One of the coolest feelings on Earth is being underestimated. It can also be one of the suckiest feelings, but if you play it right, it really can work to your advantage.
I showed up to Iglesia Adventista dressed appropriately for Church— or at least how I was raised to dress for Church. A tasteful frock that doesn’t show my hoo-hah and modest but feminine footwear. You need to dress attractively, but not to attract. If I had a dollar for every time that phrase had been drilled into my head over the years…
I was about 15 minutes early, and ready for some praisin’ the lawd. I expected to be stared at a little, and even to stand out like a sore thumb but what I didn’t expect was all the kissing.
You heard me right. I show up to this place, introduce myself to who appeared to be the pastor. This wasn’t hard to deduce, even in a room full of strangers. The man in charge inevitably has some sort of plumage. For example, in the Catholic religion, the priest is the guy who even on the hottest Tennessee day is draped in layers of silken robes on top of his usual black clerical garb.
In the Pentecostal congregation, the religious leader has the shiniest suit. I don’t know how to describe it other than “shiny” (and not in a good way, for you fellow Firefly fans). Every bit of this man was shiny, even his styled mustache. Around his neck he had a shiny golden cross.
I introduced myself in Spanish, and he enthusiastically returned the greeting in broken English. A gaggle of pretty hispanic women surrounded us, chatting with him while motioning my way. They then commenced taking my face and kissing both my cheeks and passing me around like a cobb salad.
Slightly caught off guard but buzzing from all the sudden affection, I was escorted into the sanctuary. A matronly looking woman had taken the cinnamon rolls I made, and bustled off towards the kitchen. My first impression of all the people in the small room filled with folding chairs was how happy they all looked. They were hugging and kissing and pinching the cheeks of plump little babies—of which there were nigh as many of adults. And they were politely shaking my hand or just grabbing my face and kissing me.
What I don’t think they realized was that I understood nearly every word of what they were saying to each other, and about me. My mom (who is fluent in several languages) had me take Spanish from the time I was around 14 or so, and I continued it all through college.
Some of these folks had it down to a science. They’d greet me in English, and smile, and while still shaking my hand they’d say to their neighbor “Who is this, and why is she here?”
It was kind of amusing.
When the services started, the kind people next to me made it their responsibility to try and translate everything the preacher was saying. It was interesting, because it offered an insight into what they thought his message was, versus how I interpreted it.
For example, talk of Hell and damnation was relayed to me as “separation from the Father’s love.”
Maybe they wanted me to get a positive message from a very unpleasant subject. I’m not really sure. As the preacher spoke, he got more and more pumped. It was almost as if he fed off his own enthusiasm. He went from talking, to yelling, to screaming, to dancing around, to throwing invisible things and stomping them as if he were protecting the congregation from unseen demons. It reminded me of the whirling dervishes I read about from India. This was far more entertaining than Catholic church. You were lucky if you got spritzed in the face with holy water on a blessing day.
Things got really under way when the congregation started reacting to the preacher’s infectious energy. He was now so worked up that he was spraying his own saliva out all over his suit. I now understood the shininess.
First, the children started screaming. My neighbor told me this was because they were innocents, and were most aware of the Spirit entering the room. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was actually because they were startled by the loud, screaming pastor.
I watched politely as the adults started swaying; some crying, some laughing uncontrollably. The preacher had stopped his sermon and was now screaming one phrase repeatedly.
“¿Qué es tu culpa? ¿Qué es tu culpa?”
What is your fault/sin? What is your fault/sin?
He listed off all kinds of possibilities. Pornography, adultery, lying, stealing, etc.
He called for everyone to openly confess their wrongdoings to each other. People started shouting out the horrible things they’d done, ranging from having a beer before Church to being jealous of their cousin’s new car. I sat, spellbound. My only regret was not having a neck that swiveled 360 degrees so I could take it all in, rather than craning in every direction.
People got so filled with the “Spirit” that they convulsed and began speaking in languages that I’m pretty sure weren’t Spanish. Their neighbors jubilantly held onto the people who seemed to be having a “return to Jesus” moment of Faith, encouraging them to let the Spirit speak through them. Several people glanced at me nervously. I wasn’t sure if they were skeptical of my seeming immunity to all the works of the Lord going on around me.
I’m not going to lie. I could say I stayed and interviewed the pastor about what went on, or that I had some epiphany about why this was a desirable way to spend your Sunday afternoon. But the reality of it was that after about an hour of screaming and crying, and fighting the urge to round up the small children and take them to the nursery so they didn’t get squooshed by a flailing group of adults, I decided to go.
I was just so overstimulated and felt that I had sufficient material to write a good blog post. I hope my readers aren’t too disappointed in me.
My conclusions are that these are mostly really nice people, even if they assumed I was ignorant of their language. I enjoyed the part where I got to talk and get to see their relationship with each other and their faith.
Next week I think I’m going to try Abba’s House; the controversial megachurch in the area. Stay tuned!