Thursday, February 09, 2012

Alpha Course Overnight Getaway: Outing Myself

This is a special, mini-series within my larger series on the Alpha course. I am a Jewish-raised dude and now Gnu Atheist who has taken the Alpha Course along with my Christian wife. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Part III, The Day After
Yesterday evening's session left me amused, perplexed, and sad. The whole scene was amusing for its kitsch and its fervor. With the lights down low and prayer groups forming and disbanding like bubbles in broth, I was reminded of the Witches' Sabbath from "Young Goodman Brown," a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was also puzzled by the whole thing: how was it that folks were buying into this silly set of practices? How was it that people gave themselves over in all sincerity to what was so obviously contrived? Finally I was saddened. Although I couldn't hear all the prayers, and although I wanted not to eavesdrop or invade anyone's privacy, I strongly sensed that many people were praying to be healed. They wanted to recover from grief of loss. They wanted to overcome hard times. They wanted to fell better or happier. They wanted help for loved ones. I was sad in empathy and sad knowing that prayers weren't the answer.

I went for an early morning run the next day. After a good breakfast, everyone went to small groups to talk about the night before. People generally felt good. They felt closer to one another. The night had been about bringing down personal/social barriers, and the morning small group was the start of a re-building, where the new intimates sought to re-affirm themselves to one another--to assure everyone that what they felt was real.

Before our group adjourned the session, I spoke up. I needed to because the transition process beginning here concerned how people would go out into the world as Spirit-filled Christians. Conversation had turned to how the world seemed hostile to devoted Christians and to public displays of Christian devotion. I shared my feelings because I did not want to be the representative of that hostile world, as they perceived it.

I told them I was an unbeliever, in case anyone had not figured it out. I said I had been born to a Jewish home. There were periods when I believed and even believed quite intensely. I shared with the group that based on what I had learned and experienced, I had come to accept there was no God. I used the word “reject” to describe my relationship to God and religions.

But I affirmed my 100-percent support for my wife. My job as her husband, at least by my understanding, was to stand by her and with her. I promised to walk with her on any path she chose. Then I said I felt the same way about everyone in our group, that I did and would support them.

We went back to the big group and listened to music, and then we viewed the fourth and final DVD of the weekend. The main idea here was that people should aim to live their lives normally but as Christians. Don’t just be a banker but be a Christian banker, bringing Christian values to everything. We are, Gumbel said, ambassadors of Christ.

Gumbel made several comments about how difficult it is to be different--in this group, believe me, I could relate! As Christians, Gumbel said, we should use good speech and not harmful speech about others. The final appeal made by Gumbel was something to the effect of putting Jesus first in all things to be successful in them. If your goal is to make a lot of money, you may succeed but you won’t be happy. But if your goal is to make a lot of money to help the church feed and clothe the poor then you will be both successful and happy.

After the DVD, all the groups got in a big circle to talk about the previous evening. People recounted their experiences. One woman said she received the peace of mind about her late husband that she’d been waiting 13 months for. A man said that he had felt heat and tingling last night and that it couldn’t have been anything but the Holy Spirit.

Then the pastor led a communion service. I was the only person who did not get up to take a piece of bread and a sip of wine. After putting some money in the collection baskets (plural), we broke for lunch. Others stayed behind to get more prayers. Lunch was awesome. We drove away from the conference center at about 1:30 pm.

Next Time: Final Thoughts

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