So far on this site, I've dealt with what happened once I was in an unhealthy church, and how I ultimately got out of it... but in the last few days, I've been thinking back to how it all started for me. This link was posted in a forum, and that's what instigated this trip down memory lane:
It's a couple of clips from a meeting with Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, two icons of the Word of Faith movement. That's the sort of thing that we used to consider "a really good meeting."
Of course, the video doesn't really do it justice. It is another thing entirely to be in a meeting where all this is happening. What looks ridiculous on tape can seem very plausible in person. My first taste of anything even remotely charismatic was back in the early 90s -- a "holy laughter" experience at a church not far from my college.
The charismatic stuff was new to me, but laughing was easy. I didn't have to be taught how to laugh. It wasn't something out of the ordinary in and of itself -- like speaking in tongues. Laughter is naturally contagious. It releases tension and makes you more comfortable. It's a generally positive thing.
Did you ever dare a friend to make you smile or laugh, and then try desperately to keep a straight face? It's hard. The harder you try, it seems, the harder you laugh when you finally let go...
In that first meeting, I tried very hard not to laugh... but I couldn't help it. I sat there as long as I could with everyone around me laughing. Many people were rolling on the floor and doing other ridiculous looking things that would have made me laugh even under normal circumstances. I was trying desperately to "stifle" my own laughter, hold it in, but I was doomed to fail!
By the time I finally let go and started laughing, it was truly overwhelming. When one of the leaders asked if they could pray for me, I could hardly even answer because I was laughing uncontrollably and trying to keep from falling out of my folding chair. To say that things were "emotionally charged" would be a tremendous understatement. When that leader laid hands on me, it felt like electricity... and I wound up on the floor. I must have looked nervous, because the leader told me, "It's OK, that's just the Holy Spirit. Soak it in." That leader stayed with me "soaking" me for a while, mostly repeating things like "More" and "Fill." So I learned to equate that sort of experience with "feeling God's presence."
The experience was real... I felt things and did things that were out of the ordinary for me. It actually happened. I did not make it up. I didn't do it because I was flakey or wanted attention. I didn't go to that first meeting with the intention of winding up on the floor. (In fact, I went to the first meeting looking for evidence that it was a cult...)
I've often wondered what really happened to me in that meeting (and subsequent meetings). My initial conclusion was that this HAD to be God. What else could it be?
This is another video, in two parts, that offers a different answer to that question:
Could it be that so much of what I used to attribute to the supernatural power of God was really just the power of suggestion?
To be continued...