Archive for February, 2011


My first two or three years as a Charismatic were marked by a certain enthusiasm. I was convinced that it was the great restoration of the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit that had been slowly all but squandered out of existence by the generations succeeding the Apostles. I believed that anyone who had the gift of the Holy Spirit would grow in grace and wisdom and power and go on from glory to glory to heights unknown since Apostolic times. I figured someone who had had the Holy Ghost for five years was likely a prayer warrior of great power and authority…and someone who had the Holy Ghost 25 years was practically a new Apostle….how could it be otherwise. How could such close contact between man and God be utterly transformative? It made no sense if it wasn’t.

Somewhere around my third or fourth year as a Charismatic I began to encounter intimations that it all might not make as much sense as first thought. One day…I think in 1979 around Christmas I was brewing the religious section of the local Bookland and saw a title that I simple could not process. It read, “I Used to Speak in Tongues”. What an absurdity…you couldn’t speak in tongues unless you had been baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire…and if you had such a dramatic supernatural encounter with God how was it remotely possible to disavow His gift and still consider yourself a Christian? Around this time I also learned of a long time Charismatic pastor caught in an act of marital infidelity, an had a shock of discover that something I thought had a clear witness of the Holy Spirit to me about how I should live my life (I thought I had call to preach) was not remotely discernible to someone who had had the Holy Ghost for at least 25 years….it was crushing and confusing at the same time…The Holy Spirit couldn’t be at odds with Himself, and it was inconceivable that a preacher 25 years in Pentecost, a man reputed to be a prophet among us could not see any sign of a calling to preach on my life…the signs for me had been so clear. If it wasn’t a test of faith for me, I didn’t know what to make of it.

If that wasn’t enough ’79 was a weird year for the Charismatic movement from my perspective because it basically stopped working the way it used to. What I mean is this…it used to be fun to corner a doubting Baptist who seemed to have one arm or leg slightly shorter than the other, then to command the short limb to grow, then to watch it lengthen and shrink and lengthen back again until both feet or arms looked exactly equal. There was a little dose of power they could not deny. I also recall changing the wind on occasion when I was burning trash and the wind was blowing smoke in my face…so I commanded it in Jesus name to blow the other way…and it did for a few minutes. When it changed and blew back in my face I commanded it again….and it changed again. Sometimes I would get this tingly feeling in my hands as we prayed at home meetings and whoever I touched fell over…no catchers…they just flopped over face-up, face-down…didn’t matter. It happened more than a couple of times those first couple of years…but by Christmas of 79 everything except tongues pretty much stopped working…and it wasn’t for just me, it was everywhere, though it didn’t seem others noticed at first,….but was was undeniable what one could do “in the Spirit” just got less and less and less until all that was left were the motions and noises of what used to work. I also note was about the time the Word of Faith/Name it and Claim it/Health and Wealth doctrine began gathering steam.
The music also changed…our choruses used be basically Bible verses set to some little ditty…then we started singing songs about singing songs about faith, my buddy Jesus songs and the like.

In short something died…I had no explanation why or how. I knew that it used to work, should work, and that it all sounded very convincing on paper, or in the mouth of a good speaker. You could still get people their prayer language…tongues, and they could rattle on and get teary-eyed just as in days of yore…but healings, miracles became less frequent, less visual…lots of inner healing no doubt. So I was at a loss. There was no going back for there was too little room in my former faiths (Baptist/Methodist) for what I had come to believe, for what I had seen and experienced myself…but how to go forward was equally obscure…since big hair and big wallets had taken over the Charismatic movement…the form was there, but the power was just gone…or if not gone entirely down to a personally titillating trickle.

By the time I made it through an a attempt to live in a communal situation after graduating college, and later moving to Arkansas to help with a sister ministry I was getting pretty frustrated with my life and starting to get mad at God for making me a bunch of promises, getting me involved, then effectively abandoning me…no good job, no spiritual power beyond the ability rattle on in tongues for hours if I wanted (big whoop…was how I eventually felt), then there was that whole call to the ministry thing that came upon me with such clarity only to never be able to bear any kind of sustainable fruit.

Maybe I had sinned too much, compromised my witness in some way, given up during a test…I didn’t know, and God didn’t seem to be talking. At some point I had to get on with my life…do something other than continue waiting for what was apparently not going to happen to happen. So I joined the Navy, and ended spending some time over seas.

Two experiences stand out from my time of Naval service. When our ship made a port call in Alexandria I had a chance to visit the Cathedral of St. Mark and saw the spot where St. Mark the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel bearing his name was laid to rest in a catacomb below the cathedral….well what was left of him. The Venetians had stolen all of his body but for a portion of his skullcap back in the 1400s.

As I left the cathedral I noticed a giant slab of polished stone mounted on one wall. On it was engraved the name of every bishop of Alexandria from the time of St. Mark to the present day. It was amazing to stand there and see the evidence generation by generation for almost 2000 years of continuous Christian community on this very spot. Christians had been worshiping exactly where I stood since the time of St. Mark. I knew as a former Baptist and Methodist, and as a somewhat disaffected Charismatic that we had nothing like this sort of history…no roots like those I was then witnessing.

The second event was when we had shore leave in Athens and I got to go to the Areopagus, Mars Hill and stand on the very spot St. Paul stood as he spoke to the Athenians (it’s marked). Indeed, his whole recorded discourse is contained on a big bronze plaque bolted to the rock of the Areopagus. I was touching history in a way that had never been accessible to me back in the Deep South of the USA. I still didn’t know what to make of it…but it definitely left an impression.

History came round again a few years latter…roughly my tenth year as a Charismatic. It was after I was out the Navy, after a dark year or two while I pursued a graduate degree (never finished it)….I had given up on being a preacher. I figured even if I had once been called I had sinned it all away in my two or three years of sour grapes. In the church I attended I met a new friend and his family who had an interest in early Church fathers as I had begun to develop…more on that latter.

In particular, I remember a conversation we had about music. A group called 2nd Chapter of Acts had recently released an album of old standard hymns which they had given some new instrumentation and a slight contemporary edge.The album stunned me…those hymns were so rich, so deep, so full of experience and wisdom in Christ I as amazed at how blind (and deaf) we early Charismatics had been regarding that old “dead” dusty music. We had all but thrown away the old hymns as irrelevant to the new thing God was doing…but here they were: rich, plump and juicy with the grace that had seemingly taken a vacation from the Charismatic movement as I knew it in the mid to late 80s.

My friend and I discussed these old hymns and noted that for all their richness we had ignored them  in our youth and inexperience  because we didn’t know how to hear and appreciate them; yet few of those hymns were older than 2 or 3 hundred years. That made me wonder aloud what else might there be out of our sight in plain sight hidden under the dust of Church history which like the old hymns was also rich and had nourished the faith of those Christians of an earlier time. What was there for the taking which we could not appreciate because we didn’t know how to see, hear, or engage it. My friend, a former Episcopalian said, “LIturgy.”

I responded with a “hmmm” and a blank stare. I knew the word but had no concept of what liturgy was, how it worked…how it remotely could be considered worship…at best I considered it some history incrusted habit that continued more by force of inertia than any sort of living faith. My experience with liturgy was very limited; I had once visited a Catholic church with an old college friend, and had once visited a Lutheran church out of curiosity…it both cases it seemed to me liturgy was little more than people in outlandish robes mumbling over dishes and tableware in front of a crowd who mumbled back politely at regular intervals. I did not get liturgy at all…but given that I had once not “gotten” the old hymns that I had once sniffed at, I was willing to put my friend’s opinion upon a shelf for further examination at a later time rather than just dismiss it out of hand.

Liturgy was a blind spot in my experience that took a trip of 8000 miles and five or six more years to get around. But…I did get around it with the help of a little book that entered into my life in 1993.

I’ll talk about that book in a bit, but first I want to revisit why a Charismatic youth would have any interest in the Church fathers.


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First Glance

The first time I encountered Orthodoxy beyond a passing reference in an encyclopedia was in the middle years of the 1970’s when a slightly older cousin of mine decided to marry. Her beloved was a young man from Greece who would not marry unless she first convert from her native faith (Southern Baptist) to his (Greek Orthodox). That struck me as a bit unsporting. While I could see the reasonableness of those marrying having the same or at least a very similar faith, it just didn’t seem fair that it was she who had to convert or the whole thing would be off. Why couldn’t he become Baptist…after all it had to be closer to the New Testament Church than the Greek Orthodox…the Orthodox had priests, and prayed to saints, and were full of what I characterized as dead ritual and formalism (I’d read my Bunyan). But no one was asking me my opinion.

So they got married. It was a bit different than anything I’d been in before…but since marriages were formal affairs as a rule anyway, a lot of it just went by me without a lick of comprehension. I did appreciate however when the priest, Fr. Paul, stopped to explain a tidbit about the history of one part or the ritual or another.

At this point three books entered my life. My cousin’s marriage had made me curious about this off brand eastern Catholocism she had gotten herself into. She said there was a lot that was similar. Orthodox believed in the Holy Trinity and they baptized by immersion….a point in their favor…but they baptized infants…so there was room for improvement in my view. I asked her if she had any books on this new faith and she let me borrow two that had been given to her in preparation for the marriage.

The first was “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy (now Bishop Kalistos) Ware. It was a history of the Orthodox Church and an outline of its faith. The second was about the coming rein of the Antichrist and it was written by a monk named Fr. Seraphim Rose.

Seldom have two works about the same faith been so different in tone and impact. I really liked the book by Ware. There was one point made somewhere therein that stuck with me until the day I entered Orthodoxy decades later. It was from a place where he was discussing the Orthodox practice of praying to saints. He said that death did not have the power to sunder the Body of Christ, which is His Church. I had never thought of it that way, and did not have a ready argument to counter it.

The second book made me nuts was it was largely a detailed critique of the New Age and Charismatic movements (which it basically lumped together). It made exclusive claims for the Orthodox Church I could not consent to. It seemed angry in tone in places…arrogant and dismissive in others…and it made me see red. The author laid out all sorts of things he saw as problems and made predictions about where it was all likely to end up. His basic argument was that the Charismatic movement was a work of the devil masquerading as a work of God…a relativizing force that would sacrifice truth for “getting along” and for “special feelings”. He thought effectively mediumistic, a Christian flavored shamanism. He further stated that this movement’s hidden purpose was to pave the way for the religion of the Antichrist when he came.

I was incensed at his opinion, being a young new and very devote Charismatic….I had never witnessed such a combination of ignorance and arrogance in my life.

The third book was an old photojournal in the library of the University of Southern Mississippi that I came across by accident one day while just grazing the shelves to see what I could find. It was full of photos of Mt. Athos, the Orthodox monastic republic on one of the peninsulas of Thessolonica, Greece. It was over 1000 years old and I marveled at the images of the old buildings, ancient foot paths, and of this extended community of men who lived very simply and dedicated their lives to prayer. Even if their religion had issues in my book, I could not fault their earnest dedication. I loved them instantly and thought how wonderful it would be to walk trails and paths that really faithful Christians had trodden for a 1000 years…if rocks could talk….man, if they could ever “get the Holy Ghost” what a revival it would be.

I didn’t know it then, but the seeds were planted…they sprouted covertly…like bamboo–in a network of runners that grew out of sight to spring up en-masse several years later. The only little twig that showed above the soil was Bishop Ware’s assertion that death could not sunder the Body of Christ…and by implication could not sever the communion of its members with each other. It didn’t fit the rest of what I believed though I could not deny its force, dare I say it’s truth…but being occupied with other things I didn’t think about it much. It’s net initial effect was to maintain one tender spot in me regarding that odd foreign bunch of ostensible Christians who called themselves “Orthodox.”

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There is no time in my life I don’t remember going to church. I still remember the nursery at First Baptist of Cocoa, Florida…back when the main building was a large white clapboard structure with a side gallery. It was the Church where I was baptized at six years old by Brother Sawyer, the pastor. What was taught there about Christ and God was what I believed so far as I understood.

Nursery and Sunday School were fine affairs, but my principal teacher about faith in those very early years was my mother. I remember one thing in particular that my mother taught me in that early time… dating maybe even from before my first baptism by Brother Sawyer. That lesson was preceded by my learning that there were other Christians in the world besides Southern Baptists. I recall there was a small Roman Catholic church down the block from First Baptist of Cocoa. I still remember on occasion seeing women in long black dresses with black head coverings and white collars and what years later I learned were called wimples around their necks and faces. During Vacation Bible School they let us use their chapel for services for the little kids, like me. These other Christians were called Catholics, and though we Baptists spoke politely to them in public we did not believe like they did…indeed they were considered barely Christian at all. Some of them were saved, but most sadly were probably not. Somewhere in those years I also learned my paternal grandparents belonged to another tribe of Christians called Methodists, they were something like the Baptists, a bit more formal…a tiny notch or two down from us on the scale of correct doctrine and belief. Moreover, somewhere I had heard of yet another band known as Presbyterians. Naturally, I wondered about them all, about why so many varieties of being Christian. So, I asked my mother why we were Southern Baptists and not something else. She replied that it was because that they (Mama and Daddy) believed the Southern Baptist Church was the closet church to that seen in the New Testament.

That idea stuck and drove a lot of my religious searching for the rest of my life…the idea that the closer a church was in its beliefs and practices to the New Testament Church the closer it was to the fullness of the faith…to a real, vibrant, and powerful Christianity.

Needless to say, as I grew and thought and examined my beliefs there came changes. Certain doctrines taught in the Baptist Church, like once saved always saved that made no sense to me. Eventually I moved to the Methodist Church because they believed in free will though I took great exception to their practice of baptizing infants and baptizing by just dabbing a little water on someone’s forehead. On that point thought the Baptists were likely to more right.

On the heels of joining the Methodists, hardly a year later, I learned of a new wind blowing that promised to get one closer yet to the faith and power of the New Testament Church…namely the Charismatic movement. And so I drifted out Methodism into Charismatic non-denominationalism and remained there for roughly twenty-one years.

I’ll speak more on that latter; the key idea to bear in mind at this juncture is that I moved from the Baptists to the Methodists to the Charismatics in pursuit of that ideal I had long ago learned at my mother’s knee, that getting back to the New Testament Church was the gold standard. The closer one could get to New Testament Church doctrine, practice, and presumably power, the better.

The acquisition of that ideal turned out to be the first milestone on the long road that after about thirty-eight years as a Protestant Christian of one stripe or another led me in 1995 to the doors of Orthodoxy.

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For those who do not know, this is my fourth or fifth (depending on how you count) attempt at a blog. The first was about my thoughts on life and faith in general. It lasted all of about five or six posts. My second was an attempt at experimental fiction. It lasted two posts. The almost third was supposed to be a hub site for a Sunday School class, but I had to move so it never quite got off the ground. My fourth might have had one post, but it did have links to several videos that I liked. That site folded and is no more, else I would probably be posting there. So here I am again and I have to wonder if this one will be any different…lasting a post or two or three then falling into blog oblivion.

I hope not.

While I don’t have a sense of how regular or how frequent my posts will be, it is my intent that they be regular, at least weekly, and if there are times that they will not be more than a couple of weeks at most. The reason I think, or at least hope this one will fare better than it’s predecessors is because I intend to start with a more narrow focus, namely to explain with such skill as has been given me my journey to and reasons for becoming a member of the Orthodox faith…Eastern Orthodox.

In short, for the time being, I want to make clear why a Southern Baptist boy who later became deeply invested in the Charismatic movement for many years laid it all aside for incense, icons, rote prayers, vestments, liturgy, and the Holy Eucharist and  who has had no regrets and has never looked back.

This is my first post, God willing it will not be my last, and next will begin the story of how and why I desired to become an Orthodox Christian.

Oh, and before I forget, the name of my blog is the Greek words “xeno” and “zoe” run together.  It means “Alien Life”. Why that name? Keep reading; we’ll get there… eventually, God willing.

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