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Getting Saved in Amarillo

Getting Saved in Amarillo, 1990

Joan Bokaer
July 16, 2005

I could hear the singing before I saw the storefront. The sidewalks of this run-down neighborhood in Amarillo , TX were mostly empty on this Sunday morning in 1990. The music drew me in, so I walked down the stairs to what could have been a basement. Men in suits and women in beautiful dresses and hats greeted me in the hallway. "Praise the Lord!"


I worried about my casual clothing, but it didn't seem to matter. Immediately I was embraced. The women hugged me saying "Praise the Lord," and the men shook my hand saying, "welcome." And I knew they meant it. It took only seconds for me to shed my worries, to lose old feelings of separateness. What a wonderful feeling walking into that room full of African Americans singing their praises to the Lord!

I was moved by the spirit, their spirit, their singing which rose far beyond the boundaries of those walls and out to the universe. I was transported. I felt intense joy. I was not alone, but part of something vast and glorious.

A woman started jumping and trembling. A group of men surrounded her, holding hands in a circle to keep her safe. It looked to me like she was going through a powerful emotional catharsis, but for the parishioners, Satan was being exorcised. The fight between Christ and Satan was taking place in her body, and in the end it was clear that Christ had won. When the woman stopped shaking, the men gently guided her to her seat, and a look of calm radiated from her face. I saw this event happen over and over again, always with the same radiant calm afterwards. A great deal of healing took place that Sunday morning.

We sang for hours before the preacher finally came forward. I couldn't tell until that point who was the preacher. I was too much in a state of bliss to feel the full impact of his words.

"You must bring your children to Christ," he told the Congregation. "The Lord demands this of you. Just as the Bible tells us, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' you must use that rod. You must beat your children until they take Christ as their Savior. You must beat them over and over again."

How could I feel such love and acceptance in a Congregation that is taught to beat their children over and over again until they come to Christ? Do the children come to fear a Christ they associate with beatings? or to see the Christ of God's love?

The preacher was waiting for people to come forward, but nobody came. I asked the woman next to me, "What happens when someone goes forward?" She didn't hesitate a second, but took my hand and firmly led me to the front of the room.

I hadn't really meant to go, I was just asking her a question. I didn't want to be disrespectful of these beautiful people, but there I was in front, and all eyes were on me - intensely on me. I felt scared and overwhelmed by the attention and started to shake and cry. The more I shook and cried, the greater the love I felt flowing from their eyes, from their very being. The more they sent me their loving attention, the harder I shook and cried.

I was shaking for all the times in my life I felt separate and alone. I was shaking out feelings of not being lovable. I was crying out my deep sadness for humanity, for all of the cruelty toward fellow humans, and for the destruction of our natural world. I was shaking and crying for all the pain and suffering in the world. And there I was in Amarillo , Texas , the final assembly point of nuclear weapons, finding ecstacy.

Mostly I was crying for all the times I've felt numb, disconnected, unable to feel the beauty and loving energy of the universe. I never for a second felt that Satan was being exorcised. My experience was not about good and evil, but about separateness, about an inability to feel deeply.

And by the end, I felt such a calm and peacefulness descend on me. I was flying.

If only there were a way to have that experience without the trappings of Satan! If only those intense moments did not lead to the message that it's their Christian duty to vote Republican. Therein for me lies the challenge - to find the openness without the messages of fear and politics.


Last updated: Feb. 28, 2005