My Spiritual Widening


The past few weeks have been an experience of spiritual widening. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and the more I read other perspectives and talk with others about their perspectives I cannot look at the perspective I grew up with the same way; which has been good. Of course people have suggested to me that I need to understand the foundation I grew up with before I venture off other places, so I went and bought Foundations of Pentecostal Theology and I’m halfway through. However, the more I read, the more amusing it seems to me this idea of a Pentecostal Jesus.

While at a denominational convention in Florida I met a girl who told everyone she grew up in Tennessee and has been living in Oregon for two years. Everyone was surprised because her background wasn’t evident in her voice. People asked her “why don’t you have an accent then?” She responded by saying (from memory) “It’s because I’ve lived in Oregon for so long. I lost my accent; but it still comes out when I get angry, exhausted, excited or sassy.” We actually witnessed it come out when people started making redneck jokes and she started defending her state.

Hours later, I kept thinking about how odd it was that everyone was making comments about how she lost her accent or that she didn’t have one; when in fact what she actually did was change her accent. She didn’t lose her accent and start speaking the correct way. She traded her Tennessee accent for an Oregon one, after being exposed to it so often.

I’m starting to think denominations, doctrinal and theological splits and even belief systems are a lot like accents. You can witness a person grow up Catholic and move to a Pentecostal belief system, or a Baptist move to a Catholic belief system and there’s this odd mindset of “Now I believe the right way” or “Now I’m worshipping and serving God the right way.” Even people who grew up in those communities could encourage the newcomers with similar suggestions.

But what if they didn’t switch from a wrong to a right belief system, but what they actually did is traded an old one for a new one after finding a better fit in this new context? And a pride that claims “this is finally the right way of doing things after all these years” must be careful, because we’ve all witnessed that no matter how ‘evolved’ you think you are, the beliefs you grew up with will come out whenever you get angry, exhausted, excited or sassy. When the pressure is on, what you thought you had given up and escaped will come back to remind you that the Truth isn’t so simple.

I grew up knowing near to nothing about Catholicism except for what I saw in movies and heard in jokes. So a week ago I decided to go to the Catholic Church a block from my house for Confession. I was tremendously nervous at first, but my experience in that booth was life changing. The priest I spoke to was one of the most gracious and genuine voices I had ever encountered. He encouraged me to pray for my enemies, and he reminded me that God’s love and grace is constantly pouring out on me; even when I sin. After the priest gave me more wisdom, I left that church convinced that there is freedom in breaking out of contexts to experience God in other contexts.

And so the day after that I took a one-time visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church. In brief, this religion believes there is no Hell and that all religious texts are sacred and relevant. This religion that has been around since the 60’s is filled with people from all religious backgrounds, gathered together to listen to each other’s perspectives, and join together to solve social justice issues. This very wide view of beliefs is widely far away from the context I grew up in so it caught my attention. I wanted to see what these people were like.

I enjoyed the service I was a part of and I felt more welcomed and accepted than I had felt in a long time.

What really got to me though was a moment during a hymn where I looked around and thought about all the things I’ve heard Christians say about Hell. Certain groups of Christians will say “If you don’t believe Jesus is the only way, then you are going to Hell,” and even some to more specifically say “All Universalists are going to Hell.” I looked at the faces of those genuine-hearted individuals and wondered “If those certain Christian groups are right about who goes to Hell, then the 100+ people around me are going to Hell.” It was definitely the first time I had ever sat in a church service thinking of the possibility that everyone in the service could possibly be in Hell after all this.

It broke my heart.

I know God’s practice of justice is so much higher than my understanding of justice and frankly, I’m okay to leave it up to God with however he wants to deal judgment. But lately I’ve felt convicted of confining orthodoxy. Orthodoxy comes from the greek word orthos, which means correct, and doxa, which means thinking. And lately I’ve been imagining God laughing at what we may claim as correct thinking.

A few months ago I heard Jack Hayford, a very well known Pentecostal minister speak. He told us that he no longer considers himself Pentecostal with a capital ‘P’, but rather considers himself pentecostal, with a lowercase ‘p’. He talked about how much wrong has been done under the label of Pentecostal and he cannot condone all that has been done under that label. However, the answer to things like this is to not throw away our labels, but to reclaim them for what they had originally stood for. And I can relate to that. I can happily get down with being pentecostal with a lowercase ‘p’.

Right now I’m just in a place where I am open to whatever Jesus is doing in this world and open to whatever he wants me to do next in fulfilling the duty he has created me for, no matter the context. God is bigger than labels, doctrines, belief systems, theology, and denominations. And I ask that you all pray for me during this spiritual widening that God is bringing me through and that I become more and more like the disciple of Jesus I was created to be.