A Long, Strange Trip, Part Seven: Kissing Evangelicalism Goodbye (Fall 2013-Summer 2015)

For the most part, 2013 and 2014 were pretty uneventful for me. During this time I continued to be involved with the Ann Arbor Vineyard church, helping with their ministry to homeless people and making study guides for small groups. I also continued to play piano for Immanuel Lutheran Church in Jackson.

In the fall of 2014, my brother (a devout Quaker) invited me to go on a retreat in Ohio with the Friends of Jesus fellowship, a group of Quakers from around the country that he had helped organize.

By this time I no longer identified as an evangelical Protestant. I still believed that Jesus was my Lord and Savior, but saw this more in political and social terms than salvation from hell or personal sin. I still read the Bible regularly, but no longer saw it as the only or final spiritual authority. I still believed in salvation by grace, but had come to believe that good works were also a necessary part of the process. And while I still believed in the importance of evangelism, I didn’t know exactly what this meant.

During this same time, the Ann Arbor Vineyard was going through an intense internal struggle over whether (and to what extent) gays and lesbians should be included in church leadership. It looked like we were headed toward a schism.

I had been to a couple Quaker meetings before, and appreciated their egalitarian style of worship (most Quaker meetings don’t have paid pastors or prepared sermons. Instead, everyone gathers for silent prayer, and anyone who feels called by the Spirit to speak can do so at any time).

What I experienced at the Friends of Jesus retreat was different than I expected. Silent worship was a big part of it, to be sure; but there was also an emphasis on prophetic boldness and the gifts of the Spirit.

By the end of the retreat, the worship had gotten pretty vocal and charismatic, and a few people were even speaking in tongues – something I had never expected to see at a Quaker retreat!

It was a very powerful weekend for me, and I returned home with a renewed sense of spiritual energy. Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long.

In November of 2014, my most recent girlfriend Christina passed away. When I first heard the news, it was a total shock to me. Though it had been almost two years since I had seen her in person, I had talked to her just a few weeks before; and while I knew she was sick, I had no idea that she was about to die. I just happened to look at her Facebook page one day, and was greeted with a bunch of memorials. Nothing could have prepared me for this!

After about three days, the shock wore off and I fell into a deep depression. It felt like I had lost her twice – once when we broke up, and a second time when she died. It was so damn unfair! Christina was only 41 when she passed, and was one of the most loving people I had ever known. I couldn’t understand why God would allow such a thing to happen.

About a month later, the Ann Arbor Vineyard split in two. Of its 600 members, about half stayed at the same location, continuing the “traditional” policy of reserving church leadership for those who were either celibate or in a heterosexual marriage. Another 150 or so split off to form a new church, and the remaining 150 left the fellowship entirely. I chose to be a part of the new church plant, which is now called Blue Ocean Faith.

In January of 2015, my band released our first album – a two-CD set we had been working on for a couple years. At about the same time, I finally got off the narcotic pain medication I had been taking for my jaw. This started the year off on a good note.

Unfortunately, my depression continued to worsen. A lot of the time I did nothing but sleep and watch TV. I was convinced that I would never be able to work full-time or support myself financially.

A turning point came in the summer of 2015, when a good friend of mine offered me a summer job doing housekeeping at a Christian camp. I could live with him for the summer, he said, and we could play music together when we weren’t busy working.

At first I was reluctant to take this on, but I decided to give it a shot. I moved in with him in early July, not sure how long the arrangement would last.

To my surprise, I was able to get to work every day; and I made another good friend in the same area. Before long the three of us were partying and playing music together, and it made for a pretty fun summer! I managed to get a second job working as a delivery driver for Jimmy John’s, and stayed in the Flint area on into the fall.

By the beginning of September, however, it was clear that things weren’t going well. My depression was getting worse and worse; and while I was able to get to work every day, I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Christina, and I was drinking more and more, trying to numb the pain. When this didn’t work, I would go to sleep and not get up again except to eat or go to work.

One night in early September I reached a breaking point. The depression was now so bad that I couldn’t drink it away, and I couldn’t sleep. I remember lying there for hours wishing I would die. I simply couldn’t go on.

Though I didn’t take my life that night, a part of me did die – the part that had been trying so hard to make things work. I had come to realize the utter futility of “self-help,” of trying to “pull myself together.”

I had found that it simply didn’t matter how hard I tried; I couldn’t make myself happy or successful. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “All is vanity and a chasing after the wind.”

There wasn’t any point in trying, in other words; everything always turned to shit in the end. I would live out the rest of my days in quiet desperation, I figured, and if there was any justice in the universe, it would all be over soon.

And so it was that I stopped trying to “do the will of God.” If there was a God, He either didn’t care or didn’t have the power to help me. Either way, there was no point in trying to follow Him, so I quit! I was convinced that my spiritual life was over. What I didn’t know was that I was about to experience the greatest awakening I had ever known.


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