In September, I’m having my very first guest blogger take over my blog and post on Thursday nights. These posts will be continuing the topic of having our Identity Renewed. Each story will be about revealing a wound and exploring it through the lens of Christ’s love. Boze Herrington has an incredible story of struggling with growing up in fundamentalism, legalism, false ideas about God, and even ending up in a cult for a while before he truly began to grasp the truth of God’s healing love. Please read Part I tonight (this is a 3 part series).
Flowers of Evil:
How I Left Radicalism, Embraced Love, and Found Jesus
by Boze Herrington
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with the Bible.
Growing up, it was my favorite book. I read it in the “original” King James from the time I was six years old. (That was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with poetry and Shakespeare and writing). Once when I was a teenager, I stood up at a camp meeting and started reciting the entire book of Ecclesiastes.
And I was holy. Every morning before school I would stand outside and preach against gays, Catholics, and girls in short skirts. I started a prayer group at my middle school. I got in trouble for “witnessing” to teachers.
I angered a lot of people.
But I knew God was proud of me. I was doing what He had called me to do.
I was being radical for Jesus.
On the last day of eighth grade, I had a long chat with my favorite English teacher. We belonged to the same denomination. We were both REAL Christians.
“Boze,” she said, “if Jesus were around today, you’d be one of the people who killed Him.”
I was stunned, incredulous. Was she calling me a Pharisee?
But, I wanted to protest… how can that be? I love Jesus. I’m so zealous for Him. So devoted. So radical.
It’s the rest of this unbelieving world that’s in rebellion.
And yet in other, more subtle ways, I was the rebellious one.
You see, I attended an extremely conservative church. Laughter was forbidden. Questions were discouraged. But as I grew older, I began coming into my identity as a writer, an artist. I started reading books that the elders didn’t approve of. A girl at school introduced me to the Beatles. (They were mesmerizing). I fell in love with Lewis and Tolkien. I began writing poetry and stories.
And gradually, the dynamic at church began shifting. I was tolerated when I was just the adorable moppet who could argue the nuances of Calvinism.
Now, though… I was different.
A free-thinker. An intellectual.
A lover of beauty. An asker of hard questions.
This has happened in every single church environment I’ve ever been in. At some point, I decide I have to be myself. And the community doesn’t necessarily shun me overtly. Usually, it’s more subtle.
They close in on themselves. They sense danger. And somehow—I’m never sure how it happens exactly, but it always happens—I find myself being pushed out. They may let me hang out with them, but they won’t speak to me. When I talk to them, they won’t listen.
And again, I always have to ask myself, How can that be? These people love Jesus just as much as I do. Why do they hate thinkers and artists?
How can anyone so holy be so hateful?
My first years at college were awkward. I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I had realized that the Evangelical church might not be right for me. I wanted something older. Something traditional and beautiful. I just didn’t know where to find it.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, I met Rebecca*. She had a strong faith, and she was also an artist and a thinker. She had dreams of being a novelist like C. S. Lewis. We connected over good literature and deep discussions. We confided in one another. We became close.
It was because of Rebecca that I eventually joined the Prayer Group.
My senior year at Southwestern (2007-2008), a new thing was happening on campus.
That summer our friend *Timothy had gone with a missions team to Pakistan. While there, his eyes were opened to the reality of the spiritual realm. He could see angels and demons fighting. God supernaturally revealed things to them that exposed injustice. When they prayed together, the atmosphere was visibly transformed.
And God told Timothy He was going to do the same thing at our school.
At first, he, Rebecca, and two other friends were meeting each night to pray in secret. Before long I figured out what was going on and begged them to let me join them. Because life had begun to feel… empty. I wanted to live the adventure of faith. I craved friendship. I was so lonely.
And these weren’t like the people in the church I had grown up in. They were young, sophisticated, intelligent. They read books. They had dreams. They embraced diversity and uniqueness. They wouldn’t shut me out like others had before.
Over the course of the years that followed, all of that would change.
More people found out about the Prayer Group. It began growing exponentially.
Soon, one apartment wasn’t big enough to contain us. While the core group continued meeting nightly, we also had worship at least once every week in the Chapel.
By the end of my last semester, there were thirty of us. We were the radicals on campus. We prayed and God moved in miraculous power. Some saw angels. Others reported supernatural healings. Still others, like me, claimed an ability to see the future.
Yet no one was more anointed than Timothy.
In the middle of my senior year during the Christmas holidays, he went to a Charismatic prayer conference with 25,000 young people. It was there God revealed to him that he was an end-times apostle. God was calling him to help shepherd the Church through the darkness of the last days.
When he returned from that trip, he was so different. There was an air of authority about him. Charisma. He spoke and things happened. If the neighbors were blasting music next door, he would say one word of prayer and there was immediate silence. He could look at us and know exactly what we were thinking. He understood the roots of our sins. His counsel was wise and unfailingly accurate. His words brought deliverance and healing.
He was special and chosen. A man of God not to be trifled with.
I stayed for an extra semester and graduated with Timothy and Rebecca in December of 2008.
That semester was so chaotic. The rest of the school was finding out about us. People were scared. Our own friends accused us of being in a cult, but we just laughed. Of course we weren’t in a cult. We were just following Jesus more than everyone else. We were praying, we were chosen, we were different than the nominal Christians around us. People were afraid of us because they were jealous and insecure.
Yet I did notice that some people in the Group were behaving strangely. One guy, *Matthew, rode around campus on a bicycle screaming that God was declaring war on Southwestern. When I had met him, he was so gentle and normal. Now, he was having constant panic attacks. He saw demons everywhere. He told me I needed to stop journaling because God found it offensive.
We used to read books like Moby-Dick and Les Miserables and The Man who was Thursday. Now we no longer had time for that. We were reading REAL books. Rick Joyner, Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs… modern-day prophets. The Final Quest. The Apostolic Ministry. Epic Battles of the Last Days.
The kind of books that will survive the fires of God’s judgment.
I quit listening to the Beatles. Timothy said they were vile. He could feel an evil presence in the room when I played them.
Rebecca stopped writing. She’d given up her dreams to be a novelist, because those kinds of dreams were silly. She realized God was calling her into nursing so she could go overseas with Timothy. She’d fallen in love with him and was convinced God wanted her to marry him. To sacrifice all for him.
Most the rest of the Group had given up any plans for the future except moving overseas with Timothy. It was his vision for the Group.
It was a vision from God.
Three weeks before graduation, several of us had a similar feeling.
Something terrible was going to happen.
“I was praying and God showed me that tragedy is about to shake this campus,” said Matthew. “And everyone will be devastated. But in the midst of it, we’ll be the only ones who have peace.”
There were strange omens everywhere. Buzzards circling the school. A giant, black cloud that hovered near the highway. Nightmares.
I was getting scared. Timothy and I had been fighting. One time we all went out to a restaurant. While we were eating, he told us we needed to move because there was a demonic presence on that side of the room.
I told him I didn’t feel anything and I thought we should stay where we were.
When he was able to get me alone, Timothy tore into me. I told him I thought his authority had gone to his head and he needed to be put in his place. It was getting to the point where no one could question him because he had the word of the Lord for every situation.
“What a stupid, pretentious thing to do,” he said. “Endangering the souls of your friends for the sake of your stupid point.”
The rest of the Group berated me as well.
“Boze,” said one of the girls, “You listen to me: that man is an end-times apostle, and you need to do whatever he tells you.”
Who could argue with an End Times Apostle?
One night in early December, the Group gathered in Timothy’s room to listen to a prophetic teaching from a well-known pastor.
It was on the subject of God’s judgment. He said when revival comes to a place, it brings God’s wrath as well as His mercy. He said the coming Tribulation is not God’s judgment on the Church. Rather, the Church is going to pray down His wrath on the unbelieving world. The Church will walk victorious, unleashing death and destruction.
After the teaching was over, we went into the Chapel and prayed for God’s mercy on Southwestern.
Then, on the next night, tragedy struck.
A friend of mine, who was a spiritual leader among the nonbelievers, was crossing the highway at the edge of campus when another student ran over him with a truck.
He died almost instantly.
The whole school went into mourning. There were two memorial services. His kindness and tolerance seemed to have affected everyone.
But we alone knew the truth about him: it was a false tolerance, an evil kindness. The Bible said, “Woe to those who call good ‘evil’ and evil ‘good’” (Isa. 5:20). This man was evil. He had been involved in the interfaith movement. He was lobbying the government to create a Department of Peace.
And now everyone was celebrating him and his evil ways… everyone except us.
Judgment had come to Southwestern. We had prayed, God had come down, and a student was dead.
God spoke to Timothy in the aftermath of that event and said, “There is your blueprint.” What we had just done here, we were going to do all over the world. Our team would travel from nation to nation praying and releasing revival. Those who repented and believed would be saved. Those who resisted would be killed.
Just a few weeks earlier I had been contemplating leaving the Group after college. But now there was no escape. I felt linked to this Group in a powerful way. If I left, I was leaving God’s will. I was abandoning the great plan He had for my life. If I left, I’d lose my friends, my community, my future.
Right after graduation, Timothy and Rebecca moved to Kansas City for an internship. Not very long after, I joined them.
And soon, so did the rest of the Group.
To be continued in Parts II and III.
*Names changed for privacy.
Boze Herrington has a degree in English from Southwestern University. His passion is to tell stories that challenge perceptions, promote beauty, and expose injustice. He loves Catholicism, Celtic fairy tales, and The Lord of the Rings. He’s working on a series of novels. He blogs at www.thetalkingllama.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SketchesbyBoze.