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July 16, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Cast Out The Pale Demon

It’s really high time I told you all about the time I was made to feel like a demonic, possessed soul in need of some serious exorcism.  The day it took place I was conveniently in a church.  You might have figured this fact would have helped…but it was the problem.

Churches Come in Many Flavors

If you could categorize me into one of those pigeonholes we are all so accustomed to, I would put myself in the “Christian left,” the genre of people who believe in the fundamentals of Christianity, but feel like we have a lot more important issues to deal with at the moment than whether or not Adam and Steve want to get married.  (Like bees.  I am freaking out about the bees.)  Anyway, I’ve never been afraid of other religions or ideas, I certainly don’t think that I will be “swayed” to drink someone else’s Kool-Aid from mere contact.  This has led me to attend several different flavors of churches over my life, not because I was test-driving, but for other various reasons.  I’ve been to the old, one room churches where an old lady was playing hymns on the piano; to huge rock and roll blaring churches where youngsters wore Jesus-themed belly shirts; male-dominated churches where women were clearly secondary due to their lack of wang; sterile, unfeeling Yuppie churches where only the finest quality candles were burned; and to funky churches where people rolled on the floor speaking in tongues.  Hey, no one said that you have to participate.  But one experience in particular stands out. 

When I was stationed in Pensacola, Florida for a time, I often attended Catholic Mass with my friend Rhonda.  The Baptist service was really early in the morning, and since we were on the late shift for work I chose to sleep in rather than attend.  There was a handy Mass at 11 AM.  I wasn’t a Catholic, so I couldn’t partake of the wine-n-crackers, but I liked the chanting and the dress and the rituals.  It was calming to watch and learn.  I went to Mass with Rhonda for many weeks.

Once a Baptist, Always a Baptist

When my very blue-collar family wasn’t working their fingers to the bone on Sunday, we’d go to church.  Baptist church.  Not of the Southern variety, either, but the regular ol’ Baptist flavor.  Think long lectures about hellfire and brimstone.  Think hymns and pipe organs (although in reality, think pianos…we can’t be using the Lord’s money for organ music…that’s wasting electricity).  Think sitting up straight and wearing your Sunday best.  The good stuff that Sundays were made for.  This idea of church was so ingrained in me that the first time I attended church with my husband I wanted to crawl under the pew and find an emergency exit, ASAP.  The minister didn’t have a jacket on, and the music was *gasp* accompanied by electric guitar ensemble and the lyrics appeared on a massive karaoke screen suspended high above the audience of 5000 (Of course this church was Colorado Springs New Life, and the minister was Ted Haggard…so there you go).  It actually ended up being a very neat church, however in places like that you will never see  me raising the roof, or shouting out “Amens.”  I’ll be the one sitting up Amish-straight, content to listen to the message.

Then Rhonda went on vacation.  Sunday arrived.  I missed Mass.  But I really didn’t want to go to Mass alone.  It was probably strange enough for all the good Catholics to see this weirdo, non-Communioning girl coming to the chapel every week with a friend.  If I started showing up alone, they might have thought I was some strange pope-stalker.  So I decided that while Rhonda was gone, it was a perfect time to attend the 7 AM Baptist service.  I woke up early to attend the Baptist service at the base chapel.  Maybe I’d meet some new friends.  Maybe they’d have good donuts.  I was a bit excited, and not the least bit concerned about my solo status.  Baptists were some of the most accepting folk on the planet, or so I’d thought.  They’d welcome me with open arms…

Churches Also Come in Many Colors…but sometimes not at the same time

…Or not.  I arrived at 6:40.  Did I ever tell you that I am always twenty minutes early?  It’s a sickness.  And it was a very bad choice this fateful morning, as I went inside the great room and took a seat somewhere in the middle as to attempt to blend in.  Well folks, there would be zero chance of blending this morning.  Zero.  I might as well have lit my hair on fire and used it to set the curtains ablaze.  Family after family, couple after couple, and person after person filed into the church.  The room held anywhere from 300-400 people, maybe more.  And every single person at this 7:00 AM service (except for me) was black. 

This was not a concern for me at all at this point.  I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only white person in the room.  In fact I was pretty sure that the other white people were probably back in the kitchen, getting those donuts I mentioned.  Besides, did it really matter anyway?  It was church.  Jesus loves everyone.  I was sure of it.  I’d never been the only white person in the room before, the very large room, but so what?  By now the service was ready to begin. 

And now one of the defining moments of my life took place.  This is where my skin got noticeable thicker, and my courage a little bit deeper.  The minister, a very pretty African-American woman, started speaking.  Her very first words went something like this:

Friends who have gathered here today, I was going to talk about <the next chapter of the Bible they were working on> but a new occurence leaves me no choice but to address it.  There is a demon among us today, a demon walking right among us.  She’s here, I can feel it.

At this point I didn’t think much of what she was saying.  Baptist ministers are always quick to point out that demons are walking next to us pretty much all the freaking time, so be careful or you will go to hell. 

She’s not dressed like you and I, friends.  She’s dressed like the demons in the street, the demons we combat from day to day.  We need not be afraid of this demon, as she is ONE and we are MANY.  <Various, scattered Amens) 

Alright, I’d be lying if I said that it started to feel a little bit like she might be talking about me.  Of course I chose to arrive early and sit in the middle, so standing up and leaving was not an option. 

Friends, we need to cast our church of this demon!  Tell her that she isn’t to come here no more!  Tell her that she is to be GONE!  Cast her away from our brothers and sisters!  Cast her away from our children!  For she has no RIGHT to walk among us!  <Louder shouts of AMEN!  Applause! A few shout-outs to Jesus!>

Finally I started analyzing the number of times she stared angrily at me versus the number of times she stared angrily at everyone else in attendance, just to be sure I wasn’t imagining anything.  She was staring straight into my eyes for a large portion of time during her “message.” 

For the next hour, I endured a very clear We Don’t Like Your Kind message from the minister.  I have mulled this event over for years, replayed it in my mind.  I’m not “being sensitive.”  I was basically told to Get Lost.  Some of the other choice descriptions she used throughout the service, of the Demon In Their Presence:

  • Glowing Skin
  • Feels Free to just Take Over
  • She And Her Kind
  • The Demon in Sapphire (I had a blue dress on)

The Demon has Left The Premises

I was very happy when the hour was over.  I have attended some pretty boring, tedious, and crazy service over the years, but I will tell you I have never been so happy for church to be over as I was that day.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I never went back to the 7:00 AM Baptist Service.  In fact, I’m not sure I ever went back to the base chapel for service, period.  I think I didn’t need to.  And soon, I got shipped off to North Carolina.

It was a tortuous and painful hour, and I could feel my face burning of sheer humiliation for most of it.  I could feel people looking at me, and I’m sure some of them probably felt pity.  Some felt anger (like the minister).  Hopefully, some were busy thinking about the post-service donuts.  I bet that all of them don’t even remember that I was there.  I sure do.  I was never angry or resentful about the experience.  In fact, I am really glad that it happened.  For an hour out of my life, I got the experience of being a minority in a very bad way.  Strange as it sounds, I can only believe that the experience has helped me.  

It’s not what I expected out of church that morning, but He works in mysterious ways.

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9 Comments

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  1. talea / Aug 4 2008 3:00 pm

    Oh my…..I don’t even know what I would have done. I mean, you can’t run out because then they win, but holy shiznat Batman, it’s freaking church! Live and let live!
    Wow. I wish I had something better to write, but i’m kind of stunned.

  2. Scomerican Girl / Jul 26 2008 3:50 am

    I still can’t quite believe this actually happened! I know some churches are weird, but that one definitely wins the award for CRAZY.

    I like your idea of christian left too. I think that’s where I am, if I could only find a church that I fit in with. I visit new ones and just keep from committing until I hear someone’s opinion about gay marriage. As soon as someone says something about ‘burning in hell’ or ‘living in sin’, that’s when I head towards the door. I’m sure there’s a good one out there somewhere, I just have to find it!

    It took me a LONG time to go back to church at all after that morning. I have actually been to “crazier” churches than this (the kind where people speak in tongues). This didn’t seem so much of a “crazy” church than a “no whites allowed” church. Crazy story, though.

    Here is a link on the Christian Left. While I don’t agree with all of it, I identify with more and more of it as time goes on. Besides, most people don’t wholly agree on 100% of anything. Following a herd = bad. Making up your own mind based on what makes sense to you = good.

  3. Allison / Jul 20 2008 12:23 pm

    Several times I thought, “Maybe the preacher wasn’t talking about her,”…that is, until the blue dress reference. That’s crazy.

    Our church is extremely casual and I like it. No dresses for me.

    I’m definitely done with dress-up churches too. My family always insisted that we ‘dress up for the Lord’, but until the Lord starts sending really big checks our way, I’m goin’ in my jeans…

  4. smalltownsmalltimes / Jul 20 2008 7:47 am

    That is absolutely the craziest church story I have ever heard of. My mouth was hanging wide open.

    I think your reflection and insight at the end was lovely and Christian-ish.

    Peace.

  5. Madame Monet / Jul 18 2008 11:41 pm

    I forgot to add that I never heard the term “Christian Left” before, but I think it’s an interesting idea. As you describe it above, I think that’s about where I’d put myself! I, too, am not at all worried about who marries who. I’m a lot more concerned with watching my OWN behavior as I continually fall below the standards I would like to maintain in what I say and do each day.

    Best regards,
    Madame Monet

    It’s a recent term I read about that describes Christians who choose not to partake in the activities that evangelical right-wingers insist upon doing; trying to fix everything that everyone else does that they see wrong. There is a lot more to it, but one item I identify with is letting people behave how they want to (criminal acts against others notwithstanding) and they can take responsibility for it in the end. I just see too many instances of right-wing leaders trying to impose their version of morality onto the nation and all it is doing is creating a very polarized society and a lot of backlash. It’s also pretty much demonizing Christianity and scaring people off from it in the rest of society, which is pretty ironic, considering the goal. The whole us vs. them thing never really worked for anyone.

  6. Madame Monet / Jul 18 2008 11:37 pm

    I think this would have been SCARY. I think if I had managed to stick it out for the hour, I would have gone up and talked to the minister after the service, to tell her how I happened to come to that church, and how her remarks made me feel. And at my current age (early 50’s) I’d also have the confidence now to add some remarks (or questions) about what Christianity and Christian behavior really mean!

    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine
    winewriter.wordpress.com

  7. crisitunity / Jul 18 2008 3:44 pm

    I agree with Fawn – racism is ugly in all directions. I wouldn’t have been able to stay; I would have run out of there after the first sentence and cried for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t have been angry so much as confused – why would a Christian behave that way?

    But then I’ve always failed to understand why it matters what color you are. Isn’t life too short for that?

    Also, I’m glad to hear the stripe of Christian that you are. The more of you the better. 🙂

  8. fawnahareo / Jul 16 2008 10:43 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe you don’t feel any anger or resentment; that’s very big of you. As far as I’m concerned, racism is ugly, no matter what direction it’s happening. I’m sure there were people who were impressed you stayed the entire hour.

    I can see where you’re coming from, though. It’s not the same thing, but I went through a couple of rough years as a kid, being an outsider who didn’t fit in. I think it’s helped to make me a more compassionate person.

    And, for the record, I happen to be Catholic, and I’ve never been to a Catholic church where it would be considered weird for you to come alone or to come without participating in Communion. I had a friend who raised her kids Catholic because their dad (her common-law) was Catholic. She went with them every single week and never took part in Communion.

    Of course, I suppose it’s possible not all Catholic churches are like that, just like not all Baptist churches are alike, hunh? 😉

    I knew for me, it would only last an hour, while some people deal with it for a lifetime. I was probably only imagining the Catholic thing, everyone there was pretty nice. 🙂

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