Waking the Warriors

11 February 2009

Tuesday, 10 February.

I’ve been slightly feverish and zoned out yesterday and today; getting better this evening. “The Friburgo Lurgy” Paul calls it and says this happens often, something to do with the constant weather and temperature changes here. It doesn’t seem to be anything serious, though it’s the sickest I’ve been for a year or so.

It’s mostly annoying because I’ve lost a couple of days mostly holed up inside the house (except for a trip to town yesterday when I really did feel like I was on another planet, could hardly keep my eyes open) and now my time here is running out. We’re down to counting days.

Paul finally heard from the pastor in Belo Horizonte where he’ll be preaching on Friday, and they’re happy for me to come. That means I get to see Paul present his youth seminar, which he calls Despertem Os Guerreiros (“Waking the Warriors”). He’s been getting speaking invitations to present this for the last year or so and it’s a large part of his wider vision for what he wants to do in the future.

We’ll be travelling by long-haul bus, which I’m not especially looking forward to. But it will be an experience.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have a church evening service, which will be my last here. Then we leave Friburgo on Thursday afternoon (only two days away!) to take the bus to Rio (a couple of hours), then take an overnight bus (about six hours) to Belo. Then Paul does his thing, then we take the bus back to Rio, and on Tuesday afternoon I fly back to New Zealand.

So soon. I’m still not ready for goodbyes.

Still, I’ve never been to Belo Horizonte before, so that should be fun. I’m not sure what the Internet link will be like there but I’ll try to blog some impressions.

I’m particularly hoping to see if anything interesting happens during the Waking the Warriors course because it’s all about teaching children and teenagers how to pray and do miracles (“ministry in the Spirit” in Pentecostal jargon). Miracles don’t always happen when children pray, but they often seem to be better at it than adults.

Yesterday, while spaced out on the couch, I watched a DVD copy of the Finger of God movie. There are some very cool manifestations captured (including the glitter, as well as gold teeth – that’s another one Paul’s seen here – people with bad teeth sometimes randomly get replacement ones made of a shiny metal. What the? We don’t know either.)

But more important was the film’s lesson that the point of religion needs to be *love*.

One of the most interesting people on the movie (to me) was Heidi Baker, who with her husband Rolland heads up Iris Ministries, the network with which Paul’s church is affiliated. (In fact he says that Heidi is one of the main reasons why he picked Iris; Heidi’s work with children in Mozambique is very similar to what he does in Brazil. Heidi has visited Nova Friburgo, and Paul visited the Iris Mozambigue base a couple of years ago.)

I’ve never met Heidi in person, but there’s something more than ordinary about just watching her on the video; I get goosebumps. She’s channelling some kind of energy that is so beautiful, it makes me weep.

It looks like Finger of God is going to have a sequel, Furious Love.

Glitter

9 February 2009

Sunday, 8 February 2009. 9pm.

They had glitter tonight! In the worship band practice, and maybe even in the service itself! And I missed it!

Let’s back up a bit. It’s been another day already.

Last night the youth group meeting didn’t pan out. In a triumph of failed scheduling, there was a citywide combined churches youth meeting on as well which we hadn’t found out until that day. So only two of our kids turned up, and one of them wanted to go to the big meeting.

So that left just Paul and me and Rosemberg, so we closed the church and sit in his sitting room / kitchen and made popcorn and a microwave cake and ate it. Then we prayed, but I can’t say anything spectacular happened.

This morning we got to sleep in till late (no meeting till evening), which I sorely needed. I’ve been pushing myself too far and it’s not entirely easy to sleep when we have strange noises at odd hours – the fridge wakes up occasionally and makes loud clunks, sometimes it’s so hot we have to leave the fan on, there are houses mere feet away, there are gas and supermarket trucks which blare advertisements, the local children often let off firecrackers that sound disturbingly like gunshots, and an insane neighbour’s rooster (the rooster, not the neighbour – at least I presume) makes strangled metallic gargles at approximately 3am. It’s running on its own private timezone.

At noon Lucia invits us to lunch, which is a ritual I must do every time I visit. Lucia, who lives around the corner, has been one of Paul’s longest supporters. She cooks a great roast chicken with rice, potato salad, and farofa (a crumbly floury thing made from the root of manioc, or cassava – a plant which actually contains cyanide in its leaves, but the root’s okay. Awesome.)

If there were one person who I wish I knew more Portuguese so I could communicate with better (there’s a queue), it would have to be Lucia. She’s probably kept Paul alive with her cooking. As it is we have to make do with hugs and smiles.

(The Wikipedia article on Cuisine of Brazil looks pretty good. Here in Rio state, we’d mostly be eating the Southeastern dialect of food. In Belém we had a brief brush with Northern food, but definitely avoided maniçoba, which is made from the cyanide-bearing leaves of cassava and really *can* kill you.)

It’s moments like these I remember how cyberpunk Brazil is. Condensed space and time, and the future unevenly distributed. Lucia’s son, Felipe, has a 400Kbit Frinet link to the PC in his room and shows me Sim City 4. He’s actually paying less than Paul is for his 100Kbit ADSL link, but the downside is that Frinet is just Category 5 cable strung between lampposts, and it goes out when it rains. Felipe’s talking about a new cellphone which instead of having a screen can project video onto a wall.

Felipe’s niece Larissa, who I photographed four years ago (she’s kept a copy and shows it to me) is now twelve and doing gymnastics in school. She’s good enough that there’s talk of going to Austria for some kind of competition, and the word ‘Olympic-level’ has been mentioned. Of course, this will require finding a business to sponsor her, but still, it seems like amazing news.

The service is at 7pm, but the worship band start practicing at 5:30. It doesn’t cross my mind to drop in and see them. I go up on the laje and look out at the city. There is a lot of noise from everywhere. Our guys are drumming up a storm downstairs, but across the hill there’s also the sound of what seems to be a marching band moving along a street. I look but can’t see anything.

Just before 7pm I go down.

The little church fills up with about eighteen teens and adults and a few smaller kids. I know most of their names now. John (the American) on drums, Matheus like a rock star on lead guitar, Rosemberg on bass, Estefane and Eliene on vocals.

There’s a warm sense of presence in the worship. I feel as if I am being held in strong arms. As if the whole world is.

It’s our once-monthly Holy Communion service so Paul preaches on the symbology of bread and wine. At least that’s what I think he’s saying as my Portuguese only picks up a few scattered words. I think he’s saying that bread and wine was the 1st Century equivalent of ‘bread and juice’, a simple everyday meal.

Like the cake we shared last night.

Small chunks of French bread and tiny individual plastics cups of grape-flavoured juice are handed around. We eat. There is a simplicity and normality in the whole thing, amid the surreality and hyper-intensity of Brazil, that I find very calming.

What little you have, you share, and that’s enough.

We’re walking out when Paul says to John ‘Hey man, you’ve still got some of that stuff on you!’ and that’s when I realise I’ve missed the glitter.

Glitter?

It’s another one of those odd manifestations you won’t necessarily find in many Evangelical Christian textbooks (though it might be somewhere in John Wesley’s unedited journals). It’s popping up with more regularity in recent Pentecostal material though. It seems to occur particularly here in the slum, or so Paul tells me, though he says he’s also seen it in a Bill Johnson conference in New Zealand. I’ve never seen it. Most people in New Zealand I’ve talked to are skeptical and think it’s an urban myth.

The worship team had it during practice. Trina saw one speck and prayed and more came. John says “it was all over” his daughter’s hands earlier. Now it’s faded. It came on suddenly, apparently, when they prayed, and then went away afterwards.

I look at John’s face and there’s certainly a tiny pinpoint of gold above his lip, but that could be actual glitter. The spooky variety apparently looks just like ordinary children’s glitter (golden or multicoloured) has been poured over someone’s skin, and the distinguishing feature is how it vanishes.

It’s one of the phenomena I’d really love to see and document, because it’s so strange, and so beautiful, and I’ve missed it.

What does it mean? I don’t know for sure. Paul guesses it means something along the lines of ‘these children are really valuable to God’, and that seems as good an explanation as any.

I believe the guys when they say it was there. But I want to see the glitter too. I have minds I need to blow, and one of them is my own.

Paul’s disappointed too. He missed it as well.

Slain in the Spirit

8 February 2009

After ‘speaking in tongues’, one of the classic Pentecostal manifestations is ‘being slain in the spirit’.

It’s a horrible name for what is actually a very beautiful and normal experience.

Unfortunately, because it is an experience which can be stage-managed to look very visually spectacular, it’s also something which many Pentecostal preachers turn into a demeaning circus act, and because of that it’s become a symbol of everything wrong – everything loud, crass, overbearing, gullible and greasy – about Pentecostalism.

This is why I want to talk a little bit about the experience – at least my spectrum of experiences which include this – and explain how and why it works, as far as I’ve figured it out. Because this thing, even more than ‘tongues’, happens a *lot* in what we do here in the little church in the slum, and it should not be something to be frightened of, nor should it be something to be taken advantage of.

This is it in a nutshell: sometimes, when you pray and ‘the power’ appears, your legs get a bit wobbly and you have to sit down rather suddenly.

If this happens fast, you fall down like a sack of potatoes. If this happens slowly, and you take a little forethought, you *sit* down before you fall down, and that works just as well.

That’s really all there is to it.

Why does it happen? That I can’t tell you because I don’t know for sure. I suspect that an honest answer would involve science we don’t possess yet in the early 21st century; words such as ‘biological energy fields’ or ‘auras’ come to mind. The New Age folks are a bit further ahead in terms of putting names to some of these forces. We Pentecostals can see them happening, and have produced our own strange little jargon, but for the most part it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to name the jet stream before the aileron is built. This is an inexact science because we just don’t know what we’re doing half the time, and that’s why I’m really interested in digging up all the books I can that have been written by Christian mystics in the last 2,000 years – and the New Agers – because they’ve seen some of this stuff before.

What *appears* to happen is that some kind of energy field is generated during the process of praying. Yes, really. You can’t see it as such, but you can sometimes feel its effects on your biological (or etheric, perhaps) body.

It feels sometimes like a cool wind, a warm fluid, or that feeling you get when you put two magnets together. In fact magnetic would be a great word for what it feels like, and not perhaps coincidentally, that’s a word used a lot by spiritual people of varying faiths.

What this stuff is, who knows. But somehow, sometimes it’s there. Perhaps it’s always there and we only ever sometimes feel it. It feels in these experiences as if it is condensing around us, sometimes as if it is emanating from inside. Either way, there comes a sense of something getting ‘charged up’.

It can be transferred often by physical touch, and that’s where the ancient Christian doctrine of ‘laying on of hands’ seems to be very relevant.

It is sensitive to thought, perhaps made of the same stuff thought is. That’s why it appears when we pray, because prayer is nothing but directed thought. The quality of the idea or person that you’re directing your thought toward matters very much, in the same way that it matters to what station you tune a TV. What you put out your mental feelers toward, you ‘touch’ somehow.

The point of Christian prayer is to get in touch with the ‘Holy’ Spirit, the real one, the good one, and not any of the others which might be out there in the ether, stuck between stations causing static.

This is why it’s also important that if you do ‘lay hands’ on people, that both you and they are okay with this happening. Because it’s a meaningful act; you’re intending to transfer some kind of power, and you want to make sure it’s the right kind. Generally speaking, the ‘right’ Spirit is very careful about requesting permission before doing anything, and it’s a good habit to get into. ‘First do no harm’ and all that.

And besides that, just walking up and shoving your hot hands on someone’s head or shoulders without asking is downright rude and more than a little creepy.

(All this hand-touching stuff is very much more part of the Pentecostal and Charismatic religious vocabulary than the more mainstream churches, which tend to be more about listening to speeches and participating in abstract rituals. Not that those aren’t interesting in their own way. In New Zealand, I actually have an Anglican church as my main Sunday one. I’m an odd bird of many feathers.)

Anyway: you can transfer this ‘stuff’ by touch, but touch is not required. Sometimes just being in the same room is enough. Sometimes it seems to ‘just happen’ by itself. We don’t know how it works, is the point, other than a few ground rules we’ve observed.

And really the only thing that can sum it all up is: sometimes, when you pray, your legs get wobbly.

(This is perhaps a source of the Christian connection between prayer and ‘being on your knees’. Prayer is not about subservience or being anybody’s slave, and your physical attitude generally has no connection with how well you can pray. It’s a mental thing. Nor do you need to close your eyes. But closing your eyes can help focus your mind, and if you think you might be going to fall down, being on your knees first is probably a sensible precaution.)

Wesley’s Ghosts

8 February 2009

In the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, the religious and social movement which transformed Great Britain and America and set the stage for the modern evangelical church, also appears to have experienced these ‘Pentecostal’ phenomena. In fact, some references in his journal suggest that they formed a large part of the whole experience of his preaching and ‘method’.

What would be very interesting to know is exactly what other paranormal phenomena occured to the leader of the Methodists.

The following brief extract comes from the 1951 Tyndale House condensed edition of the journals by Percy Livingstone Parker, in the public domain at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.txt.

It comes with the following disclaimer by the editor in its introduction.

Rev. John Telford, one of Wesley’s biographers, says that “the earlier parts of the Journal were published in the interest of Methodism, that the calumny and slander then rife might be silenced by a plain narrative of the facts as to its founding, and its purpose. The complete Journals, still preserved in twenty-six bound volumes, have never been printed. Copious extracts were made by Wesley himself, and issued in twenty-one parts, the successive installments being eagerly expected by a host of readers.”

The published Journal makes four volumes, each about the size of the present book. But though I have had to curtail it by three-quarters I have tried to retain the atmosphere of tremendous activity which is one of its most remarkable features.

While it’s the original handwritten journals which would be most valuable (and getting access to those probably requires a triple doctorate and the deed to one’s firstborn), it would be a good first step to see at least the four published volumes in online searchable format. The Wesley Center Online at Northwest Nazarene University appear to have transcribed the fourth volume, but point us back at the CCEL 1951 Parker version for the rest.

But here’s the extract in question: (year not given)

Friday, July 6.—In the afternoon I was with Mr. Whitefield, just come from London, with whom I went to Baptist Mills, where he preached concerning “the Holy Ghost, which all who believe are to receive”; not without a just, though severe, censure of those who preach as if there were no Holy Ghost.

Saturday, 7.—I had an opportunity to talk with him of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sank down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him.

Sunday, 25–In the afternoon God was eminently present with us, though rather to comfort than convince. But I observed a remarkable difference, since I was here (Everton) before, as to the manner of the work. None now were in trances, none cried out, none fell down or were convulsed; only some trembled exceedingly, a low murmur was heard, and many were refreshed with the multitude of peace.

The danger was to regard extraordinary circumstances too much, such as outcries, convulsions, visions, trances; as if these were essential to the inward work, so that it could not go on without them. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them, and were a hindrance to his work. Whereas the truth is 1) God suddenly and strongly convinced many that they were lost sinners; the natural consequence whereof were sudden outcries and strong bodily convulsions; 2) to strengthen and encourage them that believed, and to make His work more apparent, He favored several of them with divine dreams, others with trances and visions; 3) in some of these instances, after a time, nature mixed with grace; 4) Satan likewise mimicked this work of God in order to discredit the whole work; and yet it is not wise to give up this part any more than to give up the whole. At first, it was, doubtless, wholly from God. It is partly so at this day; and He will enable us to discern how far, in every case, the work is pure and where it mixes or degenerates.

The 19th century Irish historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky‘s 1896 magnum opus “England in the Eighteenth Century”, hints (though scathingly, as evidence for Wesley’s ‘insanity’) at more interesting sections of the Journals. For example:

Accompanying this asceticism we find an extraordinary degree of superstition… His journals are full of histories of ghosts, of second-sight, of miracles that had taken place among his disciples. He tells us among other things how a preacher in an inland town in Ireland became suddenly conscious of the fact that at that moment the French were landing at Carrickfergus; how a painful tumour, which had defied the efforts of physicians, disappeared instantaneously at a prayer; how a poor woman, who appeared crippld by a severe fall, heard a voice within her saying ‘Name the name of Christ, and thou shalt stand,’ and, on complying with the command, she was at once cured; how a man at the point of death by a violent rupture, was restored by the prayers of the society, and continued for several years in health and in the love of God, till he relapsed into sin, when his disorder at once returned and soon hurried him to the grave.

… A woman named Elizabeth Hobson, in whose accuracy Wesley had the most perfect faith, professed to live in daily and intimate intercourse with ghosts, who appeared to her enveloped sometimes in a celestial, sometimes in a lurid and gloomy light. The account of her many visions and her many conversations with them is extremely curious, but it is too long for quotation. It will be sufficient to say that, being engaged in a lawsuit about the possession of a house, the ghost of her grandfather, to whom it had formerly belonged, warmly espoused her cause, appeared to her to urge her to change her attorney, and gave her much other good advice in the prosecution of her suit.

Fortunately, the Gutenberg Project of Australia has an online copy of the 1917 book ‘The Epworth Phenomena‘ by Dudley Wright, which discusses many of Wesley’s weirder brushes with the paranormal from the viewpoint of early 20th century psychic investigation. It includes extensive quotations from some of these sections of Wesley’s journal which are NOT generally reprinted by Evangelical Christian publishing houses such as Tyndale – including the Elizabeth Hobson story.

I’ve only skimmed the book so far, but from the 21st century, this account of a classic ‘ghost story’ seems to mesh quite well with modern accounts of psychic mediumship, of which there is now an extensive literature, and far from being fanciful it sounds to me like a very believable matter-of-fact recounting.

All this suggests to me (if I didn’t already have the witness of my own eyes and spirit to what I’ve personally seen) that the other phenomena reported by Wesley also, for the most part, really happened, and were a large part of the spiritual force which helped his movement change the face of the Anglican church and the Western world.

And something that actually happened in the 18th century can actually happen again in the 21st, in Brazil or elsewhere.

Combining Pentecostal Christianity and New Age paranormal studies in this way, I’ve probably now offended *all* of my potential readership, and since this is a blog about my trip to Brazil and not about ghosts, I won’t drag out the discussion further here. But I’ll point any interested readers at my friend Michael Cocks’ web journal (for which I intermittently write) ‘The Ground of Faith‘, which investigates these kind of questions at the intersection of science and religion, and often off-limits to both.

Moving right along.

School Book Shopping

8 February 2009

Saturday, 7 February 2009.

Hard to believe I’ve only got just over a week left.

Mary, our visitor from Iris Ministries, left this morning. (She’s a wonderful lady. This is her first time in Brazil, but she’s been visiting the Iris base in Bethlehem – the real one, in Palestine – and plans to return there fulltime, to work with Palestinian children. It’s amazing how little fear some of these people have.)

Before leaving, Paul and Trina have a meeting to talk about strengthening our ties with both Iris and the Partners in Harvest network. Important work, but these things always seem to end up done on the run here – it’s just the way things are. Time is a precious commodity.

Afterwards, we walk down the hill into town with Rosemberg, who’s 16. We buy him lunch (hamburgers with everything at a lanchonete for R$5) and also go shopping for school exercise books. It’s the start of the school year, and though he didn’t finish school last year, he’s going to give it another attempt this year. Rosemberg’s mother has meanwhile also worked a miracle and managed to get a business to sponsor him for a term of night school computer training at a technical institute.

I am in awe of Rosemberg’s mum. We meet her on the street – her son is a head’s height taller than her.

By the way, the cost of a cheap spiral-bound exercise book and pens is just R$12. But even so, Rosemberg doesn’t have that kind of money. Paul buys three because he knows other kids will come asking for them. That comes from his personal budget. It all adds up.

(“The worst schools”, says Paul as an aside, “are the ones which require students to buy school T-shirts in order to attend. None of the kids here can afford that.”)

This is not to say that favela kids aren’t smart. Igor, one of the young teens around the hill, has a faster Internet link than Paul and is already running the Windows 7 Beta, which Paul has been struggling to download for weeks. Many of the kids have computers and MSN, Facebook and Orkut accounts.

It’s just a matter of access to education providers, most of which here are not designed with raw talent in mind, but are built for rich kids of rich parents. Who usually happen to be white. Many of the favela kids are white too, but the system here doesn’t primarily discriminate based on race – just on money.

But all the billboards and telenovelas somehow show rich happy self-absorbed people who are mostly white, compared to the average looking person on the street who is a vibrant brown. The shadows of the sugar and coffee plantations are so deep they may as well still be walls.

Tonight, we have a youth group service in the church at 7pm. I’m hoping it can be another prayer meeting like Wednesday, because those are fun. And I don’t need Portuguese to understand what’s going on.

Tree In Road

7 February 2009

What happens after rain like we had this afternoon? For one thing, potholes.

We had dinner this evening at a comida á kilo restaurant (another nice one – R$8.50 for a full main-meal plate) with Mary from Iris Ministries, also part of the Partners in Harvest network, an American lady from California who has been visiting for two weeks.

On the way there and back we see, in one stretch of downtown cobblestone street, three separate potholes.

The roads here, even though they are built by the city council, are not built to any kind of engineering specification. They lay sand, then cobblestones directly on the sand, then (if it’s a really classy road) asphalt on top of the cobblestones.

When rain comes, as expected, the sand washes away, also as expected. When enough sand washes away, pothole. They’re big here, too – half a metre to a metre across often. Since the streets are not always wide enough to take two cars passing side by side as well as the cars parked on each side, navigating potholes is an art.

When people see a pothole, the convention is to put a broken tree branch in it (or if there’s one handy, a traffic cone, but trees are easier to find).

So the normal exclamation, at least among us English speakers, when you see a marked pothole is ‘tree in road!

It’s hard to estimate the number of new potholes formed across the whole city after just half an hour of heavy rain. Maybe a dozen?

A Lot of Rain

7 February 2009

It’s really pouring down on Friburgo right now. Up on the laje, two of our gutters are already overflowing and just dumping down onto the mud and cobblestones below. Fortunately we have a fairly okay stormwater drain down in our little not-quite-legal street, so it survives this.

If we wanted, and if the public water system were more erratic, we could capture some of this water into our twin 1,000 litre water tanks. It’s nice to know we have the capability.

What this latest rain will do in regard to landslips and house collapses around town I don’t really want to know.

Salvation and Holiness

7 February 2009

It’s not commonly understood that before Azusa Street, the Salvation Army experienced the same kind of paranormal phenomena now called ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Charismatic’. Many readings of Salvationism as a social movement seem to consider that its primary force was merely enthusiastic zeal and forceful preaching. Paranormal events are notoriously difficult for people who have not personally experienced them to recognise, so they often get quietly edited from mainstream biographies and textbooks. It’s not deliberate suppression, just a failure to notice the unbelievable.

But when you look at documents from the era, it’s obvious that there was more than simple emotionalism at work. After experiencing the Toronto Blessing phenomena, it’s very easy to recognise the same events occurring in the 19th century.

From a 1920 biography of William Booth by Harold Begbie: Volume 1, Chapter 25.

CHAPTER XXV
WHICH GIVES SOME ACCOUNT OF THE HAPPINESS AND EXCITEMENT OF THE MISSION AND DESCRIPTIONS OF “HOLINESS MEETINGS” 1877-1878

Although William Booth had decided that the Christian Mission should set before itself the task of rousing the indifference of the apathetic, and of converting the sunken and depraved sinner, he was still immensely conscious of the need for spiritual growth in holiness. His one tendency towards mysticism lay in this direction, and unless we perfectly acquaint ourselves with the character of this tendency we shall miss the secret of his inner life.

He believed and taught that every man is born in sin, and because of sin cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. He believed and taught that an absolute and conscious change of nature must take place in every individual before he can inherit eternal life. The Church teaches that an infant is cleansed from original sin by the sprinkling of water in baptism. To William Booth, as to the majority of philosophers and men of science, the sprinkling of water in baptism could not by any possible means be anything more than a symbol; it could not make the smallest difference to the character and temperament of the child. John Stuart Mill had painfully learned from experience “that many false opinions may be exchanged for true ones, without in the least altering the habit of mind of which false opinions are the result.” Human personality is neither to be regenerated by a ceremony nor to be transformed by logic. But Booth declared, and philosophers like William JamesHenri Bergson, too, we may even say–are certainly of his opinion, that a radical, intelligent, and fully conscious change of nature is possible to man; and this radical, intelligent, and fully conscious change of nature, he held to be that “conversion,” without which, according to the teaching of Christ, man cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Baptism, therefore, was for William Booth a detail of symbolism, and he left it freely to his followers to decide whether they would be baptized or not; he felt no vital concern in the matter. His emphasis was on Conversion, the conversion of the adult and intelligent individual, and this was the first and greatest of his preachings. But beyond the arrest of the sinner, and the awakening of the soul to the living fact of a Living God, lay the path of Holiness; and here William Booth could not stop and leave conversion to follow its own evolution.

The doctrine he held on this subject was a variant of the doctrine known as Entire Sanctification. This doctrine, as the extremists hold it, teaches that a converted man can so grow in grace, can so open the doors of his volition to the will of God, that sin ceases to have the least power over him; that he is cleansed of all evil, and becomes perfectly pure, perfectly holy, even in the sight of God. William Booth never held this doctrine, but he did seek perfection in love after conversion, and taught men to aspire after entire sanctification of the will.

To reach this condition was, with him, if not the supreme object of each converted man and woman in the Christian Mission, at least the first of all their personal objects. First they must preach the repentance of sins; first they must labour to rouse the whole world to the truth of Christ; but after this, if possible simultaneously with this, they must wrestle with God for the entire sanctification of their own souls.

In this way he came to encourage what were called “Holiness Meetings.” The character of these meetings eventually provoked the fiercest attacks ever made upon him by religious people, and many religious people thought that they were something extravagant and something unhealthy. Nevertheless, by a careful and sympathetic consideration of these remarkable attempts to deepen spiritual consciousness we approach a rightful understanding of William Booth’s religiousness, and perceive with some degree of clearness the character of the struggle which was taking place in his own soul.

Mrs. Booth, as we have said, was on the side of Holiness. She had a young but powerful ally in the person of her eldest son, Bramwell. But while Bramwell Booth was an enthusiast for these Holiness Meetings, almost a leader among the evangelists of the Mission who taught Entire Sanctification, he was more inclined for challenging the world than his mother, more disposed to startle the conscience of the age. Bramwell Booth, who had shivered for a long while on the banks of doubt concerning his fitness for the work of an evangelist, and who had shrunk in timid dread for some considerable time from the very thought of preaching, was now, with George Railton, among the most enthusiastic and aggressive of the Mission workers.

The following descriptions of Holiness Meetings, taken from The Christian Mission Magazine, afford no real picture of the extraordinary sights which were witnessed, nor do they give an adequate account of the effects produced upon the souls of those who took part in them. Bramwell Booth tells me that, after many years of reflection, and disposed as he now is to think that in some degree the atmosphere of those meetings was calculated to affect hysterically certain unbalanced or excitable temperaments, he is nevertheless convinced, entirely convinced, that something of the same force which manifested itself on the day of Pentecost manifested itself at those meetings in London. He describes how men and women would suddenly fall flat upon the ground, and remain in a swoon or trance for many hours, rising at last so transformed by joy that they could do nothing but shout and sing in an ecstasy of bliss. He tells me that beyond all question he saw instances of levitation–people lifted from their feet and moving forward through the air. He saw bad men and women stricken suddenly with an overmastering despair, flinging up their arms, uttering the most terrible cries, and falling backward, as if dead–supernaturally convinced of their sinful condition. The floor would sometimes be crowded with men and women smitten down by a sense of overwhelming spiritual reality, and the workers of the Mission would lift their fallen bodies and carry them to other rooms, so that the Meetings might continue without distraction. Doctors were often present at these gatherings.

Conversions took place in great numbers; the evangelists of the Mission derived strength and inspiration for their difficult work; and the opposition of the world only deepened the feeling of the more enthusiastic that God was powerfully working in their midst.

The following article from The Christian Mission Magazine for September, 1878, gives an account of “A Night of Prayer,” lasting from the 8th to the 9th of August:

That scene of wrestling prayer and triumphing faith no one who saw it can ever forget. We saw one collier labouring with his fists upon the floor and in the air, just as he was accustomed to struggle with the rock in his daily toil, until at length he gained the diamond he was seeking–perfect deliverance from the carnal mind–and rose up shouting and almost leaping for joy. Big men, as well as women, fell to the ground, lay there for some time as if dead, overwhelmed with the Power from on High. When the gladness of all God’s mighty deliverance burst upon some, they laughed as well as cried for joy, and some of the younger evangelists might have been seen, like lads at play, locked in one another’s arms and rolling each other over on the floor.

Well, perhaps there was something besides the genuine work of the Holy Ghost there, perhaps there were cases of self-deception and presumption, perhaps there were some carried away by the contagion of the general feeling. How could it ever be otherwise while Satan comes up with the people of the Lord? But, at any rate, God wrought there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, so as to confound the wicked one and to raise many of His people into such righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost as they never had before, and thousands, if not millions, of souls will have to rejoice for ever over blessings received by them through the instrumentality of those who were sanctified or quickened between the 8th and 9th of August, 1878.

Cutting through the somewhat cringeworthy archaic religious jargon, it is apparent to me that what actually happened in 1878 in the Salvation Army and the Holiness Movement was very similar to what happened in Azusa Street in 1907 and what I have witnessed happening in 2009 (and at intervals during the last twenty years). There is a power present in these moments which is not generated by the intense will to believe, and is something completely other than emotional manipulation. We know it’s not generated by our willpower simply because it’s not always present. But when it is, physical healings can take place and lives can be deeply changed in moments.

One problem with the Holiness Movement model, however, and with the Salvation Army construct of a ‘war against sin’, is that in the absence of this power manifesting, people can feel compelled to try to recreate the same conditions by force of sheer willpower. This spiritual ‘cargo cult’ mentality can lead to a kind of psychological bullying, and the creation of authoritarian religious structures, which can be very emotionally damaging. This is the dark side of revivalism and Pentecostalism, and it is also very apparent here in Brazil.

EyeToy

7 February 2009

4:20pm Friday 6 February.

We opened the dropin centre again for a bonus session today at 2pm. Half of the room is set out as a table-tennis table, the other half usually has four stations: a Sony Playstation running a soccer game, a laptop and pressure pad running a Dance Dance Revolution clone, a table usually for Connect Four (the kids are astonishingly bright at this; a nine-year-old boy is the current reigning champ, beating all the adults), and a table for drawing or younger games like a remove-bricks-from-a-wall game.

Today we set up just the Playstation and booted up the EyeToy running EyeToy: Play. It takes the whole space because it requires such a lot of physical activity.

Boxing Chump and Keep Ups (a soccer game) seem to be the current favourites.

The Azusa Code

7 February 2009

What do I mean by ‘stuff’?

I think we are very much not your everyday standard Pentecostal church by local Pentecostal church standards. We’re not very religious about our religion. We don’t wear formal black suits and we don’t dance or chant our way into hysteria. We laugh and joke even while strange stuff is happening. But last night I spent most of the first hour just quietly weeping at the pain of the world because I couldn’t do anything else. By the end of the night we were staggering around laughing like drunks again. Quite a few people spent time on the floor owing to not being able to stand up straight.

The little church in the slum that my brother pastors is a member of a network called (in English) Partners in Harvest. This church is linked to one called the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship which in the 1990s was seeing a lot of these kind of spiritual manifestations. The Toronto Airport Vineyard, as it was then known, became for several years a kind of pilgrimage site for Evangelical/Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians from around the globe.

The spiritual experience called ‘The Toronto Blessing‘ became popular and controversial enough that the church was eventually disfellowshipped from its mother denomination, the Vineyard Movement. Ironically, the Vineyard itself was founded on Pentecostal/Charismatic manifestations during the Jesus Movement era of the 1970s, so it seems odd that such an organisation would abandon its roots. But that seems to happen to these kind of movements all the time.

The interesting thing is that although Charismatic and Pentecostal groups are currently associated with these phenomena, when you look at the historical record, this kind of undignified – not emotional but paranormal – weirdness is very much what happened with (at least) the Salvation Army of the 19th century, the Methodists of the 18th, the Quakers of the 17th, and when you read the records of the monastic Christian mystics the roots go back much earlier.

What is today called the Pentecostal movement crystallised in the very early 20th century, and especially in a short period from 1906-1908 in Los Angeles in an inner-city church called the Apostolic Faith Mission of 312 Azusa Street. ‘Azusa Street‘ so impressed the religious world that it spawned a cluster of Christian denominations specifically designed to seek out and reproduce such experiences, who called themselves Pentecostal (Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Apostolic, and Elim were some of the key early ones, but there were whole set of others; the scene fractured rapidly). The word ‘Pentecostal’ was used because the paranormal experiences seemed similar to those described in the Book of Acts of ‘the Day of Pentecost‘.

From an Azuza Street newspaper written in November, 1906, we read the following description of the phenomena:

Bible Pentecost
Gracious Pentecostal Showers Continue to Fall

The news has spread far and wide that Los Angeles is being visited with a “rushing mighty wind from heaven”. The how and why of it all is to be found in the very opposite of those conditions that are usually thought necessary for a big revival. No instruments of music are heard, none are needed. No choir – but bands of angels have been heard by some in the spirit and there is a heavenly singing that is inspired by the Holy Ghost. No collections are taken. No bills have been posted to advertise the meetings. No church or organization is back of it. All who are in touch with God realise as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader. One brother stated that even before his train entered the city, he felt the power of the revival.

Travellers from afar wend their way to the headquarters at Azuza Street. As they enquire their way to the Apostolic Faith Mission, perhaps they are asked, “O, you mean the Holy Rollers?” or “Is it the Colored Church you mean?” In the vicinity of a tombstone shop, stables and lumber yard (a fortunate vicinity because no one complains of all-night meetings) you find a two-story, white-washed old building. You would hardly expect heavenly visitations there, unless you remember the stable at Bethlehem.

But here you find a mighty pentecostal revival going on from ten o’clock in the morning to about twelve at night. Yes, Pentecost has come to hundreds of hearts and many homes are made into a sweet paradise below.

… A leading Methodist layman of Los Angeles says, “Scenes transpiring here are what Los Angeles churches have been praying for for years. I have been a Methodist for twenty-five years. I was a leader of the praying band of the First Methodist Church. We prayed that the Pentecost might come to the city of Los Angeles. We wanted it to start in the First Methodist Church, but God did not start it there. I bless God that it did not start in any church in this city, but in a barn, so that we might all come and take part in it. If it had started in a fine church, poor colored people and Spanish people would not have got it, but praise God it started here. God Almighty says He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. This is just what is happening here. I want to warn every Methodist in Los Angeles to keep your hands off this work. Tell the people wherever you go that Pentecost has come to Los Angeles.”

… The demonstrations are not the shouting, clapping or jumping so often seen in camp meetings. There is a shaking such as the early Quakers had and which the old Methodists called the “jerks”. It is while under the power of the Spirit you see the hands raised and hear speaking in tongues. While one sings a song learned from heaven with a shining face, the tears will be trickling down other faces. Many receive the Spirit through the laying on of hands, as they did through Paul at Ephesus.

Little children from eight years to twelve stand up on the altar bench and testify to the baptism with the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues. In the children’s meetings little tots get down and seek the Lord.

It is noticeable how free all nationalities feel. If a Mexican or a German cannot speak English, he gets up and speaks in his own tongue and feels quite at home for the Spirit interprets though the face and people say amen. No instrument that God can use is rejected on account of color or dress or lack of education. This is why God has built up the work.

…Seekers for healing are usually taken upstairs and prayed for in the prayer room and many have been healed there.

This is the genetic code of the movement called Pentecostalism and yet it is conspicuously absent today in many contemporary, rich, powerful, and authoritarian Pentecostal churches in both the global North and South.