Have you ever felt like a misfit at church?
I know — church is the last place we should feel like we don’t belong. And just speaking for myself, I grew up at church. I was there pretty much every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Even at that, there are times though that I feel like I’m out of place. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I’m among people very different from me and other times it’s because of the feel of the service.
Author Brant Hansen knows this feeling well. He has felt like a misfit much of his life. Part of this, he tells us, is because he has Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not going to contest his diagnosis, but I do have to say that he seems to have a high degree of self-awareness for someone with that designation. He writes well and in a way that’s easy to relate to.
Blessed are the Misfits
This book is wonderful “comfort reading.” If you’ve ever felt out of place at church, you’ll relate to Hansen’s writing. And his writing is as comforting as it is relatable. On evangelism guilt: “I simply needed to be enthusiastically talking to people about Jesus in all sorts of settings, or at least have the decency to feel perpetually guilty for not doing it.” He then notes though that evangelism is actually not heavily promoted in the Bible. Yes, the disciples are told to “go into all the world,” but to other people, this is not emphasized as much. Rather, unity is promoted — how do we treat others, specifically Christians? Is our behavior something that would reflect well on Jesus?
On why he goes to church (even though as an introvert he’d prefer not to): “Jesus-followers are an odd group. Some are hard to take. Some are annoying. Some would say the same of me. But there’s something wonderful, mysterious, even shocking, about people who stay together anyway.” He also mentions preferring to get his spiritual growth from books — but makes the good point that most of Jesus’ commands concern our dealings with others. How will we interact with other Christians if not at church?
On being melancholy and having self-doubt: “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” (G. K. Chesterton)
All the Feels
Hansen tells us a bit about his upbringing as a pastor’s child. His dad also spent time in mental institutions, and as you can imagine, the dichotomy of those two things led to a pretty chaotic childhood for Brant. He remembered people often telling him, “your dad is such a great man of God.” However, Brant saw the less holy side of Dad. One night of great stress, Hansen had an epiphany: “I’m not going to let anything bother me anymore … I decided to quit feeling things.”
He speaks a lot about Christianity and emotion: do those of us who show less emotion have a lesser connection to God? I can relate to this somewhat, as a person who is pretty “flat” in many social situations (although inwardly I have a ton of emotion). I remember once in my young adult years going to a pentecostal-type church service with a friend. To my horror, she ushered us up to a front-center seat. The congregation was swinging and swaying, arms in the air. At one point, the pastor called out, “Don’t stifle the Spirit, my friends!” I was terrified that he was aiming this at me, and might even call me out on it! Yikes! I certainly didn’t want to squash the Spirit, but dancing in the pews wasn’t really “me” either. Dilemmas —
Hansen faces a similar situation. He mentions that Jesus rarely if ever mentioning emotion. “If he (Jesus) ever equated religious emotion with doing God’s will, I can’t find it.” Instead, he tells us to judge a tree by its fruit. Then, Hansen describes various situations. A major ministry figure treated him badly behind the scenes: “bump into a tree and see what falls. Now you see what kind of tree it is.” He mentions people who behave one way publicly (say on social media), and a very different way to their own family: “bump into a tree and see what falls. Now you see what kind of tree it is.” This section was really thought-provoking!
Emotion = Christianity?
While I was reading this book, I happened to read a magazine article that tied in well also. It mentioned that evangelicalism was introduced in the Colonies just prior to the revolution, and “dispensed with dogma, emphasizing instead a person’s individual relationship with God. For evangelicals, the evidence of true conversion lay in the range of emotions they experienced, from the despair of admitting their guilt to the ecstasy or receiving God’s grace and salvation.” Such things are fascinating — how much of our beliefs is truly based on the Bible, and how much is more a product of our culture and traditions?
Anyway, I’m getting off-track here. This was a quick read that I recommend. Brant has a unique, outside-the-box way of looking at many Christian topics that I enjoyed.