Myself (or someone like me) v. 7

It's been awhile since i posted one of these. [I can imagine either sighs of relief or groans and eyes rolled upwards, depending.] The Feeling. Once upon a time, I was the poetry editor of Wooster's literary magazine, The Goliard, and a poem called "Spirituality" came across my desk. It wasn't a great poem, but I thought it good enough to make at least the first cut. I guessed that it wouldn't make the second or third--when the whole 8 person poetry committee and then the senior editor had to approve the entries--but who knew. Turns out I was way off. "Spirituality" was one of the favored poems in that issue, nearly everyone giving it a thumbs up (except me and the senior editor). Eventually it appeared on page 12. The closing stanza, which I found quite weak went:
my friend hisses in my ear, spit driving like pins Are you feeling it? and the woman behind me claps my back and screams for revelation
It was an unconvinced scoff at best. But a scoff at what, exactly? Pentecostalism? The Church? Religion? The Midwest? I found out that the poet was a good friend of mine, who graduated a year behind me from Whetstone. The poem was written after her experience at a Wooster AoG church; strangely enough, at a service I may have attended. And the poem captured, however imperfectly, a picture of the religious confusion and disillusionment latent in the hearts of every one of the individuals on my poetry committee. As well as wearing the barely-competant literati hat (a beret, I'm sure), I wore the barely-competant coordinator of the Bible studies on campus for our InterVarsity chapter hat. Somehow, my head had always been able to accommodate both hats. But after that edition of The Goliard was published I felt an uneasiness when I attended Bible study leader meetings. Of course, I couldn't be responsible for all of the views expressed in all of the poems that appeared in the magazine. Yet some of my friends at IV who attended this large and influential AoG church fervently believed that, given my relationship with this poet, I should have been able to convince her to rewrite or withdraw the poem. They asked me if I had tried. No, I hadn't. Such an absurd thought had never even occurred to me. Then they asked me if I would consider resigning as Bible study coordinator since I obviously felt the need to keep my religious and my secular duties separate; that feeling could only be the result of luke-warmness in my faith. So there we were at another crossroads in my life. Was my life cordoned off into these different compartments? I didn't think so. But these IV people had identified something about me which I hadn't seen before. And here it is: I am suspicious of people who like to talk about their own profound emotional experiences. I have to pick apart this phrase, so I don't misunderstand myself. "Suspicious" = I don't fully trust, but i don't dislike or think they're wrong, exactly. "Talk about their own" = The having of emotional experiences is one thing. I've had profound emotional experiences. But I don't like to share them. More than that--I don't think I'm supposed to share them with any except my deepest, most intimate friends. "Profound emotional experiences" = There seems to be an inverse relationship between the profundity of the experience and the need to share verbally with lots of other people. In other words, if I talk about an experience with a bunch of people, perhaps it wasn't that profound. Have I really thought about it? How do I know it was profound? Was my life changed by it? And why is it that emotional experiences are the profound ones? Can we have deeply moving intellectual experiences? No, because by definition, what is moved is your emotions. And yet...here's where the suspicion comes in. Is it enough to simply be moved emotionally? It's funny that I even remember "Spirituality." I had to dig up that particular issue of The Goliard to quote from it and I had to remember what the poem was called and who wrote it and where in the magazine it fell. All of those things came very easily--signifying, I suppose, that the poem had more of an impact on me that I'd like to admit to myself. Or perhaps rather than changing me, it simply illuminated a sense I already had. I don't know what to do with other people's profound emotional experiences, especially when they have something to do with Christianity. It's not like I don't think that God works in those ways. It's rather that I suspect we are too likely to misinterpret strong feelings as God working. An email prompted this post. An email from friends who are going through a tough time right now. And they ended their email like this: "God is with us and we feel it, May He be with you, and may you feel it." I would never say anything to discourage them; to be skeptical about their feelings or the importance of them would be inappropriate, even cruel. I suppose my take on their email might be something like: "God is with us and I am certain of it. May you too be certain in the knowledge that he is with you." Strangely, I find this more emotionally comforting, precisely because my emotional awareness that God is near is often absent entirely. When I read Paul's prayer for himself and the Ephesians--"I pray that I may have the power to comprehend...to know the height and depth...."--I find something much closer to what I actually experience. I don't think Paul was some sort of anti-emotional robot, far from it. Rather, it's nice to know that stalwarts in the faith were praying for comprehension and assurance more than they were looking for a particular intensity of feeling.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


this is an interesting post. i experience similar things to you with regard to emotionalism.

i was wondering if you have an emotional experience to compare these things. i remember when q, andy and i were with you and b at riverside the day greta arrived. we joked about how the process of fertilization, the zygote, mitosis and meiosis were the means to her arriving. but, no joke was the fact that we held your baby in our arms. both events are quite powerful.

my point is that could such experiences be a similar link to what the "nf" meyers-briggs type talk about in emotinalism?

if this does not make sense i will try to be more coherent.


6/07/2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger e said...

Matt--no doubt your comments are perceptive. I'm sure that, in part at least, this is a personality issue. Being an "Introvert," I find lots of talking...well...annoying. Being an "NT," though only barely--I have a moderately high "Feeler" score as well--I like abstract ideas more than, say, abstract feelings. But I like abstract feelings too.

In fact, this has to be one of the reasons I like music so much--the vague feelings they evince when you listen to good songs.

What makes me suspicous is setting these experiences as the core of what it means to be a Christ-follower. And then talking about them a lot, as if talking about them assures us of something--of God working perhaps. There becomes an implicit gulf fixed between the "experiencers" and the "thinkers" in many churches (that I've attended, anyway). Experiencers think that its the emotional movement that is most important. Thinkers might believe its the "meat" in a sermon or whatever.

I'm not sure what Christianity is, but I suspect that it's not summed up by any intense experience I have. In fact, it seems that it's a deep change at the level of the Will or the Self that makes one's walk with God visible. But that's only a hunch.

6/07/2006 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


i was talking with a good freind recently who is more on the experience/feeling side of the equation. he came to me sharing an experinece that on first blush appeared to be his over-sensitivity to feeling for an answer rather than engaging his brain. after i told him what i thought of his predicament, he told me that it would be essential for me to pray that God revelas to him what was necessary becasue i did not have enough marriage experience to warrant following my advice.

my advice at the time was to have him ask his wife direct questions but be willing to listen in the event he does not hear what he likes.

this brought me to do some soul searching of my own. many times i think we check into default mode when we experience/discover what we need to get rather than what we want to get. being open to the inverse of ones default mode i think is key to the christian experience.

i hope this is not a detour from your original post.


6/07/2006 1:14 PM  
Blogger zena said...

we tend to hear more about the baggage of over emotional church experience then the wounds of an over intellectual one. i know they are out there. people who distrust any personal feelings or desires because they would fufill a "selfish" hope.

it's tough because we act as if emotions are more fallen than the intellect when both are equally sinful apart from submission to christ. it might be because we read about renewing our minds and live in an emotion driven era. however god is able to use one as well as the other to lead us. if under his authority...that's the trick. i imagine life on either extreme end of the spectrum is misleading and addictive.

e, have you read, 'quest for the radical middle?' it was recommended to me recently, but i haven't gotten there yet. if you have, i'd enjoy hearing your take on it.

take care,

6/09/2006 8:28 PM  
Blogger e said...

z--good reminder about the problem with the intellect. i feel like b and i are at a church that struggles with that: lots of thinking, little doing.

why do you think the emotionally off-balance churches get more press?

i haven't read that book... has josh :) ?

can i put it on my summer reading list--for 2008? then maybe i'll have time.... how 'bout you? you only have two kids to chase after. can't you bust that out in a day?

6/10/2006 5:21 AM  

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