Nobody wants to be accused of stealing the spotlight from Jesus

August 30th, 2008

Catherine Price writes in Mother Jones magazine about her visit to the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians:

"Why should the devil have all the good entertainment?" asks Kerry Kistler, a chalk artist known for speed drawing canvases that reveal the face of Christ when exposed to black light.

[Via 3quarksdaily]

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"…he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know – whap!"

May 16th, 2008

Matt Taibbi gives three solid days of sleep-away Christian fellowship a try:

Morgan turned, glanced again at my name tag and sighed.

"Well, uh, OK, then," he said. "Matthew, do you want to tell your story?"

My heart was pounding. I obviously couldn't use my real past — not only would it threaten my cover, but I was somewhat reluctant to expose anything like my real inner self to this ideologically unsettling process — but neither did I want to be trapped in a story too far from my own experience. What I settled on eventually was something that I thought was metaphorically similar to the truth about myself.

"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

The group twittered noticeably. Morgan's eyes opened to tea-saucer size.

I closed my own eyes and kept going, immediately realizing what a mistake I'd made. There was no way this story was going to fly. But there was no turning back.

"He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television," I heard myself saying. "And then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know — whap!"

I looked around the table and saw three flatlined, plainly indifferent psyches plus one mildly unnerved Morgan staring back at me. I could tell that my coach and former soldier had been briefly possessed by the fear that a terrible joke was being played on his group. But then I actually saw him dismissing the thought — after all, who would do such a thing? I managed to tie up my confession with a tale about turning into a drug addict in my midtwenties — at least that much was true — and being startled into sobriety and religion after learning of my estranged clown father's passing from cirrhosis.

It was a testament to how dysfunctional the group was that my story flew more or less without comment.

It seems to me that the group's members may simply have been unwilling to push Taibbi away by openly ridiculing his plainly ludicrous story. However wacky some of the practices of the megachurch in question are, isn't it also plausible that some of the believers present sincerely wanted to help someone who, as far as they knew, had come in search of whatever it is they thought was missing from their lives? Maybe he did present a ridiculous life story, but he was there, and there was always a chance that they could "get alongside" him later in the weekend, or even back at the church after the weekend.1 Whatever you may think of the leaders of a church, or of the political causes it espouses, you shouldn't discount the possibility that the individual members of that church may be kind-hearted and willing to provide help and fellowship to those who have the courage to ask for it.2

That caveat aside, Taibbi's piece is worth reading: it's a picture of a small, very noisy and somewhat scary part of the Christian coalition in the United States.

[Via The Sideshow]

  1. Or, more simply, was it just that as a bunch of comparative strangers thrown together in a group discussion of rather personal matters at the start of a weekend together, they were simply reluctant to say too much?
  2. I note that Taibbi's piece dwells on the whole-group activities that weekend; there's very little talk of one-on-one interactions outside of the formal programme, which seems strange. Did attendees really not engage in any quiet, private conversations outside the formal programme?

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