John’s Story

9 04 2008

This post is part of a series called “Stories of Emergence.” Tell your story here at Emerging Pentecostal by e-mailing John at jfohara(at)gmail.com.

This may very well be an overstatement, but I think I was emerging when I was lifted out of my mother’s womb. Before I knew the models and forms, before I could differentiate a sense of Self, before I knew the prejudice of preferences I was ever emerging. It was my natural state of being.

I didn’t realize this. It became obscured by the framing introductions of my world view and the limiting characterizations therein. I traded my emergence for identities like

American

Christian

Latino

Irish

Middle Class

Average

And enjoyed the resultant peace and security of knowing my place in the world. I might have stayed in the warm womb of this enclave, too, if life hadn’t begun to systematically unravel all around me, beginning with my parents’ dissolving marriage. It was then that my Roman Catholicism was introduced to Charismatic Pentecostalism, my blue-collar familiarity with the sights and sounds of second-hand stores and hand-me-downs was introduced to big-box suburban sprawl, when East met West and Black and White bled into Color and life went High Definition. I was re-introduced to my emergence by way of emergency. A fuzzy world view that coalesced into a formative sense of Self was cut at the knees by the wrecking ball crushing my world’s only sure thing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

That first emergency led me to a vortex between worlds, catapulting me into a different framework, like a hermit crab dumped from his familiar shell and forced to find a home of a different hue. Unquestioning and hardly putting up a fight, I departed the tension of going to Mass one week and doing the Holy Ghost hop the next, in order to embrace my new Daddy: the Assemblies of God.

I fastidiously navigated all the hoops of this new alter-ego, trading social awareness for eschatology, sacramental covenant for the full gospel of Spirit baptism, even moving from a hometown with union mechanics and carpenters as neighbors and into a new neighborhood where I was surrounded by salad-eating yuppies with a guest room and that new house smell that came with suburban subdivisions.

As a teenager, I suppose I reveled in my new identity and planned my new life accordingly: I would enter the ministry (what other career for the God-conscious?) and pray for a financially successful church experience that would support the full buffet of suburban proclivities. After all, if eternity is the endgame, why should I concern myself with the global economic and ecological impact of my personal lifestyle?

I was pretty good at it, too; having secured a spot as a staff pastor at a bigger-than-most church. I was being payed real money. I got married and bought a house in the heart of a suburban subdivision. I thought of ministry mostly in the context of my burgeoning career. Just keep counting conversions and weighing the glory of the altar calls, I would tell myself, and don’t forget to stop at the Wal-Mart on the way home.

I probably would have ridden that bicycle built for two into the sunset, if it hadn’t been for a peculiar and somewhat familiar voice speaking deep into my soul, telling me to go to the Bay Area. I began an unsettling journey West, beset by questions that I didn’t have the answers to…

“why do my Christian friends and I tell jokes about queer people?”

“why is my church parking lot filled with SUV’s and trucks when hardly any of us haul anything?”

“if Jesus is a ‘friend of sinners.’ why are all my relationships churchy?”

“why am I convinced that God wrote the Republican platform on the pages of the Bible?”

“why am I so lacking in compassion?”

These questions brought me to another vortex, one where things got fuzzy again, a place that required what I heard Tony Jones once call epistemological humility. Having questions does that to us. Being sure of everything has a way of creating identity confusion; when we think we’re the gardener it’s hard to be the seed the True Gardener desires to plant. So I believe God used this unknowing to remind me that I am adam, cultivated from the common earth and reliant on the Breath of heaven to be given form and substance. It is God’s to avenge, to reveal, to form and fashion, to build up and tear down, according to his good purposes. This is my re-emergence, my being brought back into focus principally as a child of God, with the freedom to let Yahweh interpret me and define me instead of the other way around.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant by being “born again,” or that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. I don’t know, you know? That’s what I know. I’ve heard postmodernism referred to metaphorically as a giant black hole, sucking every dimension of light and structure and absolute truth into an inescapable void of unknowing. My great hope is that the Spirit of God is similarly a giant vacuum of Light and Love and Truth, drawing every dimension of unknowing and confusion into her gravitational pull. As such, I’m beginning to get away from calling myself postmodern… I’m beginning to think of myself instead as a post-propositional, pre-spiritual, Jesus-following ragamuffin.

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