How I learned to speak in tongues, and then resolved to never do it again. Part 2 of [3!]

Part I here

The days passed and the months came. Those experiences had taken a spiritual toll on me and I began to withdraw myself from Church functions and other ecclesial events. I had become a youth leader at the Church I was attending. Whereas initially I had been  outwardly enthusiastic and committed, inside my mind was roiling. I began to grow non-committal and distant. I was the one guy who didn’t speak in tongues. I was the one guy who couldn’t get it together. I was singled out by the Lord as unworthy of his gift and unworthy to communicate with him in this manner. Hell, I probably wasn’t even saved. The impact that had on me was devastating, and it meant I had to live a lie for a long time.

During Church services we usually had people come up and give prophetic messages. They would say “Thus says the Lord our God…..” and then proceed to give a message in tongues. Sometimes we would leave it at that and the pastor would thank them and we would continue as normal. Other times he would tell us that God told him that someone here had the interpretation, and the service would grind to a halt until someone spoke it.  Oftentimes I thought I had the interpretation. I was taught that after someone gives a word, if you clear your mind and focus on the words, that a thought would pop into your head. That thoughts was almost always the interpretation, and that we should stand and give it. I had spiritual things mulling around in my head during those times, and one time I ventured a guess. I stood up and said [approximately] “Thus says the Lord, I love my people and I am pleased with their worship.” And then I sat down as fast as I could. The Pastor stared at me from across the room, and then said “That was good, but that was not the message that the Lord wanted to give us. Anybody else?”

I sat there with my ears red and my face burning, stewing in my own shame. After a few minutes one of the women elders in the Church, our go-to interpreter, stood up and said [approximately] “Thus says the Lord, I am coming to do a new thing. I am coming like a flood to wash away your impurities, so long as you walk in the new things. You cannot put new wine in old wine skins, and you can’t put old patches on a new shirt. So come to be and give me your hearts, humble yourselves and seek my face, and I will heal your land and bring prosperity.”

I was mortified that I had gotten the message wrong. Later during my midweek discipleship time with the pastor he told me that I was acting in the flesh when I stood up, because it didn’t make sense that someone who couldn’t speak in tongues could interpret those tongues, as only “spiritual could interpret spiritual.” I never ventured an interpretation again.

Then one day during Friday night youth group something happened. March of 2004., It was my practice that however long the youth service lasted, I would arrive early and pray for a corresponding length of time.  During the prayers I felt troubled and uneasy. Agitated and mentally wandering. Probably the best description would be “angst”. My heart felt like it would overflow and burst with angst and recreancy. The service began and I sat there, leaning with my back against the wall, listening to a few praise songs, then watching and brooding as the worship leader began to lead a song in tongues.  Disappointment and disillusionment welled up and broke the dam. Even my worship was defective. Deficient. Incomplete. Inadequate. Flawed. The hollow ache finally overcame me and I wept. Weeping and sobbing out of sheer frustration and futility. One of my friends came and put his hand on my shoulder, probably surmising that I was having an encounter with God, when the exact opposite was true. It was an awful, tortuous experience.

Then, in one last ditch effort, I bit my tongue as hard as I could, and blurted out something, anything.  In my mind it was my final effort to speak in tongues. Sheer desperation. I was tired of crying. tired of trying little speaking in tongue tricks. Tired of trying to make my mouth and lips do things they wouldn’t do. Tired of trying to force the issue. Tired of the constant awareness of inadequacy. So here it was- my final offering upon the altar of God’s  faithlessness and indifference.

Out it came.

I was saying the words “God forgive me, God forgive me” over and over again, and I could think myself saying them, but I heard other words come out of my mouth. It wasn’t English or a language that I knew, but something altogether different.  It bubbled forth and spilled out of me. It sounded like “Sundaya-kasho-run-daya sho-ko-tototo”. Even all this time later I can still repeat those words and feel the familiarity wash over me. I gasped. The music was blaring from the front and I could feel the fuzzy reverb bouncing inside my chest. I was hot and sweaty and exhausted,  but all of a sudden I felt alive. Given over to reckless abandon and joy. I stopped speaking, waited a few seconds, then tried to say something again. I tried to say “Is this for real?” but all I could say, in my state of exhilaration and rapturous wonder  was “shandya-ra-so-tototo-shun-da” .

OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod

To be continued…

Great Matt Chandler Quote

“If you ultimately long to be holy, hope to be holy, hate the sin in your life, and are struggling to get there but keep falling short, and you’re in this kind of weird cycle where you kind of run to God for a season, then you run away to clean yourself up, then you run back to God, then you kind of run away when you screw up, and then you run back… If you have yourself in that cycle, I’m telling you, you’re walking in a fear-based religion that does not quite understand that God has already decreed you as holy and blameless. He has, in his adopting work, decreed to the universe that you are his and he delights in you, is proud of you, loves you, and cherishes you. You are a co-heir with Christ of all he has.” Matt Chandler

A brief thought-excercise regarding pastrixes [female pastors]

In I Timothy, Paul tells us why he wrote what he wrote in this particular epistle. The entire book is a narrative that connects and ties in across all 4 chapters, and near the end He says. “I am writing you these instructions so that,  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” That’s the context and that’s important. Paul was not writing about how people ought to conduct themselves in their homes, or in their jobs, or in institutes of higher learning. Rather his concern was in creating parameters and theological fences that would safeguard the pillar and foundation of the truth- the Church. He was giving Timothy certain specific instructions and teachings that he, Paul, currently had in effect in the Churches that he oversaw and wanted his young charge to continue in likewise. Paul had planted the Church there years ago and had spent three years ministering to it and growing it. Now with Timothy as the evangelist and charged with her safekeeping, Paul taught Timothy what he must teach and point out to the people- things that he had taught elsewhere and in other Churches.

Let’s look at the list of teachings and ask ourselves three questions for each one. 1]  Is this how people should conduct themselves in the house of God? 2] Which of these conducts are cultural constructs and merely existed for this particular church for a very short period of time [a couple months, decades, years] , and are no longer applicable today. 3] What evidence do we see in the text that any of these are cultural constructs and should only be taken as such?

1. “I urge,then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

2. “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

 3. “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

4. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

5. “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”

 6. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”

7. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”

8. “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

9. “In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.”

10. “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.”

11. “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacon.”

12. “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”

13. “A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Later on, Paul exhort Timothy to “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” What things? What things are Timothy to command and teach?  The instructions of how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household. What does that include? Are we to suppose that it includes everything Paul said there EXCEPT for the one teaching and command that Paul roots in nature itself and the creative order? Even a cursory examination shows this is untenable. Paul says that Elders ought to be husbands of one wife. Is that a cultural construct only for a short time? We are told that overseers are to be faithful to their wives. Was that just a cultural thing “for them”? No. We don’t see any artificial breaks in his instructions that somehow vindicate or validate this position, but rather we see a seamless, purposeful instruction.

Paul appealed to the creative order only once in all of those 4 chapters. Are we supposed to believe that the one time Paul appeals to nature and creation itself as part of the basis for his argument is the one time that it’s only a fleeting cultural wisp of a suggestion, but all the other commands not rooted in nature and the creative order are to last for time immemorial regardless of time and culture? Paul tells Timothy that “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters,you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” Point out what things? What truths of the faith which are good teaching? Things like men should pray and lift up holy hands without anger, women should dress modestly, deacons should not indulge in much wine, and women should not teach or assume authority over a man in Church. The truths of the faith and the good teachings were the instructions he had been given.

So I ask again, of the thirteen things listed there, look at each one individually and ask yourselves ” 1]  Is this how people should conduct themselves in the house of God? 2] Which of these conducts are cultural constructs and merely existed for this particular church for a very short period of time [a couple months, decades, years] , and are no longer applicable today. 3] What evidence do we see in the text that any of these are cultural constructs and should only be taken as such?

I’m convinced from the text that the answer is “Yes, none and none” and I would welcome any dialogue to the contrary.

How I learned to speak in tongues, and then resolved to never do it again

I remember being at one youth conference when I was in my teens where the speaker was encouraging us to speak in tongues and telling us how important it was. He spoke of  how it would radically change our prayer life, our sin life, and our personal walk with God. At the time I was dealing with some pretty heady stuff and I had been taught a lot about this gift and there was nothing I wanted more than to receive this.

For the last few months I had been having a lot of spiritual teaching regarding this. In fact my pastor devoted hours working with us and teaching those who hadn’t received the gift yet some techniques to start speaking in tongues. He told us that first we had to clear our minds of any thoughts, that because our minds wouldn’t understand what we are doing, and would want to war against and question what our mouth was doing, and so it was important not to overthink it, or think it at all. Then he told us some methods that would help get us going, and used the analogy that it was like starting a car on a cold day. Asking to speak in tongues was like turning the key, and all you needed was a little kick to help the engine turn over and get it to start roaring.  These were some of his suggestions.

1 If you know a foreign language, start speaking that and ask God to transform it into a different one on the go. 2. Repeat the words “shoulda-bought-a-honda-couldove-bought-a-honda. or “shabbada-shabbada shaka-whaoh” over and over again. This will train your mouth and your tongue to lose control and get used to making strange sounds. 3. Pick a phrase from the scriptures and say it over and over again, as fast as you can, until the words become unintelligible  in your mouth. When you can’t say it anymore faster take a leap of faith and say the first things that come to your mind-oftentimes this will be your new tongues 4. Start making intercession with groaning that can’t be uttered. Start to groan and moan while curled up in a ball on the ground, from deep within your chest, and visualize your sounds transforming into words. 5. Read Bible verses but take out the vowels from what you’re reading,  and try to pronounce them all the while asking God to give you the gift- this oftentimes acts like a kickstart 6. Hold your hands over your ears so that you can’t hear yourself speaking, and start saying words and making sounds as the spirit leads, and then have a friend come over and listen. The reason you are plugging your ears is because as you are getting disappointed with the English words that are coming out of your mouth and then losing faith, which will kill it.  If you do start speaking in tongues, your friends will be able to hear it and confirm it for you.

I spent months practicing these things, trying to get my mouth to turn over, but to no avail. I especially tried the groaning one, where I would crawl into my prayer closet and start to heave as I pushed my hands against my chest, growling and moaning and making sounds that I didn’t know I could make. I was warbling by tongues and lips in between guttural gasps in an effort to make something happen. Anything. But to no avail. Consequently I had become hopelessly disappointed. I had gone to the altar on a weekly basis for prayer, my cheeks wet with tears as I sobbed and wept and asked God why everyone around me could do it, but I couldn’t. Didn’t he love me enough to help me speak in tongues? I had been told that it was one of the main proofs of salvation, and my heart was becoming a ball of confusion and distress. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have enough faith. I didn’t repent enough. I didn’t tithe enough. All these things rocked my little ship of faith. And then this conference happened.

It had been two days of manic worship music, ultimate frisbee, and sleep deprivation. A man with a bald head and a beard appeared on stage and said that he was going to slay us all in the spirit, and when we awoke we would have the gift of tongues. The room was hot and sweaty and the stench of stale body air was everywhere. Under blue and pink lights he approached us and had all thirty of us line up around stage and starting left from right, he would put his hands on people and almost throw them to the ground. Thankfully there were adults behind us who would catch us as we fall, to ensure that the impact of throwing a body gone limp would not crack our skulls on the floor.  “SHANDALA-HUNDARA” he screamed as he picked us off one by one. Boom! Boom! Boom! Bodies were hitting the floor as if being cut down in a swath. I could hear some of the girls who had gone first starting to rise and stir as sounds of giggles filled the room.

Finally he came to me. I couldn’t breathe with anticipation. Finally it was going to happen. I knew it was. Oh. My. God.  This was going to be amazing. All I could think about was the coveted tongues. I wanted it so bad, and the knowledge that I would go under and come up a new man was exquisite. He gripped my head with his hands. I braced my soul.  He blew a rush of air and spittle in my face and then  yelled “Spirit be released in Jesus’ name!”

But I did not fall as almost every other had. No- instead I felt none of the impartation that I had hoped for, that I had built myself up for. I wanted my knees to go weak. I wanted my legs to buckle. I wanted my mind to be assaulted by a hundred million senses and to come up for air with new words and a heavenly language and the powerful rapture of being so close to God that we shared a secret language that only we knew. Instead my legs remained strong. I did not bend or bow. Instead, despite being nearly hurled towards the carpet, my instincts kicked in and I twisted my body in such a way that I was  able to catch myself on the front row chairs as I reeled back.

The speaker, content with seeing me displaced, went back to the center and compelled the praise band up to keep on playing while my friends and strangers laid with their backs on the floor. Their hands were raised slightly at their side and facing heaven, weeping and laughing . I could hear the sound of garbled voices while I sat there. Heads in my knees. Begging God’s forgiveness for being such a disappointment to him.

To be continued…

Matt Chandler Quote

“I continually want to lay before you that really in that moment where you blow it, you have this really beautiful opportunity to marvel at the gospel. When your heart goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your mind goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your external actions go to a place you know is forbidden, you have this opportunity to just marvel at the gospel. Just marvel at it. Marvel that you didn’t surprise God, like God didn’t see that one coming. You have this chance to just slow down and rest in, “He calls me holy. He calls me blameless. He calls me spotless. Even in this he delights in me.” Matt Chandler

“I identify as a vaguely butch, vaguely femme, male-bodied anarcho-queerion”

I’m on a bit of a kick reading gay literature and queer theory as of late [ mostly for a project I'm working on for this blog] but through my readings I wound up on genderfork. Genderfork is a website which serves as a safe haven of support for people who don’t self-identify in the typical male/female, gay/ straight paradigms. Its motto is “beauty in ambiguity” and the community posts short profiles of themselves and say what label if any they identify with and what sort of third-party pronouns they like to be addressed by.

One person said “I identify as… “Genderqueer, Androgynous, Boi, Gender-Fluid” another said ” Masculine-Feminine Switch, Dyke-leaning pansexual girlfag.” One said “Ambiguous Gender Ninja.” and another described themselves as  “Transgender, Two-Spirit, Polysexual, BiDyke.” One said “”Gender-bending gender-Awesome” and others gave the shorthanded  “Gay,” “Soft Butch”,  “Queer” “Cis-gender,”, etc.  One person said ” I identify as a vaguely butch vaguely femme male-bodied anarcho-queerion.” Lastly a “they” named Crispin said that “I identify as a Schrödinger’s cat of gender, I never know what I am until I try to observe it. One day I’ll observe and be a straight man, five minutes later I may find myself to be an asexual androgene, or a genderqueer woman, or none of the above.”

Its been an interesting time of introspection to develop a fully-orbed response to this. Because here’s the thing- there are Christians who will read something like that and be at a complete loss. In their state of revulsion and sanctimonious piety they’ll hurl epitaphs at these ambiguous ones and dump their bodies into hell themselves if given half a chance. Others in their ignorance will fight and argue using strawmen and throwing philosophical sophistry bombs while raging about the damage they are doing to society, while still others will present rude, unsophisticated, damningly stupid biblical arguments which serve as little more than to kindle the fire of resentment and recoil. All of which is unfortunate and is a blight to our faith, because we have so much more to offer than that. We have beautiful, wonderful, exhilarating and redemptive things to say- so let’s not lose our opportunity.

We live in a pluralistic, post-modern society, where created and contradictory self-identification is not seen as bad or confused, but completely legitimate. In a way queerfork can be thought of what happens when Jacque Derridas intermingles with the critical theories of  Eve Sedwick. It’s gender deconstruction and reconstruction absent the societal norms which we have traditionally understood and navigated. For all practical purposes we have discarded the laws of non-contradiction so that we can be whatever we want to be, whenever we want to be, and it doesn’t matter if they overlap or bump up besides each other or are at odds with each other in any way. Its a tribute to our post-modernism; a pomo-sexual revolution, and the whole time we are being told that far from being confused, those with this mentality are free, clear- headed thinkers. They have attained a higher level of consciousness than we have and have become unshackled and unburdened from heteronormative ways of thinking.

Has a failure to polarize sexuality into distinct camps done damage to society? Not in the way that is commonly understood.  Fluid, borderless and “create your own label” sexual identities is the natural progression for a society that “loves the world and the things of the world.” So its not damaging society as much as it is reflecting society and changing societal norms. Its not causing a rift in our societal evolution so much as it is our societal evolution with the challenge not to stop it but to navigate through it and recognize it for what it is.

So what is our response? Our responses are manifold. We don’t laugh at or mock people who are dressed like this or look this way. We don’t make jokes out of it or use the occasion to demonstrate our own sin. We are the first persons to engage them and love them through friendship and relationship. We stand up for them and offer them protection from all verbal, emotional, and physical violence. We never for a minute regard their socio-sexual expressions as sin without being bruised by the weight of our own. We step in and repel any ignorant misconception, misstatements or fallacies regarding anyone expressing themselves on whatever end of the sexual matrix they feel they are on. And lastly once all of that is done, we never lose sight of the core of our convictions as Christian believers, and we verbalize with compassion the good news that Jesus is sovereign over all gender and sexuality. This is the reality that he has in his wisdom and glory created it for a specific purpose and function, which we proclaim the truth in conjunction with the gospel, and never apart from it.

What is the truth? The truth is that the Bible addresses human sexuality from a holistic perspective of God’s intention and design. In contrast to both pagan sex rituals and our modern obsession with sex, the Bible places sex within the total context of human nature, happiness, and holiness. Taken out of this context, sexual anarchy reigns as sex is set loose to be an end in itself.

Jesus created human beings as male and female, both in His own image [Mark 10]. Thus, gender is not a mere biological accident or social construction. The contrast and complementarity between the man and the woman reveal that gender is part of the goodness of Jesus’ creation. Modern efforts to redefine or redesign gender are directly contrary to the Bible’s affirmation of maleness and femaleness as proper distinctions. God’s glory is seen in the maleness of the man and the femaleness of the woman. This pattern of distinction is affirmed and enforced by liturgical orders and restrictions on dress, hair length, etc. Any effort to confuse or deny gender differences is expressly forbidden and opposed by Scripture, especially as seen in Old Testament legal codes.

As image bearers of God- made in the image of male and female, we don’t see a plurality of options or purposes . We don’t see a “he made them male-ish” and “female-ish” but rather two distinct and yet complementary groups with complimentary qualities and characteristics, so that the woman in union with the man would be “one flesh.” There are rare times when these marks are mixed or obscured, but such exceptions are few and they reinforce the norm. As a result, men and women’s gender identities are grounded in and, to an extent, limited by the permanent details of their sexed bodies. Jesus himself has very specific ideas about what is male and female and how that ought to be expressed sexually and through gender roles. [Man is infused with maleness" and Female is designated as woman-ness, which must by necessity be different from man and maleness]. Everything that is contrary to that, no matter how much it may be genuinely felt, biologically anchored, or sociologically accepted, is to be rejected and recognized as the ruthless embodiment of sin-scrapped rebellion that it is.

But praise God that Christ died for every sin- heterosexual, homosexual, and everything invented by the human mind that could possibly lie in between. There is grace and forgiveness for everyone who repents and puts their faith and hope in Christ. Our heart of stone is removed, and we are given a heart of flesh to fuel our new nature, which abides in Christ. No longer are we slaves to sin and to our former nature, but we are free to love and worship him and experience true joy apart from the shallow fleetingness that is “happiness”. Through him we get to become his friends, sons and daughters, no longer under the threat of his wrath, but free and forgiven in his love. That’s the template we work from.

[And note. There are rarely any silver bullets when sin is concerned. Having ones sexual orientation inclined towards the same sex as a believer  is a weighty, weighty burden. In light of this, I would suggest that the biblical command for anyone who is struggling with same sex attraction or sexual dysphoria has two prerogatives. The first is to take this to Christ in prayer, asking that God would redeem their sexuality so that Christ might help them become “reoriented,”so that they would be counted in the “and such were some of you” category in 1 Corinthians 6. If the Lord in his sovereign mercy does not make this a reality, and that feeling of attraction to the same sex, or that feeling of attraction to the opposite sex from perspective of being a different sex, or that feeling grotesque displacement from your physical body does not go away, then living a life of celibacy is the final call, all the while praying for the first. It is a painful cross to bear. It is lonely and frustrating and at times bleak. It is a bloody war; a vicious and heartbreaking battle. But in the whole process God will be slowly refining you in the slow burn of sanctification, and his pleasures and promises are better.]

To the ” Masculine-Feminine switch, Dyke-leaning pansexual girlfag” such notions will probably be regarded as horrific and scary as hell and an attack on their being and nature. [Note, I would regard blurring of the line and failing to polarize sexuality ultimately as the true ferocious, deviant, and mephistophelian attack on women, but that specifically is a different argument] In a very real way it is. All we can do though is approach each person as calmly and loving as we can. Not as a project, but so that we can genuinely like who they are as people. Not as self-righteous, but from a posture and position of constantly being bombarded with our own sins and inadequacies and the price that had to be paid for them on the cross.  That’s what we need to communicate and what we need  as Christians to start being the driving force for our forays into the world. Let us be unmoving and unyielding in our convictions while being extravagant and immoderate in our joy and affection for each others souls.