It’s all so tangled. It’s the bordering on financial ruin, the taking ‘handouts’ from the state, but being ignored by the church. It’s a marriage flirting with collapse and being told not to discuss it.
It’s so hard to sort out what is human incompetence, personality differences, normal conflicts in relationships, and spiritual abuse, damaging Christian leadership, and messed up theology.
Here’s what I know.
When I was 27, experiencing 2 incredibly stressful events, the people I was in community with, had even started a church with, could sit for hours singing and praising and prophesying, but never asked me how I was doing.
They would drive 90 minutes to the nearest prayer room, where God showed up on schedule every Tuesday night. They would seek out God’s presence to soak, and preach the need for prayer and revival. We were exhorted to ‘drag people across the finish line’ because the end was soclose.
And meanwhile, I was dying.
The summer of 2009, I was done with church and Jesus.
If we are going to read through the book of Acts as a small church, spend weeks talking about community and God and being like the early church, and then use our spare time to sit around waiting for gold dust and believe gold teeth miraculously appeared in people’s mouths – either Luke was really vague, or I think something got misread there.
We had been with this group for 6.5 years. We had gone from newlyweds to a family with them and it was the closest thing to home we had in our new city. We couldn’t just leave; good Christians don’t do that. And that’s what people thought we were. So we gave it our best effort.
One friend tried to get us to stay. “I really think we’re on the verge of God doing something really great here. I’d hate to see you miss out.”
Oh that’s right. It’s about God, not us. It’s about God showing up, God performing on demand, about proving our devotion to this God who apparently doesn’t give a flying fuck if his followers are starving or broke or enslaved or victims of injustice, or any of the other ways in which humans are hurting.
No, let’s just sit around and pray 24-7 because that’s what will change the world.
If this is what following Jesus looks like, then I am so not following him.
It was a year before we finally left that church, and looking back, that was probably even more damaging. I spent that year stewing in my hurt and disillusionment and watching them all fall deeper in love with IHOP while I hated the god they worshipped more and more.
But isn’t this the logical outcome of phrases like ‘more of Jesus, less of me’? If Jesus is this intangible ‘feeling’, a presence in only certain places, and me is…..me and my junk – then of course it’s logical to spend as much time in the literal presence of God and ignore my literal humanity.
I can believe (not that the truth of it depends on my belief) that God speaks to people. I can’t be entirely dismissive of prophecy. Since, you know, there were prophets. (Also, Brueggemann has really redeemed what present day prophecy can look like.)
But when you tell me God has a standing appointment and it’s not optional for him? No. Sorry. I don’t buy it.
If the greatest laws are love God and love your neighbor, but what you are living for is this abstract, invisible presence, limited to specific times and locations with miracles and emotions the only proof – you aren’t actually loving people. How can spending hours ‘soaking’ actually help people?
It seemed like the passion for people like this was to enter the bubble where God exists and stay there as long as possible. And if you’re not in the bubble, then you don’t matter.
Their devotion to Jesus is admirable, and I’ve had some real encounters.
But a prophetic word isn’t going to save my marriage. Hours of singing aren’t going to help us with the ruinous aftermath of a crashed economy. I might feel God in a service. But if he doesn’t care, what’s the point?
If you find yourself saying that if someone is messy, it’s because they need an encounter with God, and if your theology implies the prophetic is proof of how close to God you are, but you are indifferent to the humanity around you – sorry, but your theology is seriously fucked.
It’s their blindness to reality, their obnoxiousness about the holy spirit, their insanity about the evidence of god, and the boxes they build around faith that makes me cringe and become nauseous whenever I hear about IHOP. (Which I’ve been hearing a lot about lately.)
The church we eventually left has gone even deeper. They are now their own _HOP, affiliated in some way. They take trips to Kansas City and send their kids to One Thing and The Call, they have internships and their own curriculum, teach harp and bowl music, and have vision casting and interceding for Israel nights.
Hours and hours a week are devoted to this, and I’m sure the eventual goal is a local 24-7 hub, and I just want to vomit or hit someone. It makes me think of a character from a Flannery O’Connor story.
Sarah Ruth sees a tattoo of a Byzantine Jesus, but says ‘It ain’t anybody I know’, and she hits her husband, who has the tattoo on his back, with a broom over and over, until welts are all over the face of Christ, welts all over the word made flesh.
It’s been 3 and a half years since we left, and I’m not sure if I’m Sarah Ruth, or Parker’s back.