not what we’re used to

In church this morning, there was a healing service. Or something. They sanctified the building by squirting oil on the walls and praying real loud, and then there was a praise/anointing time. The ushers cleared the white plastic chairs from the front half of the building (this, we’ve learned, means that Something Big is going to happen). People crowded up close around the alter. The seriously off-key guitar started up. There was hand clapping, and a bit of swaying and bouncing.

It wasn’t until several songs in that the screaming started. People kept on singing, but every few seconds, someone would scream long and loud. We all sat up straighter and kept our eyes peeled for the action. Soon, a woman, surrounded by four spotters, was escorted to the back of the group. A fifth man hovered close, shouting prayers over her. The woman was screeching and bouncing wildly up and down. After a couple minutes, she fell over backwards onto the floor and someone brought a shawl to cover her.

And so went the next thirty minutes. By the end of the morning, the front of the church was covered with shawl-covered bodies.

This is the second time our Mennonite church has held this kind of service since we’ve been here. I’m beginning to think it might be a monthly occurrence. The first time this happened, the kids were somewhat traumatized. What with all the hollering men, the flailing women, the pushing people over backwards, the spotters, the wailing and sobbing, I can’t say I blame them. Heck, I was a little shell-shocked. This morning, though, my children didn’t seem too bothered. In fact, my younger son laid down in his seat and kept pestering me about what time the service would be over. As though people failing over in church was the most normal thing in the world.

This afternoon, my husband and I were discussing the morning’s events. “What is going through their heads?” my husband asked.

I had been pondering the very same thing. What are the people actually feeling? This culture is so reserved, so stoic and quiet—how can they switch into something so completely different, and in front of a bunch of other people, too?

The interesting thing is: some people don’t ever fall over. Even when the elders are shaking their heads with their laying-on hands, pushing at them so they have to walk backwards across the room, and invoking the holy spirit in no uncertain terms, they stay erect. Are they being stubborn? What does it mean that they aren’t Getting It? What makes a person fall and what makes her stay standing?

Regardless of what’s going on in people’s heads, I am convinced that there is a lot of sincerity. The guy who knocks people over and then flings his hands high in the air and barks Glory to God (the Christian version of the first pump) strikes me as a little showy, but for the most part, I see genuine love and concern in the eyes of the leaders. This is how they care for each other.

In our bedroom this afternoon, I said, “I don’t think these people are any more real or any more fake than people in our home church.”

And only after I said that did I realize how much I agreed with myself. (Don’t you love when that happens?)

There’s a lot of pomp at my home church and in any church I’ve been in. Heck, wherever people are gathered, there’s pomp. (Except maybe at AA meetings—I’ve heard those are pretty raw.) There’s a lot of Saying the Right Words and Minding Manners and Keeping Your Shit Together. There’s also, thank goodness, a lot of profound caring.

Him: You did NOT just use a swear word on your blog. That is SO unnecessary. Take it out.
Me: Stuff it, sweetie.

Knowing this—that all churches are made up of human beings and that some of the strange customs might be both showy and authentic—helps me to be less wary and fearful, less judgemental.

But don’t worry. I’m not about to get knocked over backwards any time soon.


  • Anonymous

    I grew up in a church – it is ALL shit. Fake – trying to "outdo" the last drama, such as screaming, falling over, flailing about – trying to do and say what others do and say. My question is – where are the good works? Where is the caring? And I don't mean the pretend "concerned look" on the preacher's face – he is expected to do that – it is his part of the play of shit. Think of the good that those insane imposters could do with that time and energy – clean up a widow's yard, carry food to the hungry, teach a child who is having trouble in class at school, plant things to enhance the loveliness of a park. Oh wait – those things don't give us a big fat drama and a chance to stomp and have minders (what a scam and a set up – having minders and handlers so we perform the proper drama?) and scream and dance about. I bet those same people go home and say – what in the hell was I thinking – I'm so embarrassed – and the next time they will have to outdo even themselves – wasting time and energy – and I bet money – when they could be doing what a church SHOULD do – kind deeds, helping others, making the world a better place.

    Did one scream, one dance, one falling over, one resisting falling over (see I told you it was a sham) do anything to help another person? No – it only made the actor look like they were pretending to be religious – mind you I didn't say spiritual. I repeat – all churches are all shit – and I'm so happy that we got wise in our young years and have not been in a church in years and years. We give to the poor, help the elderly, volunteer at soup kitchens, make quilts and clothes for those in need – we do it anonymously and quietly.

    A young man once told us of a task he was assigned in a christian college – he was given 5.00 and told to figure out how to spend three nights on the street. He tried sleeping in churches – someone chased him away – another called the police – and a third actually threatened him with harm if he didn't get out of "their church". He said that bars were always welcoming – people even gave him money – offered him drinks – said they knew of a place in back where he could spend the night out of the cold on the Chicago streets – he never one time was turned out of a bar even though he never spent a penny there. And several people invited him to their house for a hot meal – now I ask you – which place acted more like a church?

    • jennifer

      I'm so sorry your experiences in church were so bad. I'm also sad that you won't try other churches. It is too wide of a generalization to say that ALL churches are fake.

    • Shannon

      In my experience, in order to do "good works" I must first be full myself. I cannot give to others unless I have something within me to give. I fill myself up in many ways–long talks with friends, work, massages, watching a fire in the firepit, sleeping, and attending church. I imagine you find that renewal in some similar ways–family, friends, etc.

      I have had too many sincere, honest conversations and hands on assistance from people in church to categorize it as "all" bad. I would guess that some of the people who have the experiences described here ARE helping someone–that person being themselves (who I also see as a person of value). The help they are receiving may be what they need to recharge themselves for another week or day or hour of caring for others.

      I am sorry for your experience in the church and I appreciate the good that you are doing in the world.

  • the domestic fringe

    What a great post and point of view. I'll admit, I may have been like your kids in the first service, a little shell shocked.

    My husband preaches in lots of different churches, and honestly, we never really know what to expect when we walk into a building. We're all so different, this body of Christ. I think that's one of the most amazing things about God. He redeems us and then allows us to still be us. If that makes any kind of sense. We don't all have to be the same.

    Great post, and that photo of your husband with the caption underneath, cracked me up.

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    I didn't have a choice but to fall over…it's called "being slain in the spirit". I was rendered motionless yet I was aware of everything going on around me. As I lay there on the floor, in total shock that this really DOES happen and really IS REAL, I realized that God was healing me of my addiction to cigarettes. That was over 9 years ago and I haven't had a cigarette since. It's a much longer and more detailed story, but the important part of it all is that it is real, or at least it can be. I don't always think it's sincere…but I know that MY experience was. I also know that I am one of the most stubborn people in the world…and falling down wasn't an option. God wanted me down, so down I went. And thank goodness as God provided a miracle for me…He gave me a gift I could never give myself…freedom from addiction.

    And I liked that you said shit…I say it, too. Sometimes. 😉

  • teekaroo

    I laughed at the swear word and then again at the commentary and picture surrounding it. I don't think I would fall over. I'm too stubborn for that. Of course I probably wouldn't be screaming either.

  • Laurie Longenecker

    Jen…just read this outloud to Lynn. Your posts trigger so many things for us. Thank you!! And you are spot on with your last thoughts. I love looking at our own culture/church/whatever through the eyes of someone trying to understand it for the first time.

  • Shannan Martin

    Love this, love it love it love it love it.
    This is the church I grew up in. I like your perspective here, because mine hasn't always been so kind. Thanks for allowing me to see it another way. Also, I kind of want to email you something, b/c it will crack your junk up. I'll see if I have your addy…stay tuned. And I love the swear. Well-placed swearing is one of my love languages.

  • dr perfection

    have you ever been in the audience when a hypnotist is attemting a mass hypnosis? It's the same thing. Some people can't be hypnotized–they aren't subject to the power of suggestion.

  • Laura at By the Bushel

    Don't have the nerve to post something like this. But. have. completely. thought the same thing. Whaaat. are people thinking? We flext back and forth on home/away from home assembly.
    There is no recent post about this very important factor of my life on my blog. Since we moved it is something I don't talk about. At all. Except in person, then I'm real, but alot of misquotes happen in my world so…
    Praise be to God, who redeems all our craziness. He's the great untangler, His Spirit hears us when we chatter, scream or chant. Bless His Holy Name.

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