Listening to: Lindell Cooley
Reading: Letters to the younger version of ourselves, submitted by folks who had some connection to the Brownsville Revival
Writing About: Revival, Growing up, Zeal, Maturity, Things that change and Things that don’t
in an attempt to get a long term perspective on the Brownsville Revival Experience for the benefit of a group of young folks who are currently experiencing something similar, I put a call out. I asked people who had some connection with those events in the late 90s – early 00s to write a letter to their younger self.
I sent the ‘ask’ out to about 15 people, but the post got around 250 views, which is to say – I think it touched a nerve. That being said, I put off the original idea (writing for the group I referenced earlier) and decided to post the letters – mostly uncut, with a little bit of context – and let them speak for themselves.
Before we Start:
- The revival was one thing. It was wild in every sense of the word (except the ‘awesome party’ sense). But it seems like a lot of the memories are related to the tight (often exclusive) Christian community that was rooted in the revival.
- Some people definitely had bad experiences with the revival and the Christian community I just mentioned. Some people had bad experiences at the time, some peoples’ came later on. It is telling, and probably important, to note that none of those people submitted letters. They exist, but they did not participate.The closest thing we got to a submission to represent that experience came from a Facebook thread, and it’s not entirely clear that the author would have made it ‘totally public’ (since it was posted on a Friends page) so I am going to leave it here as an anonymous voice for the difficult side of the experience:
That was not a fun place for me. I went several times and desperately wanted to be like everyone else. I never shook, never felt warm or fuzzy. Never had hands laid on me, I was broken. Religion wasn't for me a guess.
A few folks who have mostly good or mixed feelings about their experience advised me to ‘tread lightly.’ As I stated in the original post, people feel all sorts of ways about all of this – but the feelings still feel pretty strong (or raw, depending on your experience).
So without any further delay, and with very little commentary – here is what people said. Starting with mine.
Young Tyler, If you could see me now, you'd probably be disappointed. As I think back on you, I am mostly proud - and a little embarrassed. You're not the kind to take advice, especially from a guy who doesn't raise his hands during worship music, and certainly doesn't dance, but I hope you can hear me. It's great to be a part of a holiness movement, you'll be happy to know I am still very much concerned with how I live out my faith. You probably think I am missing the point - because I am focused on things that aren't on your radar. I have never been drunk (rest easy, son!). But I did start drinking (at age 24), and I'm okay, really I am. Sometimes I say curse words, on purpose. I hope you can live a holy life - and also lighten up a bit. Also, If I could guide you in any way - I'd like for you to look for ways to live out your holiness that aren't totally concerned with you and your own salvation - or how great it feels to be well behaved - or the shot in the arm of ecstatic music and heavy altar calls. Which brings me to my second point. You're being a jerk. I know you want to live right, and I know you want everyone else to do the same. But you're only capable of controlling your own decisions. There is an important difference between helping people see Jesus, and getting people to act right (even I don't act right, on your terms - and I AM YOU!). You don't mean to, but your single-minded passion and echo-chamber community are causing you to push people out who need peace and hope and healing. And even beyond that, you're just kind of a twerp - you need humility (you still do) and that is different that compromise or 'backsliding' (a term with 20 years of dust on it). I could go on, but you're not the reading type. I appreciate the way i came to think, and live. I am grateful for my faith journey, but you should know we aren't (now) in the same place were (then). And that, too, is okay -Tyler with less hair
Paul Barnett expressed some of the same sentiments in far fewer words. He asked me not to edit – because the curse word itself would send his younger self a message. But I did. Because even though I curse on purpose from time to time, I have yet to publish a curse word on my blog.
Young Paul, Don't be an a**hole
Tanya Douglas who writes her own blog opened with a heavy handful of scripture references and closes with this insight about how she is guided now. Her response recognizes the way that we, as teenagers, responded in a particularly powerful way to the most gut-level emotional aspects of the movement.
I remember loving feeling the Spirit move in worship. I still do. This essentially is not a bad thing- unless we rely on it as the measure of our spiritual health or worship service. God is not a feeling, in fact, often times He asks us to do things which we least “feel” like doing, just as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:19-22- my flesh moves me in sin often! I cannot rely on “feeling” like God is moving as my compass for my spiritual health, or on decisions in my life. In fact, in 2 Cor 13:5, we are to test our faith, and in James 1:2-3, and 1Peter 1:7 we can see that testing our faith can be painful, but produces endurance. Psalms 1:2 reminds us that our delight must be in God’s word, and on it we must meditate day and night. Plant yourself by the steam and you will be a fruitful tree that does not wither.
Paul Hinton was my youth minister at the time. He also writes. And, for what it’s worth, His role as the voice of the mainline church and slow-growth stability was (in hindsight) absolutely vital to my faith. I am sure that I thought Paul didn’t get it, and that he represented ‘religion’ or a ‘dead church’ because I was a cocky little jerk. In hindsight, revival was good and important to me, but Paul and FUMC Niceville were just as important. Full disclosure, I get my paycheck from FUMC Niceville right now (except it’s called Crosspoint).
Dear younger Paul. You are about to see something many in their life times would love to see...a fall of the Holy Spirit. Now it's not going to look all that neat and you won't be able wrangle it or control it. Your going to be afraid of it. Try not to let your fear of the unknown influence your decisions. It will all be ok. You should know younger Paul that there are some serious theological problems with the men leading it. That is Ok to. God is going to change lives forever no matter how man chooses to communicate it. And the music....ohhh the music. It will live in you for the rest of your life. The Holy Spirit is in that music...listen to it ...hear him. Go a few more times than you are going to go. Be less critical and yet be aware that something's that are happening are not of God. Do not let that distract you from that which is God. Know that from this God is going to give you lived to shape...ministers will come forth from it. Do a better job of nurturing them. Study even more so that from the overflow of new committed children you can give them a firm foundation of Grace. You are going to be torn...fearful that you are not near as Godly as those who go often and maintaining a healthy place for all these students who need a place to land. This is going to be a true representation of the song you sing...Theres a wind a blowing. You cannot stop this wind so enjoy it more. Be a shelter to all those who need discipling and dig into that with all you have. You are going to get it wrong and still the Holy Spirit is going to use you. Pray more for guidance. You are going which means in many ways you are not prepared for this movement. It's ok...Jesus comes prepared to pick up that which you cannot carry. This "revival" will change you. In some ways it will make you more skeptical but in others it will prove out how mysterious the ways of the Lord are to those who pay attention. This is going to be a rollercoaster...enjoy the ride.
Kristin Griffin was the first to respond, this is what she told young Kristin. I highlighted a sentence where she really nailed a feeling I have had. Also, young Kristin would not have known what a cell phone was (just sayin):
People are flawed, God is not. Amazing leaders of God will sometimes say things that aren’t biblically accurate. That doesn’t mean they are evil, they are just human. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but don’t be naive. God says He will give you wisdom and discernment if you ask for it, so ask for it! And check everything you learn against the Word of God- never take someone’s word for it. God gave you a brain, use it. You should be as weirdly attached to your Bible as you are your cell phone. Do not try so hard to obtain every possible spiritual gift God has given to man- they are not all for you. Believe it or not, it’s not about you! Focus on obtaining Christ- alone- be patient, and you will see that in time He will naturally hone the gifts he has equipped you with. Finally, do not worry about finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, no matter how godly they are. You will have plenty of time for that. Let Christ really be your first love. Let him consume your thoughts, your time, your affections. Relationship-build with your Savior, and let him be enough. You don’t need soul-stirring experiences to know that God is in your life. You need the day-to-day, ordinary moments, QUIET time, seeking and listening to Him. Yes, He will give us others to mentor us, inspire us, and teach us along the way, but ultimately YOU are responsible for your walk with the Lord. OWN IT. Also, specifically thinking on revival, I'd say there is no "right" way to worship God... perhaps there are wrongs ways, but I think it's more about the attitude of your heart than the outward expressions. Different is not always wrong, I think God appreciates different. Don't judge other believers on what you don't see them do, or what they do. You don't know their hearts.
Sarah Clauson who also writes her own blog had some great things to say. Shocker: people who like to write responded. This is not a scientific survey. Take it or leave it. Also, Sarah didn’t follow the rules (length) and I have a feeling she’ll add to this and post it herself – so if you want more watch her blog. I marked my cuts with a long series of dots so if it feels disjointed blame me. The part of me that wants everyone to follow the rules is the legacy of the part of me that embraced the Revival!
Dear Sarah in her late teens: You are trying to navigate an uncertain time in your life. You are becoming you. And, it turns out, this takes a while. You are desperate for certainty… you crave black and white answers… You want RIGHT NOW something that actually unfolds gradually…......... you want something definitive, something compelling, something that will tell you: 1. Who you are, and 2. That you’re okay. There’s nothing wrong with spiritual fervor. Zeal is great. Finding a group of believers to navigate these times is wonderful. However…....... The system that gave you black and white answers, failed you when you began to doubt it… It failed you when things began to unfold, and there were inconsistencies. And it left you feeling betrayed at best, at worst… damned. You want it all to be true… the things that your tribe believes… You want to feel the hand of God… You literally, want to fall down by his spirit, and LITERALLY tremble in his presence. But you don’t… And my dear… that’s okay. I urge you, to slow down, and to hear the one truth that is at the core of this faith tradition… 1. You are okay, because 2. The divine dwells within you. You didn’t have to ask for it. You didn’t have to turn from your evil ways. You didn’t have to invite God in. You didn’t have to study sound theology. You didn’t have to walk the straight and narrow. You just had to breathe… and acknowledge the truth that you sensed inside of you for as long as you have memory… That life is sacred, and the giver of life abides within you… and that makes you okay. The rest is details.........
And, if you’re still with me, Andrew Bermel reminded me just how dumb I used to be: