[This post has been modified from its original publication to clarify the author’s intent.]
I was baptized on November 02, 1975 at the First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of San Fernando, but I got saved while at The Vineyard in 1997. It seems so strange to me to write an account of me getting saved. Especially now, being a Presbyterian, I witness this world within a reformed understanding. I have wrestled for the last two years if I am or not a Presbyterian. I just cannot shake these evangelical feelings in my life.
It was there at the Vineyard that I found a deep place for God’s love. At the Vineyard I discovered that the Spirit really did all that crazy shit you hear about from that guy’s cousins friend that served in Africa as a missionary. I witnessed the genuine moving of the Spirit amongst an honest and real people that expected the Spirit to arrive everyday and do powerful, crazy miracles in their lives.
My first experience with the Vineyard was at a Christmas Eve service. I go to this service and sit in a row of chairs, not in the back and not quite in the front. The pastor delivers the sermon. I have not idea what that sermon was about. I do remember that as we were all praying after the sermon and a woman right behind me started to speak in tongues! Seriously, I just about shite myself.
She spoke in tongues in a loud and authoritative manner. Then a man across the room near the front spoke up from the congregation and began to interrupt this outpouring of the Spirit. He prophesied a large movement of people claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. He said that God was going to increase the flock. God had great plans for this little congregation.
Right there I was sold. I wanted to be a part of this Spirit thing. I seriously felt something tugging at my heart. It would be several weeks until I acted on that tug on my heart.
My twin brother was involved in an accident, a head on collision, on PCH. I was dating the daughter of some long time lay leaders of the Vineyard. Another brother came and told me about what had happened and drove us to the hospital. I was told he was airlifted to UCLA medical center and was not able to walk. That he may be paralyzed.
Through tears I prayed on the way to the hospital that if God healed my brother that I would believe and serve God always. I arrived to find my brother with a saline bag in the hood part of his hoodie outside with family smoking cigarettes. He still had all the tape on his arms from the lines they had in him. He broke his back in the accident. He still has those broken vertebrates in his back today.
I went home that night and could not sleep. I felt God speaking to me saying, “Í did my part, now it is your turn.” I tried to ignore the voice. Out of exhaustion I prayed some prayer. I am not even sure what kind of prayer it was. I remember just saying Lord here is my life; do with it what you will.
Well God did something in me. I went along with my business. I remember one day, perhaps two weeks after I prayed that prayer, going to the girl’s house I was dating and her mom answered the door. She stared at me. She smiled and said, “Something is different about you. Did you give your life to Jesus?” I had told no one about that night. I laughed and asked her what I was to do next.
They bought me a Bible and I read it a lot. I went to Bible study at their house. I got involved in the church. I used to evangelize to everyone. I would go to Venice Beach with a buddy that was not a Christian and drink beers. Then on the way home I would evangelize people.
If is saw a street preacher surrounded by people, I would go over there and try to help out. This went on for months. During this time I began to question the teachings I was exposed to. They seemed to me that if I questioned anything I did not believe enough.
Then one time we were in the backyard of one of the older guys at the church I hung out with. Everyone was hanging out and this guy says to me, “I am going to teach you how to speak in tongues.” So he grabs my hands and starts praying out loud. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” He starts to say this pray faster and faster. Now he seems to be hyperventilating. He says, “you pray now Ryan.” So I start to do the prayer. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Deep inside I knew I was faking it. Shit I felt like a dumb ass. Then a few other peope started to do it. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Now people are excited. People are cheering us on. They original guy hugs me and says, “The Spirit has anointed you.”
I left there feeling weird. I just faked the Spirit. This in combination with my growing suspicion inspired me to leave. I missed this church a lot. This day I miss some aspects of that church. They gave me some great gifts.
After floating around between TBN (my television homeland) and drunken oblivion at TGI Friday’s I discovered a string of churches. I first joined an evangelical Spanish speaking church. Then it was FPC Canoga Park. Then there was Calvary. There was the young hipster church in South County. Then nothing…the Spirit sort of left me.
I went to university and became a Religious Studies major. I was in a class and this guy said, “I am going to be a minister.” I thought he was being arrogant. I tried to ignore him.
I wanted to be a part of a community of believers, folks that really sought God and wrestled with the real shiftiness of being human. The shame, guilt, and remorse of it all be dammed. I did not want to be put into a box, no matter how glorious or divine it was. I wanted to question doctrine. I wanted to explore life in grace and forgiveness. I wanted to heal.
One day I was praying and that hopeful preacher guy came to mind. I felt God moving my heart to speak to this guy. I felt the Spirit telling me to say to this guy, “God wants me to talk to you because you can help me grow.” I thought God was full of shite.
So I went to this class with the hopeful preacher guy and told him that God wanted me to talk to him and why. He invited me to college group at the FPC Granada Hills. That was the spring of 2002. It was here that God fashioned my call to become a missionary and then a seminarian.
I have been undercare of the CPM of San Fernando Presbytery since mid 2006 and undercare of FPC Granada Hills since early 2002. This is generally where I begin my story, with the Presbyterian pedigree.
I have been watching this documentary, Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. My friend Brian sent it to me to watch. We share the similarity of being evangelical and becoming Presbyterian. I believe I have watched this film about 18 times. I have studied it and been moved by it. Mostly I am becoming convicted by it.
I watch this film and wonder, “Why can’t the Holy Spirit move like that in the Presbyterian Church today?” Is there a prohibition on the Spirit moving in our congregations? WTF am I afraid of?
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Hundreds of sermons are being preached today about the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people hear these sermons on Acts 4:18-21, 23-33. Some will get their weekly or monthly dose of Spirit and go on relatively unchanged. Some will be deeply moved and a seed planted as they go out into the world to be the living reminder of Gods grace in this world, to be Gods hands and legs.
It seems that the PCUSA is cool with the Spirit, as long as it stays on the calendar and does not mess with anything else. The Spirit can stay if it is decent and orderly. The Spirit is allowed to play with the Trinity and to be present in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as long as it stays in the inspired words of the preacher or sprinkled upon the hearts of the assembly.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer all in a box. Ready to be consumed. Ready to be spoken of. Ready to be controlled. We even have a prize for the little ones (time for the young ones or some other aptly titled moment to young disciples) that comes with our God in a box.
I am not some far fetched evangelical refugee. I am a Christian in a Presbyterian harbor seeking to be transformed by the Spirit. That would describe many of us. Where in the Book of Order does it say that I cannot be radically filled with the Spirit as I serve God?
When will I stop being timid and expect the Spirit to be present in worship? In heart? In mind? In all that I do? I feel the Spirit moving again, a little. I am confused about my present spiritual identity.
There is so much potential in the denomination today. We got some brilliant, creative, and blessed folks on leadership and training to be in leadership. There are numerous folks in the pews that are open for new ways to be church. They are no longer satisfied with three points and a conclusion.
I want to open the box and see what God will do. I do not have to be so decent and orderly. I can be Presbyterian and evangelical, evangelical and progressive, progressive and traditional. I can still be educated and moved in the Spirit in emotional ways. I fear that I have become distant from my emotions. I fear that if I believe in tongues of fire, miracle healings, and Spirit induced dancing that I am not Presbyterian.
Looking out at the political and social climate surrounding this denomination you may see hope beyond understanding. There is something that is happening that I am trying to wrap my head around. I can feel the energy, the emotion, the Spirit. I get so excited when I think of what God is doing and calling us to do that I get the Disneyland belly. I just wonder if there is a place for me at the Presbyterian table. Can one be Presbyterian and hunger for the unashamed, rebel-rousing Spirit-filled proclamations outside of the decent and orderly worship? I think so. It makes sense to me.