Holiness Hill

I have mixed emotions about treading this particular “Holiness” path. As a newbie to Christianity, I’m worried about witnessing fervent displays of faith. I feel it’s akin to sitting in on a stranger’s therapy session or watching from the gallery of an operating room—you’re witnessing an intensely private moment. Except in this case, the subject not only knows there will be spectators but welcomes them. Part of the point is to demonstrate to others the work of the Holy Spirit. All of which is perhaps okay except…what if the spectacle becomes particularly freaky? What if the patient struggles with multiple personalities or the surgery is gory open heart? What if people are jabbering uncontrollably up and down the church aisles? Is it too much for an innocent bystander? Or, more frightening still, what if the Holy Spirit grabs ahold of me?

Already, I’ve discovered that one of the best friends I’ve made since moving to my new town was, until recently, one of them: a Pentecostal. When she told me, I was knocked me off kilter for several moments. I knew she had been a committed church-goer until about five years ago when her devout then-husband ran off with another woman, I just didn’t realize it had been that kind of church. Today she’s a card-carrying None. A few years ago she was speaking in tongues. Is it really such a fine line?

So I start off gently, with a Church of the Nazarene, which is a type of Holiness church that doesn’t do “speaking in tongues,” the spontaneous ability to utter a foreign language. I imagine putting my finger to the patient’s wrist to take a pulse. Unlike others with a steady rate, this one calms and quickens, calms and quickens over and over. It begins slowly with announcements and hymns. Then the preacher says we are entering prayer time and a handful of people approach the altar to kneel, their arms wrapped around their neighbors’ shoulders. Others raise their palms into the air. When the preacher says, “God put you here to lift you up,” the rate spikes. A man cries, “Yes!” and several others shout, “Amen!” A similar thing happened in the middle of an Episcopal service I attended several weeks earlier, but with a much more awkward result. A woman blurted “Amen!” from the back row and everyone turned to look at her and smile. Here, the exclamations rise up unacknowledged, par for the course. The pace slows for a Bible reading and then the preacher says, “God hates lukewarm—he likes his church hot!” Shouts of “amen” ripple through the congregation like exclamation points at the end of his statement and I can almost feel the temperature in the sanctuary rise.

The next week I try a Pentecostal service. The church is the size and shape of a double wide trailer. It’s located just out of town on the side of the freeway in the shadow of a grain silo. Inside, where fewer than 20 people are gathered, I sense the relaxed vibe of familiarity. A sullen, stud-adorned teenager drapes herself across an entire row. It’s hard to imagine these laid-back congregants wound up with Spirit.

At the front of the room are two women: a keyboard player and a singer with a microphone. Is amplification necessary in such a small space? My guess is no, but the woman holds it earnestly, speaking into it with such sincerity that I sense to her it is no less than the ear of God…


17 thoughts on “Holiness Hill

  1. “Holiness Hill”? Hmmm, I wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge of going with something that would blow my cover, eg “Holy Hamburger Hill”… 🙂

    Interesting comparison of religion and surgery THEATERS, which I believe are still in use in teaching hospitals (and not for the purposes of entertaining the general public, but for education of med students). Oh, that Seinfeld episode where Kramer accidentally drops a Junior Mint inside a patient from the gallery above (as if he’s in a movie theater, eating Junior Mints)? Funny premise, but anachronistic, since operating theaters have long since been closed.

    Most religions put on quite an off-Broadway stage production when praying and performing works of charity, conveniently overlooking the words of Jesus in Matt 6:

    1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

    2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

    5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

    7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

    9 “Pray, then, in this way:
    ‘Our Father who is in heaven,
    Hallowed be Your name…..

    You’ve gotta love the irony of Jesus slamming Gentiles for their “meaningless repetitive prayers” (which, if you really think about it, SHOULD apply to meaningless ‘speaking in tongues’ schtick, on the issues of being a showy public display AND meaningless)? And how exactly is Jesus discouraging repetitive prayers by giving the “Lord’s Model Prayer”, which has been prattled by rote ever since?

    That in itself is bad, but note that Jesus then prayed it IN FRONT OF HIS DISCIPLES, contradicting the other principles he just taught (“only pray in private”). Instead of leaving it at the principles, he gives an EXAMPLE that undermines his prior premise (paraphrased as “pray from your heart, not relying on cliches, eg “forgive us when we fall short”: a favorite line of JWs in their prayers).

    Turns out that Xians are often hypocritical for good reason: they’re only following in Jesus’ “perfect” footsteps!

    Corinna said:

    “At the front of the room are two women: a keyboard player and a singer with a microphone. Is amplification necessary in such a small space? ”

    Alright, Corinna: THAT one HAD to be intentional. You ARE trying to elicit a mental image of that SNL skit with Will Farrell and Anna Gasteau, aren’t you? 🙂

    • Hi Dave, I’m wondering if “praying” is different from “worshipping.” The first being a private affair and the second more public, perhaps something enjoyed in community. But these sorts of seeming-contradictions exist all over the Bible, giving us lots of material to struggle over I suppose. I did not intend to reference the SNL skit, but I ADORE those characters. So sincere and charming…

      • Hi Corinna,

        Sure, prayer can be personal private communication (supplication) to God, and it may be done in a group (eg before a meal or gatherings, formal or informal) as a part of formal worship. Similarly, worship can be done in private or public, since many believers think of private prayer as a form of worship, too.

        It’s interesting that, for the most part, Jesus didn’t actually lay out specifics for the establishment of religious worship when he was alive, perhaps because Jesus hadn’t been successful in STARTING any groups (despite the whole passage about Peter being the rock upon which he would build his religion, I personally think Jesus would’ve been horrified to realize that a religion was created in his name, since by all accounts Jesus was an orthodox Jew who actually believed he WAS the Jewish Messiah, and had come to fulfill the prophecies of a mortal to restore Jerusalem to it’s prior glory).

        Instead, many years AFTER Jesus’ death it took others like Paul (a Jew, who had never met Jesus when alive, but was raised in a Greek town, and hence exposed to Western stoic philosophy) to lay out the rules of what practices were acceptable forms of worship for the early Xian congregations. In fact, that’s the whole point of the various letters from Paul (the so-called Pauline Epistles) that were sent to far-flung congregations: Paul (or more likely, pseudoepigraphical writers) was laying out specific guidelines, rules of behavior, for the congregants to follow in their worship. This was done to avoid heterodoxy, as many groups had been making it up as they go along with their own theology and interpretations (sound familiar?), improvising their worship services.

        Eg some congregations allowed women to speak in meetings, and even LEAD the service, a practice Paul was quick to squelch by telling women they should remain submissive to men: In 1st Tim 2:9, Paul cited Genesis’ curse of Eve, where God punished her for disobeying his Divine prohibition after allowing her desire for wisdom to over-ride His Divine Will. Hence, God’s curse literally meant that ALL of Eve’s desires were immediately suspect, and thus would be subhumed to the desire/will of the man of the household; the curse of women was to remain subservient to men, needing their approval and permission for every desire they had. Silly women apparently can’t do anything right, and need to be micro-managed!!!

        Oh, Paul even finished his massive missive chiding by saying the salvation of women lies via child-bearing in pain, not in expressing their faith to others. Lovely misogyny on display there, eh? Paul (and hence, the Bible) is THE common source of that “barefoot and pregnant” meme.

        (Of course, there’s massive amounts of ancient bigoted thinking at work here, since it wasn’t like Adam wisely refused to eat the fruit: HIS judgment and will-power apparently was no greater than hers. Not that it matters, as a shockingly large % of believers haven’t yet figured out that the entire account is absurd, based on far-older ancient myths that were prevalent in region where Genesis was written. Of course, reasoning is anathema to a bigoted thinker, since by definition, you REFUSE to look at any logic that challenges your views).

        But point is, there were MANY such practical questions that arose in early congregations, such as whether circumcision is required of Gentiles (Paul said ‘no’), the practice of eating blood (which was common in some cultures; strictly verboten in Judaism; Paul said better safe than sorry, so as not to let it be a stumbling block).

        Paul felt that salvation came NOT through works, but through accepting God’s grace as a gift; Paul felt Jesus’ death caused the older convenant restrictions found in the Torah to be replaced (including that restriction on eating blood, in Genesis). However, Paul seemingly was ignoring Jesus’ own words where Jesus said that he didn’t come to replace or invalidate a WORD of the Torah (which Jesus said was “perfect”, and “would stand forever”), but “to fulfill it” (ie Jesus thought he was the fulfillment of the prophecies in Ezekiel 37 of a Jewish messiah, although Jews were CORRECT to reject Jesus, since he didn’t fit the prophecy on many counts). So Paul literally distorted the beliefs of Jesus, who had distorted the prophecies of a Jewish Messiah by claiming Divine origin (a crime for which he was put to death, in accord with Jewish law).

        So whether Jesus or Paul, what we see on display is classic syncretism: a mixing of religious ideologies, a custom-blend of what people see as the “best parts” of different belief systems, melded in order to make something unique and “new”.

        That approach leaves the fingerprints of humans, and not an unchanging and eternal God who has a Divine Plan, and does not, even CANNOT, change his mind. The internal contradictions of the Bible are so blatant and obvious, once you look with an uncolored perspective, you have to NOT want to see them.

  2. Well, Corinna, you are certainly giving yourself a church-by-church education. It is kind of you not to refer to them as “Holy Rollers”…That was the sarcastic name we gave them in my youth in New England when about the only “Holy Roller” we knew was t.v.’s presentation of a young Oral Roberts. I only had one mild experience with this a couple of years ago and it was in a charismatic Catholic Church. I have forgotten his name but he was a well known Catholic Priest who appeared in t.v. news clips showing him walking through the aisles and extending his hand and people fell, “slain in the Spirit”. He was making an appearance in San Diego near where I lived and I went with a couple of friends to see him. I did not believe that it worked and I’m a pretty large man so I volunteered to go up on the stage and let him put his hand on my forehead. As soon as he did I felt myself falling backward. Two of his men put me down gently and picked me up. I wouldn’t have believed it would happen but I can’t say it did anything special for me either. From the thinking reflected in your writing I have a difficult time believing that you would be “grabbed by the Holy Spirit” in one of these settings. I think most of these folks are rather naive folks who are susceptible to hypnotic techniques and who deeply want to have an experience with Jesus and the only way they have learned to have it is through the church they are in. Easterners do the same thing with what they call the Kundalini practice. As to your friend perhaps it’s important to remember that a high tolerance for ambiguity is a sign of mental health. On the edge of my seat awaiting your next church.

    • When words fail to communicate, mysticism in the form of tongues express the soul’s yearning. I wouldn’t call this expression negative or positive. Simply a different worship experience.

      • Infants find that words fail to communicate their soul’s yearning for Mommie’s breast-milk, and they too speak in tongues, AKA babble or cry. I wouldn’t call their expression as negative (to the contrary, it’s positive, as they’re learning motor control over the muscles of speech), since it’s not like they’re intent on fooling others.

        In contrast, someone who speaks in tongues IS deceiving others, and it may not be ‘harmless’ depending on who they’re intending to deceive (that is, unless they’re only trying to fool themselves).

    • That healer: don’t suppose that was Benny Hinn?

      Funny to see what comes up when you Google “Benny Hinn fraud”, including an account from last month out of Brazil of his son and an accomplice beating a deaf/mute worshipper who apparently rushed the stage during a show seeking healing (the guy settled for an undisclosed cash settlement, AKA hush money; huh, you’d think Benny Hinn could save some $$$, and “heal” the guy’s injuries directly, maybe even throwing in healing his deafness and muteness, too).

  3. Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes as tears. Sometimes as an impulse to do something that is not what you think you have it in you to do but you know is right. Sometimes it comes as quiet. Maybe for some, it comes as shouting. I once heard a Sacred Harp recording by a group in Alabama, and at one point in the singing (which I have mentioned before is very visceral), you hear a woman euulating (sp?) and (I presume) swooning as she is overcome by the Spirit. I think when it is real, it is obvious. And when it isn’t, it is also obvious.

    It will be interesting to find out what you encounter.

    Yours in Christ.

  4. Intersecting with the Holy Spirit is to experience the divine. For most people, that meeting is not a large display. Sometimes the result is intense conviction and a turning toward God. Other times, as in the case of C. S. Lewis, who has been mentioned by others several times in your blog, is as simple as one moment he did not believe, and a few minutes later he did. The interesting thing about C. S. Lewis is that he did a similar search as you. He writes about it in his book Surprised By Joy.

    It seems the question is what happened to the faith of your friend’s devout husband? Why did he have an affair, abandon his wife, and run off with another woman? Was Jesus not strong enough? So much for the divine. Secondly, what about your friend? Why did she ditch her faith just because of what her husband did? Was Jesus not enough for her? Their sad and hurtful story makes the divine seem impotent on several levels.

    Being a Christian does not mean God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit somehow grabs everyone’s will away from them and they are plunged into devotion that they can’t escape. God does not control us. It’s very much a working “partnership” with God where we have an active role in and responsibility to the relationship, He stronger and more faithful than us, of course. I’ve known people whose expectation was that Christianity would/should alleviate suffering or infidelity or evil and when bad things happened, they turned away from God. But many find that when bad things happen and they cling to Jesus Christ, he finds a redemptive and hopeful way through that one could have never imagined. That second group includes me, who was also abandoned by my husband.

    Jesus is not a “principle” or a rule to live by. Many people are looking for that, however, as were the religious leaders at Jesus’ time. The fact that Jesus claimed to be divine was precisely why he was crucified. They did not like his interpretation of the law and what they perceived as him breaking their laws. We always seem to want to make God what we want God to be. I don’t know why. But if we can seek out with an open mind what Jesus teaches us about God, we can find him. “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself.” That includes you, unless you don’t want to be reconciled. Everyone has the freedom to say no. It is an invitation.

    • Thank you, Ginger. My friend is still very spiritual (for a couple of “Nones,” she and I talk A LOT about religion) but I think she became disillusioned–not so much with Christianity as with who she was while being a practicing Christian. She was living as a “good wife” and sugar-coating her reality. I think she needed to step away and find her true self, in a sense she needed to leave that particular church to hit rock bottom and begin again. She needed to find a way to live more authentically. She has since remarried and had a baby. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found a more formal means of worshipping some day. She still has it in her heart.

      • Unfortunately I think this business of wrapping ourselves in the divinity of a church’s teachings often takes us away from the help we need to get in touch with our true selves. I often tell people who are either disfellowshipped, shunned or simply left a religion they have been a part of for a long time not to go in search of another religion right away. Their first gift to themselves should be to give themselves a good rest from any sort of religious thinking and take time to find out who they really are and what they want from life. It may take a long time but only once they feel grounded and centered within themselves do I suggest that they begin another journey into faith if that’s what they want.

        • Hi Frank, Your advice makes sense. How can we properly project love out when we aren’t able to project it in? It seems like some people are nudged in the right direction with the help of religion, while others get swept further off course.

          • Corinna, your comment reminds me of a therapist I once knew who said, “It’s an interesting phenomenon: Some believers who come to see me become atheists and some atheists who come to see me become believers.” It makes me believe that when one receives “good” therapy they are not directed toward a particular belief but, instead, have an opportunity in the presence of trust, safety and support to get in touch with their core and learn to make choices that are in harmony with it. It takes courage, too.

  5. Corinna,

    What an interesting term, “Holiness Hill”. I have never heard that before, so I really can’t comment on it unless I do research. You used the word “freaky”, and I have heard that some feel scared to go or to participate in such activities.

    The original Pentecost has scriptural foundation. I suggest reading Acts 2:1-8 and verses 14-15. This gives a good description of what occurred, and I am positivie that the 120 present were amazed. Foreign languages were spoken , but all of these idioms were known to the individuals who were present. That may not be the case today. The apostle, Paul, introduces a great deal text based on speaking in tongues, and you may be surprised at what he said. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 8-10, and 1 Corinthians 14:1-6, 9-11.) I believe that what went on during the formation of the Christian congregation is different than what you might see today. Draw your own conclusions.

    The comment you made about a church service was “God doesn’t like lukewarm!” Read Revelation 3:14-16. This is what Jesus said to the apostle, John, during John’s vision. Very true!

    Thanks for reading my comment.

    ADIOS, Cheri

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