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Dave Canfield, centre, spent nearly three decades in a prominent Christian commune in the U.S. and is now trying to figure life out on his own. (Credit: GoFundMe)

I spent almost 30 years in a Christian commune. Now I’m figuring out my faith and life on the outside

A writer and dad explores what it's like to start afresh after so many years in an enclosed community where he was handed all the answers.

By Dave Canfield

Welcome to the blog of the broken but still hopeful, the disillusioned but still seeking. It’s called Out-There Faith and I expect most of the people who decide it’s for them are a little on the weird side. I should know. I’m not wearing any pants as I type this.

I’ll be using this platform to revisit parts of my 30-year-plus spiritual journey. Some of it took place inside the church, surrounded by all the trappings of Christian culture. The last three years have been outside the church, where I’ve come to believe God speaks to me the loudest through my coffee addiction, love of movies (especially horror movies), interactions with my kids and my day job as a caregiver for people with intellectual disabilities. In other words, it’s in my day-to-day life (and I truly believe yours) that I need to have the most pressing sense of God as part of the real world.

I’ve been by turns a Charismatic Catholic, a Southern Baptist, a holy-rollin’, tongue-talkin' faith movement guy and lived in the most prominent intentional Christian community in the United States, Jesus People USA Covenant Church, herein referred to as JPUSA, in full-time Christian service with anywhere from 200 to 600 men, women and children as well as assorted dogs, feral cats, scorpions, bird-eating spiders and a python called Boots.

The Friendly Towers in Chicago, where Dave Canfield lived for many years when he was part of JPUSA. (Credit: Jesus People USA/Facebook)

My experience with Christian faith started at the age of 19 and for about five years, my life was marked by the same culture many of you readers are probably part of right now — a world of churches, classes, potlucks and a mortal terror of your internet history being made public.

The next 28 years was spent with JPUSA, where I and my fellow community members soon realized I was useless when it came to anything that made money. So rather than work for one of the ministry businesses or outreaches, they gave me a writer’s desk at Cornerstone, a sort of Rolling Stone for the Jesus Movement. I edited the music section and wrote lyrics for the community’s Christian rock group Rez Band.

I also quickly rediscovered my love of monsters and movies and began writing film reviews, speaking frequently on worldview and culture and contributing to what is now a shelf full of film-related books. I worked with a colleague to start a mini film festival and pop-culture lecture venue, the Imaginarium. Our audience was hungry to talk about their love for both God and Godzilla and we gave them a banquet: Universal Horror films of the thirties and forties, science fiction films of the ‘50s, anime, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Who and Frank Capra movies.  

"I doubt so much and so hard sometimes that I wonder how faith has ever made sense to me."

Then a friend who had invited me out to speak in Toronto a few times decided to start a blog and invited me along as a writer. Twitch Film became the world’s largest blog dealing with world cinema and strange little movies that fall through the cracks. It’s called Screen Anarchy now and I’ve always been incredibly proud to be associated with it.

But enough about the successful, happy me. Let’s talk about the real me. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life. I take anti-depressants. Nothing too strong, but if I start skipping doses, I cry during car commercials and forget that cleaning is a verb. Three years ago, my wife of 17 years and I separated and our divorce will likely be finalized soon. 

When my marriage ended, so did my life in religious community and my ability to write full time. The last three years have seen me living alone for the first time in my adult life, often convinced that no one could ever love me and my increasingly middle-aged body again.  

I’ve had to learn how to buy groceries, manage money and pay bills. My children have both been in therapy since they were about three to help mitigate the effects of Asperger's and extreme anxiety disorders. I live in a large apartment in a building that probably wouldn’t pass inspection and work at a job that just about anybody who presents well can get with little-to-no experience. 

And lastly, I doubt. I doubt so much and so hard sometimes that I wonder how faith has ever made sense to me. C.S. Lewis famously stated that he came into the kingdom of heaven kicking and screaming. I’ve stayed there for 30 years kicking and screaming, wondering if there were a way out. I’ve spent the last three years sorting through my feelings about community, my faith and what the search for meaning is really about. I also have bad feet, bite my nails down to the quick, and have gained enough weight in the last few years to give my naughty bits permanent shade if I ever decide to join a nudist colony.

I’ll be sharing lots of stories about all these things. I know you probably want to hear more about my time at JPUSA, how I can possibly be a Christian and like horror movies, and why someone who doubts so much is so invested in the idea of a good laugh let alone his faith journey. I may even start typing this column with my pants on.

This is the first in a series of blogs by Dave Canfield. His other blogs are below.

My holy relationship with caffeine

I'm a support worker for those with intellectual disabilities, and that reminds people of things they're deeply afraid of

My love of horror movies is not at odds with my love of God


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