I recently read an article by Richard Beck about how Jesus was a pirate. When I read it I remembered a bemusing spiritual experience I had many years ago at a charismatic church conference.
I’ve always had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with my charismatic roots, and this conference was no exception. As is typical at events like this, we were spending over an hour each night singing worship songs, and as was typical for me, I was holding myself back from getting too emotionally invested in it.
The worship leader was a young man who had a unique gift of ecstatic prophecy through song, but instead of the normal “generic” worship phrases that were common in this kind of spontaneous singing, this guy would sing imaginative narratives that made you feel like you were in the middle of a story.
That night he began singing a story of being in a boat at sea, and on the horizon we spotted another ship chasing us down. As the ship gained on us, we realized it was a pirate ship, captained by Jesus himself!
Eventually Jesus the Pirate caught up with us and boarded our ship. He drew his sword and called us all to lay down our weapons and surrender. So, in my imagination, I dropped my defenses and raised my hands in surrender to Jesus. I don’t know exactly what I expected to happen next (maybe a hug?), but in the next lines of the song, Jesus took his sword, pointed it straight at my chest, and ran me through!
I laughed out loud in surprise at this turn of events, but in that moment of surrender, something important happened for me. God did something in me that I still don’t quite have words for.
From then on, it seemed like Jesus’s call to take up my cross and follow him was an invitation of love rather than a harsh obligation. Carrying my cross started to feel like the easy yoke of Jesus. The way of the cross began to feel like the way of life and peace.
So, while I’m still ambivalent about everything that happened in those charismatic churches I was part of, it’s also true that God was present and at work in the midst of it all. I’m finding it’s important to be able to name both the good and the bad truthfully without trying to justify or negate any of it.