Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #3: Interpretation of Tongues

For last weeks post on speaking in tongues, click here.

So last week I discussed speaking in tongues, glossolalia, and so I thought I would talk today another “gift of the spirit” the interpretation of tongues.  Basically, after someone has given a message in tongues, according to scripture(At least in the Pentecostal church), someone else, or in some cases the same person, is supposed to stand and give an interpretation. This is also supposedly divinely given by god, as to what was just said in tongues. If that isn’t the most convoluted way to get a message across then I don’t know what is…

Imagine sitting in a bar with friends and all of you speak English. Yet you don’t talk to each other in English, first one guy talks in gibberish, then another friend tells you what he meant. The next round the second friend talks in gibberish and the first friend explains what he was saying. That’s basically how speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues works in the Pentecostal church.

Another aspect of the interpretation of tongues that I always found hilarious is that growing up, whenever someone gave an interpretation, god, speaking through the interpreter, almost always had an old English way of speaking.  I never once heard anyone interpret anything along the lines of, “Hey, people, god loves you and he wants you to keep doing what you’re doing. Good job.” Instead a “normal” interpretation would be something along the lines of this, “Oh ye my people, thine actions have been seen and thy glory has been shown to shine across the land. The lord thy god will bless thee and keep thee for the works that thou hast committed.”

Now granted, in other countries where the native language is not English, I would assume that the interpretation of tongues does not have this Old English way of speaking.  There is one reason and one reason only why the vast majority of American Pentecostals speak in this manner during interpretation, they assume god speaks like that because that is how the King James version of the bible is written. One can only assume that if the bible had been translated centuries later, in 1930’s New York ,god would then give interpretations that sound much like an Italian Mobster of that time. This began to change as the popularity of more modern interpretations of the bible began to be accepted by members of the church, however the older the congregant the more likely the message would be in old English.

One other thing that always struck me about the interpretation of tongues is that they almost never had anything of substance. Not once did I hear an interpretation where god said anything groundbreaking. It was always one of two things, to praise the church for being the best darn church in all of churchdom, or to admonish someone who the interpreter had an issue with. God seems to have a whole lot of time to do a whole lot of nothing, and in other cases god always seems to dislike the people who the interpreter disliked…isn’t that odd?


My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 18

For part 17 of my journey, click here.
To begin at the start of my journey, click here.

“And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;” – John 2:15

After the revival things remained relatively stable, when it comes to the ministry, for a couple of years. I continued preaching and our church continued to slowly grow. The fact that we were growing at all was still exciting and all three ministers took a lot of pride in what we had been able to accomplish in that small town Iowa church. I was fairly well-respected in the church and more than one member asked when we were going to have our next revival.  At the time I had no answer.

Truth is, I would have loved to have another revival but stress at home was getting to me.  As I said in a previous entry, things at home were never good. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy life, because I did. The kids were my life and I enjoyed every moment that I got to spend with them. Even if at times stress got the better of me and I was short with them.  I still adore these two kids and enjoy every moment I get to spend talking to them and keeping up with their lives.  The issues with my wife, though continued to grow and grow.

One day, after I had been preaching for about two years, she asked me to quit the ministry. The audacity of the request took me off guard, and I told her that I would think about it. A few weeks later, she brought it up again and I told her that I could not quit the role which god had given me. It wasn’t even so much that she disliked me being a minister, what she disliked was what that meant we as a couple could get away with.

We hadn’t even been married six months, before she asked if I would be interested in an open marriage.  I was sickened by the idea and told her in no way would I ever do that.  She didn’t like how she had to sneak around having affairs, wishing that she could instead have open relations with anyone she chose. Over the years things became worse and worse and about the 3 year mark of my ministry, she quit coming to church and I had to continually make excuses as to why she was not coming.

Before that occurred though, I had another experience that shook me a bit. I had been in the ministry for about a year and a half and of full gospel denominations convention was going on. I honestly hadn’t wanted to go but my head pastor gave me a bit of a guilt trip and so I went. The first day we each gave small 5 minute sermonettes and I actually found it quite fun. I spoke on the sinner in hell, crying out for his family to turn to god so they wouldn’t experience the same fate.  It seemed to be well received and so I took my seat and the day continued on. We ate a good meal, and returned to services for the guest speaker.  I remember the message of the speaker clearly.

 “I honestly wondered even then if this guy wasn’t trying a bit too hard to come out against homosexuality.”

The man who took the stage was an old school Pentecostal pastor and he was angry about everything. The thing I remember most about the man was how much he talked about homosexuality, what made this more memorable was that he walked with a slight swagger and spoke with a slightly high-pitched almost effeminate voice.  It was hard not to laugh because it honestly sounded a lot like Jim Parsons going on a rant about the evils of gay marriage.  I honestly wondered even then if this guy wasn’t trying a bit too hard to come out against homosexuality.

Anyway, the first day was rather enjoyable and so I couldn’t wait for the second day to begin. We arrived early and I was informed that today we would be having a denominational business meeting, everyone would be able to ask questions, but it would probably just be fairly boring. It didn’t take me very long to become sickened by what I heard. The topic at hand was tithing, namely how to get more people to tithe and in higher percentages. The ministers were talking about their wages and how they wish they could get a bit more money coming into the church, as it would help raise their standard of living a bit. I was absolutely appalled.

“I was absolutely appalled.”

See, one of the things that I never preached on was tithing. Even at my most fundamental I hated the idea of robbing from poor folks to line your pockets. Tithing stems from the old testament and was in effect the was the early Israelite people collected taxes. Everyone was obligated to give 10 percent of all their earnings to the priests who would survive on that portion throughout the year, as they weren’t allowed to make money by any other fashion. It was my belief that this custom was done away with in the new testament, as the Council of Jerusalem, in the book of Acts, did not mention tithing as something that gentile believers had to do.  Not only that but tithes were not meant to be used to build larger houses, make grander foyers, or buy a more expensive piano. Tithes were meant for sustenance and to help the community.

Deuteronomy 26:12 states:

“When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled;”

When the conversation got around to me they asked me if I had anything I might add to the conversation. I opened my bible and I read the above scripture. Then I closed my bible and I said that unless the church I was preaching at was prepared to do exactly as that scripture said, then I would never preach on tithing. The looks of shock and horror are still fused in my mind. The first thing that was said was that I was far too young to actually understand what that scripture was talking about. When I remarked that I had been told scripture was easy enough to understand that a small child could do it, and that we are to come to Christ as small children, the looks began to change to anger. I was then told that I would never have my own church with that type of mentality and that I need to understand that the church is first and foremost a business with a bottom line.

That line should not have been said to me… See, I am incredibly blunt, OK, I’ll just say it, if something pisses me off I can be an outright asshole.  I looked at the minister who said that and I said, “You’re lucky that Christ weren’t standing here or you might have a whip across your face for making that remark.” I then looked around the room and said, anyone here who believes the church is meant to be a business is wrong and in danger of hell-fire. I said the church is supposed to be a type of hospital, there to help the sick and the widowed and to send the strong out to do god’s work. I then walked out of the room and went home. In all honesty I am shocked my credentials weren’t stripped from me for that outburst but outside of some hurt feelings, I never heard another word about the convention…and I was never invited to another one.

Meanwhile, back at my church, my ministry continued and things began to stagnate a bit. We lost a handful of members and the worry was that we might soon lose even more.  My suggestion was that we might hold a monthly soup supper for the community, which in turn might interest more people in coming to church. That was shot down because it might be too expensive…(It wouldn’t have cost hardly anything, since I was once again going to get donations) My second suggestion was that we hold another revival, a Friday through Sunday event, that would hopefully reignite some of the fire we had not so long ago. This was approved and so we had our little revival. It was abysmal, not even half of our regular members showed up for the services and we averaged below 25 people each night. Something was wrong and I was going to find out what it was!

Not long after that second revival, the head minister, the man who had performed my marriage, had a major family issue. His daughter, who had seemed completely healthy, died suddenly of massive heart failure. I received the call late at night and the next morning, my grandfather(A deacon at the church) and I, drove up to the pastor’s home to see how he was doing.  His wife answered the door and she was distraught, she cried and cried, something that I should have been prepared for but unfortunately I’ve never been good at judging a situation and how other people might react. When we asked where the head pastor was we were told that he was praying in the garage.

We walked over to the garage and we could hear his prayers, nearly screaming towards the heavens and intermittently speaking in tongues. We waited a few moments before saying something not wanting to interrupt his prayers. He suddenly turned, saw us, and stood up with tears in his eyes. He hugged both of us and told us that everything was OK. God had told him that this situation was only a test and that his daughter was going to be fine, not only that but she was going to lead many souls to god. My grandfather, not knowing what was going on, asked if we had been mistaken and that his daughter had actually survived.

“No,” he said, “but that doesn’t matter, god told me that he is going to resurrect her!”

To continue on to part 19 of my blog, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 17

For part 16 of my journey, click here.
To begin at the start of my journey, click here.

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6

                 The first couple of years of my ministry went by fairly well, our church grew from about 20 regular members to near 50 in a matter of months. That might not seem like much but in a church that hadn’t experienced real growth in over 20 years, it was incredible. I had a very excited group of kids in my youth group and we did various things to help the community. One month we ran a food drive and another month we walked the city cleaning up the roads. My style of teaching was meant to encourage community outreach and for a short period of time that’s exactly what we did.

At around the one year mark, I spoke with the other pastors and asked when we might hold a revival. Their main concern was whether or not anyone would actually show up, and if the church would be willing to put it on. I assured them that I felt willed by god to hold a revival and so one Sunday, I spoke in front of the church and asked if they were ready for revival. The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing to allow us to put it on and about half of the cheers went out like a light. Luckily, for me, enough members of the church agreed that we were able to hold the revival about a month later.

“The whole church cheered. I then asked if they would be willing and about half of the cheers went out like a light.”

Revivals can be tough. For one, you have to decide whether you will hold a revival that lasts a specific number of days, or “allow god” to dictate how long your revival should be. We went with putting the decision-making in god’s hands. Secondly, you have to line up who is going to speak and on what days. You would think a church with three ministers would have no problem with scheduling, but since we each also had a secular job, it took some doing to work out something that would fit everyone’s schedule.

We decided that the revival should start on a Saturday and go on from there.  My first preaching would be the next day on Sunday, in which I was given both morning and evening services. My duty Saturday was to lead the song service, ask if anyone had any prayer requests, and pray over the offering. Revival services are generally very fast paced events until the prayer service and so choosing the right music is crucial. If anything can be said, it is that I took this job very seriously and did a fine job, if I do say so myself.

The first night of the revival went extremely well. There were close to 80 people in attendance and they were all very energetic and excited to be there. The pastor who had married me spoke that night and did an amazing job.  This man is short, stocky, and speaks with a tinny slightly southern accent, but when he preached it seemed at times that he was ten feet tall and his voice boomed through the church. His sermon was filled with imagery of hell-fire and sin, he would speak often about his smoking and drinking addictions that god cured him of, and the audience would be nearly sobbing by the time he finished his testimony. (A couple of years later I would learn that he had swapped smoking for chewing tobacco which took away some of the miraculous nature of the cure.) By the end of the night I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well. I feared that I could never have such a reaction as he had, so I went to sleep that night with a deep anxiety that would follow me until I got behind the pulpit the next morning.

“I was nervous, it had gone very well, too well.”

It still amazes me that when I got behind the pulpit, my entire character changed. I am a very timid, quiet, peaceful person, and I absolutely hate talking to people. Small talk and chit-chat are not my forte and so you might think i would make an awful minister, this was not the case. When I got behind a pulpit I was filled with courage, I had a strength in my voice that is not normally there, and I could talk for over an hour without the slightest hint that anyone in the congregation had lost interest; at least for the most part.

That morning we had close to 100 people in attendance, the small church looked incredibly crowded. I sat in the back and prayed until I heard the song service begin, then I took my seat at the back of the church. The song service ended and I took the stage. I began shaking and dancing and broke forth with tongues. I began preaching my sermon, a cliché sermon on those left behind after the rapture, the torments they will face and the hardships they could have avoided simply by asking Christ into their lives before it was too late. I preached for well over an hour and by the time I finished the congregation was mostly in tears or deep prayer. My aunt stepped forward and requested prayer, I prayed over her and the next day she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.  I dismissed on that same high feeling that I described in an earlier post.

“…..she came back to services and said she had been healed of a lump in her breast.”

My favorite service during this revival was a night we had promoted as “Tag Team Preaching Night.” During this service all three ministers took the stage.  We would start on a particular passage and in the middle of speaking would hold out our hand to one of the other ministers and tag them in, they would then speak on the same passage and go for a while before tagging out, and so on and so on. It was an incredibly exciting service, never quite knowing when I would be called to jump in and start preaching. I still look back at this memory fondly, if that makes any sense for an atheist.

Services continued in this fashion for nearly a week when we were struck with some devastating news. A suicide had occurred in the head pastors family and he wouldn’t be able to preach any further nights. The female pastor would be preaching that night and I wasn’t scheduled again for another two days. We discussed what out plans were and decided that neither of us could take the other pastors night and so after she finished preaching that night, we let everyone know that the revival had come to an end. It was such a sad night for me, I knew that god had wanted us to have a revival that lasted weeks and it was ending after one, had I been wrong, had the other ministers been wrong to end the revival, had god been wrong?

Little did I know but this would revival would mark the highest point of my ministry. We would have a couple of short, two or three-day revivals in the future but nothing would ever compare to this first one.  I would soon learn the politics of the ministry, how the church IS a business and how my faith wasn’t quite as strong as I believed it was. It would still be several years before any of this would add up to my leaving the faith, but the ball of me losing my faith may have begun with the incredibly high elevation that this revival left me upon.

To continue on to part 18, click here.


Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #2: Speaking in Tongues

For last weeks Something Different Saturday, click here.

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” – Acts 2:2-4

Anyone who was raised in the Pentecostal setting will be able to tell you how much speaking in tongues is preached. So much so that by the time you get old enough to question things, speaking in tongues has become such a normal part of life that you never think to question it.  Speaking in tongues is seen as the evidence that someone has been filled with the holy spirit and so it is crucial to the faith of Pentecostals. So much so that some churches teach you are not even truly saved without it.

This “gift” is seen as the epitome of what god can grant you, without this gift of the spirit its taught, within the church, that no real work for god can be done.  After you have been baptized in the spirit, and have spoken in tongues, then god can reveal to you his plan for your life and help guide you to your eventual ministry.  A key aspect of most Pentecostal churches is that everyone has a ministry, and we should all seek to find out what that ministry is.

So when I began to doubt my faith I started by looking for outward explanations to the things taught within the church. Some of the first things that I looked into was the different interpretations of the gifts of the spirit within various denominations and then I looked outward to the rest of the world. It was truly shocking to find that speaking in tongues or “Glossolalia,” as it is known, is fairly well explained and understood outside the church.

So when I began to doubt my faith I started by looking for outward explanations to the things taught within the church.

Glossolalia, not to be confused with “xenolalia”(The actual speaking of different real languages), is the speaking of known sounds and syllables in a rhythmic pattern that flows together into what appears to be a completely different language. That’s it, they are known to the speaker already but put together in a different way to make it appear as if a whole new language is being spoken. If you have ever made “Baby Talk,” you have spoken in tongues.

For your pleasure I am including a clip of the hilarious, Sid Caesar, displaying glossolalia, or what was called double-talk for him.

And here is an example of Pentecostal speaking in tongues, not the similarities….try to ignore the Seinfeldian dance moves.

There is another aspect though to the gift of tongues that is different from other forms of glossolalia you may encounter in everyday life. This is how it makes you feel. Speaking in tongues during a service has usually followed songs and prayer, already in a slightly euphoric state, speaking in tongues releases chemicals that take it over the stop, you feel in complete ecstasy as these syllables and sounds flow from your mouth.  It is this aspect that gives many the assumed right to claim that this language is being directly granted by god.

However, here is the thing, I can still speak in tongues, and have done so, so many times over the years that it triggers the same chemical release in my brain almost instantly. I am taken to those same euphoric feelings of ecstasy which I experienced during my time as a minister. I’m a godless atheist today which, as far as I’m aware, would negate me from being gifted anything from god. Today I even know that I’m just talking gibberish, I understand glossolalia, and yet it still has the same effect on my body and mind.  When I do this, I feel light and warm, as if a huge ball of light has enveloped me. It is much the same feeling as might be described by someone deep in meditation.

Speaking in tongues is nothing more than self-delusion.

Speaking in tongues is nothing more than self-delusion. It is speaking sounds and syllables that you already know in an effort to reach this “godlike” state of mind. Mystics throughout the ages have been using tongues as well as other techniques to reach the same state of euphoria. Look to the Sufi Muslims and their whirling dervishes, for another example of a practice that brings about this same mindset.  Basically, what I am trying to say here, is that it is not special, it is not god granted, and if a godless atheist can still experience the results of it, I’d say you can wipe god out of the equation almost certainly. To borrow from Penn and Teller, “It’s Bullshit!”

As a humorous side not I would recommend you looking up the missionaries in the early pentecostal church who believed god had granted them xenolalia instead of glossolalia. Venturing into unknown lands to find that the language they believed they had been granted was actually nothing more than gibberish.  They were so upset that many left the faith and pentecostalism nearly died out in the early years.