Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stories - and how experience forms life and faith

Happy man with Bible he can readExperiences have a profound affect on our faith and spirituality, as they are rather hard to ignore. You have to either find a way to incorporate your experience into your faith so it makes sense, or you have to attempt to deny it or not think about it... or else it will change you. These are some of the things I have experienced. 

When I was in middle school in Indonesia, the daughter of one of my Dad's Indonesian co-workers was run over by a truck. Didien was young - maybe 8 or 10 years old? She went into a coma. The missions community raised the funds to transport the Didien to a decent hospital on another island, where she remained in a coma for weeks. Everyone thought she was going to die. Then we began receiving emails with some hope in them. One week the Didien's dad wrote to say that she'd begun responding to sound. The next week she'd begun to make noises. The next week he wrote to say she'd  opened her eyes and started looking around.

When Didien woke up she told her father that she'd been walking in a garden with Jesus. She said it was wonderful, but Jesus had touched her ears, and she could hear the sounds of her parents talking to her. Then he'd touched her mouth and told her to speak, and then He'd touched her eyes and told her to see and sent her back to her family. That was the story an 8 year old girl told. I've never forgotten it.

1st Kuman NT Box to sell
Map reading
When I was 17 my brother and I accompanied my best friend and her brother to the dedication of a newly published New Testament in the language of the people group that their parents had spent their lives working with. I'd spent several vacations there, but this time when our tiny plane landed we found the hillsides filled with throngs of villagers dancing and singing. Some had traveled for weeks to come and get a Bible. We sat at the front of the crowd and I watched while the first Bible was handed to the first baptized Christian in the area - an old, frail man. He wept and wept and wept and couldn't speak for the joy. That is the only such dedication that I've been to, but I hear stories from each dedication and each is similar - people weeping for joy over the words of God made accessible to them in their own culture and language.

When I was 16 I had a friend plagued by horrible fears and paranoia. Many believed it was demonic oppression and prayed for release. A year later, once my friend had seen a counselor and been put on medication, the fears were controlled.

When I was 20, one of my friends told me that she had emerged out of a deep depression after having had demons cast out of her. Six years later she told me that she no longer believed in God, and that she believed the exorcism experience had been created by emotional buildup, and that the positive effects of the experience were simply the product of believing she was healed and acting accordingly.

When I was in middle school, and older kid (high school aged) in the missions community that was known as a rebel returned to the US for a summer.  While he was there he attended a Promise Keepers Conference, and during and emotional worship time the man next to him began speaking in tongues. To his surprise, the kids realized it was Indonesian and he could understand everything. The kid returned home and destroyed all of his angry rock music. However, in a couple of years it appeared as though the experience hadn't ever happened at all.

When I was17 a guy in my class(also known as a bit of a rebel) accidentally hit a pedestrian with his motorcycle. The man died, and my classmate spent months recovering physically and being silent emotionally. He told me later that he grappled with God in those months as he never had before. He returned to the US and came back a different person - loving instead of aloof, kind to those not in his own social circles, speaking openly about faith as he never had before. His transformation only continued - through the years he has become one of the most passionate believers I've ever met, one who loves people well and pursues God passionately and lives counter-culturally. Ironically (since so many people doubted him) his faith is an example to me.

When I was 18 I got into an accountability relationship with a dear friend, with whom I was brutally honest and confessed my sins to as I never had before. The freedom and healing and grace delivered through that friendship changed me, and has made me believe passionately that grace and love expressed by the people of God to each other within the body of Christ is better than any counseling. Friendships and community continues to be the most transforming and challenging thing in my life of faith.

When I was 19 one of the missionaries in the community I grew up in was caught in the midst of sin and scandal. The family returned to the US, reeling and broken as a family. One usually thinks of people growing disillusioned when they hear stories like this, disgusted by the hypocrisy of someone in leadership. Instead, I have been amazed to watch the repentance, counseling, grace, and healing within their marriage, given by the community they lived in, etc. Sin is a tragedy, but it is also a reality. When repentance, grace, and forgiveness enter into brokenness, it is truly a beautiful thing. Cracked pots used for the glory of God. 

When I was 22 and nearing graduation, I sat on a bus and headed to a work catering event with a friend. He was on our student council and activity planning team, was very popular among the student body and was an excellent student. On the bus he told me he really had no idea what life would look like after graduation and that it was frightening to him. It was the last time I spoke to him because a week later he boxed up all of his belonging and addressed them to his home, and then went home on spring break and shot himself in the head.

My entire childhood when I woke up I would enter our living room to find one or both of my parents sitting quietly in their pajamas with their Bible open on their lap. My entire childhood. The first family reunion after getting married I watched as my mother-in-law wept as she spoke of committing herself to study scripture herself and how she had grown to love it deeply. My great grand-father was from a family of 12 brothers, all law-breakers and rebels. He was converted in a camp meeting and his life was changed. My grandfather told me that the one habit he couldn't kick was smoking, until one morning when ash from his cigarette fell on his Bible as he read. He never smoked again.

My other great grandfather was in the military in WWI and WWII. He was a pastor and lived to be 100 (when he remarried - yes, at 100). I remember him well, and how he used to get up every morning and read the Bible, and then ride his exercise bike and pray.  My mother and father both also tell their story of being raised in somewhat passive households until they were brought into small groups that taught them to read scripture - which transformed and redirected their lives. Scripture has grabbed generations of my family. I began reading scripture daily when I was in 6th grade (for some reason I find it much harder to be disciplined about it together!), and I have always found deep comfort and challenge and truth in those words. I have been deeply disillusioned with the Church in its various forms, but never scripture.

These experiences deeply affect how I view human nature, faith, scripture, sin, the church, etc. Experience is not infallible, and can be seen differently depending on the lens of believe that you wear. Yet - it does form us.


Jaimie said...

These are great stories, all of them. I really empathise with a few of them. Especially the guy who killed himself. Graduating from college was one of the scariest days of my life.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Those are some amazing stories, and you're right, all such things are deeply formtive.

s-p said...

Beautifully said, Kacie. Your stories brought back many memories of similar stories in my 57 years. I've both seen and done most of those things, thus I've been both formed and sometimes a cause of formation and deformation to those who know me. May we find the wisdom to commit all our ways to the grace of God...

Troy said...

When I was dying in college, I had an exorcism but it didn't seem to help. To their credit the people who did it never pushed it and they didn't guarantee anything and weren't manipulative. To my discredit I had thoroughly hyped myself about the whole thing and really wanted it to be true (so that the problem of suicidal depression, child abuse etc. could be solved).

Experience is not only important but essential. Some fundamentalist mock experience and disparage emotion, feeling, memory, but without these subjective things we wouldn't have language and couldn't read. Yes, it's limited and incorrect but experience is where we start, the face that holds the eyes with which we see.

Jase and Rach said...

What a mix of encouraging and scary stories. I have heard several dramatic conversion stories, and one in particular sticks in my mind because although it seemed to involve an exorcism that prompted brief change, the young man in question is now living in the same kind of darkness that he was before. It leaves me confused, but mostly sad. Hear too many of those stories and it is easy to become a cynic....

Kacie said...

Yeah, Rach, you know, cynicism was a huge struggle for me at the end of MOody and the first few years out. The stories people told were hardest to take - reality conflicting with the hope I was trying to believe.

Now that my beliefs are settled, I am still saddened by stories but I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that experiences, especially big emotional ones, CAN be good but seen to have no more long term effect than anything else, and certainly don't guarantee anything. The most powerful life change I've seen has been slow and quiet and committed - and so that is what I've come to highly respect.

Troy, you're right - I think your story is quite revealing. I think emotion and experience is most dangerous when we take it as the final authority in our lives, instead of a subjective thing. About exorcism - I feel quite unable to know how to address it but I suppose it could be a valid thing.... the difficulty is that it becomes attractive to those in deep pain and confusion as a way to simply "get better" as you wrote. And of course, exorcism doesn't heal pain....