While browsing on YouTube, I discovered a very powerful TedxTalk by well-known author and blogger Glennon Doyle, entitled “Lessons from the Mental Hospital” (click here). She speaks openly about her long journey with bulimia and alcoholism, as she tried to create a safe space for herself where she wouldn’t always be reminded of her inadequacies. She said that “the world prefers superheroes,” so she put on a protective “cape” to cover her real self. Her addictions were destructive enough to bring her to a mental hospital, but she points out that we all have our own favorite capes — like “perfectionism, overworking, snarkiness or apathy.” After she learned to open up and reveal her true self, she found great relief, but the harshness of life was still there and had to be dealt with. She faced the fact that “life is beautiful and life is brutal; life is brutiful, every day, all day.” “It’s braver to be Clark Kent than to be Superman.”*

Christians have some popular capes. Since we honor righteousness, a lot of us wear capes that make us appear better than we are. We embroider them with behavior that we know other Christians approve of so they won’t notice the parts that are faded or worn. And we certainly don’t want others to know that our capes have been torn by sin, so we carefully hide the holes from one another. But the end result is that we can’t open up to fellow-believers about our true selves. This inevitably results in hypocrisy (unintended, of course).

Another popular type of cape among Christians is made from special spiritual experiences — speaking in tongues, seeing visions, prophesying and other dramatic “manifestations” that the Holy Spirit has filled a person in a special way. Among some Christian groups, this has resulted in a can-you-top-this display of seemingly miraculous events. If a person is wearing this kind of cape, how can anyone question who they are underneath it? Their life seems like a constant spiritual high, but when they experience the inevitable lows of the “brutiful” world, they become desperate for another spiritual fix to get them high again. Is this just another kind of addiction?

An extreme example of this can be seen in the “drunk in the Spirit” outpourings in some charismatic gatherings. Holy laughter starts quietly and builds to hysteria. Check out this video of a meeting led by evangelist Kenneth Hagan. Animal sounds, including barking like dogs, are often seen as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Some people are “slain in the Spirit” and just faint away. When one of these worshippers wakes up the next day with a lustful thought, he can reassure himself with the memory of the spiritual cape he was wearing the night before. Another way of hiding the true you from others and from yourself.

How is the “drunk in the Spirit” idea defended as Scriptural? Here’s a passage that is often quoted:

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Notice four things:

  1. We are to be wise, not foolish. Our minds should always be in control of our behavior.
  2. The word “drunk” is not used of our experience of the Holy Spirit; in fact, being “filled with the Spirit” is contrasted with drunkenness.
  3. The result of wise Spirit-fulness will be a calm, reassuring inner song.
  4. When we are open with other believers, our song will be joined with the Spirit music in their hearts to become a spontaneous (not forced) anthem of thankful praise to God.

Life is brutiful, but it’s more fulfilling when we all take off our superhero capes.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* Glennon Doyle’s writings are a gold-mine of helpful insights. For example: “Listen: Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and broken hallelujah. So I might be cold and I might be broken but I am still gonna scream HALLELUJAH all over this country. I am going to stand in front of you with my medicated little head held high and I am going to be so busted up and broken that the light is going to pour out of me like stained glass. . . New life. Nothing wasted. No failure. Love never fails. Never, never. Love is messy and beautiful and brutal – and Love is the whole point. So, I am not afraid, I was born to do this.” https://momastery.com/blog/2016/08/01/i-need-to-tell-you-something/