Genesis Fellowship was a small Bible school which had the misfortune of being closely associated with an Assemblies of God mega-church in California whose senior pastor was caught up in allegations of serious misappropriation of funds. The school, which had nothing to do with the goings on, extricated itself from these worries by moving north to Corvallis, Oregon, a pleasant state university town whose population nearly doubles during the academic year. My first year of the two-year program with Genesis was spent there and in the summer between years I helped move the school back to Santa Rosa, California, the legal proceedings having come to their conclusion.
Genesis combined biblical study with a “discipleship community” approach to Christian formation, meaning that each student was part of a small cohort which provided mutual accountability for learning spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading & meditation, compassion, etc.). It was a marriage of head knowledge and practical experience that led to significant transformation in the lives of many of the students. I had known of the school’s existence because one of the alumni, whose life was radically changed for the better, made it to Brazil where he became a graphic artist in my father’s print shop and a regular guest at family meals. It was his enthusiasm for a life in Christ that attracted me to this small school. Plus the fact that it was now a mere two hour drive down the road from where I finished high school.
At Genesis Jesus became my best friend. I learned to experience his presence with me in every moment of life. In some kind of mystical, inexplicable form of possession, His spirit – the “Holy” Spirit – occupied my being along with my own spirit, giving guidance, comfort and inspiration for living. In practice, I often imagined Jesus as a kind of invisible buddy hanging out with me, ready at any moment to share my delights and concerns. No matter was too weighty, too insignificant or banal to escape his interest. Jesus was as concerned about my having forgotten my lunch as he was with the famine sweeping East Africa. Really.
I in no way intend to denigrate this mystical approach to Christianity; it is the authentic experience of many and – if I’m honest – continues to be a part of my own spiritual journey, though in a somewhat altered form. Many of the most influential Christians in history were first and foremost mystics experiencing the presence of Christ in their day to day lives.
However, as time marched on I started to have some questions: Was Jesus REALLY as concerned about my lunch as he was the famine in Africa? Wasn’t this Jesus-is-my-invisible-Super-Hero approach to my problems (“Lord, I need a parking space”) an easy religious cover for an extremely narcissistic, self-centred vision of life? Didn’t it lend itself to shirking my responsibility to grow into a mature adult who could handle adversity and make decisions based on working out the given factors? And was the Christ I was experiencing in a mystical sense limited in identity to the Jesus of the Christian scriptures? Weren’t others able to experience God’s Spirit outside of a knowledge of Jesus?
But now I’m jumping ahead. First I have to cover the next life-changing understanding of Jesus which came my way. Just two years after leaving Genesis and moving to another, more established Bible college to continue my theological training and formation, I was introduced to the Jesus who had come to reclaim all the peoples and cultures of the world.