Freedom is a church plant of the Highland Church of Christ. And while Churches of Christ have tended to be pretty unemotional and undemonstrative, due to our historically impoverished theology of the Holy Spirit, worship and life at Freedom are distinctively charismatic.
Worship at Freedom is full-bodied. Hands are raised and people sway and dance in the aisles. Once, a sort of Holy Ghost conga line broke out as worshipers formed a line and danced around the sanctuary. (I stayed in my seat and just gave people high fives as they passed me.) At Freedom we lay hands on in prayer. We anoint with oil. Praise veils are waved. We pray to cast out demons. We relish in personal testimonies of God's work amongst us. At Freedom we expect miracles.
Things happen at Freedom that are just hard to describe. Darrell, one of the elders at Freedom, and I have a joke about how when stuff happens at Freedom we just have no words to describe it to those back at Highland. We say to each other, "How could we possibly describe this to people at Highland?" Because there is no describing it. Or if you did describe it it would sound crazy or incomprehensible. You just have to be there. I never want to miss Freedom as I'm afraid I'll miss something.
At Freedom we are not Pentecostal, we don't speak in tongues, but we are very charismatic.
Needless to say, this has been a huge culture shock for me. Born and raised in the Churches of Christ the spirituality of Freedom was foreign and at the beginning I often felt uncomfortable. Theologically, I didn't know how to process what was going on. Holy Ghost conga lines left me a bit flummoxed.
And to be honest, I still struggle with my inhibitions at Freedom. I still feel self-conscious to the point where I've never raised my hands in worship. I sway. I clap. But I don't raise my hands. Not sure why. Some of it is how I've been raised. Some of it is embarrassment. Some of it is my excessive rationality. Some of it is my fear of losing a critical distance where I can "discern the spirits." Someone needs to keep their wits about them, right? If everyone is drunk on the Spirit don't we need someone to be the designated driver? And some of it, I'm sure, is my sin, my holding something back, my wanting to keep or control something and to not let it go.
And yet, I've never been more spiritually alive than when I'm at Freedom. Spiritually speaking, outside of my bible study at the prison, Freedom has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Though I'm still inhibited and doubt-filled, I love the charismatic worship and spirituality at Freedom. Freedom has filled me with the Holy Spirit. I'd even say that Freedom has saved my faith.
And so I've been trying, over the last few years, to make theological connections between my "liberal" and existentially-oriented faith with the charismatic genius of Freedom. There is a charism--a spiritual gift, a location of grace--in the spirituality and worship at Freedom that I want to welcome into my life, faith and theology.
Well, it has already affected me and I'm trying make sense of it all.
If you're regular blog reader you've already seen the effects of this theological collision--a progressive, doubting Christian worshipping with charismatics. It came out in my "On Warfare and Weakness" series (see the sidebar) when I tried to make connections between spiritual warfare and progressive theology which generally eschews belief in literal angels and demons and finds the whole "spiritual warfare" notion to be spooky and superstitious. Who would have ever attempted such a ridiculous project? Well, someone like me. Someone who struggles believing in literal demons but who worships with people who do and who pray over others asking God to cast out demons. I'm trying to reconcile and make sense of these things in my own life. I'm not a professional theologian. I don't write about theology to publish in academic journals or go to academic theology conferences. This blog isn't an academic outlet. This blog (and the three books that flowed out of the blog) is my spiritual memoir, the theological pebbles I've collected along the way as I try to make sense of my own life and faith.
So, how do I make sense of my life with Freedom?
Well, to help me with all this I finally read James Smith's book Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy. In this book James (I think his friends call him Jamie) describes what he calls a "pentecostal worldview." James then goes on to unpack the features of this worldview, describing the logic and genius of Pentecostal and charismatic worship and practice. According to James, Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality and worship provide a way of knowing and living in the world, a way of knowing and living that functions as a critique to a lot within Christianity and in the secular world.
I've found James' analysis to be very helpful in helping me make sense of my experiences at Freedom. And while I'm more theologically "liberal" than James, his philosophical analysis of Pentecostal spirituality and worship has helped me uncover and articulate what I've found to be so profound and life-giving in my life with Freedom.
And so, in the next six posts I'd like to share from Thinking in Tongues, making connections between James' analysis and my life as a progressive, inhibited and skeptical Christian sharing life with charismatic brothers and sisters, and how these brothers and sisters--with their Holy Ghost conga lines--have become my teachers and mentors in the faith.