My freshman year I lived in the dorms at Berkeley. I felt a little bad about it, because there was a house near campus for the brother's to live in, but I used the excuse that the deposit was already paid on the dorms to bribe my conscience to stop bothering me. The brothers were very supportive of me--- they made sure I was settled in, and looked out for me when I came down with the flu a couple weeks into the semester. I enjoyed spending time with them, playing ping-pong, learning the guitar, and talking about the Bible.
I was also invited to a family's house for meetings every Friday night. We talked for a while, and then started the meeting by singing, and continued by sharing our ``experiences of the Lord'' from the week, or anything that we read that we enjoyed or that touched us. The atmosphere was very relaxing and comfortable for me--- it was great to have a ``second home'' to go to, and we could listen or speak as they wished. I still appreciate the hospitality and care I received from that family.
Yet there was an evangelical move on campus, carried out under the auspices of a campus club, Students from the Truth. We were encouraged to preach to our friends. The ``co-workers'' as they were called, who served with the college students at ``the church in Berkeley'' actively tried to meet new students, and the brothers and sisters in the church were encouraged to sign up their friends in a ``Truth Course'' during which we were to go one-on-one with our friends and preach the gospel by ostensibly practicing to teach a lesson we were given. There was also a table on campus, from which we handed out pamphlets. A few people started responding, but rumors about Witness Lee and the Local Church dissuaded most of them, even though some of the rumors were unfounded.
I was involved, but I was also shy, and very reluctant to preach the gospel, because it felt too much like shoving things down peoples' throats. I desperately wanted to be a living testimony of Jesus Christ, and I also tried to stay normal, not to seem too eccentric or fanatical--- nonetheless, my roommate from that year recently referred to me (in past tense) as ``the resident religious zealot''.
In social settings outside the church, I constantly struggled with ``the world,'' because I missed flirting and listening to rock music and conversations about the latest style and offbeat cultural references.
On the other hand, I took a liking to debating about the ``truths'' in the Bible, and this spurred me to study it more. I liked the seemingly endless layers of meaning in the word, and even the challenge of understanding it in a self-consistent manner.
The next year I moved into a house with some brothers and began to throw myself into ``the church life'' more whole-heartedly. A couple students from campus joined the group enthusiastically, and the evangelical move began to gain momentum. I was struggling with problems with my housemates, who stayed up talking while I was trying to sleep and wouldn't do their dishes. Then I felt more isolated as their zeal for the gospel increased and I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to match it. I retired to reading ``the Ministry,'' books by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, as well as books by Andrew Murray, Brethren writers, and biographies of Christian evangelists. I also decided to learn Greek, to better understand the New Testament.
I also began to care for other brothers. One had been meeting with ``the church'' since high school and was undergoing a crisis of faith, and I often engaged him to try to get him out of his bitterness and self-pity so that he could get back on track in his classes at Berkeley. Another entered my freshman year, and still considered himself Catholic--- I called him every morning to pray, and always made sure he felt welcome at meetings.
Eventually I moved to a different ``brother's house'', to make room for another ``babe in the Lord'' and to give myself a respite from the silent conflict I was experiencing. Yet my junior year was more troubling. The gospel move gained more momentum after a student at Berkeley was strongly saved and wanted to tell everyone about it. Shouting, which had always been a part of ``touching our spirit'' in the meeting, moved on to campus, as a small group began to preach in the main plaza. The theme became ``losing one's face'', that painful shyness that got in the way of most people talking to strangers about Jesus. The move was coincident with a conference at which Witness Lee declared strongly that ``God became Man to make Man God'', a line taken from the early church Fathers as a summary of doctrines that had been taught by Lee for years. Out of this teaching came the term ``God-man'', which was actually printed on baseball caps (along with ``Jesus is Reality'') and distributed to the students for them to wear as a testimony of the Lord on campus.
I didn't like the hats at all--- I thought they were a silly gimmick, an embarrassment, and I refused to wear one with the sheepish excuse, ``I don't wear baseball caps''. I also didn't like the turn the gospel had taken: they were shouting ``God became man to make man God!'' and other ``catchy'' slogans on campus, to attract attention and ``lose face''. They encouraged us to stand up before lectures and preach to the class, or at the very least wear the hats to class. The persecution, the funny looks the hats attracted, was a glory to us and the Lord. They even organized a couple ``sweeps'' of Telegraph Avenue during a Labor Day conference at the church, during about a hundred people marched haphazardly up to campus handing out flyers and shouting ``Oh Lord Jesus!'' at the top of their lungs. They said it was exhilarating, full of the Spirit. I participated once. I felt silly. Apparently this brought back many memories of the younger days of the ``Lord's Recovery,'' in the sixties.
I actually preached the gospel the most I ever did that year, including attempts at open-air preaching in the plaza. I was never satisfied with it, I always felt I wasn't doing enough. I knew they were only token gestures, attempts at bribing my conscience to leave me alone. I continued reading, yet even that haunted me because I found I didn't like reading ``the Ministry'' as much as the other Christian authors. ``The Ministry'', after all, represented the ``high truth'', ``the peak of the Lord's Recovery'', and was crucial for spiritual growth. I read it every day so that I had paid my dues and could read more interesting things. Unfortunately, not everything agreed, and I often came out with opinions that questioned ``the Ministry.'' This annoyed the co-workers more than once, and I began feeling guilty about rebelling against ``authority'' and letting my ``natural opinions'' get their way.
So I increased my diligence in morning prayer, and fell asleep a lot. I also testified in the meetings more, and enjoyed the warm response I received.
By the middle of my Junior year, the co-workers realized the hats and shouting were doing more harm than good, as rumors began to fly that Students for the Truth was a front for a cult. A few brothers worked to soften the impact of the three-ring circus we created on campus, and The Students for the Truth shifted back to emphasizing the Truth Course as a means to preach the gospel, as well as publishing more pamphlets and apologetics so that people knew what we believed. Our doctrines were always open to public criticism, although I don't think anyone really met the task aptly.
I became more comfortable for only a short time, and began going out with a younger brother to preach the gospel one-on-one. It soon became tough, because he obviously hated it. I felt awful when my zeal brought him to tears. The co-workers were encouraging us to be vital, to have a companion to pray with and open up to, and I tried to force the issue with my poor gospel partner. Yet again, I was under stress.
At the end of my Junior year, the large class of brothers and sisters that came in before me graduated, and many of them decided to go to the Full Time Training in Anaheim, an unaccredited Bible school that emphasized spiritual devotion, a strict lifestyle, and service in the gospel. Every student was encouraged to attend after college (the degree was a requirement for entry), and indeed it was a part of the ``pipeline'' that was supposed to create future co-workers and upstanding ``pillars in the church life.'' My plan had always been to attend graduate school in physics, and it was suggested that I defer for two years to attend the training. I swore to myself I would do so, and at one point was even willing to go to Russia to preach the gospel after finishing the training.
My senior year definitely changed that. My doubts caught up with me. I realized that I still missed ``worldly'' things; that I still was reading the Ministry out of duty; that I didn't want to preach the gospel because I was afraid of dragging someone else through what I had gone through; that I was still embarrassed by the co-workers schemes, words, and actions; that I still held natural opinions that contradicted the Ministry; that I was bribing my conscience in regard to the gospel; that I kept myself busy with studying and research to keep myself from idleness and from being dragged into the work on campus. I looked for God in my life and all I found was myself. Moreover, I disliked what I saw myself as. I became bitter and depressed, but tried hard not to let it on.
The student work, on the other hand, carried on full force. A new practice was discovered--- intensively studying and praying aloud over the outlines Witness Lee made for conferences. It struck me as a bit of blasphemy, praying over outlines in the same manner as we were encouraged to pray over the Bible. Moreover, we were to form small ``vital groups'' with other students to study these outlines and preach the gospel. The new way was certain to make us more involved, and draw us closer together with the brothers.
I managed to form a group with my roommates, who never took much initiative so that little would be demanded of me. I carried on outwardly as I had before, except I decided there was no way in hell I would try to evangelize my friends with this gospel I had lost my faith in. I applied to graduate school and bided my time, until either the Lord softened my heart or I could leave without causing too much of a stir. The latter came to pass.
Perhaps this characterization of my stay in ``the church in Berkeley'' is to harsh. I had a few good friends there, and more than a few enjoyable evenings signing and fellowshipping and praying with the brothers and sisters, or at families houses, or on day trips to the beach and weekend trips to the mountains. ``The church life'' was secure and comforting, there was always someone to care for me, I knew what was expected of me, people appreciated me. It is definitely possible to be happy there for a lifetime, but it takes a certain personality that I can't fake . . .
Even now, I have been in contact with a few people still in the church who wondered what had happened to me. I have told a couple friends honestly that I had left and why, and they understood to some extent. They wouldn't wish me to be unhappy. I am by no means an anathema to these people, and they deserve credit for being understanding.
Yet the church life always seemed ``natural''--- as opposed to ``spiritual''--- and that always bothered me. It was people making their way through life as best as they could manage, forming friendships and enjoying the sense of community. It never seemed like the ideal, and I was eating myself up from the inside trying to get there. Ultimately, I guess what drew me in and what did me in was that the thing.
Now I have hope again, in that all the things I wanted are available to me free of guilt, and I've regained the right to work out my life as I see fit. I enjoy the friends I've made since leaving Berkeley, as well as regaining some of the friendships I felt compelled to withdraw from, and look forward to many more. I now only must hold my tongue out of courtesy, no more out of fear. I've thrown off the shackles of those unreasonable demands and truly begun to run my race freely.
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