Posts Tagged 'love'

Sunday Devotional: God is Love & Love is Real

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

“God is love and love is real.” – mewithoutYou

and so

could it be?

God is patient

God is kind

God does not envy

God does not boast

God is not proud

God is not rude

God is not self-seeking

God is not easily angered

God keeps no record of wrongs.

God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

I Corinthians 13 remixed

See also:

Kevin Beck on ‘Agapetheism’

Blessings, Not Just for Those Who Kneel

Faith. Hope. And Love. (A Syncroblog)

Syncroblogathon:

Jeff Goins – Faith, Hope, and Love in the 21st Century: A Manifesto?

John Sylvest – I’ve Already Got Truth, Beauty, & Goodness! Why Bother with Faith, Hope & Love?

Matt Snyder – Faith, Hope, and Love: Expressed in Simplicity

Jesse Medina – Faith, Hope, and Love in the 21st Century

Kiel Spelts – Faith, Hope and Live in the 21st Century

Taylor Philips – These Three Remain

– What do you have to say about faith, hope, & love? Syncroblog it, doggone it!

‘All Will Be Well’ – Polyanna Platitude or Responsible Mystical Theodicy?

I tend not to blog about large-scale disasters. It isn’t that I don’t care, but rather that there’s usually an excess of ‘care’ in the blogosphere around such times (in the form of words, words, words), and really, what else is there to say? I had nothing to say about the earthquake in Haiti besides this…until now.
Shaun King is an intriguing cat. He started this multi-ethnic Courageous Church in Atlanta about a year ago; is a student at Candler Divinity School at Emory…right after the Haiti earthquake he blasted to his social network, essentially “Let’s go to Haiti! Right now! Don’t wait for someone else…go!”
I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this seems like sage advice:

How Not To Help With Haiti: Don’t go to Haiti. It’s close to the US, it’s a disaster area, and we all want to help. However, it’s dangerous right now and they don’t need “extra hands”. The people who are currently useful are people with training in medicine and emergency response. If all you can contribute is unskilled labor, stay home. There is no shortage of unskilled labor in Haiti, and Haitians will be a lot more committed than you are to the rebuilding process. If you are a nurse or physician, especially with experience in trauma, and you want to volunteer, email Partners in Health – volunteer@pih.org – and offer your services. Or submit your details to International Medical Corps. They’ll take you if they can use you. Do not go to Haiti on your own, even if you are doctor. You’ll just add to the confusion, and you’ll be a burden to whoever ends up taking responsibility for your safety.

On the other hand, someone whom Shaun encouraged to go did, and he Tweeted this:

Setting out my SoapBox. About to step on it for a few tweets. 1st my opinions then quotes from leaders on the ground in Haiti –

ALL OF THE EXPERTS ARE DEAD WRONG…When the earthquake 1st hit, thousands of you immediately wanted to go and help BE the solution, be the hands & feet of God… But you were told by the experts NOT TO COME. You were told to wait until some magical time when things were much better…
The experts were wrong. Some probably meant well because they didn’t want you to get hurt or be in the way, but let me tell you what is missing in Haiti -passionate, hard-working, unskilled, loving, non-experts. They are in SHORT SUPPLY. I mean RARE.

Consequently, the MAJORITY of supplies are sitting unused & the teams of unskilled non-experts I am advising are regularly…9 days later, regularly the first people to have ever visited orphanages and disaster sites. They ALL tell me that we should have IGNORED the experts.

Let me tell you a story that will kill you: The caretaker of the Notre Dame orphanage told @SpenceNix She heard dozens of dying babies trapped in the rubble scream & cry for 5 whole days before they all died. 55 babies died. Nobody ever came….

One more tweet from me then I want to type you a quote from our team on the ground…It is NOT TOO LATE. If you feel CALLED to go to Haiti GO. GO! GOOOO! It is tough work, but GO! I will help you. Next tweets are direct from our teams on the ground:

“The growing feeling here in Haiti is that the BIG ORGS & government don’t really care. It’s like they are here b/c the world is focused here. If they care, little passion is ever displayed. Seems like a job or obligation. Even my sponsoring organization [name of large Christian org] pretty much just set up a tent, gave us a vest and stickers and said go. No support. No passion. No questions. Large amounts of supplies are just sitting in boxes everywhere. I have seen them there for days while hurting people & doctors need them. This has opened my eyes wider to the wastefulness of large charities and benefit of small, nimble, passionate groups..”

“I have been in Haiti for 6 days and I still have not seen one large Red Cross presence. I honestly think social media has saved more lives since the earthquake than all but 3-4 great organizations here now. Passion. Relationships. Technology has changed the game. We saved so many lives today and it was just us doing it bro.” <<<End of quote.

Shaun King: Thanks for listening.

No doubt the debate can still go on – properly-trained specialists vs. American can-do. But if you’re like me, the debate ended, was wholly sidetracked, by the story of those dying babies. The horror – the insanity. The sense of helplessness. I imagine – no, I know – that those who work in ‘care’ vocations (nurses, prison reform advocates, friends to the homeless) know this far more than me.

One such friend of mine mused, wisely yet perhaps despairingly,

Fragility and morality huh? Isn’t that part of our daily experience?

Indeed. And sometimes, we give and give and give – like poured-out drink offerings – and the gaping maw of humanity displays its thirst anew, unquenchable in every moment. When will the suffering end? Am I deluded to think that there’s meaning here?

Lately I’ve been meditating on the words of Julian of Norwich, a 30-year-old woman who lived during a time of unparalleled plague and persecution. She is famous for her ‘Showings of Divine Love‘ and her mystical encounters with Jesus. This excerpt summarizes her central insight well:

HUMAN SUFFERING

For Julian, Christ is both the symbol of human suffering and the sign of divine triumph over suffering. The meaning Julian derives from her first visitation is not that humans are destined to suffer (though we are), but more important that we have been given a sign through the Passion of Christ that we will ultimately triumph over the frailties of the flesh:

For [God] does not despise what he has made, nor does he disdain to serve us in the simplest natural functions of our body, for love of the soul which he created in his own likeness. For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin, and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the trunk, so are we, soul and body, clad and enclosed in the goodness of God. Yes, and more closely, for all these vanish and waste away; the goodness of God is always complete, and closer to us, beyond any comparison. (186)

But the philosophical problem still remains. If, as Julian insists, God resides in us and is “present in all things” (197), how can this goodness share divine space with the presence of evil? Julian states the difficulty of the case with characteristic directness:

Our Lord God . . . is at the center of everything, and he does everything. And I was certain that he does no sin; and here I was certain that sin is no deed, for in all this sin was not shown to me . . . . For a man regards some deeds as well done and some as evil, and our Lord does not regard them so, for everything which exists in nature is of God’s creation, so that everything which is done has the property of being God’s doing. (197-198).

Julian seems to imply here the heterodox view that sin has no reality whatsoever, the acts we label “evil” being merely products of our faulty perception. But a still, small voice within Julian is troubled by this explanation, this act of abolishing sin by linguistic fiat. Inspired both by humility and by curiosity, she presents an argument for the reality of sin from the human perspective:

It seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as he created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all would have been well. (224)

The answer she receives to this childlike query is enigmatic but reassuring: “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well” (225).

Julian, however, is not quite ready to let go her persistent questioning. After contemplating this reassurance, she again asks “with very great fear: Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?” (227) Again she receives a measure of condolence: “You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well . . . . Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness of joy” (232).

There’s more in this analysis, but here’s what this means to me.  In the past few years I’ve  either been involved with or been close to those involved with human trafficking eradication, ‘people who live outside’ (as my friend Hugh more humanely refers to ‘the homeless’) and the global ‘persecuted church.’ Even more recently, I’ve focused my professional energies and graduate studies to the gargantuan hydra that is our contemporary system of growing, preparing, delivering and eating food. All the greed, systemic evil, seemingly random and senseless acts of barbarism and tragedy can be tough to deal with, to say the least. Stories like the 55 babies dying in Haiti within earshot of people just too busy to do anything about it can be enough to knock the winds out of the sails of Mother Teresa, never mind the rest of us. For those of us who engage this kind of stuff on a regular basis, it can be despairing. We’re supposed to be the healers, the encouragers; where do we go when we need healing or encouraging? To our peer networks – the NGOs or churches or intentional communities that we serve and live with? As most readers of my blog likely know first-hand, they can be some of the most messed-up people in existence…they’re as bad off as you, if not worse! To God? The same God who, it is rumored, stands idly by and allows all these things to happen? Sometimes its easier to be an atheist in aid and social work – that’s one less unsolvable dilemma on your plate (“Why does a good God allow so much misery and suffering?”).

But yet…in the midst of the composted messiness of God, our communities, and ourselves, I’m discovering a deeper equilibrium in the universe, a deep sanity and ‘okay-ness’ that dances on the edge of communicability and wordlessness. It’s not unlike Julian’s divine communication –

All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well…Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness of joy.

It’s as though energy is neither created nor destroyed; nothing is ever truly lost – not a tear, not a laugh or bullet wound or orgasm…it’s all saved and cherished. It’s not that good and evil are illusions, but rather that they’re not the final word on what living is about – there is a deeper life that transcends and includes them both – tapping into this Life here and now (and not merely relegating it to the sweet by and by) is the key to our being healers today, what Burke and Taylor call ‘mystical responsibility.’ But – and this is crucial – the superstructure of the kosmos is Grace; heaven and earth to not rest squarely on our own backs and sweat equity. It all depends on us, yet none of it does. Everything is both at the doorposts of our hearts, and beyond our grasp like gripping a fistful of sand. We can relax – we have infinite momentum behind us. It is accomplished. All will be well.

Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood

Crescent and CrossUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard that last week an army psychologist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 people. You’ve probably also heard the inevitable discussion that follows senseless violent tragedy, focusing on the nearly-unanswerable question “Why?” From a ‘systems thinking’ point of view, there are many legitimate facets to put on the table, including mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, the general morale and collective mental state of troops involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and – yes – the influence of radicalized, fundamentalist Islam.

All well and necessary. But what happens when fundamentalist Christians – and their more respectable evangelical neighbors – ignore 3 of the 4 above factors and generalize the last one, painting all Muslims as a potential fifth column ‘sleeper cell’ in our midst? It isn’t pretty. I’ve been avoiding the typical watering holes for such ‘reasoning’ – Fox News, CBN, WorldNetDaily. I know better. But one place I’ve been unable to avoid seeing it is on my own Facebook network. In some cases dear friends making statements like “If three friends from my local [Christian] congregation were involved in shootings, I don’t know if you could claim that my religion is peaceful. Hmm.” What follows is some of my tentative, in-process response, to my friends and family members who are scared, and want to know how followers of Jesus should respond in the wake of this tragedy.

Where to begin? First off, I do agree that Major Hasan had some shady connections. Not only was he not investigated for those connections, but he was actually appointed by the Bush administration to be high up in Homeland Security if this source is to be believed! This is very odd, and needs to be investigated.

But I’ve gotta be honest with you: It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people compare the best of their faith with the worst in others’ faiths. Of course your truncated version of Christianity will come out smelling like a rose! But we cannot forget that we have a legacy of violence, terror, shame, and intimidation along with the worst of Islam. We too have ‘texts of terror’ in our sacred scriptures, and we do best to handle them with the utmost care so as not to let their volatility spill out into the fragility of our interconnected lives. How is caricaturing a faith held by a billion people worldwide loving our enemies? How is it going to show them the love of Christ?

Continue reading ‘Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood’

Micah Mayo: In Defense of the Spirit

The ‘Crowder conversation’ continue to invite reflection from many perspectives – including mine, but it shall have to wait (tomorrow, hopefully!). My fellow Raleigh house church communard shares his thoughts ‘In Defense of the Spirit.’ The past year has been a spiritual renaissance for him, Micah says, being exposed to solid biblical scholarship and emerging churches and like-hearted authors…

“I have all of these new, great, and powerful ideas floating around within me, but in this presentation of the Gospel of the Kingdom I can’t help but notice a gaping hole. Where is the Spirit? It isn’t as if these folks don’t believe in the Spirit, or that s/he/it (who knows?) is never mentioned, but it I only seem to find it in passing, or mentioned in such an abstracted context that there seems to be no method of approach or interaction with this very real facet, or hypostatsis of God. I’ve been to a couple of emerging churches and new monastic communities. I’ve enjoyed authentic people who love Jesus and are pursuing his Kingdom. I’ve admired the community, participated in group expressions of our experience(i.e. art projects), fed the hungry, taken communion and heard words of encouragement and good news. But still, I’ve wondered… where is the Spirit?”

>Continue reading ‘In Defense of the Spirit’…

Pentecost and the Way of the Shaman

Still no new post from me…sorry…I’m gearing up to go to DC this weekend, as I’ve been elected to take part in Bread for the World’s Hunger Justice Leaders Training, a great honor…but speaking of Spirit-filled, I was on a panel of judges for Jesus Manifesto’s Pentecost 2008 (in other words the Jewish/Church Feast Day, not the flavor of Christian spirituality, though the lines were intentionally blurred) writing contest, “Stepping Into The Wind.” Enjoy here our first-place winning piece, “Pentecost and the Way of the Shaman.”

Also: Jason Clark, a Vineyard pastor and Emergent Village guy in the UK, has just weighed in with astute thoughts on revival, Todd Bentley and John Crowder.

The sacred drum stays out of sight, behind skins and blankets until the old woman has need to travel. She lives among the reindeer herdsman of Northern Mongolia. Inside her oortz (a type of teepee), the Mongolian Shaman begins to beat her sacred drum, and chant. These are the vehicles of her travel as she enters a spirit realm on behalf of those who seek her help. Sometime during her spirit travels she enters a trance, the spirits enter her body, and the old woman dances like a child.

Read more on Jesus Manifesto.com… »

Crowder & Morrell Final: Sweet Mystical Communion

GodkaSo this is John Crowder and I’s final dialogue, for now at least. It’s here where we talk something near and dear to our hearts. It’s precisely here where I fear we’re going to alienate many of you dear readers. Why? Because if there’s one thing that most middle-of-the-road Christian moderates distrust more than ‘extreme’ charismatic experiences, it’s mysticism – Christian or otherwise. The word ‘mystic’ is heavily freighted for many people, synonymous with ‘heretical,’ ‘apostate,’ ‘unbiblical,’ etc.. To add insult to injury, John & I don’t spend even a second justifying our use of the term, or indeed explaining any of the terms, dates, movements, and spiritualities we discuss – it’s a kind of conversational machine-gun fire. This isn’t intentional; it’s simply an exchange where we hit the ground running, sharing the mystical lingua franca between us. I apologize in advance for this – ’cause there simply wouldn’t be space in this post if we backed up and defined everything…it’s a blog entry, not a dissertation! For this reason, I’ve tried to link to anything that might be unfamiliar territory – thank God for Wikipedia!

Mike: Thanks so much for your time here this past week, John. You’ve given me and my blog-readers much to digest. My final questions have to do with developmental-transformational growth in God – what Protestants typically call sanctification, what Catholic mystics call union with God, and what East Orthodox call theosis or divinization. Wesleyan and holiness preachers – who laid the seed-bed for Pentecostal theology and praxis – advocated what they called a ‘second work’ of ‘entire sanctification,’ known variously in those days as ‘Spirit baptism’ or ‘fire baptism.’ The charismatic and ‘third wave’ movements, as best as I can tell, hold onto a ‘Spirit baptism’ point but stress the continuing in-filling of Holy Spirit, moving from ‘glory to glory’ as it were in increasing supernatural experiences. I guess my first question for you here on this, our final post (for now!), is where do you see this present move of the Spirit you’re involved in going? Where is it heading?

John: I see full-blown transformation of every human paradigm of reality itself. A generation completely raptured in the overwhelming love of God. I don’t care about pioneering new theology, cultural movements or witty new ways of delivering the gospel. I want to love and to experience the love of God more. I think this is the corporate goal of the Holy Spirit. This is true mysticism.

Mike: The great mystical/contemplative writers of ages past talked in great detail about manifestations of the Spirit (they usually called them ‘consolations’), but they had a complex relationship with them: The mystics usually discouraged dwelling too much on the consolations, or trying to keep them coming. To give you a contemporary example, Contemplative Outreach cofounder Thomas Keating says:

“At this crucial period in one’s spiritual development, it is important to realize the sharp distinction between charismatic gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., and the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. According to Paul, the charismatic gifts (with the exception of tongues) are designed for the building up of the local community. They do not necessarily indicate that those who possess them are either holy or becoming holy through their exercise. If one is attached to them, they are an obstacle to genuine spiritual growth. For those who have received one or more of these gifts, this is clearly part of God’s plan for their sanctification and a cause for gratitude. But they must learn to exercise these gifts with detachment and not take pride in themselves because they happen to be the recipients of a special grace. Generally God provides sufficient external trials to take care of this human tendency. Prophets, healers, and administrators can greatly benefit from opposition, because it tends to free them from the fascination of their gifts and to keep them humble.

Paul himself emphasizes the distinction between charismatic gifts that are given to build up the body of Christ and the substantial gift of divine love. According to him, one possessing the charismatic gifts is still nothing unless one also possesses divine love (see I Cor. 13:1-3). Hence, the basic thrust of charismatic prayer and the exercise of the charismatic gifts should be ordered to the growth of faith, hope, and charity. To remain faithful to the clear invitation to divine union extended by God through the grace of baptism of the Spirit, one must not be diverted by secondary manifestations of spiritual development. Moreover, there is need for discernment with even the most genuine charismatic gifts. It is the duty of the community…to discern these gifts and to determine whether they spring from grace or from the natural energies of the unconscious. Those who possess them should willingly submit to this discernment for the good of the community Otherwise, the exercise of the gifts may be destructive of the common good rather than a means of building up the body of Christ.

Along with the charismatic gifts, which may be given to anyone without a corresponding level of personal spiritual development, so-called “mystical” phenomena, such as clairvoyance, locutions, visions, levitation, trance states, and many others, may accompany spiritual development as one accesses the divine emerging from the ontological unconscious. These also are of little significance compared to the graces of interior transformation set in motion by the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. The unusual and sometimes showy character of “mystical” phenomena makes them a hazard for immature mystics. It is difficult for even advanced persons to avoid taking a certain self-satisfaction in them.

The Charismatic Renewal needs spiritual guides who are thoroughly qualified through knowledge and personal experience of contemplative prayer to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental in the spiritual path. They should be able to recognize when someone is being called by God to interior silence and solitude and when someone is being called out of solitude into some particular ministry or service. People must be encouraged to follow the attraction to interior silence in prayer even if this means not attending prayer meetings for a time. This is especially necessary if, because of the duties of one’s state in life, one cannot attend prayer meetings and still have time to practice contemplative prayer. Periods of silence in the liturgy and during prayer meetings are essential for groups whose members are growing in prayer. To allow one another space in which to develop the contemplative dimension of the gospel is an integral part of commitment to a Christian community.” [Full piece here.]

It’s clear from your book The New Mystics that you value the Christian mystics. What do you make of their contemplative caution of the charisms?

John: We must remember also in scripture that Paul tells us to “lust” after the gifts. How can we do this, unless certain gifts and manifestations should be considered “extensions” of Christ in some way, rather than competitors for His affections? We think of these things in too linear a fashion, through a veil of modernistic hierarchy and competition. We’ve all heard this type of wet blanket statement: seek God’s face & not His hand. It’s been used to keep us from chasing miracles, manifestations, etc. The phrase sounds noble and holy, but it is very unscriptural. We need ALL of God: hands, feet, fingernails and even His serotonin gland. Otherwise we’re screwed. I love my wife’s face, but I’m also very thankful that she has hands as well. They are quite helpful. We’ve been told not to seek manifestations, but the apostles did so in Acts 4 (“Lord, stretch forth your hand to heal the sick and work wonders,” etc.). Cessationists tell us not to seek after signs and miracles, but the apostles did so, for a greater end, that God would be glorified.

Mike: So is there any line to be drawn between seeking the things of God and simply seeking God?

John: Is there some sort of subjective rubber ruler here? Or is it possible that we are splitting hairs that weren’t meant to be split? Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s Glory. 1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” If Jesus is a “manifestation” of God’s love, a “consolation” if you will, could one make the argument that all Christians are called to worship a manifestation of the unseen God, which happens to be God Himself?

The perceived need to clinically separate God from the experience itself is a two-dimensional, linear way of thinking. Since biblical times, trances have been marked by visions and spiritual encounters, as well as frenzied physical manifestations and miracles. The lines between everyday lifestyle and divine encounter are going to be blurred in these days. Manifestations, ecstasies, consolations – these are not just a form of prayer, but a comprehensive way of living. Dwelling in unbroken pleasure. Letting our days become a fragrant song where Heaven and Earth continually collide. We will not be counting beans and trying to figure out if we are enjoying the worship service too much. We will be overwhelmed. We must worship God to excess in body, soul and spirit. With ALL of our mind, heart, soul and strength.

Mike: I agree with you in principle, but…those YouTube videos of you and your friends still seem pretty weird!

PhysMysJohn: While ecstatic experience is biblically orthodox, it is far from tame or ordinary in its practical application. Ecstatics have always produced the most bizarre physical manifestations: falling over, fainting, shaking, trembling, uncontrollable laughter, running, shouting and convulsing. Not to mention the signs, wonders and miraculous phenomena. Such strange outward behavior has marked the lives of many great saints and prophets, past and present. And these wild ecstatic contortions have been evident in every great revival – at the birth of every mainstream denominational movement in church history. The inward working of God’s goodness tends to produce an uncontrollable wildfire when He takes the helm of clinical, religious sobriety – when He turns our water into wine.

Mike: I’ll drink to that!

John: God’s sheer goodness is so great that it is uncontainable. Maybe the “self control” God desires is for us to control the old dead, dry, boring, sober self – so that we can demonstrate His true happiness. This goes far deeper than a surface manifestation of laughter, shaking or bodily demonstration.

Mike: Do you think some of the worshippers at your meetings are faking it?

John: Are some manifestations feigned? Of course. In churches that are experiencing renewal, I often see people “fake” their joy in order to look spiritual – as if their laughter is a supernatural manifestation when it is not. This usually comes out of insecurity, as people seek to find their identity behind a particular manifestation. Of course, there is no need to over-analyze every laugh, twitch, crunch or yelp. We need to keep it real, but who am I to intervene into their communion with the Lord? Besides, I see people faking smiles and laughter in many mainline churches as well.

Mike: Ouch! But what about the peer pressure to conform to what your neighbors are doing – y’know, to look more spiritual?

John: There is no need to recreate a past experience, fake a manifestation or feign your happiness. But I don’t think this is a grievous sin that is going to ruin us all. Ultimately, God wants to give true joy that is thorough and lasting. Manifestations are valid, and I am a proponent for daily encounter. But truly encountering God should cause you to be changed. Don’t tell me you’ve seen an angel, but you still look like hell! When God really shows up, you are not just twitching to look spiritual in front of your friends. You are undone. One cannot stir up the soul with emotion, in order to gain a spiritual experience. But the crazy thing about the gospel is this: you are already having a spiritual experience! Whether you feel it or not, you are already united with Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places. As these spiritual realities impact your soul, there is no limit to the excess of emotions that are ignited.

Mike: So much of what you’re saying here an “old mystic” or contemplative could agree to. The main difference, I think, is that they’d say some of the most flamboyant emotional displays would last a season ‘till they were purged, leaving a more whole and balanced person in their aftermath. But you seem to see this as an ongoing, normative stage of theosis.

John: Physical manifestations of ecstasy have been termed “fits”, “enthusiasms”, “the jerks”, “convulsions” and many other names in various revivals. But the similar thread of losing control to the Spirit of God has always been present.

It is humorous to consider the writings of great 18th and 19th century revivalists and missionaries of the past, when they spoke of gathering together to be “refreshed” in the Holy Spirit. Ever wonder what that looked like? We’ve stereotyped so many of our forerunners as stiff-necked, starch-collared holy rollers. But many of them were complete Holy Ghost drunks. Ecstatic trances and manifestations of spiritual intoxication did not end with the days of Samuel, David and Elijah.

Mike: Humor some of my more skeptical readers. When has this happened with the safe reivivals? Y’know, the ones far enough away from us in the present that they’re okay to talk about, even among cessationist types?

John: The First Great Awakening is a classic example. In Jonathan Edwards’ meetings, people swooned and fell over and entered trances under the weighty hand of God.

Mike: Fire-baptized Calvinists? Get out of town!

John: Describing the revival of 1740-1742, Edwards notes, “It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy.” Remember, this guy is the founder of Princeton University. And the early Methodist meetings were deemed to be “more like a drunken rabble than the worshipers of God.”

Mike: Well then, it must have been that pernicious Arminian Methodist influence. : )

John: One of Edwards’ present-day disciples, John Piper, is known for his theology of Christian Hedonism. He purports that our enjoyment of God is the very essence of true worship. Are we to draw a line between our enjoyment of God and God Himself?

Mike: I can hear my Calvinist friends’ jaws hitting the floor that you’re invoking Edwards and even Piper in service of your genre of divine enjoyment. If you’re game, I will personally accompany you to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis to interrupt one of Mr. Piper’s sermons with blowback from a Holy Spirit Spliff. We’ll pray and see what happens to the Christian Hedonist himself. PiperCrazy

John: Consider this view: rather than pitting the manifestation against God (i.e. worship God vs. worship the experience), we must see the experiences as means of worshipping God, to which there is no limit. For in the experience, I am partaking in the pleasure of God – the very thing I was created for – to be interdependent upon Him, enjoying Him forever.

I will make another analogy: as a married man, I am not continually comparing the love I have for my wife to the love I have for God. My wife will never be an idol who threatens to steal my devotion to the Lord. This is because I understand that in loving my wife, this is somehow a mystical extension of my love for Christ. By caring for her, I am worshiping Him. In the same way, when I give a cold cup of water to the poorest of poor, I am also doing this to Christ. I am not worshiping the beggar, but I am worshiping Christ through the beggar. It is foolish to draw lines of competition between God and experience that were never intended to be dissected in such fashion.

Let me also say that manifestations can be quite “extreme” if not outright fanatical, yet still be divine in origin. The radical nature of the manifestation is not in itself a determining factor of its source. I have considered myself nearly on the brink of insanity at times when God swept over me for hours of uncontrollable drunken behavior, yet the corresponding fruit was altogether tremendous, miraculous and life changing. I am always filled with joy and expectancy in these encounters.

Mike: I am all for diversity in the ways we love, enjoy, and worship God. Like I said when we were discussing charis-missional last post, I think that one of the ways we can love God is by loving others. I have no problem adding ecstatic worship and divine manifestations to the mix. But back to the mystics: They argue for a kind of divine detachment, from both people and manifestations. They encourage Christians to hold people, manifestations and all things subordinate to the indwelling Trinity and our deepening communion with God. People never go away, of course – but manifestations are seen as a transitory stage leading to greater (even if more subtle) intimacy with God.

John: Is it possible that this type of activity (manifestations/consolations) is a valid form of dwelling on the Trinity? That in allowing God to sing through us – body, soul and spirit – in all this craziness, we are somehow practicing His presence? Forget the loud and crazy orthopraxy for a moment, in all its various forms – is God’s tangible presence apparent in the midst of it all, and if so, how would you know? Do some propose to conjecture, who have never actually tasted? I believe that the more we taste and practice His presence, the more we individuate from the consensus orthodoxy of society, and grow into what Kierkegaard called the true “religious” sphere of life (religious meaning truly “spiritual”). We stop swimming with the pack, and we start to make waves.

Mike: God’s tangible presence, tasting God for oneself, individuating from consensus orthodoxy to actualized religious life…I like it! I’ll buy it. But I have to keep going back to these pesky mystics, whom we both love. They usually warn folks not to get ‘stuck’ at the level of manifestation but press on to the level of fully recognized Union.

John: But did they always practice what they preached? Teresa of Avila was continuously in ecstasies with documented eye-witness accounts of her levitating in mid-ecstasy, along with her own numerous admissions of this stuff (read her Life ch. 18 and onward). She sure impacted mystical theology, and didn’t seem to ever tone it down. Joseph of Cupertino was whacked all the time, and often struck mute. Catherine of Sienna and Catherine Emmerich literally spent years of their life in ecstatic states, with wild manifestations happening continually. Your readers wouldn’t believe some of the supernatural things that happened to them. This happened not because they focused on manifestations, but because they contemplated Christ.

Teresa, a doctor of the church, also acknowledged that all the levels of manifestation overlapped (recollection, union, ecstasy, prayer of quiet, etc.), but she also stated that full-blown ecstasy, the highest level of mystical prayer, is actually where all these manifestations were \the craziest (ligature, inability to move, drunken stupor, levitations, etc.) She said that this was a level wherein the will almost ceased to function entirely because of the heavy pleasure of her inward raptures. I freely surrender my free will to the pleasures of Christ!

Others like John of the Cross and some of the darker mystics were absolutely depressed, so you have to take what they say about this with a big fat grain of salt. Anything that smacked of enjoyment was on the naughty list for them. You may note that we have coined a term “the new mystics” because we can now filter their theology through 500 years of rich, post-reformation grace theology. I am not into the morbid self-mortifications and false humility that many of the older mystics espoused, because it simply contradicts the finished works of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that only God can save us, and that He did so with one fantastic checkmate of love on the cross. If you want a dark night of the soul for the romance of it, then go for it. You’re not going to earn any extra points with God. Depression is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is. I choose the free gift of grace.

Mike: I think the ‘dark night’ might be a bit more complex than that. Since neither of us are even close to 40, I’ll refrain from commenting for at least a decade. But I agree that the Reformation had valuable contributions to Christian spirituality. Grace informs mysticism by making it less a striving to attain union with God, and more a letting go to consciously awaken to the union that was always there.

John: Yes, the mystics all had their seven-step programs of spiritual advancement. Call me a Calvinist [There he goes again! – ed.] (you’ll only find a few charismatic ones), but I’m of the opinion that there is a one-step program called conversion. I believe that grace has to be drunk straight. No additives. What if God wanted to blow the whole “stages” and “levels” and “Christian growth curve” theology right out of the water, and somehow made us all pure and holy and perfect and obtaining all of Heaven’s goodies through one simple event: the spilling of Christ’s blood? What if just maybe, this whole religious mortification issue was put to death in one fell swoop, when we died together with Christ (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20)? That would mean the craziest non-stop Holy Ghost party has just begun, and we’re all invited!

Many theologies have been built around an idea that manifestations are the lowest rung on the spirituality ladder. I just don’t see any scriptural support for it. Why would God take me from a fun experience to a boring one? I think this Christian journey is about getting progressively better, “from Glory to Glory.” You can try to mortify the soul, but it will never happen. Your best bet is to plug the soul’s desire for pleasure into socket it was created for. The only answer to counteract the pleasures of sin is not to kill yourself. The answer is to find a greater pleasure. He never gives us a lesser covenant in place of a better one. This is the whole “Galatian bewitchment” that Paul addressed. We think that after God gives us a treat, it is then up to us to suffer, work and earn our way through the rest of life. God would not grace us with consolations, just to bait us into a morbid, suffering-centered religion.

Mike: I think one of the blog commentors the other day said, helpfully, that boredom isn’t the ultimately enemy. And I’d beg to differ that silence and stillness is boring and a step down – it can be of course, but it all depends on one’s consent to God’s loving presence with you in the moment. I sit still, I center, I speak quietly in tongues – it’s kind of nice actually. But I digress…

Thank you again for all the time and energy you put into this dialogue. Hopefully we can do it again sometime. Since you’re like the only charismatic-oriented Christians I’m aware of who have a clue as to the mystics and their teachings, I guess I’m asking you what I’d like to ask the charismatic/prophetic movement on the whole: Do you see a day where the average ‘Spirit-filled Christian’ becomes a full contemplative in the classic sense? If not, what do you see?

John: Will everybody get this? I don’t know. This is Christianity 101. It’s just the gospel. The good news that God cracked open Heaven’s wine barrel for us. But for some reason, not everybody is thirsty. They just want to sit around, debate about the menu and scoff at the drunk guy in the corner.

Peace – Oinga Oinga Oinga!

John Crowder

And there you have it, folks. Your thoughts?

Note: If you’re just tuning in, this post is part of a series exploring new-pneumatology and emerging expressions of church. Here are the rest:

(Holy) Ghosts of Revivals Past

Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction?

What Is the Future of the Prophetic?

Guest Blog – John Crowder Speaks!

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

Crowder & Morrell: Kids & Cocaine Jesus?

Crowder & Morrell: Charismissional – What About The Poor?


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