A few things you should know about me:
1. I’m known in some circles as “The Googler.” I hate to brag, but I’m pretty fast with a keyboard and a search engine. I know my way around the ol’ interwebs, as they say.
2. I’m a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic. The movie UHF, which was filmed in Tulsa in 1989, was one of my favorite childhood movies and continues to be one of my all-time favorites. If you’ve never seen it, stop what you’re doing, google where you can put your hands on a copy and enjoy an hour and a half of true comedy.
A very funny thing happened to me yesterday. I say “funny,” but what I really mean is: “One of the most random and awesome things that have ever happened to me.”
I was sitting in my office, taking care of some odds and ends to wrap up the week when a tweet from Weird Al appeared in my TweetDeck. This is what it said:
At an airport phone booth – if you'd like to chat, for the next 30 minutes I'll be at (808)871-9398!—
Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) April 04, 2013
Without really thinking, I grabbed my phone, dialed the number and…
This is how our conversation went down:
Al: Hi, you’re the first caller.
Me: Holy cow, I’m talking to Weird Al Yankovic!
Al: (Laughs) Yes indeed you are!
Me: Al, I’m calling from Tulsa, OK. I am a huge fan of yours!
Al: Oh, I love Tulsa. I spend a summer there once!
Me: I know! You filmed UHF here! I gotta tell you, I watched UHF every weekend of my childhood. I love it!
Al: Well, you must have had a very disturbing childhood.
Me: No, not at all. In fact, I think watching UHF as a child set me up for tremendous success.
Al: Very glad to hear it. I love Tulsa. I played a show at the Brady Theatre just last year.
Me: Al, the next you’re in Tulsa, I would love to buy you lunch and drive you around to check out all the old film locations for UHF, because I know you’re just dying to go to lunch with a total stranger!
Al: Yeah, that would be a lot of fun. If you ever see me, be sure to introduce yourself.
Me: Yeah, I’m sure you would remember this conversation. I’m Jon Odom, by the way.
Al: No, I would definitely remember this conversation with Jon from Tulsa.
Me: So, where are you going?
Al: Flying back to LA, waiting in the airport in Hawaii.
Me: Well, I hope you have a safe trip. This has been one of the greatest moments of my year. Thank you so much for talking with me!
Al: You’re welcome. Take care. Bye.
And then this happens:
While Al and I were talking, I turned to Todd Craig and started frantically flailing my arms and pointing at my computer screen. He came over and looked at the tweet and I mouthed “I’m talking to Weird Al!”
After I hung up the phone, I called Emily and then my siblings. My brothers were talking to each other on the phone when I called. When they both saw that they’d missed calls from me, they called me together on a conference call and I told them what had happened. They said that I was the best person in the world for this to happen to. Who else loves Weird Al like me? I caught up with Emily and my sister Jamie and called some other friends. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Todd later laughed and said to me: “Weird Al is your Bono.” And I thought: “Yeah, that’s about right.”
For the hours after the phone call I was thinking about all the potential questions I COULD have asked Al. I was so surprised that the phone number was real and that I actually got through that I didn’t have time to ask him about his favorite UHF scenes, what he would say to an aspiring parody songwriter/polka enthusiast or whether he’s on Facebook.
No matter my regrets, it was one of the most fun and exhilarating moments of this nerd’s life.
I’m a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. For part of the ordination process I had to answer the question “What are my beliefs as a Christian?” Here’s my first take at that question:
I believe that God as revealed in Scripture is Triune—the great mystery of being of one substance, yet three persons. One must hold in tension God’s revelation as being Triune, while maintaining monotheism. God created everything and he thought it was good. God created humans in his image and charged them with stewarding creation. Humans disobeyed God and separated themselves and us from God by sin. Even though God allowed the first humans face the consequences of sin (Gen. 3), he revealed and foreshadowed that he would ultimately deal with sin himself (providing Adam and Eve with garments to cover themselves).
In order to restore the world to its original design and set humans’ relationship with God aright, God revealed himself to Abraham and promised that a great nation would come from him, one that would bless the whole world. God was faithful to his promise and made a great nation through Abraham. That nation became enslaved in Egypt, but God revealed himself to a man named Moses, through whom God delivered Israel from Egypt and revealed his law. God’s design was to give Israel a land wherein his people would live in a totally different way than the surrounding countries, thus drawing attention to their God who lived among them in his temple.
Like Adam and Eve, however, Israel regularly disobeyed God and cyclically sought and ignored him. God sent prophets to warn Israel against idolatry, injustice and unfaithfulness, yet they continued in their sin. Israel ignored God’s warnings through the prophets and received the consequences of their sin—being taken from the land God had given them and exiled them to the land of their enemies.
After a period of great silence, God fulfilled what he had foreshadowed in Genesis and dealt with human sin himself. The Son took on human flesh by being born to a woman and conceived by the Holy Spirit. He announced the present and coming Kingdom of God through which God’s justice would be known on the earth. The Son initiated God’s Kingdom and allowed himself to be crucified as an atoning sacrifice for the whole world. Yet three days later, he was resurrected as the “first fruit” of the new Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15).
After his resurrection, Jesus ascended as Lord over all creation. All power and authority on earth and in heaven were given to him. Jesus ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to empower and give life to those who believe in his name and to convict the world of sin. God’s original mission for Israel has now become that of the church: to be a light to the world, to welcome and bring to reality God’s kingdom on earth. We submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as ruler of our world and look forward to the day when he will return and make everything new.
I’m humbled and amazed at the response the last 2 blog posts have received. Evidently more people than just me have had some level of encounter (and ensuing struggle) with Pentecost or charismatic churches.
Several interactions stood out to me:
One person who is still in an Assembly of God church, but doesn’t feel like they are able to share their struggles and doubts with anyone (remember how I mentioned that doubt/questions were associated with sin?).
Another person had a similar upbringing to me, attended an AG university and even became an ordained minister in that denomination, but didn’t know where to turn when questions and doubts arose.
To me, this is big payoff for writing these posts. I initiated this project for my own spiritual health, but I love that other people have been able to identify with my struggle and share (privately or publicly) about this taboo topic. If you know anyone that would be encouraged by reading these posts, feel free to pass it along. Or if you’re still in the AG/charismatic world and reading these posts and thinking “Jon has lost his faith,” I hope you’ll talk with me directly. I’m just waiting for that e-mail to show up in my inbox.
The next big idea that I want to remember and re-embrace from my Pentecostal past is the idea of being an agent of change. Whenever I remember this theme, my mind goes instantly to a time at youth camp before my junior year of high school. After an intense time of prayer, our youth pastor directed all of us to organize by high school—the Union kids, Tulsa Public, Jenks, Bixby, etc. Our pastor then led each group in a time of intense prayer for all of our schools, for each student who would go into that environment and for real transformation of that community by the work of the Holy Spirit. We prayed that each student would be a catalyst for change in the lives of their teachers, fellow students and everyone they interacted with.
And that message really resonated with me. Coupled with the idea of praying with expectation, I really took to heart the notion of being an agent of change. I went to a private Christian high school and was scheduled to be the Student Council chaplain that school year. Part of my responsibilities as chaplain was to give a devotional on the intercom everyday and to lead prayer at random school events. But my youth pastor’s message caused me to dream of possibilities far beyond what most people expect of chaplains.
I wrote in my journal that summer about how I envisioned my school hosting weeknight worship services where we would invite entire families to come. I envisioned broken families meeting Christ in those services and seeking restoration. I pictured people giving up addictions and confessing sins and being healed. I pictured “revival” really breaking loose in my school. That word, revival, was a big buzz word for us at the time. None of us could really define what it meant, but we all knew we wanted it. Revival represented God’s work being evident in unexpected ways—beyond our control. I even remember writing out a document when I was 16 or 17 and I changed the font of the word revival for emphasis. How goofy.
That summer I even roped in Emily and my buddy Colby to meet me in the auditorium at school to spend some time in prayer for the upcoming school year. I even brought a CD player and blasted worship music like we did at youth group on Wednesdays. I was just certain that this would be a transformative year for Metro.
Just before my sophomore year (1 year prior), I had similar expectations of how God might use me to do good stuff at my high school. We had a night of unplugged worship during the first week of school and I remember spending some time in prayer before it started—I just told God “however you want to use me, please do.” And that night I ended up impromptu “preaching” to my high school and even did an altar call of sorts (that’s what I was used to). What weirded me out the most was that people actually responded and came forward for prayer.
Now you may be wondering, what happened the year I was chaplain? After all the prayer, hype and dreaming I’d put into that magical year, how’d it turn out? Honestly, not much happened. Not that I saw, at least. I gave my devotions, I led prayer here and there, but no big moments of change like I’d hoped for. I remember being a little disheartened by that. My dreams of transformation hit the wall of reality and the slow rate at which change typically takes place. But I gave it a shot.
The point for me in talking about all of this was to remember the idea that was passed on to me as a high schooler. My youth pastor and others created the expectation that we were to do more than just survive high school—not have sex, not drink, avoid drugs, be moral. Our presence in our high schools (and everywhere we went) was supposed to fundamentally change in our environment. People were supposed to be able to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and want what we had. We were supposed to be change agents.
I think I’ve really lowered the bar since then in how I think about how I interact with the world around me. Maybe it’s sobering reality setting in, or maybe it’s because I’ve given up some of my confidence in God’s ability to transform people, communities, etc.
I never want to return to a hyped up way of trying to live for Christ. I will never again fake, force or manipulate myself or others into conjuring up emotions for God and his world that aren’t already there. I’m done with that. But I do want to return to a way of living and thinking that puts a lot of stock in God. The reason that I could dream up such big dreams for my high school was because I thought God was capable of fulfilling them. My youth pastor always cited Habakkuk 1:5—“Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your day that you would not believe, even if you were told.” I believed that. And I put myself in situations to give God a chance to respond (i.e. preaching to my high school, etc.).
It seems that all of us have lowered our expectations. It’s a miracle for any of us to make it to church, occasionally read the Bible or pray. Maybe we need to challenge that. What if you/we/I entered each day with a sort of hope, or at least willingness, to be used by God to bring his transforming and empowering grace to others? What if we told God regularly that he could use us however he wanted?
Do you think we’ve lowered the bar—for ourselves, for the kids in our church? Do you think of yourself as an agent of change? Please share any thoughts.
In my last post I talked about my early struggles in the Pentecostal church I attended. The gifts of the Spirit—tongues in particular—left me feeling confused more often than I felt connected to God. I wondered whether I was faking more than just praying in tongues—faking at passion for God, faking at believing in him at all. Though I struggled there, I also came to know and seek Christ in that church (though that looked very different than how I seek God now). I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just like any other human interaction, it was full of the good and the bad—things worth keeping and tossing in the recycling bin.
But one of the main goals in reflecting on my past in this way is so that I can mentally redeem it and not leave it all behind. In this post (and the ones that follow) I will focus on one key idea that was impressed on me by friends, pastors and teachers in my Pentecostal church that I think are worth holding on to. Most of these are ideas or practices that I have long ignored, but want to reembrace.
One of the practices that my AG church and friends took seriously was prayer. And I mean they took it very seriously—even more so than you are imagining. I don’t doubt that my Methodist friends take it any less seriously, but quite frankly, I just don’t see us doing it as much. And I know you don’t see me doing it!
An hour before our youth group met on Wednesday nights, we had a 30 minute prayer time every single week. Our youth pastor, a great guy, blasted worship music and all of us that attended (usually 15-20) paced our facility and prayed fervently. I mean it—people marched back and forth, praying at the top of their lungs. In spite of the blasting music you could hear a roar of prayer coming from my youth pastor and a bunch of 16-18 year olds. And the prayers were always of a transformative nature. We pled with God to change people’s hearts during the service that night, to help us to want to know him better, to make us want to pray, to have a tangible experience of God’s presence with us that night. As I’ll talk about in another post, we prayed for our friends at school and asked that God would reveal himself to them. Again, people prayed loudly in tongues, hoping that God would speak to them and that our prayers would invite his presence. At the end of half an hour or so, we would all gather together, hold hands and pray with confidence that God would move in mighty ways that night. We expected that he would.
Our whole church did a similar thing on Saturday nights. Our entire pastoral staff and many from the congregation would meet in the sanctuary where we would spend 30 minutes in prayer (again, fervent, passionate prayer) asking for God’s presence during the Sunday services. It was really cool to see my senior pastor lead our congregation in that way. We saw him on his knees every week, praying on our behalf.
We all had was this underlying assumption that if we prayed, God would respond. That’s why we spent so much time in the prayer on Wednesday and Sundays. If you had a sin you constantly struggled with, wondered whether God might be calling you to ministry, if you needed encouragement or wanted to pray on someone else’s behalf, then we knew you needed to pour out your heart to God in the altars. Something happened there that changed you when you walked away.
Until writing this out, I had long-forgotten that comforting feeling of having some old saint in our church lay a hand on my shoulder as I cried out to God in the altars. I remember some good older men from our church that would walk through the altars with a little vial of anointing oil and laying their hands on our shoulders and praying for us. The altars in the sanctuary of my old church were permanently salty from tears.
I don’t do that stuff anymore. Not like that at least. I’ve lost some of that fervency and sense of expectation. I miss it, to be quite honest. I don’t mean to say that “real prayer” has to look like what I’ve described here. I hope you get what I’m trying to communicate…
My AG friends prioritized prayer and put a system into place to insure that it was happening. Everyone knew that on Saturday nights and before youth group on Wednesdays there would be a time of prayer. And we would almost always pray in the altars after service, too. Not everyone came to prayer or down to the altars every time, but the symbolism was not missed on me. If we really wanted “more of God’s presence” (a phrase we used a ton back then, but I scarcely ever use now), or for him to work in our hearts and leave us different people, then we needed to pray.
I loved our discussion on pt. 1 in this series. I would love to hear more about your experiences (Pentecostal or otherwise). How do you experience prayer in your life now? Did you notice anything about my experience that gives you pause? What do you think about it?
I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony a number of times over the past year. And the more I tell my story, the clearer in my mind certain details become— in particular, the influence of my charismatic/Pentecostal upbringing. Until I was 18, I attended an Assembly of God church. It was not at all uncommon in my church to see people speak in tongues, raise their hands, dance, pray aloud or even be slain in the Spirit. This was par for the course for all of my childhood and most of my adolescence.
At least three times a week for 18 years I observed and participated in these kinds of things. Every summer, I attended a youth camp with friends from church in majestic Turner Falls, OK. The highlight of camp was an hours-long chapel service in an outdoor tabernacle in sweltering Oklahoma heat. I remember reading in the “What to Pack” brochure that boys were required to wear jeans and collared shirts and girls had to wear dresses. It was absolutely miserable heat. Sadly I don’t have time here to tell stories from Turner Falls about Mud Mountain, the terrifying shallow creek games, the many times I lost my voice, fake-broke a thumb or fake-saved someone’s life.
At the end of every chapel service at camp there were intense periods of time spent in the altar praying. People “came forward” for salvation, to be delivered from some kind of sin or oppression, or to receive various manifestations of the Spirit. When I was a 3rd grader, I responded to the invitation to come forward to receive the gift of speaking in tongues. The Assemblies of God teach that speaking in tongues is the “initial physical evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit,” so obviously, if I didn’t do it yet, it was a skill I felt I needed to acquire. I went forward and was directed to pray with a precious woman that was from my home church. She instructed me to “just start talking” and I understood that somehow I would just get the gift, as they say. At first, I made up some mumbled nonsense that sounded like how I’d heard other people pray in tongues. After I did this for a few minutes, this woman exclaimed “You got it!” Nothing had changed in my mind. I was making up stuff to start with and I continued making it up when she told me I had received the gift. I was a confused, anxious, well-intentioned 9 or 10 year old at the time and this person had provided a temporary source of clarity. She said I’d gotten it, so I supposed I had.
The truth is, in my heart I always knew I had been faking it. But I didn’t have the guts to admit that until I was around 17. I didn’t think it was okay to be honest with stuff like that. I often remember my Pentecostal upbringing as a constant battle of wondering whether I was faking stuff—faking love for God, faking being “slain in the Spirit,” faking tongues, faking at a relationship with Christ. And the worst part was that I didn’t think it was okay to be honest enough to ask hard questions of myself. No one else was asking them of me. Sometimes I wondered whether we were all faking, but didn’t have the courage to ask each other.
At the same time, these were my first experiences with Christ. I have precious memories of forming a little prayer circle with my buddies in kid’s church. It was at Turner Falls at another time that I felt for the first time that God was speaking to me (not something that happens a lot). And I still hold on to those words that I felt were from God to this day. You may already see the struggle here. My early walk with Christ was full of the good and the bad, a mixed bag of experiences that I couldn’t discern properly.
During the latter part of my high school years, I was introduced to a man named Joe Mooberry—a true saint and a friend to this day. Joe spent countless hours with me and several of my classmates, teaching us to read the Scriptures (something I had never really done), to be honest and thoughtful about our faith (imagine my relief!) and to do all of this in the context of community. Joe (and others—good men like Jimmy Doyle and Jason Jackson) set me on a different course in my walk with Christ than I had known existed. After graduating from high school I attended Oral Roberts University where I essentially shut the door on the Holy Spirit in my life. I didn’t want anything to do with the confusion of my childhood or the insanity that I experienced at ORU (which may be another topic for another day).
I’m now three years removed from ORU and am in a place where I can look back on my history with Pentecost, with the Spirit through more objective lenses. I think it’s a really important step for me to reflect on those early experiences and attempt to grab on to what’s worth keeping from my spiritual past. I don’t want to bite the hand that fed me for 18 years (the Assemblies of God) and I especially do not want to become a binitarian (as opposed to Trinitarian, so long Holy Spirit!). So over the new few post I’ll be sifting through my past and highlighting some key ideas that were instilled in me from a young age that I should hold on to and should work hard not to leave behind.
Emily and I started dating when I was 16 and had just gotten my braces off. When we first started talking, I was very much in the middle of being zealous, AG-ish and probably a little too loud. Fast-forward almost 10 years and we are still together. Having seen several different versions of me, Emily has some interesting perspective. She told me once that she hoped that someday I could merge together all of my experiences into a cohesive whole. Both are Jon Odom, she said.
Hopefully this will help get me there.
Did you grow up Charismatic/Pentecostal? Did you have similar struggles? Tell me about it!
Last night I watched a documentary called No Impact Man. For an entire year, Colin Beavan and his wife and daughter lived with the goal of making no net impact on the environment. That means they cut out a lot of stuff from day-to-day life in NYC: no trains, planes, or cars. No pre-packaged food. No plastic grocery bags. No electricity. No elevators. No toilet paper. They tried to produce no trash that would wind up in a landfill. So they composted and kept a huge box of worms in their house. They only ate what could be acquired from local farmers and within a 250 mile radius. They ate no meat and only what was available in-season. Wow, huh?
Documentaries like this (Food, Inc. is another that had a big impact on me) really inspire me to action. I wish that I were as easily inspired with my spiritual life. Really– after watching Food, Inc., Emily and I started buying all organic and animal friendly meat and organic produce from local farmers or Whole Foods. We meant business after seeing the inside of some meat-processing plants. Yuck. Yet it takes some serous effort for me to pray on any given day or to practice the disciples of service or Scripture-reading.
When I finished the documentary last night, I just wanted to sit down and look at my life– personally, spiritually, professionally, environmentally– and assess how I’m doing and where I can take a more proactive role in aligning my life with my values. I tend to do this stuff a lot, though, which is somewhat discouraging. And by “a lot,” I mean every 6 months or so. I hope at least some of it sticks.
In a different sense than the movie suggested, I don’t want to be a “No Impact Man.” I want to be something as a follower of Christ… actually contribute something to the body of Christ and to the world. More than avoiding sin (though that’s part of it), I want to do good. My friend Dustin and I have been reading Acts together every week lately. When we read, I become so envious of the apostles in the way that they were truly empowered by God’s Spirit to be witnesses for Christ. I hope to be empowered and led in the same way.
From the Mission News Network:
Morocco (MNN) ― Christians around the world are puzzled by sudden recent anti-Christian activities in Morocco.
Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says two years ago Morocco would have been called a tolerant Muslim country, but not anymore. “So far this week, we’ve heard of six different foreign Christians who either have been expelled from the country or are in custody awaiting expulsion.”
Nettleton says, “In one case, we heard about Christians working at an orphanage who were expelled from the country, leaving all of the kids in the orphanage without supervision, simply in the custody of the government of Morocco.”
21 other foreigners are awaiting deportation.
On February 4, “eleven believers (including an American), two non-believers and five children…were [held] by the Moroccan government for 14 hours.”
After 14 hours in detention, the American was deported and the others were released. Authorities kept the American’s laptop computer, along with Bibles, books, a laptop, a digital photo camera and a cell phone that belonged to the others arrested.
Nettleton says the new minister of justice, Mohamed Naciri, is responsible. “It’s unclear if simply this new minister of justice is a more devout or more radical Muslim and wants to come against the apostasy movement, encouraging Muslims to leave Islam and follow Jesus Christ and we just don’t know that much about the why right now.”
Moroccan Christians are asking you to “write to our own U.S. government–which gives millions of dollars of aid to Morocco–as well as the Moroccan government in protest of these expulsions.”