Exposing the revenge as a circumvention or limitation of God is the easier thing. With words or otherwise, there’s a tug of war until everyone, Jesus being the exception, discovers the human flesh governing their love. Reaching beyond that into the supernatural is a state and a place that I had not experienced until my twenties. Some people were loved by God, and some were not, in my church. In that light, Christian love extended to where the love met the glorious ends of God — usually “love” as a means to that other person’s salvation. There were brief moments of exposure to spiritual anything, but always in reference to somewhere else. A third world country, with a magician or a witch doctor. A youth leader, one who dropped in for a couple years, told us a story about a friend of his who used to be a satanist. It started as a mention in passing. The whole group of high school boys, myself vocally included, said, “Hold on, go back to the part about your friend.” The leader went on to explain that his friend had witnessed the power of the left hand path. Brad was trying to make the point that secular music was the devil’s tool in some way, but we were drawn info the story of the person — both the devil and secondarily, Brad’s friend. The fear, the fascination and curiosity all drew us in. As one of many “by the way’s” packed into that second hand glimpse, he mentioned that practitioners of all kinds referenced the Bible. He offered this is further proof of our religion and our scripture. Where, I wondered, was there any magic in the Bible? Were there some spells I was somehow missing? My theology aside, there was no “magic” of any kind in my religious experience until well into adulthood.
I didn’t witness a supernatural event in church, at all, ever, throughout my childhood. I could not understand why we prayed, really, when God never talked back. That wasn’t supernatural, that was just talking. The spiritual voice of God did not show up in church, not in my head, not to anyone else. There were conversations where people would talk about the rational, logical, and scriptural impossibility of hearing from God. “If God was to use his voice in your presence, you would die because he’s so holy.” In response, I used to ask, “Then how did people talk to Jesus?” There was a way around that rule, and the rule about whether God could be present around sin, or sinful people. To reconcile how Jesus, who was God, could be present with sinners and make his voice heard, we decided that God did not operate that way before or after. There was a temporary path for God’s involvement in the physical made for about thirty three years. I’m not saying that this was denominationally ordained, or that our church leaders advocated it. This was the workplace equivalent of watercooler conversation, some co workers standing around trying to discern the aloof boss who we could so rarely understand.
I was told ghost stories, for a laugh or a scare, by Christians and non-Christians. Both were understood to the high intellectuals who raised me that ghosts were outside of what was real, in the realm of the Easter Bunny and the Chupacabra. Religious types would say, the dead either go to heaven or hell. The others would say, we are nothing but carbon, nothing beyond scientifically measurable perception. There’s nothing beyond what can be perceived and then proven. As a boy, I noticed the parallels, the common logic between the church’s treatment of reality and my science class. They both sought and found ways to quantify everything big and small. It was all, sooner or later, a matter of figuring it out. God would eventually be figured out, as time went by, and with each passing year we were getting better at understanding scripture and God himself. On the opposite end, science was getting better at understanding the universe. Dolly, the first cloned mammal was born when I was in sixth grade. It was exciting to me, both the new theological and scientific discussions that came out of it. Though they never seemed to meet eye to eye, both science and religious types were having a similarly limited conversation. There were moral people, with a sense of “ought” and all shades of curiosity, in both realms. Who was Dolly? Was she a clone? Or was she an individual sheep unto herself? That is, insofar as an animal could express or possess identity. Even my twelve year old self felt, well before I could put into words, the similarities between science and religion — the vocabulary, the pursuit of the unknown, the appeal to authority, history, and experience by the powers in these parallel realms.
Being raised in a scientifically minded church, we were on the “cutting edge” of Creation science or what would eventually be called “Intelligent Design.” Either the earth was billions of years old or it was created to look like that by someone — the whole thing seemed, and still is pointlessly concerned with semantics. I didn’t get it, why it was so important, and why I couldn’t believe in Jesus while at the same time believing in evolution. Somewhere, Christians decided, it is written that humanity could not have evolved from another species, because of some specious understanding of “macroevolution.” That is, absurdly enough, because even though this distinction between “micro” and “macroevolution” does not exist in biology, it somehow exists in scripture. More to the point, the actual Creation event was an obviously supernatural event. Still, this God-person did something that was treated by my church in a sterile, mechanical way. Consecutive, twenty four hour days. God was railed into that particular method. My school, on the opposite end of creation science, was as sterile and arbitrary with their theory, but relegated the Creation event in Genesis to myth. There were literature classes, early on in high school, where we discussed how the greatest of literary minds would attempt to put into words the most beautiful of concepts. Love. Hate. Jealousy. They didn’t write down these things in order to contain or limit them, but to communicate them to others. The words weren’t the concepts themselves. Could it be that the writer of Genesis was doing his best to describe a supernatural event, performed by a supernatural being? How would Shakespeare have described the creation of the world? And would we, having read William’s poetic version, balk at a lesser writer’s attempt at grappling with God?
The means by which God created everything is secondary to God himself. Far distant in priority, probably not even the top ten, is the description of the method. That’s how much people should care about these details — don’t throw them out, just don’t tell people they’re going to hell if they misunderstand some poetry. The point being, then, God himself gets lost in the whole mix. Relegating the supernatural to “something else” creates an all or nothing view of the God-person. Further, it puts all spiritual matters into a safe, distant compartment. This compartmentalization stifles everything about Christianity, making this relationship so incredibly ineffectual both inside and outside the church. Prayer becomes a one way, cathartic task, and nothing more. I remember telling a young man named Keagan how, if one were to pray to God for a “six pack” of ab muscles, God would basically respond with common sense. Get in the gym five times a week, go on a healthy diet, and do a lot of cardiovascular exercise. Depending on where you start off, you’ll have some abs showing up in six months, maybe sooner or later than that. Keagan’s response to my suggestion was, “How could that be God? That’s just me getting in shape. And that’s just common sense.” My point to him was, that’s exactly what God does. He doesn’t live in this heavenly control room, throwing down lightning bolts or something. God doesn’t respond to prayer through instantaneous miracles every single time — he will show a way, working through the rules and the systems that are already in place. You’re praying for wealth? God will show you how to save money, then how to look for and pursue the right opportunities to earn money, and maybe after twenty or thirty years you will find that you worked your way to wealth. In the standard epicurean understanding of the world, that kind of logical resolution is “not God.” As if to say, God had nothing to do with that, it was only human effort. I suggest that God is entirely and completely working through that. It is totally spiritual, everything that happens. Natural or not. Logical or not. On the other side of it is a demand for the miraculous. Yes, God does do miracles, by the way. People will pray that God will deliver, sometimes in opposition to one’s efforts. Working with young people, they will sometimes request that God help them get to school on time, or make them study. God will answer that prayer, I insist, but he’s not going to take over your body and walk you to school against your will like some kind of robot. That kind of prayer basically comes out as, “God please force me now to do something I have chosen not to do.” The underlying spirit of it is, God works in this way but not the other way. God can’t work by common sense, or through medical science, and yet somehow he can kick in the door to my life and make me do what I won’t do for myself. People pray for God to make choices for them, and then they go ahead and make the other choice. So God is left with working in the tiny part of our lives that we can’t explain away. “Looks like it wasnt a miracle we needed, just antibiotics.” What might initially be described as a miracle — a phone call coming at the opportune, life-saving time — is reduced to a coincidence. To many, God can’t work that way either. The whole of science turns into this. Discovering the innards of atoms, narrowing down the science of gravity and such, mean God is relegated to a smaller and smaller part of the universe. He doesn’t get a say in how science works, apparently.
Bringing the two, material and spiritual, together, my life story becomes a series of supernatural events. I didn’t recognize the supernatural nature of the mundane — my birth, my conversion, the God-ordained relationships and the ever-present hand of God in my life — until much later. For a long time, these were only my things, with God uninvolved, nowhere to be seen. Now that I look back, I can see times where God was not given the opportunity to be heard. He was often at the back of the room, listening and waiting for someone to address their prayers to him. Other times, in my own prayer life, he was waiting for my heart to be still and my head to be clear so that he could get a word in edgewise. There were events that didn’t make sense, looking back, where I said something so out of character, so off color that there was a vulgar spirituality involved. It was obviously spiritual, but unrepeatable, nothing I could report in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. For anyone not paying attention, so much of these God moments look mundane — there’s no climactic music in the background telling the audience how to feel like some reality show. It was usually, nearly always, within the area of possible-but-not-likely. These moments were usually boring — not even that exciting to retell, unless someone had been tracking my life story in detail. And they didn’t have the flash and the fireworks of someone walking on water. I started seeing that it was God, as silly as it sounds, reminding me to grab my phone before I walk out the door.
I didn’t want to deal with the spirit as I broadened my church experience. I understand, even now, how chaotic it gets. How out of control God works — out of my control. Church services, meetings, relationships were hard enough without God speaking up and throwing everything upside down. The Spirit-filled types of congregations were all emotional, with their dancing and shaking. They didn’t value pastors like mine, with their divinity degrees and their extensive training. Those other types of churches were messy, and out of control, and they didn’t always get their theology consistent within itself. The spirits were scary, too, because people abused them — although, people abuse the intellectual work as well. Where there were active spirits, usually somewhere else, they could be God’s Spirit or they could be any other spirit. I remember, as a child, overhearing a conversation at Christian Supply, a Christian bookstore, where a woman claimed to “pray little Jesus’s into people.” These people would then, after she prayed Jesus into them, later have “Jesus babies,” or in other words their babies would be born spiritually Christian. Some amazingly stupid thing like that. This was on the level of voodoo, hocus pocus. At least my church life was safe from idiots speaking into the microphone. I didn’t know what to do with either side — the ineffective information-processing, rationalized religion, or the madness of raw spirituality.