Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grace and Authentic Community in Fundamentalism

Prior to moving to California, I owned very little[1], but I took even less with me in the move. All of my cds made the move, though[2]. Music has, as long as I can remember, always been important to me. My portable, Sony cd player and my cd case bursting at the seams were given high priority when packing my car. Unfortunately, most of those cds lasted less than a month after I got to California.

About three weeks after my arrival, I bowed my knee to King Jesus, submitting myself to His authority and rule. My understanding of Christianity was very immature, and informed almost solely by my super-strict fundamentalist upbringing. In that paradigm, I believed that Jesus didn’t want me to smoke weed, have piercings, or listen to rock music. I quickly smoked up my remaining weed, removed my piercings[3], and grudgingly threw away my music collection[4]. I still don’t believe that Jesus wants me to smoke weed, and my piercings, well, stupidity isn’t necessarily a sin. As far as my music, it’s annoying to pay money again for an album that I had already purchased once before.

I spent the next year trying to be a good Christian. Doing things like buying a pack of cigarettes, only to be “convicted” about halfway through the pack. After throwing away the offending pack, I would buy another pack, sometimes as soon as a couple of hours later. That year, I probably spent almost twice as much on cigarettes as I would’ve otherwise.

It was a tiring year and I failed miserably in my attempts to be a good Christian, but it was a year that the Holy Spirit used to begin to teach me that my sufficiency and hope is found in Jesus. Even though that year of trying to be a good Christian was difficult (and, to be honest, that year hasn’t ended nor will it end until my King returns), I’m thankful for it and what the Spirit taught me during the year.

Among the many things that the Holy Spirit taught me that year was the importance of living in community with a body of Believers. In fact, the Spirit had been using that Body of Believers to teach me this truth even before I moved. The previous summer, during a visit to San Francisco, I spent the week in the City, staying at the Fort Mason youth hostel. The weekend was spent with my brother and his family, which meant that I attended services at their church. After the evening service I played volleyball with the church members, and went to Denny’s afterwards with a group from the church. Well, flash forward to the following spring – I was miserable. Having recently had the intellectual rug for my atheism yanked out from under me, my life was in turmoil in ways that I hadn’t experienced since my days in the dorms at Bob Jones University. I was angry, bitter, and scared.

At one point, during early spring, I stood on a bridge and considered jumping off. (Let me be clear, I wasn’t suicidal; there is a difference between being suicidal and having suicidal thoughts[5].) As I thought about it, I considered my family’s reaction. I knew that they would be heartbroken, but I thought, “Their grief will be temporary. Grieving over my death won’t last as long as continually grieving for someone as broken as I am.” But, as I stated, I wasn’t suicidal; so I walked off that bridge, sat beside a tree, and sobbed. All I could think about was that small, fundamentalist church in Antioch, CA. I couldn’t remember the sermon; I couldn’t even remember who had preached, but I remembered the love that the members exhibited for each other and, unbelievably enough, for me. I wanted badly to be with those stuffy, strict Christians; it was under that tree that I decided to move to California.

The importance of living in community with Believers didn’t end there. After bowing my knee to King Jesus, I was confronted with the fact that it had become really difficult for me to go sleep if I wasn’t high. Several members of that legalistic church told me to call them if I couldn’t sleep. And I did. They laughed with me on the phone, and they prayed with me. But not once did they ever make me feel anything but loved and supported as I struggled to reconcile my past with my new life in Christ.

Throughout my year in California, I was constantly loved – generously loved. The members of that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church demonstrated to me over and over again John 13:35. The lessons that the Holy Spirit taught me using those fundies is worth whatever it has cost me to re-purchase music albums.

[1] I believed like Jack Kerouac that “if you own a rug, you own too much.”
[2] Not thinking it through, I gave my record player and all my records to a friend. To this day, I regret that incredible act of stupidity.
[3] Although that was to impress a girl. It took me over an hour to unscrew the ball on the hoop in my freshly pierced upper ear. The stupid thing was that she didn’t even notice.
[4] A few of them I sold at a used cd store. I figured Jesus didn’t want me to starve.
[5] I encourage you to study, if you haven’t already, the psychology behind suicide. It may come in helpful one day; you never know whom the Lord will bring into your life.