2016-06-30

Beliefnet editor Patton Dodd's My Faith So Far is the story of his experiences in the charismatic evangelical Christian subculture--converting into it, becoming confused by it, and coming to terms with it. The following scene, like most of the book, is set at Oral Roberts University, where Dodd encountered expressions of Christianity that shook his faith. In this and other chapters, Dodd struggles with the question of how to follow Jesus while navigating the choppy waters of a particular Christian subculture.

I remember the night when Dwayne bounded through my door and shoved a shoebox under my nose. Several audiotapes and CDs were inside. He shook the box back and forth, rattling the media around.

“What’s up, Dwayne? Whaddya need?”

“Gimme your devil music,” he said. “Tonight’s a night of sacrifice. We’re getting rid of our music that doesn’t glorify God.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What is the purpose of music?” Dwayne asked me. I looked at him blankly. I didn’t want to get into this. He answered his own question. “The purpose of music is to glorify God.”

“Right.”

“Well, do you ever listen to music that doesn’t glorify God?”

“I dunno,” I said, feigning ignorance. I wanted to act as though I were still a new-enough Christian to have never thought about this before. Of course I had. Since childhood. But I had never been able to up and throw it all away.


“Tonight’s the night,” Dwayne said. “God is calling us to account. Come on, brother. It’s either all God or no God. Let’s have those tapes and CDs.”

I wished he would go away. I didn’t want him to think I was not a committed Christian, but I also didn’t want to get rid of Toad the Wet Sprocket. They were innocent enough, right? I looked over to my stack of music.

“Give it up, give it up, give it up,” Dwayne chanted. I grabbed one audiotape, "Coverdale/Page," the album where David Coverdale of Whitesnake and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin hooked up to make a bunch of music that sounded just like Led Zeppelin. It was a favorite album during my senior year of high school, but it had become a guilty pleasure—in terms of taste as much as religious commitment. I threw it in the box.

“That’s it, man. That’s all I have for you.”

Dwayne was halfway satisfied. “OK, brother. That’s a start. Come to my room later. We’ll be smashing these up.”

Dwayne forced the issue that night, and I have not been able to forget it since. Maybe he is right. Anything that does not bring glory to God brings glory to Satan. Secular music does not glorify God, so it can only glorify Satan. Slowly, conviction wins out. I decide that I won’t be able to press in until I am rid of this devil-glorifying music collection. I put all my secular CDs in a separate stack. Counting Crows. REM. I pick up each CD and turn it over, knowing some are worse than others. These aren’t exactly the spawn of Satan, I know. This isn’t strict devil music. But still, garbage in, garbage out. You are what you listen to. All music glorifies something. I go through and get rid of every piece of music that I am sure does not glorify God. Stone Temple Pilots—the devil. The Doors—the devil. Toto? Pretty tame stuff, but still, nothing about it could please God. The devil.
 
Over the next half hour I look carefully at each title, and in the end everything that does not have a Christian industry label is pushed aside. I reduce my CD collection to Christian Contemporary Music’s chart toppers. WhiteHeart. Michael W. Smith. Keith Green. And of course, Phil Keaggy and Rich Mullins. It’s boring, but it’s pure. I plan to take the secular CDs to the CD Warehouse to trade them, maybe for some jazz. Ain’t nothing wrong with Billie Holiday, I suppose (until I read a thing or two about Billie Holiday).

Finally, I can pray. I have shoved aside the thing that was between me and God, and now that I have done it, now that I am not feeling guilty, I can proceed. I can seek Him, and I do.

Three hours later, I feel better, as I will after dozens more three-hour prayer sessions to come. I have paced back and forth and sung to God in the midst of my doubt. I have fallen to my knees in repentance of judgment and cynicism. I have flipped through the Bible and been reassured by passages that ring true. I have fought against the devil and his deceptions. I have committed to know God more—to be intellectually honest about my doubts yet determined to grow in faith.

Maybe I can make it after all. Maybe everything won’t be so confusing. Maybe there are ways for me to find answers. God has pointed me toward some possibilities—namely, more prayer and reflection and sitting under the teaching of men and women older and wiser than me, whether through sermons or conversations or books. I will learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before me. I can do this. I can believe. My faith doesn’t have to fall apart.

I walk to the stairwell and descend to the lobby. I figure I’ll go for a walk in the night air and let all this sink in. As I am about to pass through the doorway, I see Dwayne walking toward me. I stop and stare; he seems to be stumbling. Barely holding himself up. He doesn’t look like himself. He looks drunk.

Dwayne? Righteous Dwayne? Sweet Dwayne? Dwayne went out on a Friday and got drunk? I walk up to him and grab his shoulders. He gives me a sheepish grin.

“Shhelloooo, Pattshon!” He’s not just drunk; he’s like a drunken character in a made-for-television movie, a caricature of drunks. 

“Dwayne? What’s up, man? Are you all right?”

“SsshI’m fine!” His voice cracks. “I’m shhunkly dorky—ha ha— I mean dory!”

My weight is under his, holding him up. I pull us toward a chair near the front of the dorm lobby and set him into it.

“Dwayne, what did you do tonight?”

“Oh, brother, you should have been there,” he says, his voice clearing a little. “This minister had the power of God. I’m telling you, the Holy Spirit was all over the place.” He finds his slur. “Shollll overshh thish placeshhh!”

“What are you talking about?”

“We all got drunk, man. Drunk in the Spirit.” He giggles.

“You got drunk in the Spirit?”

“Yeah, Patton. Shhhhit wasssh sho powerfulsh!”

Awkwardly, slurringly, Dwayne explains that he and some friends had been attending revival meetings all week at a church downtown. Tonight, Dwayne says, the Holy Spirit showed up in a major way and fell on the whole congregation. People were falling over. They were laughing. They were shouting in new prayer languages. They were getting drunk in the Holy Ghost. Dwayne drank so hard and long that some friends had to drive him back to campus. He would pick up his car tomorrow.

If, over the last few months, I have stood off to the side and held my doubt in suspension like a rubber band stretched long and thin, tonight it snaps completely in two. I don’t believe a word Dwayne is saying. I’m sure he’s been bamboozled. I am disgusted—not because I am convinced that God would not work this way, but because I’m convinced He hasn’t done it tonight, not in Dwayne. What good can be produced of this? Dwayne is happy now, but won’t he have a spiritual hangover? What will he do when the drug doesn’t work next time, when his tolerance has increased to the point that he needs something even more overextended in order to feel the love of God?

 

I don’t believe a word of it, and although the thought sickens me I don’t believe that Dwayne really believes it either. I know this guy. I know how his heart and mind work. We have prayed together, talked until all hours, studied the Bible. I know he is simply trying to serve God, to be faithful to Who he believes has created him and given him life. He’s doing his best to be a Christian, but he’s not experiencing anything genuine tonight at all. And deep down inside, I know he knows it.

When Dwayne finishes telling me about how marvelous the evening was and how I gotta go back with him tomorrow night, I tell him to look me in the eyes. He does, still grinning sheepishly.

“Dwayne,” I say, “Be real.”

“What?” he asks, still grinning.

“Just be real, Dwayne. Be real.”

“Patton, brother, I am being real.”

“Look, you’re my friend and I love you. I’m for you. And I’m just telling you to be real. Don’t experience anything you aren’t experiencing.”

His grin fades. He looks up at the ceiling. I walk away, leaving him slumped on the chair. I know I should stay and talk to him about this, but I’m too mad.

I don’t see Dwayne for two weeks. I know that my reaction ruined his high, but I’m not sure if what I ruined was genuine or not. Though Dwayne seemed fake, though every instinct in me said that this spiritual drunkenness thing was a sham, I hold out the possibility that it could be true, and that I could be the one who is wrong. God does work, after all, in mysterious ways. Maybe being drunk in the Spirit is possible, but the form I have seen it take stinks of fabrication.

Then, one afternoon, Dwayne taps lightly on my dorm room door. “Patton, you around?” He comes in, sits down, and dives straight into what he has to say. He tells me that he has been thinking about that night, all day every day for the last two weeks. He says I was right; he was not being real, and it took him this long to come to terms with it. “Thanks for nailing me. Really. I needed it.”

He looks awful, as if he hasn’t eaten. His face hangs. He tells me that he has reconsidered everything, thought through all his charismatic experiences and tried to determine what was real and what was not. He believes that God has touched him in significant ways throughout his life, but also that he has made some things up. Right now, he feels there has been no greater sin in his life than that.

“It’s OK, Dwayne. Lighten up a little,” I say, as if I am one to talk. “We’re all trying to figure these things out. All these charismatic ministers, you know, I think lots of them are just trying to do God’s will. But everyone emphasizes these intense emotional experiences, and sometimes things go haywire. I’ve been trying for months to figure out what’s real and what’s not. It’s tough.” Dwayne says he came by mostly to ask me to pray for him. He wants God to show him whatever God is showing me. I flinch at the idea that God is showing me anything, that any of my confusion is God-inspired. But Dwayne is sincere, and needful, and I agree to pray for him.

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