We were warmly greeted by a clean cut Hispanic man dressed neatly in khakis and a button down blue dress shirt. He pointed out a row of folding metal chairs to us, and we made our way to the seats. Those already seated (or standing in front of their seats) watched us with frank curiosity as we settled in. The music was upbeat with electric guitars and drums. Some people were starting to dance a bit, and more than half the audience had their hands in the air. When the fast song ended, the praise leader began a slow song, and more hands went flying up. The man next to us knelt down in front of his chair, speaking quietly under his breath, and then began to cry. A woman in back of us kept shouting "Oh Senor!" And more than a few people watched us closely to see what we do. A hand in the air would have marked us as insiders. Standing stiffly with our hands at our side showed that we were definitely outsiders, most likely in need of salvation.
But in that moment, I existed in some nebulous state between outsider and insider. The song they were singing, even in Spanish, was familiar to me. And the movement of the congregation was something that my body knew. It would have been easy, maybe even comfortable to raise my hands up during the worship service. Even when people began to speak in tongues, I recognized the moment. I knew when to sit, when to stand, what was going to happen before it was announced. But I also felt a repulsion to what was going on around me. Deep down there was an anger that always sat beneath the surface, that threatened to break out of the calm exterior I managed to show on the rare occasions I stepped into an Evangelical church. Part of the anger was aimed at the message of the church. I was angry at the way this church had shaped me when I was younger. Angry at the guilt and fear it had placed on me, and forced me to carry for many years. I was angry at the damage I felt the message caused the world in general.
The last time I had been in such a church, I had gone with my mom. I had, until that point, found it difficult to say no when she pleaded with me to attend. So I had gone. The pastor, an Indian man, who had converted in his early twenties, gave a sermon in which he denounced the false gods of his youth. I found the sermon said and repulsive. Listening a man drag his culture, his past, all that had shaped him through a filth bad of insults and ignorance. And I left shaking with anger. It was the last time, I went to an Evangelical church. Until now.
And now I was not sure why I was engaging on this journey. Part of the desire to put myself into this place as a scholar came from a desire to deal with my past. I had realized many years after that dreadful sermon that I too often dragged on my own religious upbringing through the same filth. I wondered if it would be possible for me to come a kind of intellectual understanding of this religion. The other part was a need to put to rest my religious past. To bury what the damage it had caused once and for all. I felt that if I could somehow make out of the Pentecostal experience an intellectual engagement then perhaps the fear and attraction I felt for religion could be understood and perhaps laid to rest.