I grew up attending lots and lots of charismaticky church services. By the time I was 8 years old I was used to sitting around with coloring books in hotel all-purpose rooms while grown-ups whooped and hollered under fluorescent lighting during church services. They spoke in tongues, screamed at demons, fell down on the floor, shook, wept, roared, and ran in circles around the building.
On into my teens, I was accustomed to these sorts of manifestations of the faith, yet knew that a church service such as what I've described was the sort of place that would utterly alienate most of my friends. Eventually, even I felt alienated.
It's not that I didn't believe God was present in the midst of all of the ruckus-y parts of charismatic church life. I think God is present everywhere and moves through a multitude of cultural expressions. I believe God can be found in the seemingly foolish, the seemingly unwise. I often found God in the midst of the ruckus, and sometimes I was part of that ruckus. Most importantly, I believed that what mattered most was the content and meaning, not necessarily the form.
But sometimes the ruckus had little discernible meaning behind it. Charismatic culture was often a little too much like Jane Austen's Mrs. Bennett (a la the A&E version of Pride and Predjudice). Mrs. Bennett's family loved her and were loyal, but there was no reasoning with her hysteria. Her children scrambled desperately to cover over the shame of their mother's rudeness, impolitic judgments, and her almost theatrical episodes of "nerves."
This week I went to a conference with a line-up of speakers from all over the world. I was excited to hear one in particular, who always, in my estimation demonstrates great intellect coupled with great faith. But the other speakers, who I had not heard of nor heard speak before, were quite different, and shockingly so. For no discernible good reason, one of them began screaming a prayer that lasted 15 minutes and made the Tiny look quite nervous. While the speaker screamed, he encouraged others to do likewise. Some people in the room seemed excited by all this commotion, energized even. But I just felt tired. There were other instances like this at the conference, too tedious to detail at length. As I backed away slowly from the room full of shouting pastors and other church leaders, I realized how little tolerance I have for Mrs. Bennett these days. I don't want to sit at her bedside and make sense of her hysteria. I don't want to play audience to her drama or find myself in the situation of having to explain or defend her at all. She makes everything simply too complicated.
But I feel a as if I've experienced a death--the death of a very distant great-aunt. Old Aunt Bennet, who I haven't visited in so very long, has passed on from the accumulated eras of my life. And I bid her adieu with a heart full of small regrets. I was not successful at making her make sense. Or of making sense of her for myself.