3 Cheers for Stage 3?/ Tim A
“Oh no, my new roommate is a Christian, and he just gave me the spiel! I didn’t know what to say.” This is what I told a friend of mine recently when Matthew, my new roommate at the time, gave me what I can only refer to as “the Christ spiel.” If you’ve ever been part of a church community (or ridden a New York City subway), you probably know exactly what I’m talking about – he starts off by slyly asking me what I was doing that night, then when I said I had no plans, he mentioned how he had a Bible study, and I could come if I want. I said no thank you, but it was too late – he started asking me whether or not I was saved, and telling me how Jesus has transformed his life, etc etc etc. After a while, I found a way to politely extricate myself.
Thing is, I’m very much what this community would refer to as “Stage 3” (spiritual adolescence) but I really didn’t know how to explain that to my roommate, who was very obviously “Stage 2” (rules-based spirituality). I grew up in a southern-influenced Presbyterian church and spent my whole life in religious communities. One such religFGious community was the Greater Boston Vineyard, which I can unequivocally say changed my life and was the best church I’ve ever been a part of. Then about 2 years ago, I left. Ostensibly, this was because I was moving away from Boston to Cincinnati for an acting gig (I now reside in New York City), but I definitely felt that God was leading me away from the church, at least for the time being. The best way I could describe the feeling to friends was, “in every good story, there comes a time when the hero leaves home.” I had spent my whole life in the church, and I felt it was time to experience the wider world.
This is not to say that I’ve given up on God – on the contrary, I feel my faith has never been stronger. And I definitely feel God’s blessing on this stage in my life – while I wrestle with the idea that there’s gotta be more to life than what I learned in church, I just don’t know what that is yet.
We often talk about these Peckian (is that a word?) stages as though they are paradigms to be examined and shifted – for example, when we talk of a “Stage 4” answer to a question as opposed to a “Stage 2” or “Stage 3” one, or when we talk about leading a “Stage 4” spiritual revival. I believe these are very useful discussions, but I think it’s also useful to remember that originally, this “stages” idea referred to stages of development – meaning that a healthy spiritual life is going to experience all of them at some time, in their natural progression, and you can’t just skip to the end by willing yourself into the correct paradigm. You can’t get to adulthood without passing through adolescence. If you want to get to Stage 4, you have to go through Stage 3. Or, to quote the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, “If you wanna get to Heaven, you gotta raise a little Hell.”
Which then begs the question: if adolescence is a good, natural, and healthy part of our spiritual development, then there has to be a good, God-fearing way to go about it. And I wonder what that looks like? What would it mean for a community to encourage positive rebellion, or is that just a contradiction in terms? I have my own ideas, but I’d rather pose this one to all of you: do you feel as though this describes your current (or past) spiritual experience, and if so, what’s the best way to do Stage 3?