If you're wondering why I haven't been updating my blog as much as I used to during the past month, there are two reasons. The first is I've been taking online courses through UMUC, so I don't have as much time to write as I used to. The second reason is when I do have time to write, I've been focusing on narrative essays instead of blog posts. Occasionally I'll write an essay that I think will fit this blog (i.e. short), but for the most part I've just kept them on my thumb drive.
I am, however, working on a very interesting essay about the first church I ever attended, which I refer to as the First Church of the Holy Rollers. It was a nondenominational charismatic church--in other words, it was Pentecostal in every way except the name. Since it's a pretty long piece, I'll post it on here in excerpts.
Here's the first part, where I talk about the first night I went to the church. Certain names have been changed, and when necessary I slightly altered events to make the narrative run smoother. Other than that, this is a true story to the best of my memory.
* * *
Before I started following Jesus, everything I knew about Christianity came from the movie The Apostle. Even though I thought the movie was great, the image of Robert Duvall running around a church podium screaming about Holy Ghost power only solidified my then-hatred of anything that had to do with religion. It also didn’t help that Duvall’s character beat his wife’s lover to death with a baseball bat.
And then when I was seventeen, a funny thing happened: I became a Christian. My high-school sweetie Arlena was the one who led me to Christ, so I trusted her to teach me about church, too. She went to a non-denominational charismatic church. I didn’t know what that meant, but I figured if Arlena went there it couldn’t have been that bad. Although I did ask her, “Is it anything like The Apostle?”
“Not really,” she replied, “although they do sometimes speak in tongues.”
“It’s when you speak in another language.”
“You mean like when a Catholic priest speaks in Latin?”
“Uh, kinda. I wouldn’t worry about it, though.”
* * *
The first time we went to church together was during a Wednesday night Bible study. The congregation met in a classroom of my high school, so it was weird to worship God in the same place the jocks would beat me up. Arlena was running late, so I stood by the school’s back entrance waiting for her. I watched all the congregants come in and smile at me as they walked past. When the pastor, Pastor Dave, arrived, all of the congregants followed behind him like sheep following a shepherd. (I know that pastors are supposed to be shepherds, but I always thought it was just a metaphor.) Pastor Dave seemed like a laid-back, friendly guy. He wore a polo shirt, black slacks, and loafers. He gave me a salute as he walked past me. Meanwhile all of the congregants following behind him couldn’t keep their eyes off of him.
Arlena finally arrived shortly after Pastor Dave and we went into the music room, which was where they held the Bible study. But that first Bible study went well. I forgot what the pastor spoke about, but I remember feeling inspired, uplifted, and all those other Christian clichés. Things got a little weird, though, when we prayed. As the pastor asked for healing for various church members and their families, the congregation repeatedly said, “Yeeessss, Lord. Thaaaaaank You, Jesus. Ooooooh hallelujah.” I wasn’t sure if they were praying or about to have an orgasm. But after we finished praying, nobody was smoking a cigarette, so I just assumed that’s how you prayed.
Other than the orgasmic praying, I decided to keep going to that church’s Wednesday night Bible study. Every week I learned about how I didn’t have to roll around in my own self-loathing, like I had been for the past seventeen years. Plus, the people there were nice. One guy who immediately latched onto me was John. When he found out I was Italian, he started calling me “Noodle Head” as a cute pet name. But since he was Italian, too, he didn’t mind me calling him Noodle Head back. I guess it’s better than “dago.” His wife always cried during prayer requests, but John always kept it together. He was a nice guy, except that he always gave me sermons after the Bible study let out.
“So what’s new with you?” he would ask.
“Oh nothing much,” I’d reply. “Just working, y’know.”
“Well the Bible tells us that we’re not working for man. We’re really working for God. Of course nobody really acts like they’re working for God.”
“People think they can just get away with anything, but that’s not what the Bible says. It says whatever’s in the dark will be brought to light. People don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.”
“I see. Listen, I got to go now . . .”
“’Cause, y’see, the Bible tells us that God is the king of heaven and earth and everything in between, so there’s nothing we can do that won’t go unnoticed. Hey, where are you going?”
For some reason charismatic Christians are really good at giving sermons after the pastor just finished giving a sermon. After Pastor Dave finished give the night’s lesson, he opened up the floor to whoever wanted to make a comment or offer a prayer request. There were usually three or four people on average who had to share how God told them to approach a total stranger at 7-Eleven and tell them about Jesus. It was always the same three or four people, too: an older woman named Delores who always had a smile on her face; Robert, a hitchhiker with a mullet; and Petey, a former heroin addict whose personality was just as larger-than-life as his belly. When they all gave their week’s testimonies, they always said that it was the Lord who was speaking through them. At the time I thought that my heart must have had a bad reception, but eventually I would learn how to witness like these folks.
(To be continued)