Recently I went and downloaded a book about the early Pentecostal movement, called Heaven Below. It's written by a church historian who grew up Pentecostal, and is now Methodist (I think). It's a pretty scholarly book, with lots of footnotes, and it researches all aspects of those early years of pentecostalism, from the role of race and class, from the strict morality and the interpretation of scripture, from church conflicts to the role of women. The book recounts the prayer meetings and the overflowing emotions and different interpretations of the gift of tongues.
I'm a Lutheran, brought up going to church every Sunday, singing the hymns out of the red book. Hardly knew there were other Christians (except my Catholic friend down the street) until I was at least in high school. But I spent some fervant times among the charismatics and Pentecostals when I was in college and just afterwards, and those times still haunt me, on occasion.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to a play. One of his adult students, a gifted pianist and composer, is a teacher at the Apostolic Bible Institute. I didn't know, but it sounded suspiciously like a Pentecostal type of place. I googled it, and it turns out the school is run by the United Pentecostal Church. I knew a guy who was United Pentecostal when I was at college. Uppity woman that I am, I used to argue with him about the Trinity. (I also (ahem) had a theological discussion with a guy about infant baptism once, which was why he didn't ask me out again, I guess.)
But I digress.
We were invited to this play, a great production based on the story of Samson. It was really quite clever, although I will admit I was hoping that there would be music. As the sanctuary filled up, I noticed that there was only one other woman with short hair. Every other woman in the place had long long hair, and many women had their long hair put up in elaborate ways.
I felt a little like a Gentile.
But before and after the play, the President of the Bible Institute came out and led some praying and singing. One of the choruses was "Praise the Name of Jesus". As I was singing along, I thought my husband was looking at me with a funny look, as if to say, "is there something I don't know about you?"
I recently read a book by a man who is a kind of neo-Pentecostal in the Lutheran church. He said that he couldn't imagine anybody being an ex-Pentecostal. I've met some, though; a woman I met at a book signing who said she grew up Assemblies of God and "had enough church to last the rest of her life." One of my friends in college doesn't call herself a Christian any more, as far as I know.
In most ways, I don't suppose I'm Pentecostal any more. I think that God comes to us in ordinary ways more often than in extra-ordinary. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, but that we have this treasure in the clay jars of human words. I like liturgy. I don't find it empty of meaning, and don't think of it as rote repetition.
I do, however, still believe in the power of God to transform our lives, re-orient us, not just once, but again and again.
And sometimes, I do miss the Sweet Sweet Spirit.