No Swimming Allowed (Part 2)

Click here to read part one of this story I’m sharing as a response to the recent Strange Fire conference.


No Swimming Allowed (Part 2)

Imagine what it would be like to live your life on a flat, waterless prairie and receive your first invitation to visit the ocean. You prepare by packing a huge beach towel, bathing suit, flip flops and sun block. As you arrive at your destination, you can smell the unmistakable scent of the sea, of saltwater and fish and tangible warmth. You run toward the sound of the surf, and catch a glimpse of a white sand beach and a sapphire ocean. But as you round a corner, you discover that access to the water is blocked by a humongous billboard that reads:

NO secular music                                                NO public school

NO immunizations for the kids                        NO secular friends

NO T.V.                                                                  NO movies

NO Catholics                                                        NO Mainliners

NO Pentecostals or Charismatics                     NO wimpy evangelicalism

NO alcohol                                                            NO participation in pagan holidays

NO political liberals                                            NO secular literature

NO secular art                                                      NO questions

(And in really big letters…)

NO swimming

You move closer, looking to see if there is some other way around this monstrosity. Instead, you discover a literature table labeled “Everything You Need To Know About The Ocean.”  There are books about the history of the ocean, the chemical composition of the ocean, the biology of the ocean, and instructions on how to swim.

You try to convince yourself that you might be able to learn everything you need to know about the ocean from the safety of the shore, reading books in the shadow of the billboard. You wonder if you can substitute billboards and books for a swim in the warm, salty water that smells like tears. After all, when you return to your home on the prairie, you’ll be able to wow your friends back home all you’ve learned about the ocean.

But you know the truth – that you can’t really experience the ocean unless you immerse yourself deeply in its power and beauty. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Ps. 42:7)”

Dave could hear the call of the deep from his safe spot on shore, and was surprised to discover how much he wanted to dive in.

+ + + + + + +

Christy was in tears after the kids had gone to bed one night a few weeks later. “A group of women from church got together at the park this afternoon, and the subject of modest dress came up. Donna Tisdean brought up Pastor Johnson’s message about purity, and some of the women said they were feeling convicted to stop wearing jeans because they’re men’s clothing.”  She leafed through her KJV quickly. “It says here in Deuteronomy 22:5 `The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God’”.

Dave thought that some of those women wore tired jumpers and vinyl running shoes like a martyr’s badge of honor. Even after four babies in seven years, Christy still looked like a teenager to Dave. The jumper and running shoes get-up would transform her instantly into a middle-aged woman. Dave wanted to honor God, but he knew that if they went this route, Christy would don the uniform because she was afraid of what Donna Tisdean and the other jumper-wearing women at church would say about their family if she didn’t.

“What do you think, honey?”

The plaintive tone of her question told him again how much she wanted to please him and God. But Dave hated the raw fear he saw in her eyes as she asked it. If all of the other women at church dressed a certain way, and now that he thought about it, realized that a good number of them already did, then Christy would be on the receiving end of their tart gossip if she didn’t follow suit.

Dave and Christy had met a decade earlier at a singles group at a large evangelical church in their area. When a doctrinal war erupted at that church, Dave and Christy found themselves increasingly frustrated with watered-down messages and liberal bent of the leadership team. Dave and Christy both longed for a church where the people were unflinching in their commitment to the Word of God, and found a warm welcome at Covenant Bible Chapel.

They’d learned that the Tisdeans and other families who’d started Covenant Bible Chapel had done so because their former church wasn’t quite conservative enough for them, either. At the time, Dave and Christy thought it was providence that there were so many others like them who cared so much about doctrinal purity.

They threw themselves headfirst into their new congregation. Little by little, they lost pieces of themselves in the process. Dave hadn’t touched his electric bass in at least four years because their new friends convinced them that rock instruments were unbiblical. Christy, a former English major, no longer read fiction of any kind because they said that fantasy literature of any kind was wrong. But those pieces of themselves – and all the other pieces that had disappeared in the process – had begun to gnaw at Dave. What had replaced those pieces?  “God’s Agenda Today”?  Jumpers?

Dave asked, “Do you ever wonder if we have more fear of the Tisdeans and the rest of them than we do of God?”

They weren’t quite ready to face the answer yet, but the question was enough.

+ + + + + + +

Dave later told my husband and me that this question worked on his calcified heart like a jackhammer. “My prayer life had always been a monologue. I read my grocery list to God, and threw in some compliments for Him because I knew I was supposed to. But that question broke me. I got on my knees night after night, and all I could do was tell Him that I needed Him, and that I’d was ready to do whatever He asked of me. The more I prayed that way, the more I could feel my life changing.

“One night, without warning, I began to weep uncontrollably while I was praying. Something changed; I was aware the Holy Spirit was praying through me.” He prayed for his family and for Covenant Bible Chapel with fresh urgency and deep compassion. Words of deep gratitude, humbling gratitude, for all Christ had done for him poured out of his mouth.

Dave had dived headfirst into the ocean. He’d lost his desire to stay on shore.

Stay tuned for the final installment of this story. 

"Childishness, Richard. I keep telling you to try grow up."

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  • As one who grew up in the fundamentalist Baptist movement, I am enjoying your series. Can’t wait for part 3!

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Thanks! Glad you survived it. 🙂

  • Tim

    Michelle, that line about fearing the people in the church more than they feared God reminded me of reading someone say that a church they’d attended seemed like too much church and not enough Jesus. The legalistic people in your post seem like they have the same mis-focus.
    Thanks for this series. I’m off to read the conclusion now!

  • Boyd

    The whole group think business happens no matter if a group leans towards the “right” or the “left” because homogeneousness births a sense of superiority—WE are better than THEM—and in order to tell who the THEM are, external boundaries have to be set up. And the more that the WE gathers exclusively together, the tighter the clique becomes. WE are better than THEM because we have “superior” values and have made “superior” choices. Anyone who doesn’t conform to the externals of the “clique” are placed under suspicion.
    It happens not just in “conservative” camps. There are those who find themselves in more “progressive” camps where the same group think mentality has taken hold of people. Instead of wearing jumpers under the banner of piety, everyone wears skinny jeans and t-shirts and flip-flops under the banner of being missional. Instead of discussing talking heads on radio or tv, the website or blogger de jour or book author is quoted and discussed in the Sunday School class because in group think, EVERYONE “weigh[s] in with their own third-hand tidbits … gleaned from the internet and various newsletters.” Rather than hymns and piano = good & CCM and electric guitar = bad, people reverse it and have CCM and electric
    guitar = good & hymns and piano = bad. People sit around and dissect the
    sermon to stroke their sense of superiority (the us vs them mentality) or people
    sit around drinking lattes and and craft beers saying they are superior because
    they are “sharing their lives” and “crafting community.” The mindset of “Thank God I am not like fill-in-the-blank” happens no matter which clique people find themselves in.
    Sadly, Dave and Christy could leave the jumper mentality behind and find a place that is ok with electric guitars and jeans only to discover a few year down the road that they traded one clique for another.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      We humans tend to herd, don’t we?

      In Dave and Christy’s case, they were indeed prone to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

      The one saving grace is that they were better equipped to stay back from those flames because of the war wounds they’d acquired at Covenant AND their new awareness that they didn’t have before that the Holy Spirit is speaking, teaching and guiding them here and now, in the present tense.