I look back up from the Bible, and the other chair is occupied again. The occupant is a normal-sized man with thinning hair, whom I immediately recognize. He is wearing a golf shirt, slacks, and shoes that all scream “NINETEEN SEVENTIES!’ He was a prominent member of Bible Guy’s church in those years.
I realize that I have just drawn in my breath sharply, as one might do in fear as opposed to surprise. “Please tell me that you are a drone.”
He smiles in a way that stings with disconcertingly warm memories. “Of course I am a drone. Please don’t be alarmed.” The voice is wrong. Different, I mean; not what I expect.
I decide to be completely direct. “With whose voice are you speaking?”
The smile has been replaced by serious attentiveness, or what I’m beginning to think of as the default drone face. “Kathy Bates.”
“You certainly aren’t something that I would requisition. What is the character of your dilation?”
“I’m only going to remind you of something that happened to you. I look like this in order to evoke the entire Gestalt. I could have looked like this instead…” He flickers for an instant and becomes a vague image of an older man dressed in black, with much thinner, white hair. The image remains only about three seconds, and he changes back. “…but perhaps that would have been worse?”
I don’t remember the older man as clearly, but I know who he was. He was the preacher who was visiting that day. He was the man who prayed with me that I be baptized by the Holy Spirit. “So I’m supposed to remember that service, where I cried so freely. Where I felt so…” What had I felt? “…included.”
“That’s correct.” The drone shifts his weight and puts his hands together in a very let-me-tell-you-a-story sort of way. “It was in that incomplete but functional church building that might have been originally intended as a topless bar. That’s what you had heard about it, anyway. It was evening. A weeknight. Part of a series of ‘revival’ services. You had received your second water baptism several months before, perhaps a year before. There were probably about twenty to twenty five people in attendance.”
“I believed that I was being baptized in the Spirit.”
“Will you now claim otherwise?”
Long pause. “I don’t know.”
The drone nods. “So much of what we have become wishes to deny it, but you know that what happened there was important, and will remain important no matter what. It will remain important even if you no longer carry the Bible; even if you die.”
I take a deep breath, and let it out slowly through my nostrils.
“Give voice to what you hate now about that group of people who surrounded you that evening.”
I know it’s an overt (un-subtlety-fied?) theme now, but I have to close my eyes in order to let go. “Simple. Judgmental. Narrow. Anti-intellectual. Homophobic.” I open my eyes again. “NOT… Christian.”
“But you know that this litany you have just said leans upon other times, and not upon that evening.”
“Yes. That evening refuses to darken.” I reflect a bit before going on. “It is stubbornly wide, warm, welcoming.”
“It was only later that you were expected to speak in tongues as a sign.”
I nod. “That preacher, and my pastor, were both suspicious of tongues and other visible signs. That preacher did not expect specific signs, though he was open to them. He did not demand that the Spirit manifest itself in me according to a prescribed formula.”
“But you cried.”
“I sobbed uncontrollably, so much so that I remember the preacher saying it out loud. ‘Such emotion!’ he shouted. I was unsure if he was worried, or just delighted. I hugged everyone. All of them hugged me. They hugged me like a treasured brother.”
“You were unconditionally accepted!”
I meet the drone’s gaze and search it for something more than its fabricated dilation. I know what he says is true, but… “It was NOT unconditional. The expectations all followed. The oppressively long but never-completely-explicit list of ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots.’ They were not voiced that evening, but they were there.”
The drone tilts his head a bit. “Now think about when you ‘got saved.’”
OK, it’s not as though I don’t know where this is going. But I guess one must GO, as opposed to just knowing where. “The chapel service at the school. The preacher I hardly remember at all, besides the fact that he was relatively young. I ‘went forward,’ but only after it was over, when most had left already. I don’t remember much of anything that was said, specifically.”
“But you do remember one thing clearly, do you not?”
“Yes, I do. I remember telling him that I needed to get myself together more first. He… He looked directly in my eyes and told me that I did not. He told me that God had no demands that I had to meet first; no preparation was necessary. I could just come. I was forgiven.”
“So you prayed some version of ‘the sinner’s prayer.’
“I did. It included a confession of Jesus as ‘LORD.’ Again, the demands were lurking.”
“But you did not see them as demands in that moment. That preacher would not let you see them that way.”
Well, this kind of sucks; my eyes are filling up. I realize that there is a large white handkerchief in my left hand, which I proceed to use. “I was accepted unconditionally. He assured me that I would always fail to measure up, that I would be ongoingly accepted if I would ongoingly allow myself to be accepted.”
The drone grins. “And THAT is what came home to you in such fullness that evening at the revival meeting. The welcome without conditions. Not only were you accepted without conditions then. You knew THEN that if you needed to be accepted AGAIN, and then AGAIN, and AGAIN, it would always in that moment of acceptance be without conditions.”
I wipe my eyes, and lay the handkerchief gently over the arm of my chair. “There are parts of me… voices… that will not stop reminding me of the expectations, the narrowness, the judgmental elements, the pathological cultivation of self-doubt and self-denial.” I look the drone in the eyes again. “Getting this is not going to make those voices go away, is it?”
“Those voices will not go away, because the things that you hate now about that time in your life will not go away. They must remain a part of us too.”
I’m sure that my deep sigh would seem totally cheesy to an uninvolved observer. Strike that. Cheesy to me if I were observing someone else sitting where I’m sitting. “But the point is that the unconditional acceptance thing isn’t going away either, right?”
I sit and think silently for more than two minutes.
I finally look up again. “And this experience of social acceptance… This is, at least in part, what the whole authority business leans upon. This is part of the key to the investing of authority.”
“That does seem to be the conclusion to draw at this point. Anything more about how this is so is beyond my dilation.”
I look into the drone’s still attentive eyes. “Thank you.”
The drone smiles and nods, then it sits back and places its hands on the arms of its chair. Its face goes blank.
I sit back, and it occurs to me suddenly and forcefully that it’s time I have another name. I don’t know yet what it should be.
No suggestions are offered. I am alone again.