And thus it certainly appears to be. Ganesha doesn’t manifest in front of Catholics, while The Virgin Of Frootloopia confines herself strictly to appearing to Catholics in Frootloopia. I was unlucky enough to be among those who believed in Seriously Freaky Shit when this happened, so it’s more “par for the course” than “this amazing thing that happened”.
I’d left minister college after first year. I could have been credentialled as a pastor at the end of the first twelve months, if I’d found enough suckers and was willing to enter into the shared hallucination that is super-spirit-filled-belief. The whole gold-dust-manifesting, people-falling-down, cancer-patients-chucking-their-medicine-and-being-taken-to-heaven thing could have been mine, if only I had been prepared to overlook a whole batch of failures-to-be-real on behalf of the claimed miracles.
And, if I’d gone on to second year at the Pastor Factory, I’d have learned Exorcism.
As it was, I kind of drifted around God’s departure lounge a while, and my search for authentic, miraculous god-stuff led me to Pastor Softie’s Peculiar Fellowship, where there was no shortage of Visiting Leg-Pullers, Six-Week Seminars In Contacting Jehovah By Semaphore, and Instructors In Compelling God To Give You Shedloads Of Money.
A Sunday at Softie’s was never short of sideshow entertainment, whether it was:
- Shofarrus Interruptus, the miraculous ram’s horn that acted as Vuvuzela Of The Almighty during church music, and which could be counted on to be off-key, regardless of what the band were playing, and to start on a completely unpredictable cue, fading flatulently away after its player’s lungs eventually emptied, somewhere in the middle of the next verse, or
- The Decently-Clad Interpretive Dancers, who managed to miraculously move in ways that were suggestive of nothing at all, in either the prurient or artistic sense, but managed to combine the worst aspects of three-year-olds Playing Fairies and a bunch of tipsy lasses at a hen party, dancing draped (quite completely) in sheets.
And then there were the Seminars! These were usually presented by out-of-towners, or nutjobs from other churches in town. All that was needed was a concept freaky enough to attract Softie’s interest, and the show was on!
If you had never seen an obese white man lying in stirrups position, bellowing as he “birthed something in the spirit”, or learned that Great-to-the-fifth-Grandpa had mortgaged ten generations of his family to Beelzebuggery in exchange for a couple of Lodge nights away from the family hearth, then these seminars had plenty to offer by way of a learning experience.
The content was the usual mix of old testament out-of-context, urban legend, and stuff the presenters were pulling out of their fundaments. Of c(o)urse, there were all these formulaic prayers to be recited word for word from the printed material… funny how the irony, rejecting “ritual magic” with yet another instance of ritual magic, never occurred to most people there.
I will say in my defence that I was still spinning in the wake of quitting my promising career as a Warrior of God and Doer of Awesome Stuff. I still partly Wanted To Believe, as passionately as the X-Files poster.
I’d spent the whole day among the credulous, going through the motions as prescribed, bombarded by the excitement of the hundred or so other attendees.
The stage was set for some theatre. I’d just finished dinner, and my phone rang. Oh dear! It was Complainia…
Rather than give Complainia a chance of being recognised, I’ll say she was older than fifty, divorced, a smoker, and lonely. Church had been part of her upbringing, and she had become a semi-regular attender at some of the happy-clapper franchises in our area.
I was introduced to Complainia by my mother, as part of her Showing Off The Prodigal routine when I moved back to Queensland. I certainly hope neither Mum nor her buddy had any ulterior motive (I think C was older than my mother!), but C laid claim to me as a “friend” because I had some cultural referents in common. (That is to say I was among the 1% of our denomination in the area to have read Rudyard Kipling, or who could rattle off a few snatches of Gilbert and Sullivan from memory.
Whatever the back-story, Complainia had no family in town, was a crotchety old smoker, and had naff-all in common with most of the old biddies, low-RAM Stepford mums and spotty girl-children who constituted the female part of our cluster of congregations. Result: lonely old woman.
I would occasionally cop a phone call when Complainia felt down. Ostensibly she was calling to see how my mother was doing (“Oh, still in slowly deteriorating health: no change there! Still too crook to speak on the phone for long; you know how these degenerative lung conditions are…”) but it quickly got around to the many woes of Complainia, from the horrid ex, through the disappointing career she’d given up to raise the children who had grown up and now avoided her, yadda yadda…
As an aside: “yadda yadda” loosely translates from Hebrew as “I know, I know”. All I get for my hard work in college, is a few shitty Greek and hebrew jokes. Meh.
Yup, it was Complainia again. Still at it with the woes: she herself had been to a different Holy Sideshow during the past few days, and was batting on about Twelve Grievings, or something similar…
I’ll sing you woe, Oh!
Twelve are my grievings-o.
What are your twelve-o?
Pay lots of dollars-o!
Twelve, twelve for disciples by the dozen,
Eleven when Judas went ‘n’ did hisself in,
Ten, ten for the ten lost tribes,
Nine for the square of the tri-nit-tee,
Eight the lunch the suckers bought for me,
Seven’s God’s number for the days of the week,
Six for the devil of whom I love to speak,
Five for the fingers on my grasping hand,
Four for the overseas trips I’ve planned,
Three, three for the tri-nit-tee,
Two for the cars that you’ve bought for me,
One is the number I look out for,
So render unto meeeeee!
– Green Grow Believers O,
by Semmin R Profitts
© 2008 I-Grasp Revolution Music.
Sorry, the worship leader must have taken over for a moment there.
So, Complainia’s still rabbiting on, sobbing into the phone, and probably in need of change of lifestyle/ hormone replacement therapy/ a licence to enjoy herself for once [pick one]… and she goes down a path that is almost inevitable when extreme charismatic church culture rubs up against prolonged unhappiness or a bit of psych trouble:
Oh, noes! Again, fundie-mentalists ridicule the benighted natives who practise animism while putting a spook persona into everything. Oh, the castings-out that have gone on…. Coca-Cola™ is one I’ve heard of, while students at a certain Large College Of Ministry (whose president’s wife was a bully to female students and staff alike) reputedly expelled The Evil Spirit Of Mrs College-President from some of their number in a late-night dorm ceremony!
So, of course Complainia does a Flip Wilson – The Devil Made Me Do It! It’s far easier than admitting a weakness or shortcoming in yourself, innit? Blame Old Nick!
Please pardon Brother William Of Ockham; he always stands there looking from under his eyebrows and harrumph-ing when the bleeding obvious is ignored in favour of the abstruse.
So, this is it, I thought. (Typical result of bloody-minded Dominionist doctrine: Joe Average, thinking assuming God is on his side regardless, or maybe even that God will be persuaded to cover his initiative, unhesitatingly girds up for a firefight with The Evil One.)
I had been reading my how-to’s, although we didn’t get to do Exorcism 101 at the Pastor Factory until second year. Permit no back-talk; take the initiative; give the orders; assume the position of power in Jesus’ name…
Hey, where’s all the concern for the PATIENT in this?
Sorry, bud. there isn’t any. Those poor chicks at Mercy Ministries would have copped it roughly the same. I’ve seen deliverance ministry in church, and in private: it almost invariably ended in tears, upchucking, pain, unconsciousness or any combination of these.
Boy oh boy, could it be part of a cult thing? Maybe.
I couldn’t go alone though. Not because of fear of winding up like the fictional Father Karras, but because of the AOG version of the (American) Hays Act: you know, TV shows with two single beds, characters always with one foot always on the floor like it was Pot Black rather than family life…. Anyway, despite the tendencies of some pastoral types (like the one who was, er, attending to my tenant, or the various others who go madly shagging their way through the flock), or perhaps because of them, there were rules when I was at college. (If I was forced to be in the house with a woman and no witnesses, the best I could do was keep a door open or be in a visible outside place like a porch or patio.)
Fortunately, my friend Elder Handyman answered his phone. He’d left Pastor Jolly’s church too, but we’d stayed in touch. Handyman had once been a pastor, but had decided on a life in business: he didn’t like the fact AOG pastors are not allowed to drink, he said. Staunch bloke, sense of humour.
He was familiar with Complainia too: yes, he’d come.
We bundled over to Complainia’s.
Now I’m going to ask you to remember the Observer Principle: it’s a notion in physics, that the presence of an observer actually influences the outcome of an experiment. There’s also that idea that if you have a hammer, everything is immediately made of nails placed there by God, to be hit by YOU, because you’re Special.
When I had been asking Complainia on the phone what was wrong, I asked a question (out of the blue, but definitely a stroke of the aforementioned hammer).
Without going into the fine points, let’s just say that the old darling said, why yes, her $MaleAncestor had been the chief $UnchristianMumboJumboThingy for the whole of $CountryOfOrigin.
This is Confirmation Bias at work. Here’s me thinking the world is made of nails, and here’s Complainia looking for a Flavour Of The Moment. Never a moment was lost jumping to the same conclusion.
Okay: I have no means of verifying that detail. It’s not easy to ask a bloke if he’s affiliated with $UnchristianMumboJumboThingy for starters, and just too tough for me if he happens to be dead. William Of Ockham is looking at me again from beneath a lowering forest of eyebrows, so let’s just remember she wanted attention.
The deliverance went swimmingly: the motions were gone through by all parties, with care to summon, rebuke and cast out the entity, and banish it into the outer darkness blah blah blah until such time as Jesus should waffle waffle waffle, paying extra special care to the prescribed form so it couldn’t wiggle its way out.
(Apparently deeeeee-moooooons are as legalistic as fundie elders in Fault-Finding mode. Bloody EVERYTHING runs to rituals and gets quite particular about wording.)
Result? Complainia is confronted by a piece of Exorcism Theatre, run according to the book (the name of which I have forgotten: I long since sent it to recycling). She hasn’t got the numbers to go over the top, and indeed, the presence of Mr Handyman would have helped her inhibit much of the possible hoo-ha. He knew people in her family.
Not bad for a first attempt.
I’d give it a good mark for theatre. As far as therapy goes, nah. Complainia was still as sad and smoky as ever. Just like the amputees don’t walk out of Benny Hinn’s shows on brand-new legs, nothing was substantially changed.
I have thought about the incident a helluva lot. Did Complainia really think she needed a jolly good rogering, an excuse to behave less like a rigidly-upright AOG Lady, or what?
She’d more or less totally dismissed the idea of having her grievances heard in conversation. Her best chance may have been to see a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, but the general AOG opinion of the time was that these people were not to be trusted unless they were also filled with spiritual nonsense.
What’s your take on it, readers?