“Praise the Lord, church family, Praise Jesus, only Jesus could make you be in the middle of a rape and not feel it.”
The church throws itself into a screaming fit of tongues and bawls and wails and hallelujahs and you’re the only one in the pews horrified by what this woman just said. Church sisters drop to their knees thanking God, men clap but stay quiet and the sister who always runs laps around the church as soon as the holy spirit lights a fire in her backside stomps like a bull eager to break. Not about to let go of the mic, the sister who thanked the lord for novocaining her vagina breaks out in song and the band sweeps underneath her with a bed of cheesy keyboards and slapped bass.
After church you wonder out loud why didn’t she just ask Jesus to not let men rape her. In this world there will be tribulation, a church brother says and you wonder if God could just once send a 250 pound leatherman to deal with this idiot’s ass and see if he comes to church the next Sunday to thank God for making it so that he doesn’t have ovaries. You wonder why you bother asking questions that Pentecostal Christianity teaches you not to ask. Asking why bad things happen shows immature Christian growth. Better to ask for the strength to deal with tribulation instead of a way to escape it. And who needs to think about that right now—this is just the praise and worship segment of the service and there are at least seven more people itching to testify.
Early Sunday morning service at the Church of Peter. Early because there’s a second service that starts at 11, which forces the first service to stay on schedule. You always feel slightly guilty for not going to second service because surely second service is the true sign that you’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb, and not trying to just get this shit over with so that you can salvage the rest of your morning. Oh I only go to the second service, it’s so spirit filled, says the guy who did an interpretive dance tribute to the crucifixion last week complete with a Jesus Christ pose. The older pre-Christian you that still lives in your left brain says dude please go suck a dick already.
And yet nobody was forcing you to stay. Unlike cults the church has an open door. Anyone can enter and anyone can leave at any time. And should you leave there is no army of church sisters hounding you to find out why you have backslidden. If you had wanted to join a cult there were several in college and you would have been surrounded by mostly rich kids and their white friends from Barbados. You wouldn’t have gone to a church that lost a third of its congregation when they started to preach to ghetto people. Where the pastor drove a sports car and caught hell for introducing 20th century music. And tell yourself all you want that you’re only here to pass time, but this was as close to a functioning family that you were ever going to get.
There were people in church who knew things that would horrify your mother. There were people in church who ate sin, absorbed crimes against bodies some of which were illegal, some immoral, some just scary. And there you were, surprised that church of all places was where you found a space for darkness. Where in a weird way, faith made you set Marilyn Manson and Sixteen Horsepower against each other and read Dennis Cooper and Gary Indiana. Darkness was everywhere, but especially at summer camp in the Mandeville mountains, where you were surrounded by children infected with demons.
Watch for the kid who runs to the altar for call. Watch her scream and wail and moan. Watch her call out for Jesus, louder than everybody else. Watch the pastor watch her and move when he moves. Grab her before she falls and convulses and spits and gnashes and watch as her face changes from a flashed eyebrow of wickedness to a child’s fear, lost in a whimper. Watch but don’t listen as two, three, four fight to hold down a 13-year-old girl who vomits out her food twice a day. Watch as the pastor commands the evil spirit to get out of her and shout when he shouts, say hallelujah when he says hallelujah and speak into tongues even if all you can say is abba abba abba. Watch the girl as her pupils disappear like a mutant, and listen as she says, I’m never leaving her in her own voice but somebody else’s tone. Watch as the pastor says, I have the authority of Jesus Christ, and you, demon must obey authority, you know it and I know it, so with the power of God I command you to leave this body. Watch as she turns back to 13 for a second to whisper that somebody here doesn’t believe. You think she means you until the pastor says demon you’re a liar, every person here is a believer. You smell sulfur and shit and realize that this is real. You want to leave her and come in to me? You think you’ll like it, demon? The pastor says. That’s what I thought. He commands the demon to leave and it does, but by leaving it reveals another one hiding. This one meeker, weaker. This one hates the sound of bible verses and you have tons to share. The girl wails and screams and collapses in your arms. The pastor rubs her forehead and smiles. The summer camp whoops and hollers. Another boy screams and runs out of the church.
And so it happens, you’ve become an exorcist. Except we don’t call these things exorcisms but deliverances. Deliverer sounds darker, like you should be in a black coat at all times. Demons are annoyances more than anything else, and my how they love to torment creative people. It amazes you how much you were made for this. Holding down tormented teens at night service and driving demons out of souls. You get good at this. Too good. Late at night in your own home, you wake up to see shadows darting from picture to picture, mirror to mirror and vanish as they dash for your bed. The bed starts to shake and a cold hand covers your mouth. The bed shakes more and you mumble the lord is faithful until the hand slips from your mouth. You try to get up but hands pin your head down to the pillow. You shout and testify and say there’s only one authority in this room so get the hell out all of you demons before I really get serious.
The bed stops shaking. The demons leave. You wonder if this was not just a waking dream. But when you tell your church brothers next Sunday, they look at you with new eyes. Satan has started to send assassins while you sleep.
Jehovah clearly has his eyes on you, child of God.
Front page image by 16 Horsepower – Haw.