Note to Self: Dare to Offend.
I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a while now but haven’t been able to muster the where with all. Reason being, the subject matter is somewhat touchy, to say the least. Yea, I am going to draw attention to something that has been the source of much satire within secular media – something that has served to provide onlookers with the kind of ammunition that furthers secular societies negative notions about Christianity. But what’s more, it’s a subject that divides many fellow Christians, pitting them against one another in an effort to boast allegiance to “walking in the fullness of the spirit”. Yes folks, I’m talking about gesticulation. And I mean this quite literally. Allow me to paint a picture…
You arrive at church one Sunday morning – expecting and hungry for what the Lord has to offer. You are open to however the spirit may choose to manifest. There will be weeping, praises, a prophetic word perhaps. And oh, isn’t that lovely…a middle aged woman dancing with a ribbon as an expressive/interpretive form of art-worship. Some pray in another tongue. You are even aware of the balcony geriatrics, which in their own attempts of expressive worship, wave a flag to the soothing rhythms of praise music. Yes, you’ve seen it all. Almost.
You arrive at Church on a different Sunday. Good golly Miss Molly, today the spirit is a-moving. The presence of God is thick and warm like a soothing blanket – you are enveloped. People are being ‘touched’, many of the above manifestations are well under way. You go with it – waiting, expecting. But it seems things are going another direction this Sunday, you sense an undercurrent of physical control slipping away. You notice a woman not far from where you stand who seems to be rocking…perhaps timing her movements to the sounds of the music. No. It seems her movements have crossed the threshold of coordination into the realm of electrocution. She seems to jerk and lurch beyond her control. You notice another, making his way down the isle in a manner similar to the wibbel-wobble of a newly mobile toddler, with a head that bobbles like a novelty car accessory – grinning, laughing, and cackling. People are falling to the floor, writhing; it appears one manifestation feeds another until long last the vast majority of the church is in an uproar. Total loss of bodily control is what you seem to be witnessing. Fire throwing, FIRE! It is contagious. There is yelling! Madness…MADNESS I TELL YOU! The only thing missing is a wildly zealous man dancing naked – just like David. You anxiously, with trembling, wait your turn for spiritual manifestations of this kind to take over. But you feel…nothing.
Maybe you know what I am talking about. If not, read on for entertainment but I am not trying to get into any theological debates from all this. Rather, I am curious. Coming from a believer, I have witnessed the power of God and seen many manifestations of the spirit at work. The ultimate purpose in this: to bring glory to God. But I have always wondered about the things that I have described above. I’ve wanted to understand it, even experience it for myself. The truth is, I never have. I have never gesticulated…dangit. I have never had the privilege of engaging in a wibbel-wobble precession down the church isle – onlookers yearning for my supreme spirituality. Because of this, I questioned my own faith – my own power in Christ.
This is a sad truth for many Christians I know out there. Even worse, there is a brand of Christianity preaching that without manifestations such as these, you are missing something. I’ve seen and sensed this in many churches. Its almost as though it is a special club –The Gesticulation Club. Onlookers yearn (in secret of course) for the day they too will gesticulate. The camaraderie demonstrated between those that do have the privilege of over the top manifestation is not extended to many confused, and sometimes frightened onlookers. Comments such as, “don’t miss out”, and, “the spirit is here so get some”, in reference to those that don’t seem to be tapping in, breeds insecurity.
I once attended a conference for a national prayer house. Incidences like the one I described are not uncommon for this group. At this particular meeting there was a complete and total uproar at the front of the stage. People seemed to be out of their mind, unable to stand, laughing uncontrollably and falling all over each other. Mass prayer for one another resulted in the spiritual slaying of many attendees. Bodies were strewn all over the floor as many appeared to be “drunk with the spirit”. I made my way to the front, expectant once again, for my turn. But of course, nothing happened. I felt someone touch my shoulder and for a split second I thought it was one of the fire throwers coming to slay me. It wasn’t.
I turned to find a very pretty Korean girl with a sad, eager look upon her face, this punctuated by the many tears streaming uncontrollably. Ironically, the first words out of her mouth to me were, “are you Korean?” You see, Koreans seek out other Koreans – we are elitist in our Koreanism. That’s beside the point. I knew why she asked this, she was trying to establish some sort of connection with me for what she really wanted to ask. I confirmed her suspicions regarding my origins. Her next words are what have stuck with me and been the source of much of my pursuit of spiritual understanding as of late. “How do you know what you are feeling is real?” she asked. I couldn’t answer her question. She broke down, crying, almost begging me for some consolation. She explained that she had prayed and prayed for years to experience what was taking place all around us. She wept and clung to me for some sort of revelation, ultimately yearning for her own “experience”. “I don’t understand why God doesn’t hear me…I try and try and I just cant feel what they feel”, she sobbed. I had no answers for her. I just hugged her.
Minutes later I was swept away to come to the aid of a friend that seemed to be losing control over some attendees she was chaperoning. I found myself occupied with this activity for 30 minutes or so but continued to think about the girl. I was finally able to break free and found my way back to her where she was in the arms of one of the ministry team members. I was relieved. They could provide her with the answers I was not able to give her. I watched and listened from behind as she explained her dilemma to the leader. She was embraced as the leader prepared to set her worries at ease. “Sweetheart…you are never going to be able to feel God until you forgive yourself”. I felt the blood leave my face. I was immediately filled with anger. I watched the girl fake a nod of understanding, all the while knowing that this did not provide her with any productive revelation. It wasn’t relevant. What it provided her with was more doubt.
This, ultimately, is why I question ‘gesticulation’ as a whole within the church. The underlying theme, in many cases, is that you aren’t experiencing the fullness of God without it. Even worse, the idea that you are harboring some sort of unforgiveness or sin, blocking you from the experience of it, is utter garbage when measured against the message of Grace. Oh yeah, isn’t Grace the predominant theme in the entire Christian walk? I once had a pastor tell me that God would not hear my prayers if there was sin in my life. I guess I’m screwed then. I guess we’re all screwed. Unless of course you can show me the person without sin. He’s probably off somewhere looking for top-notch stones.
I don’t think God works that way. He freely gives all spiritual gifts and experiences. Whatever those might look like, gesticulation or not, I don’t believe it is right for the church to leverage these things as indicators to how “right with God” you are. It’s heresy-hogwash. Yea, I said it. I’ve accepted that not everyone receives from God in the same way. Who am I to compare? I need to get my affirmation from God, not from “The Checklist to Total Spiritual Enlightenment” assigned by the Church. Besides, if I want to have a really daring spiritual experience with God, I can run down the street to the reptile zoo, grab a couple rattlesnakes, find a chapel up in the Smokies, and have faith that God, even in utter stupidity, will protect my ridiculous ass.