Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Holy Roller

Storytelling, Part III
My father and my mother did not go to college, but I did. I went to a small midwestern Lutheran college just far enough away from home to qualify as 'away from home.' I decided to go to this college because I was a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran girl, because I wanted to learn the Scandinavian language they offered at this college, and because they had a good Literature program.

I did not go to college to become a holy roller.

I did not know what a "holy roller" was.

I have two sets of god-parents: both Lutheran, and both religious, but in different ways. For example, one of my godfathers liked to quote Karth Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the other one gave me a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade. My second set of god-parents would also say things like "we're praying for you," sometimes, which I took to mean: "We think you are in a lot of trouble, spiritually."

I went to college, this small Lutheran school just a little bit away from home, and I tried a few things for the first time. I went to a beer party (I didn't like it). I tried cigarettes. I went out a few times.

And I signed up for a course called, "The Neo-Pentecostal Movement" for January Term.

We read a few books, had some class discussions, and had several speakers with different points of view. I remember a few of them: A history professor from a nearby Lutheran school, a lay woman from the local Four Square Gospel church, and an Old Testament professor from one of our seminaries. We learned about Azusa Street and the turn-of-the-century revival there, and how it grew. We also learned about Lutherans and Episcopalians and others who had experienced pentecostal revivals, but who did not leave their churches.

Many, but not all, of the students in the class had had some experience with this pentecostal movement. In the evenings, some of us would get together for worship.

On the night before the last session, there was a sort of a prayer-meeting in someone's room. A number of people were there. People were praying for each other, and some of them were speaking in tongues.

At one point, they started praying for me. I'm pretty sure I wanted them to, although I was also nervous about it. I remember it was dark, and there were candles around, and everything seemed sort of mysterious. I don't remember exactly what happened, but that at some point I realized that I was speaking in tongues. I heard someone say "praise the Lord!" and then I figured out what was happening.

It was late at night when I got back to my dorm room. More properly, it was early in the morning. But I felt exactly like the apostles in Acts, chapter 2. I didn't want to go to sleep. I pulled open my Bible, and started reading the letters of Paul, and I thought, "I know exactly what he's talking about." It seemed like the Bible now applied to me in a way that I never thought it had before. I wanted to read it. It was my story. I had the exhilarating and arrogant feeling that I might understand it.

For a few months after that, I was on a kind of spiritual high. I was interested in everything about God, and almost nothing else. To be honest, I was also, in some ways, insufferable to be around. When I think back on that time, and the patience with which my aunt and uncle (for example) treated me, I think so much more of their Christian commitment than I do of any amount of speaking in tongues.

I still look back fondly on the experience I had that evening in the dark, with the candles. But there are other things I do not look fondly on. I don't look fondly back at the limitations charismatic leaders put on women; I don't look back fondly on the judgments some made of those who did not claim the exact same spiritual experiences; I don't look back fondly on what I perceived as a quest for bigger spiritual 'highs.'

After all these years, I'm still looking for a way to integrate the experience I had with the kind of Christianity I claim: a faith that seeks justice, and does kindness, and walks humbly.

...to be continued... (if anyone is interested)
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