Friday, June 5, 2009

Disillusionment - Reillusionment

I really liked this painting for two reasons. For one, it is titled Disillusionment, which is the topic for this post. But also, the artist encourages people to share it (and buy the prints which you can find via the title link).

I keep saying that I want to start taking more of my own photos to illustrate my posts, but, I really don't have a good camera right now.

I wanted to talk about Christian disillusionment . . . and is there a blam . . . or a cure?

I start with a verse from Proverbs 13;

12a Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

There are days when I wish I was still naïve. There was a time in my life when I believed everything. I believed that there was a great chasm that separated the good guys from the bad guys . . . and I was a good guy. I believed that all spiritual (meaning strong evangelical) people were good to the bone and had pure motives in all their interactions with me. There was a time when I believed that my own actions were from great purity.

There was a time when I believed that God controlled every tiny event in my life. If my pencil rolled off my desk, God did it for a special reason just for me. Maybe it was because when I bent over to pick it up, a mirco-meteor would fly over my head just missing me. God did it for a reason. He saved my life!

There was a time when a Christian leader would tell me to jump and on the way back down I would shout, “Thank you sir.” I knew that Christian leaders loved me more than their own life. Or at least I hoped.

There was a time that I believed in an utopian Christian world here on earth. On the other side the non-Christian world, in great contrast, was evil to the core.

There was a time when I believed that I was among the few that had true doctrinal dogma. I was thankful that God had shown me the way, bringing me to the right teachers, the right books . . . and just giving me the sense to always find the perfect truth.

But this was a long time ago. I, like many post-evangelicals, became terminally disillusioned when we were slapped in the face with brute reality. It was then that I discovered that my prince (not talking about Jesus but referring to the prince in the painting above) was really just a skeleton

My question, is there a cure? Are we marked forever? Is there a place for us anywhere?

I think I bring this up at this time from this issue that I perpetually deal with . . . church. My wife, in her wisdom, has said, “Mike, it really doesn’t matter which church we go to, you will not find that perfect church you’re always looking for.”

Some days I am content to live with this great unease. It is the same unease of Hebrews chapter 11, here the so-called heroes of the faith, who lived with expectations . . . but not realizations. I do have a great hope for the new earth and being a new person someday.

But on other days, I feel discouraged. I am the perpetually square peg in a world of round holes.

I really enjoy IMonk’s blog. I was reading his posting today about the church conference in N.C. I hear about Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill church, which he pastors. It sounds great . . . and it’s only an hour from me. I couldn’t attend there, but I could visit. However, would I find contentment in his church? I fear that I would not.

My fear may not be justified. But I will close this part of the post with a story. It was when I was trying hard to re-find the church after a horrible 3 years of depression and confusion (after returning from a failed mission experience).

I heard about one church in our community that seemed out of the evangelical mold. I was leading a class at the public library in Marquette, Michigan, which I called, “Eastern vs Western concepts of spirituality.” It was my feeble attempts at reaching the un-churched with the truth about Christianity. It came out of the fruits of my own personal study.

My own personal church, save our pastor, thought I was nuts because they had no clue why I would want to talk to New-age people and why I would want to talk about philosophy rather than throwing verses at them.

Two Christian guys (the only Christians in the class) approached me and invited me to their church. They described it as a “thinking” church.

I took my family with great expectations that I had found a home church. My previous church (even though it wasn’t charismatic) had a large group of people who wanted to import the Toronto Blessing.” If you don’t know anything about that, look it up. It is bizarre.

When I arrived at the new church (a Christian Reformed) the first thing I noticed was that the guy who led the singing, kept doing little talks between songs. He shared that he is a Ham Radio operator and he is in contact with Christians around the world. He had just heard the night before that Jesus had returned and was in India, raising people from the dead. There was excitement in the church.

I was discouraged. I left the building and took the family out to eat at Ponderosa Steak House. As we went through the Sunday buffet, I notice a group from the church right behind us. It was a well-dressed, attractive lady who was about 40 and two men, rough-looking (tattoos and beards). We smiled and said hello to each other.

I sat down at a long table with my wife and five kids. The threesome, from the church, sat down at the table right behind me. The lady introduced herself and the two men (friends and housemates of hers). She welcomed me to her church.

I turned around and started eating. Behind me, I heard one of the men praying loudly, first in normal English, the in tongues . . . I suppose.

In a moment, as I had a piece of steak in my mouth, she tapped me on the shoulder. “Bruce here has a question.”

I smiled and turned around (my family was oblivious to this whole conversations as they were enjoying their great food).

“Do you know the Lord?”

Me: (being a little surprised) “Uh . . . certainly.”

Bruce: “I noticed that you didn’t pray over your food.”

Me: “Well, sometimes we do. My family started eating while I was introducing myself to you . . . so then it was too late.”

“It’s good to always put God first. It’s also good to be the leader of your family.”

(feeling really angry by now) “Fine.” I turn back around and try to eat.

The lady taps me again. “Bruce here has a lot of gifts . . . he has God’s anointment.”

Me: “So?”

Lady: “So . . . he is talking to you and you should listen to him.”

Bruce: “Do you have the Holy Spirit?”

Me: (rolling my eyes) “Yes I have the Holy Spirit.” Then I turn back around.

Bruce walks over to my chair and speaks with his eyes rolled back in his head and with his hand on the top of my head. “God’s spirit says to my spirit that you are without God . . . that your heart is dark and blocking the spirit . . . Satan release this man . . ,”

I jumped up and ran out to the car. I was so damned depressed and I felt like the entire Christian world was a bunch of freaking lunatics.

I’ve been involved with a couple of churches since then. Certainly I’ve found much better experiences. I find an occasional person, like Lincoln, at my Minnesota church whom I can really relate to. I feel like I am with a group of like-minded misfits when I go the US LAbri conference once a year. But most of the time . . . I feel like the square peg in a round-hole world.

I have the feeling (and I don’t think this is founded) that if I even went to the Mars Hill church, I would be greatly disappointed. Someone would walk up to me and try and tell me something that Gold told them to say to me . . . right out of the blue.

Is this the way it must be for the rest of my life? Do I just withdraw and become a freelance Christian? I don’t know. But I will keep praying that I would find someone here on our little island who’s a Christian but a square one. There are plenty of opportunities to come to church here and pretend that I am still innocent . . . but not a church, which I know of, were I can go and be real.


Anonymous said...

Mars Hill...
for starters.

I hate to depress you, though.

Hey, have you tried anything OUTside of the evangelical bubble? I was shocked to find that a little Episcopal church in my area was the "home" I'd been wishing I could find for a long time. I've heard others say similar things about some of the more mainline sometimes-liberal-leaning denominations.

Of course no place is perfect, but there ARE places where you can love Jesus and still be allowed to THINK. I know that if I was still in an evangelical environment regularly, well... I guess I think it would be hard to hold onto my sanity. Let's face it. Some of us just don't fit that world. We just don't.

I loved the picture. Wow. What a fantastic artist.

I wrote a post yesterday that is very similar to this one in a lot of ways, particularly with the naive "I used to believe..." parts, so I smiled when I saw you had done the same. :)

MJ said...

I have to read all the Mars Hill stuff. Maybe my fears are justified.

After I did a series of postings about the "Lonely Christian Man" syndrome, someone sent me the web site of a Christian men's group (Samson Society). I went to it and signed up. Then the local (20 miles away) branch kept trying to contact me. I never responded just because sooner or later I know that there would be a catch. Someone would eventually start trying to tell me what God wanted ME to do.

A wise single (female) friend use to tell me (each time I tried to set her up on a date), "It's much easier to stay out (of a relationship) than to get out of one. I'm happy the way I am."

It would have been much easier if I had never gotten involved with my present church . . . than try to get out of it now.

Speaking of churches, if I had the choice I would try out either the mainline Presbyterian or a Lutheran one. I was warned to avoid the Presbyterian one when we first arrived . . . why? Because the pastor is a woman. But now that I have lived here 6 years, that church seems to have a lot going for it. I've visited it once.

pennyyak said...

A university website on church movements at

Found it through various connections to "sword" movement. Anyway, of interest, is that they put MLM's in a parachurch category (you would have to see the reasons they state). But it might help to explain why these are so popular among Christians.

Anyway, I feel for you. Being single, I was free to visit bunches of churches, but I know it would be difficult to pull your family this way and that too much. However, adventuresinmercy's idea, attending a liturgical and/or mainline church (I'm not sure if all would fall into both categories well), might indeed be something to investigate. Imonk does goes Anglican about once a month, I think.

Tom S. said...

Although Driscoll and Mars Hill have much to be commended for - they truly are reaching the unchurched in a very post-Christian city, he is one of the leading pastors of what Christianity Today has called, "The Young, the Restless, and the Reformed," or what others have called neo-reformed or neo-puritan. As you once were certain that you were "among the few that had true doctrinal dogma," Driscoll and Mars hill are quite certain in their five-point Calvinist beliefs including an unequivicol complementarian viewpoint in regards to the role of women.

My guess from what I've read of your blog, you would be quite frustrated with such certitude in issues that have been debated for centuries. Well, at least I would! As I've gotten older, I've become far less dogmatic on issues which the Scriptures are far from dogmatic, though, like you, I would consider myself quite orthodox in regards to Christianity from a historical viewpoint.

MJ said...

Pennyyak, Certainly that is interesting, MLM as a religious movement. Something really wrong here. I adventuresinmercy had mentioned Bill Gothard on her blog. I have a friend who is in "Christian media" and she told me that Bill Gothard had a spin off in a "natural supplement" to help the physical body. These products would be sold via MLM within churches. Where's Jesus with a whip when you need Him!

MJ said...

Tom, Thanks for your comments. I think we do evolve in our thinking and sometimes the reality of our thinking has moved further than we realize. What I'm trying to say, is that when we moved to our island six years ago, I wanted a five-point Calvinist church . . . but I didn't realize that even that dogma was something of my past.

There has to be some humility about our limitations to figure everything out. That's my position now.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Me too. I am totally allergic to ANY church or group that has everything all neatly figured out. Because what that means is that LIFE isn't allowed (because life isn't neat, and it sure as hell isn't all figured out).

Now, if I could only go back and UNteach those Bible studies and articles I wrote during the years that I had it all figured out...

*wincing grin*


Anonymous said...

Certainly that is interesting, MLM as a religious movement. -- MJ

What do you think Bill Bright's idea of "Multiplying Ministry" in all those Campus Crusade meetings is? It's Amway with Jesus instead of soap!

This article over at the same site as "Christians and Conspiracy Theories" describes The First Church of MLM. I have observed that Born-Again Christians seem prone to both MLM pyramid schemes and Conspiracy Theories, and a LOT of MLM pyramid schemes use the trappings of revival meetings.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

That is so true. Same paradigm, different product.

Trevor Morgan said...

I was pretty surprised when this post-evangelical ended up in a rural, greying, Anglican church (with a female vicar to boot), and this was after having pretty much stopped any kind of church attendence for more than a year.

I'd be the first to admit that the Anglican church has a huge pile of problems facing it, but it certainly does have its strengths too: specifically the Liturgy and the Eucharist.

This latter I've noticed being increasingly downplayed in evangelical circles, but I'm becoming convinced that a sermon is not an acceptible sacramental substitute for the Eucharist, despite the central role that preaching has taken in the evangelical world.

Anonymous said...

Heh. I've ended up there too (Episcopal/Anglican). Never would have thought. NEVER.

And I totally agree on the Eucharist vs. The Sermon. Wow. The focus is off the pastor and is back where it should be. I love it. I love it. I love it.

Tom S. said...

I'm actively involved in an evangelical church, but I've been dropping in on a Lutheran church that has a Saturday evening service. I love, as some of the others have mentioned, the liturgy and the place of the Eucharist in the service.

Became lost when the discussion turned to MLM. I looked on the Univ. of VA website, but still was unsure of what this part of the discussion was referring to.

Brian said...

I've often said to my wife that it might be easier to just accept the standard church party-line, go along with what our "leaders" say, smile and be happy, don't question, etc.... But its just not in my nature to do that. Anymore, at least.

Do you think some of us have a bent towards being the malcontent? And perhaps we stifle that until we break free of a system(the Church of Christ, for me) that forces us into a certain mold? Which then only makes it that much harder to commit to what we perceive as just another "system". Just talking out loud here. I don't have any answers.

I don't have a great desire to be a "freelance" Christian. But neither do I want to have to fake it to have any sort of "community" with others. I'm getting to the point where I think there is no decent solution.

nofairytaleendingforme said...

Dude,I just wanna say I'm so glad there are other people in the world who feel this way.

I'm writing about it in my blog too
if you're interested. I call myself a post-Christian as in what comes after evangelical Christianity.

Justin Kane said...

Google "theology of glory versus theology of the cross" or "Heidelberg Disputation." You and others may find this distinction helpful in your search.

Peace in Christ