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Posts Tagged ‘revivalism’

roller-coaster 11

Roller-Coaster Religion

In our youth many of us loved to visit theme parks with their precarious, spine-tingling rides of terror. It was cool to be scared and come out safe and sound at the other end, before heading back for another go. It’s got me thinking about the religion of my youth. I reckon it was a roller-coaster ride to beat all roller-coaster rides. The big one where Cosmic powers laid down the tracks of my life, taking me on a topsy-turvy  spin of life and death. I guess I’d better explain.

I got on the roller-coaster when I was converted, when I bumped into the Divine at the Theme Park of Northern Irish religion. now at the time I believed that God was the owner of the Park, but I was mistaken. Like me He/She was just visiting, looking for lonely souls like myself, a Divine pick-up if you like. No, I was quickly ushered onto the Charismatic/Evangelical roller-coaster ride, not by Divine Love, but by the ride operators at the Park, the teachers of a faith, full of excitement and thrill.

At first things sped along nicely, as I ate my Bible snacks on a daily basis, drinking from the fizzy fountain of answered prayers. Just around the first bend though, things started to pick up. We weren’t on this ride for fun, rather we’d been recruited by the Divine, who incidentally was wistfully watching from the sidelines, for the Battle of all battles, the titanic struggle of Good v Evil, or Jesus v Satan. My wee psyche had inadvertently been hijacked for a cause, one that had strapped me in for the long-haul, by the vows of group commitment. For beside me, to the right and to the left, were my brothers and sisters, those fellow warriors who joined me in the cause – an army we were told that would storm the Gates of Hell. Boy, was that a rush. One mass of screaming solidarity flying around our God ordained track of Spiritual Warfare. We couldn’t lose with God on our side or could we?

Of course we had some wonderful ups along the Way, when we glanced far below the Face of Divine Love, smiling at us. Unfortunately we mistook this for Its approval, rather than the compassion that awaited us on our dizzy return. Anyway, it was an adrenalin blast, as we danced, sang, spoke in tongues and fell on our faces in the frenzy of devotion. And there sitting in front of us were our elders, who’d ridden the ride for many years, knowing each twist and turn, stoical in their steadfastness and control. All we had to do was copy them and everything would be all right, as we soared into the very heavens of God.

Of course, the downers followed the ups. There were casualties as we peaked and headed down into the tragedies of life at lightening speed. No matter how euphoric the ride, things got messy at times, both personally and collectively. We were bombarded by the fiery darts of the Evil One as we attempted to claim Northern Ireland for Jesus, through the cries and screams of intercessory prayer. And boy, did he pack a punch, knowing how to hit us in our spiritual solar plexus. Depression stalked our downward path, yet we cranked up and efforts and prepared ourselves for the next upward surge of Spirit. The Sunday sermon told us that it wasn’t an easy ride following Jesus, and so it proved, though not for the reasons that the preacher promoted. For a ride with Jesus and the Devil wasn’t a bed of roses, one that we could easily escape from. If we jumped, Evil had won and we’d pay for it for the rest of our lives. If we stayed we pleased Jesus but had hell to pay.

I managed to stay on the ride for 16 years or so, before I was pushed off , so to speak. Having lost my firstborn son Ben, to cot death at 5 months, I began to doubt the supposed All Powerful Designer of the Ride. Yet, even this wasn’t enough to have me get off the Revivalist track. It took some plain old rivalry with my leader friend to have me finally pushed off, an act of unintended mercy, that paradoxically saved my future, psycho-spiritual bacon. And of course, there was God standing by the kiosk of Compassion, granting me all the time necessary, for my cold-turkey detox from the adrenalin-fuelled track of Revivalist religion.

Eighteen years later, it was time for us to be reintroduced. Not on the Fairground Rides of Programmed Religion, but in the aching emptiness of a human heart. And so it has continued, a courtship of Aloneness, a Union in the fields of Self, far from the victory screams of Satan-obsessed souls.

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Treadmill Revivalism

Treadmill Revivalism

 

Not long after we join a church or para-church movement we’re told, either bluntly, or ever-so subtly, that we’re all on a mission for God. Out there in the big wide world are millions of our fellow-men and women, those who don’t know Jesus like we know Him. The Christian life is one big mission, the evangelising of the whole world no less. If we don’t get it done nobody else will, and to accomplish it we need to commit to our sect of choice.

Of course, there are many varied brands within the Christian flock, but we’re told by much older experienced hands that the holy grail that we singularly seek is  revival. Now I’m all for revivals when they come along, but I’m not so sure that Divine Love is obsessed with them. And lets face it, numerous revivals have been claimed, when they are really no more than subtle mind-control events, hyped up with seductive music and a touch of show biz glamour.

In my dour wee homeland of Northern Ireland, a revival took place in the early 20th century. At the heart of it lay the fiery preaching of WP Nicholson, a travelling evangelist from my home town, who literally scared the hell out of folk. Gifted with the blunt language of the common man Nicholson painted a burning end for those who didn’t respond to his particular take on salvation. So effective was he that his converts returned a mountain of stolen tools to  the Harland and Wolf shipyard, builder of the ill-fated Titanic. Yet, can terror or hell-driven conviction for sin really be the sign of Divine Love at work. I tend to think not.

Anyway, when we’ve signed up to our beguiling new Christian movement we’re informed that something big, really big, is just around the corner , like the visit of the aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, only holier. Yes, you guessed it – God has plans for a great world revival and we’re at the heart of His planning committee. Of course as a new convert, one eager to please both God and man, we tend to believe such sacred spin. And so our addiction for pre-revival disciplines begins.

I’ve done them all in my time. Prayer and fasting are the biggies for many revival heads. The game plan is simple: the more we pray the more God turns up. The more we fast the more powerful or influential our prayers. Now this raises a few important questions. Why does God not come at the first sign of a request from His followers? Why does giving up our daily sustenance twist God’s arm even more. One begins to wonder if God is really into this penny in the slot, type of faith dynamic.

In my own Charismatic sect of choice, we discovered that an ancient Celtic monastery in our town had established a 24 hour prayer and praise regime during the early medieval period. For over a couple of hundred years Celtic hymns and contemplative prayers were offered up without a moments break. Three 8 hour shifts of chorister monks at full throttle, copying the daily routine of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds of monks travelled from my wee town to the pagan lands of Europe with much success in their attempts to introduce the wild Germanic hordes to the love of Jesus. So, inspired by our ancestors pious dedication we began. The task of continuous prayer through the hours of darkness was handed out to the men of the fellowship. If one refused, a not so subtle demotion in the eyes of our zealous leaders resulted, doubting one’s commitment or indeed manhood. The dear women of our group theoretically covered the daylight hours, when they weren’t being model wives and mothers.

Yep, the Prayer Watch, as it was known, marked us out as one spiritual notch above the rest in the religious Bible of Northern Ireland. As dragged ourselves out of bed at some unearthly hour to tumble down to the church offices to pray with our prayer partner, the spirit was willing but the flesh extremely weak. Boy those were the days – days of madness in hindsight. Of course not everything went to plan. I well remember the night when my partner and I got stuck in a snow drift and couldn’t fulfil our obligations. The poor duo who we were supposed to relieve on watch, had to do our stint as well. I’m sure many employers wondered why once a week their model Christian workers would turn up to work fit for nothing, catnapping their way throughout the paid working day.

I guess we were peer pressured young idealists willing to join the revivalist treadmill. After all, if we put in the effort God would surely deliver – wouldn’t He? Of course it was a recipe for psycho-spiritual burnout. A presented but unreal God who expected us to put in a good penny’s worth in order for others to discover him for themselves.

Is it any wonder that we eventually fall off our religious treadmills, exhausted and somewhat disillusioned by the modus operand of our particular revivalist sect? There is much madness in the Christian world whilst wisdom, true wisdom lies within. So, if you’re tempted to sign up for a spiritual gym with the carrot of revival set temptingly before you, best return to the privacy of your own Self and listen for the still small Voice.

Next week I’ll tackle the crazy practice of fasting as a prayer enhancer. More crazy tales of a semi-starving religious junkie.

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