For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, founded by singer/songwriter John Michael Talbot. This is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
When you consider yourself a “cool” Southern California kid, you think you can handle anything that comes your way. Move to Arkansas and join a monastery? No problem. Become the world’s only Assemblies of God monk and try to get the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world to accept you? Piece of cake. Joyfully anticipate taking a three-year vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and even invite your mom to fly out from California to witness the experience? Right up my alley.
Until I noticed a little bump on my upper lip.
At first, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something. Even though it was January, my mom was having some trouble breathing and we thought it might be a reaction to all the cedar trees. Yeah, that’s it. The bump on my lip is due to allergies. I took some Benadryl, said a little prayer and tried to ignore it.
But the bump grew larger, and eventually I looked like I got in a fight and came out on the losing end of a right hook. It didn’t go away until I arrived in California a few days later for a vacation. (The community let us go on a vacation two weeks a year to visit family and friends. I considered it time off for good behavior.).
Back to the fat lip. Dr. Mom diagnosed it right off, but I was too cool to admit the truth she already knew: I was nervous about taking the vows. If anybody asked, I told them I was “fine” about taking the vows. But I was denying the fact that I was nervous about the unknown, and the truth has a way of showing itself in ways that we least expect. My spirit knew the truth and my body expressed it. My pride, and my lip, was swollen and when I finally admitted to myself (and my mom) that I was nervous about taking a three-year vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, the fat lip went away.
From this experience, I offer two “take aways” for those of you who need them.
1. Obviously, I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was, but you already figured that out.
2. When you lie to yourself about how you truly feel, neither drugs, prayer nor rebuking the devil will cure what ails you.