I received the gift of tongues when I was just eight years old. An older woman in our small charismatic church introduced us Friday night Bible study kids to the idea of a “prayer language.” I don’t remember how my teacher explained it, only how she gently placed her hands on our heads, one after another, while quietly praying in tongues herself. My mouth filled with syllables I didn’t know and didn’t understand; I lifted my skinny arms to the ceiling, and I spoke in tongues like a mystic.
I was raised in small charismatic churches in western Canada, long before the Internet made it easy to keep tabs on what other Christians were up to. I grew up believing that our experiences—speaking in tongues and then the interpretation, healing, miracles, prophecy, words of knowledge, and faith—were utterly unremarkable.
As I look back on my childhood, although the gifts of the Holy Spirit were dear to us and we deeply believed in their practice, the real difference was that we expected God. We wanted the wild and the untamed Spirit to disrupt us. We lived out of an assumption of God’s good gifts and overwhelming love. We yearned to see the Kingdom come on earth, right here, as it was or would be in heaven. We figured that was what God wanted, too. Believing power would come from on high to see the lost found and the sick healed and imprisoned set free, our church operated on a first-name basis with the Spirit.
Later, when I began to spend time with other Christians outside of my tradition, I discovered that we were considered fringe. A bit suspect amongst the establishment. People thought charismatics were dangerous, the weird ones, controversial. Who knew?
Over the years, I’d seen my share of damaging abuses done in the name of the Spirit. I’ve been on the receiving end of some weird practices. I look back on some of the things I used to believe and cringe a bit. Think of an over-realized eschatology, and I’ve probably heard it preached beautifully.
Anytime I get defensive about how charismatics are mocked or stereotyped, I am presented with something like this article from Charisma “news” referring to Donald Trump as “God’s Trumpet to America,” and I have renewed sympathy for cessasionists. In my upcoming book, Out of Sorts, I write about how I’ve learned to make peace with having an evolving faith, which means that, like most of us who grew up in some form of Christianity, I’ve had to sort through what I was taught and figure out what I want to carry with me and what I want to lay down. Being a charismatic provides a lot of material.