithfulness on your part – far more mundane than that, I just wondered if it’d be tough for your wife if you were on the road and she was home with the kids – especially since you’re so handsome and are bringing the Rave Anointing!

No problem. I didn’t take it personally, just thought you may be addressing the whole assumption that charismatics all have a fornication hobby. Not that many don’t, it’s just that the problem probably cuts across denominational lines.

Incidentally, Christianity Today agrees with your assessment of the Charismatic Playboy myth. Attempting to remove foot firmly from mouth, tell me more about the kiddies…

John: As for the kids, we think it is a grievous sin for them ever to be bored in church. The last thing we want is to give them the wrong impression that God is not an eternal source of excitement and holy pleasure. Children are a great indicator of whether the Spirit of God is really moving in your midst. If the kids are engaged – if they want to be in the services and they are demonstrating a real hunger for God on their own initiative – I think that something is happening right. If they are bored, then so is God. You can brainwash a kid to believe a theology, but you cannot brainwash them enough to enjoy God. We try to learn from our children. We listen to them, because they are continually saying prophetic things. There is really no age difference in the Kingdom. All of us will live for millions of years, so why is it difficult to learn from someone who is just 25 years younger than us? Everyone plays an integral part. We do not view the children as tag-a-longs. Every itinerate minister you see throughout history burned their family out because they could not find ways to engage the entire family in the ministry.

Mike: Yeah, I was that a lot with visiting ministers growing up in Assemblies of God churches. I even sometimes wonder how my emerging public-speaker friends do it. Any practical tips on keeping your family and your ministry?

John: I turn down many conferences and ministry opportunities in order to pace my schedule for the family. For us, family is a priority over ministry. In fact, I really don’t give much of a rip about “building ministry” in general anyway. I just stay whacked up, and somehow I get invitations to speak. If I cared about building a ministry empire, I would sure do things a lot differently and tone things down a lot more. I don’t care about making things palatable, I just want to experience the Lord and help others to do so.

Mike: Alrighty John. Tomorrow we get to talk about all that whacked-out druggie anointing that’s ticking so many people off!

Originally posted on May 31, 2008.