East Texas is known as the Bible Belt, but since the state is so large, the belt is of the stretch variety. Dallas can probably lay claim to far more evangelicals; the ones who shout and scream and believe that histrionics strewn amid the implications of guilt and shame will bring your wallet’s contents closer to their ministries.
Yeah, I’m a bit jaded when it comes to that “old time religion”. I will admit that the depth and caliber of my belief in Jesus as messiah has ebbed and flowed over the years. The older I get, the more questions I have. But I can say unequivocally that I’ve never doubted the existence of God.
In this crazy world, we all need a structured belief system. Values and principles mean more now than ever before. In this time of economic strife and pessimism, we need them more now than ever before.
So, in spite of what I might believe; in spite of what my system of spiritual checks and balances might be, I applaud people for trying to find theirs, regardless of what form that takes.
And it takes all kinds.
There are a million “strip center” churches here in Houston. They vary in style and dogma–from the hard core speaking in tongues, laying of hands kind of thing to the kind of church based on New Age constructs with crystals surrounding a woman sitting on pillows, who for $500 dollars, will “channel” the spirit of Saka-Liu, a three-thousand year old Tibetan soothsayer and sage. Often times, you’ll get an amazing amount of mundane, non-specific information for your buck.
But that’s OK. If that’s what makes you happy? Far out, solid and right on, my friend.
Back to local religion.
Houston, in all it’s cosmopolitan splendor is still, a small town in some instances. For a couple of hours every Sunday, a building once known as “The Summit”…a place where Bruce Springsteen performed, where the Houston Rockets played basketball, etc, becomes a thriving, virtually self contained religious community, teeming with the faithful, now numbering 50-thousand strong. Lakewood Church is Joel Osteen’s prized billion dollar a year edifice and brain child. Oh yeah, it might be a church, but it’s also a PR sensation. And the man behind it ? Joel is the long faced, squinty-eyed preacher fella who’s so young looking, you’d swear he still has a milk mustache.
Joel is also a successful author. I’ve not read his books, but I’ve listened to his sermons. They’re amazingly civil and they don’t force feed you a hardcore ecclesiastical diet. Oh, it’s there but it”s not as in your face as some other high dollar, cosmetic preacher types. Joel doesn’t spin cautionary tales about how sinners will spend eternity poked by pitchforks as they to survive amongst hellish campfires and all that brimstone. On the contrary, he talks about how great life…this life now…would be if you followed a more Godly path.
He believes in the Bible. Many people do. Many believe in the extraordinary things it conveys and many will try them in an attempt to find salvation. They need to be saved from themselves, mostly.
But again, whatever floats your boat. And that, in a sense, happens a lot in East Texas. The further north you go, into The Piney Woods, you’ll find more evangelical belief systems and implementation of said systems. Very often, this includes full submersion baptisms in a lake or river.
I’ve never had this done to me (I’m a Catholic, therefore my parents dipped my head into the baptismal font as a three month old infant…you know, when I was old enough to make an informed choice about my religious affiliation…uh-huh), but I’ve heard stories.
A friend told me about this drunk guy who was stumbling through the woods, near Cleveland, a small town north and east of Houston. He happened upon a preacher baptizing people in a stream.
He drunkenly walked into the water and subsequently, bumped into the preacher, who was about to baptize the next congregate. The preacher turned around and was almost overcome by the smell of booze. But he shook it off, then asked the drunk, “Are you ready to find Jesus?”
The drunk, tired of his life as a chronic alcoholic, who lost his job, his family and his dignity, said tearfully, “Yes, I am.”
So, the preacher grabbed him and dunked him in the water for a few seconds. He pulled him up and asked the dripping drunk, “Brother have you found Jesus?”
The drunk replies, “No, I haven’t found Jesus.”
The preacher, shocked at the answer, dunked him into the water again, but submerged him for a little longer this time. He again pulled him out of the water and again asked, “Have you found Jesus, my brother?”
The drunk, trying to catch his breath, answered, “No, I haven’t found Jesus yet.”
By this time, the preacher was at his wits end so he dunked the drunk in the water again — but this time he held him down for about 30 seconds.
When the drunk began kicking his arms and legs, the preacher pulled him up and asked him again, “For the love of God man, have you found Jesus?”
The drunk wiped his eyes, caught his breath and said to the preacher, “No, but I felt around on the bottom. Are you sure this is where he fell in?”