She never understood why she had to put on all the frills, bells, and whistles for all these people. Why couldn’t she just wear combat boots and plaid pants. Yet, she enjoyed it in a way.She liked the pearls and big earrings, giant hair, and crazy fashion statements. She gathered the glittery boots from the overnight bag. The bag reminded her of some second hand store army surplus satchel. She had sewed patches of “question authority” and grateful dead bears onto it. One patch had David Bowie, and another a Pac-Man logo from the 80’s. It seemed strange to fish these glam black boots out of such a punk anarchist bag. The boots made her a bit happy; found in a thrift store near Midtown, were she frequented gay bars when not in a church. She didn’t want anyone to know about her bar outings, but she felt much more comfortable around drag queens, and pretty boys who would be so revealing in their conversations over fruity beverages. She loved the real raw shock of the Gay club. It felt so much more like church sometimes to her.
The black boots looked like slippery black eels sucking on the middle of her legs. Her whole outfit seemed to glimmer. It helped buttress the show business. The church for the last 60 years had been show business. And She performed at many a gig. She knew how to move the crowd. She had a great gift of rhetoric combined with intoxicating humour and charisma. And then there was her heart. It saught after God like a crack head looking for a fix. She needed God. She was beyond screwed up. She needed some stability and God seemed to offer everything she was looking for.
Except, when she fell away. Which was regular. And she was caught up in some sort of performance based religion that pushed her to the deepest self-loathing and inner legalism. Sometimes her heart would yearn for something more, and she would turn to the first good looking man that was offering. She had an almost unnatural hunger for men. and sex. She could almost care less about their hearts, commitment, or relationship. She just wanted to dominate them, feel powerful and wanted, and show them the meaning of ecstasy. She always enjoyed the post-coitus conversations on existentialism and religion. But she had to leave soon after.
She had to run.
It was like she fought with a werewolf. It was oddly spell-binding. her lupine desire broke through her skin when the full moon came. Then after her lust was momentarily satisfied,her heart would sink.
all those bible classes, all the Sunday schools, every sermon reminding her she was fallen, broken, ugly, sinful and the occasional taunting of how she had crucified God once again. She would go through a blank state of feeling empty. She’d then say “fuck it”, and smoke a carton of cigarettes or get drunk. After all she felt like a shitty person, damned to hell. That’s what the preachers said. So what, she had a near death experience with God thanks to club drugs and cocaine. So what she’d been saved so many times from horrible car wrecks and catastrophes. So what she heard the voice of God sometimes audibly. She acted like she was damned near bi-polar. She thought she was, and often went to therapists, exorcists, and any other wonder worker willing to wish it all away.
She lived like this every week. Always, begging for God to come back. God to fill her life once again. Crying that Jesus wouldn’t leave her. Bargaining and Groveling for hours at the altar to be altered- and changed. And then she’d have to preach.
She imagined what the crowd would look like. The group who had come to hear the Shevangelist. She always wondered if all those condemning people dressed in blue and gray gave a damn about God. She wondered if they were just there to flaunt their big hair, Cadillacs, or political agenda. She wondered if their contorted faces of judgement cared about anything. But she tried not to judge them. She felt so bitter sometimes towards them. She would pray for God to take way the hurt she felt for the church, and successfully walk in love towards them until little miss crankypants who ran the holier-than-thou pious club would publicly and loudly say “Hello, Evangelist.” God, it made her cringe. She thought God was cruel for allowing her to walk in forgiveness, but ultimately she knew that crankypants loved Jesus, or at least what knowledge she had of him.So she prayed again for the crowd. For their ears to be opened.
Before the event, She would pass down the empty aisles of the auditorium hours before the crowd gathered. She would pray like her tradition showed her. Begging God to show up and do something spectacular. Hoping, wanting, wishing that the Holy Spirit would speak through her and somehow communicate love. She was legalistic to herself- an Inner Pharisee, but she believed in grace for others. She would be dramatic and expressive, flamboyant and larger than life. But it wasn’t show, well mostly, it was her to the core. There was the melancholy introvert that contemplated the mysteries of God on occasion, but she was known for being an extrovert.
The crowd begin to gather and she started to pray again.
She spoke in tongues, cried, screamed, and wrestled with God in the green room, waiting for service to start. She kept away from the people. She knew they were filling the pews to come see her speak. She knew she was anointed. Ever since she was small wondering around the saw dust of the camp meetings the elders would call her out.
They prophesied over her.
called her preacher.
called her a saint.
called her a woman of God.
She remembered the emotional hype of those camp meetings, the old women bouncing, sweating, swaying till their bee-hives fell and their hair swirled down like hippies and native Americans in sacred dance. It all seemed so sensual, so spiritual, so sexual, and yet every thing about the meetings declared condemnation. We were all sinners and hell fire-doomed-fornicators..
The earliest sermons she remembered talked about an angry God, a God of holiness, one who hates sin. one who must, by default,hate her. She kinda hated church. she feld restricted by all the hate, but strangely warmed by Jesus. She had been pinned on her back by enough boys at church in the nursery to know that women weren’t suppose to be anything but a rag to use and throw away. She knew she was dirty, and the preaching of the past just left her loathing self. She knew her Dad thought she was overweight and ugly at a young age. She knew her Dad didn’t want her to dress in boys clothes. It was a strange dualism of anointed charismatic beautiful woman and hatred sinful dirty unpretty girl.
Now, she recalled all of that in one second. Her imaginations flashed with all of her life and her struggles and her addiction, her addiction to God.
She simply pleaded for forgiveness and hoped that the atmosphere would feel like the breath of God showed up.
She prayed again.
She prayed more..
A knock on the door of the green room, gently interrupting the last syllable of some unknown utterance of tongues and desperate soul cry for God to be God, alerted her of the need to start.
The behind the scenes people rushed into the quiet space with its petite water bottles and cookies. The stage hands man-handling the evangelist to set up her microphone and tape her down. They touched up her makeup. They joked about her boots, and used out of touch phrases and ever so churchy idioms to make her feel ok.
In the distance you could hear the worship leader gear up with that stupid song. The song she loathed. She always wondered if it were a cosmic joke. It was like it continually played when she spoke. “I am a friend of God” The worship leader, who was definitely in-the-closet and had a real love for bravado and big teeth music, lead in with his 15 second miny sermon on how God loves us like friends. She imagined all the youth dancing and bouncing like loose ping pong balls on the front row. She laughed for a second at their love for such a ridiculous song. And was happy that they felt so enamored for God.
She breathed hard and one more time said “God, not me but you.”
The songs became slower, the lights faded. “This is the air I breathe, This is the air I breathe”
“pneuma pneuma ruach ruach” thought the evangelist. “Come swiftly, holy spirit”, she said. The air condition kicked in and the blue gels covered the stage lights. The spirit of God was now welcome to show up. Hands raised all across the auditorium, the music reaching some cosmic climax and union with God might be possible.
It was like a courtship, a mating ritual, Jesus is my boyfriend, and some kind of make me feel good God moment.
But it was also holy, divine, mysterious, and powerful.
and then the lull in the service. She felt the pressure.
The pressure to listen for it.
She leaned in with her body from the side of the stage to hear what God was speaking. She always heard the voice so clear, so distinctive for others, despite her own many misinterpretations of his words to her.
She seemed to hear him say tell them
“You were forgiven. You are forgiven. I forgave You along time ago. Please forgive yourself. I love everything about you. So, your fingernails are dirty, so you messed up and you fell down, get back up, i believe in you. I don’t see you as fallen, I see you as victorious running and winning. I have the biggest faith in your success. I believe in you so much. Stop beating yourself up. I am with you. I never left you. I never forsook you.”
With a shaky voice she began, and then spoke with authority and deep conviction. Her tone boomed over the expanse, until every eye was wet and many fell down on their knees. She had heard God. Her and all her sexual brokenness. She began to pray. She did not understand that the same grace and love were hers,
not this early in her journey.
They had thrown her into the spot light before she had time to mature,
and she didn’t know anything except her tradition of Pentecostalism.
Then she preached her sermon, many came up afterwards requesting prayer. some said they were healed.some said they felt God. some said she was called and powerful. others told her she was too worldly, too funny, too irreverent. Some said women shouldn’t be in leadership.
and some wanted to use her.
She had many other times similar to this. She just wanted help. She wanted to be free from all her issues. But being real had cost her so much in her limited time in this arena.
She had little confidants although she was known by so many.
She wanted to be challenged.
She wanted to be free from it all.
Everything that could be shaken she desired to shake.
She heard the call of God. Her experiences overlapped the boundaries of surreal and vision. Yet she wanted to know more.
She told some close friends she would leave to go study.
They asked her not to go. They worried she’d be influenced by wolrdly teaching. She smiled. These sweet humble ignorant country people loved her so. and she was sweet sometimes,
vastly ignorant and could never shake the country no matter how much she tried.
So she left.
but the sexual desire did not leave. and neither did the anointing….
To be Continued.