Understanding through the tension of struggle
I have over the years evolved in my understanding of faith and life and how both are born in the crucible of fire. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and where there is fire, there is something combustible, and where there is something combustible, it only takes an incendiary incident to get the fire going and roaring. Many people who have a “crisis of faith” have in fact a “life crisis” that affects what people would call “faith” or a “spiritual encounter” or a “religious experience.” When people are in crisis, many people go “looking for answers” by “looking for God.”
My first “crisis” led to a conversion experience in a laundromat
When my family came to Canada in 1967, it was in the month of March, just a few months before Canada’s first centennial celebration. We arrived in Montreal, all the way from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Our family had lived in France as missionaries. In fact, my brothers and sisters had been born in France, while I was born in Belfast. My family had moved from Montreal to Drummondville, and my Dad and Mum, only knew of one man and his family in that city who was a Pentecostal believer. He had solicited the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) for a church planter. My parents were invited by the PAOC Home Missions Board to come to Quebec. My family which had remained in Belfast in 1966 for the better part of a year, while my Dad had come to Canada and had gone coast to coast , for a period of nine months, preaching at churches and conferences, and making a name for himself as a preacher. My Dad came back to Belfast in February 1967, in order to bring our family to Quebec. We arrived in the dead of a winter storm on March 10th. The weather was the worst blizzard in over eighty years. It was so bad, I turned to Dad and said calmly on the steps of the plane, “Dad, let’s go back home!” All Dad replied back was, “Son, this is now our home. We are home!”
That was a bit of a shock for a nine year old. It was a lot to handle.
My coming to Canada through my whole world in disarray. My loss of connection was not only to France, the home that had been mine as long as I could remember, but it was the time that I discovered that I was truly not French at all, but that I was Northern Irish and born in Belfast. Until age nine, I did not even know my birth place. When I was young, my parents never ever spoke English in my presence. They only spoke French. They apparently spoke in English behind closed doors. But they were very conscious of not speaking English in front of their children. None of us knew they spoke English until we went to Belfast in 1966. That was my first cognizance of knowing something was up and my childlike mind just tried to adapt and what it could not comprehend it just pushed down to suppressed it emotionally and intellectually. This was my state of being in March of 1967. This crisis in my life led me to a place where as a 9 year old child I felt a need for God, and my mother led me in a prayer of repentance and faith. It was Easter 1967.
From Montreal to Drummondville, moving from super city to small hockey town
My system was further put into shock when we went from a big cosmopolitan city to a town, a nice town, but a rather small town in comparison to Montreal. My father found a place to call home for all of us. We moved into this triplex apartment. My Dad found some part time work and was creative in creating more income as we needed more than the $100 per month given to us by the Home Missions Board. This was the first time I ever heard my parents speaking of disappointment in coming to Canada, and the sense of betrayal the felt in coming here. My Dad had thought that anyone working in “missions” here at home or abroad, they got paid about $1300 a month. That was not so. Only foreign missionaries were funded in this way. My parents were “home missionaries” and did not qualify for what missionaries made overseas. So here were my parents having to make ends meet. It had been bad enough back in France where for 12 years my parents lived on whatever came from their home church in Belfast. It was living by faith and they knew what they were in for when they signed up to be missionaries to France. But, this, this, they did not expect to be the reality when they came to Canada. Dad ended up selling fruit at the weekly market. I learned early on in life, both in France and in Canada, what it meant for people to live by faith and to depend on God and the generosity of people to be able to live, day by day, and to be looked after, fed and clothed. It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that my Dad began to earn a regular salary.
From “classic Pentecostal” to “charismatic” to “grounded Evangelical”
My parents ended up moving from Drummondville back to Montreal, and then from Montreal to Perth, Ontario. That was a shocker for me. Moving from a bustling city to a town of 3,000 was a jolt. Not only was it a move from church planting, but it was a move from evangelism (my Dad’s stint in Montreal) to established church, which meant that my father was no longer a “home missionary.” My father got a regular pastor’s salary, and from there moved to Peterborough, the hotbed of “Pentecostal Education” was located here (Eastern Pentecostal Bible College), and most of the faculty and students attended my father’s congregation, Dublin Street Pentecostal Assembly. This was my spiritual home for my formative teenage years.
I became exposed to all kinds of theological material in my mid teens, from Luther, to Calvin, to Evangelicals like John Stott, to all kinds of Pentecostal scholars. All in all, I grew spiritually during these years, and C.S. Lewis became as staple of my diet. I thrived in apologetics and in church history, historical theology and philosophy. I was a classic Pentecostal, but to my Pentecostal friends, I was “too intellectual” and it became an opportunity for those who were not so intellectual to mock my own faith journey. They always said I lacked “spiritual experience.”
For a season, I stumbled, and walked away from church, but not away from God
If I had a weakness, it was that I was insecure. I was so insecure that when my parents moved to Toronto, I was easily led astray in so many ways. I could not handle my freedom. Much like the prodigal son, I really blew it. I was in the army reserve, and did some tours with the regular army. I did well as a soldier. I came back to Peterborough and went to university. I got involved in the wrong crowd. I ran out of money, and moved back in with my parents after five years of living a life of drifting along with no purpose or direction.
I came back to God in dramatic fashion, but it was hard to take the emotional roller coaster
Throughout my years I noticed that all the crises that I faced, were always opportunities for God to manifest in my life. Many times God rescued me in powerful ways, only for me to stumble along into some deeper Charismatic type of ministry or church that was weirder than the Pentecostalism I grew up with.
I discovered that while I have been a Charismatic and believe and practice the spiritual gifts, I am at the same time a rational and logical thinker and I love the mystics of the Church, and I love contemplation and prayer. I am a person that needs to be really grounded and not be emotionally jostled by the charismatic chaos that I have experienced.
I have had all kinds of “spiritual experiences” and to this day, I find the experiences dissatisfying. I have never really found anything rewarding and lasting in these spiritual encounters and experiences. There was no internal journey to link the spiritual encounter with and examine what was taking place internally. The secrets of the monks in monasteries is that they physically labored during the day, they contemplated, they read, them meditated and prayed, and in that inward process, they worked through all the stuff they were experiencing. I never had this in my own journey and walk. The experiences really derailed me. I became ungrounded and erratic and weird and I was never comfortable being that way. I was emotionally on a roller coaster, and I was like a yo-yo, always up and down and really tossed to and fro emotionally and spiritually.
I have decided for my own sense of well being, the best thing I can do is to stay grounded
I know what I need and I know what I want. I want to be grounded. I need to be grounded. I need to be able to take the inward journey as God by His Spirit takes me on this journey. I need to be able to reflect, meditate, and wrestle with issues, think outside the box, and be able to mix and mingle with people who understand that journey. I love to read and I want to be able to explore and discuss what I discover without judgment or criticism. For my well being, I have to let go of the Charismatic.
Letting go and embracing God
I find now at this time in my life, I need to really let go of the Charismatic, and all the hype of experience and emotionalism. I need both feet on the ground. I need a place in my heart and life, where I can be free to be me, and really grapple with life and heart issues, and be able to articulate my beliefs or lack of belief about things and issues.
My sense of safety is in being in a predictable environment
Letting go and embracing God is one thing. Embracing my situation, my health, my life is another. But to be in this place, right here, right now, I need stability and predictability. I need a place that will not emotionally and spiritually cause upheaval in my life. I have come to realize that I can no longer navigate the Charismatic waters with safety. I need a place of safety and predictability when it comes to my spiritual life. I need to know the markers and what is going on, and in this season in my life, “painting within the lines” is a crucially important truth for me. Being “led by the Spirit” and all the other “Charismatic” manifestations that permeate the church life spiritual landscape, are just not safe for me any longer. I no longer desire or want “Charismatic” conferences, retreats, spiritual warfare schools, healing schools, ministry schools, prophetic words, dreams, visions, impressions, or any other manifestation. I don’t desire this stuff any more. I not only don’t want it, I don’t need it.