by Victor Morales
They’re commonly labeled the “Hallelujahs” by many Hispanics. They’re the ones who dance around church, the Christians who shout their spontaneous praise, who roll around on the floor, speaking in tongues1, pouring their facial secretions out on the carpet. They also come in different colors and from all kinds of dishonorable backgrounds: drug addiction, witchcraft, prostitution, debauchery, idolatry, and the like; but the point is to neglect their teachings, or at least ignore the fact that they exist because, honestly, who needs to be like them? Those extremist believers will either scare you away or take you to another dimension.
I am one of them.
Although I’m a third generation Apostolic, my mother did not set standards as high as the church’s. She would dye her hair, giving us the excuse of not being a white-haired grandma yet, even though it was unacceptable for sisters on ministry to dye their hair. It was also a holiness standard not to watch television. We would cautiously sit around our fifteen-inch tube with one ear attentively listening for, I don’t know, maybe Pastor Joe who might happen to drive down our alley (which he never did) and hear the novella. There was a time when the Compean Family came over to visit. As my siblings and I kindly shared our presence with them, I noticed little Joshy pointing something out to Ana Christina. “Look next to the couch,” he whispered near her ear. I looked too, since I was next to them. An antenna. How did we not see the antenna on the ground? How frustrating to know that we could be removed from ministry just because they spotted our antenna on the living room floor!
Eventually we were removed, or rather, we removed ourselves entirely from the church. My mom couldn’t stand the gossip… well, she was involved in much of the gossip. She couldn’t stand being criticized… well, she didn’t want to submit to their standards in the first place. Okay, she was filled with a spirit of dissension.
Thereafter my siblings and I each sought our place in this world. It was not long before my brother announced, “I’m emo.” It was not long before my sister got pregnant and dropped out of college. It was not long before I lost my religion.
So why should I follow Christianity? Or who is this God to me that I should serve Him? What’s in it for me? When I had the top scores in class, I questioned it. As I had the “best” friends and the “brightest” future, I shook God off my mind and kept going on my own strength.
Instead of trying to define God and likely failing in the process, I’ll first talk about religion, namely Christianity. The Catholic Encyclopedia derives religion from the Latin religare, meaning to bind: “we are tied to God and bound to Him by the bond of piety,…” (739). I think I’ll need a different definition.
The Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups adds that religion commonly involves a philosophy, an institutional arrangement or an organizational structure. Religion as an organization is probably what we think of when we hear that “r” word (well, is it?): priests dressed in white linen, sweaty ministers who preach upon a pedestal called a pulpit, an offering basket that stores your money in “heaven’s bank account.” For reasons like these my best friend, who’s also named Victor, became an extreme atheist. A few months ago, as we discussed Christianity for the last time before going off to college, he expressed his final philosophy. “I’m just not willing to give my life up.”
That’s it! Clearly my family had struggled to surrender what we felt was an integral part of our living. Christianity is not about receiving; it’s about losing at least a portion of my life, being bound to the Lord as the Catholic Encyclopedia states, even to persecution and death as the Bible reverberates. Jesus said it: “If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”.2
I recall playing waste-of-time card games such as War and Go-Fish at Victor’s old dairy house. Don’t worry, we weren’t having fun. This we did to encourage deep conversations about girls, education, and (you guessed it) religion. This was when I—a hypocritical Apostolic at the time—dropped a few testimonies into his head. “There is a sister in church who was healed of cancer, and doctors can’t explain what happened,” I assured him. He delayed his next card as he thought about his argument. “I’d have to see it for myself. Or better yet, if God loves me, why doesn’t He speak to me?” God resists the proud…. I didn’t tell him that; at the time, I didn’t know how to respond. After giving him some poorly developed answer, I started to speed up the game, encouraging a change of conversation.
Back then my cousin was devoting himself again to the Apostolic Church. It was his duty to bother me about attending church. One Thursday I went to his small-group Bible Study. I brought along all my little demon friends: Doubt, Lust, and that promiscuous Fear too, who all prevented me from praying. Wow, these people are crazy, I thought to myself. Tom, the most charismatic of the bunch, laid hands on my shoulders and yelled in tongues, but I held on to my chains.
Two months later I found myself an Apostolic girlfriend (who was as committed to God as I was). We would sit in the very front of the church, pretend to listen, and come back to my room where we would make out. This was something new for me, a lifestyle of mutiny I had never been accustomed to. Before our routine could bring along severe consequences, my cousin sent me a text which gave me a virtual slap in the face. “I had a dream about you. There are demons that are attacking you.”
I didn’t need to hear the rest. I was scared of having lost every conviction and all my innocence that I once had. The next day I showed up at morning prayer with tears in my eyes and a hunger for something called God. This is when I became a big loser. I gave up my girlfriend; I gave up all my close friendships, including Victor’s; I lost my old life for the sake of finding a new one in God. There’s a Psalm that reads, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.”3 I would rather be in the Holy of Holies4 for just one moment than erect my home far away from Christ.
Question: what was my first step in coming back to God? I had become atheist at a point in my life, so I had to believe in God once again. Serving God, interestingly enough, generally begins with belief in God. James Frazer, author of twelve volumes about what began with writing on African priesthood, magic, and sacred kingship, states that “…belief clearly comes first, since we must believe in the existence of a divine being before we can attempt to please him” (The Golden Bough 222-3). The Bible supports this when it is written, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists”.5
The question of “who God is” doesn’t matter as much as “how do I approach God” does. A few weeks ago I spoke to a Catholic Missionary here at MIT who confessed that certain characteristics about God are not meant to be known. Even the Pope cannot explain the full “mystery of the Godhead”—according to the Catholic doctrine of the trinity. What isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a mystery is how to approach God, the way in which I enter His gates, what I do to be called one of the “children of God.”6
James Behrens describes a Tanzanian priest’s approach to God, which brought to his (and my) attention how the civilized Western world overemphasizes the reason concerning God but forgets to seek the divine by passion or instinct. He writes:
Have we created a prison of language? Have we effectively walled out other ways of “speaking” about God, ways that are as telling as speech? Is it possible that there are vast stretches of beauty we simply can no longer see because we have been culturally trained not to recognize them? Is it possible that because of our insistence on tracking God with the radar of the mind we refuse to trust our feet, our heart, our feelings and our intuition?
My heart, then, should be my guide—not my mind—when approaching God. This makes sense; I didn’t come back to God because I was convinced that evolution is wrong or because someone proved that God exists mathematically. In fact, I never doubted the theory of evolution scientifically. I will never expect someone to prove the Lord’s existence to me in any way. My approach to God began and still begins daily in my soul.
The next question is, as Victor (and many others) asked, “who, then, can serve God?” From the Bible, “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill?”7 If God is picky, maybe he requires something from me? That seems to always be the question: me? The Scripture answers itself by saying, “He who walks uprightly,….” It’s about the way I walk, not who I am! It wasn’t about the person that I had become, no, this didn’t matter to the Lord. What mattered was whether or not I would decide to walk uprightly, to change my position. Anyone who repents can therefore serve God. Pastor Mark Bassett (of the United Pentecostal Church) puts it beautifully: “…but God is the one who declared that the crooked paths must be made straight, not us. Repentance is the only path to God, ….”
“God is selfish,” was an upperclassman’s argument a few weeks ago. He had been struggling with the idea that God desires all our praise and all our lives. I know enough about God to understand He is not selfish. So I showed him the first chapter of John, where it says how the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, yet His own did not receive Him. I told him that the Lord gave of Himself. This is how someone like me could ever approach God.
Now that I mention it, without this kind of love, my sister may have never been brought back. When I had already committed to God in my heart, I couldn’t stop praying for my sister and my brother. There was a night when I took my mother and told her that we must pray. I still have a recording from Apostolic Preacher Tony Bailey, in which he says, “we can’t do anything in God but pray, and we can’t do anything after we pray but pray some more!” So we prayed. My sister walked in while we were weeping and shouting on the living room floor. That night she got drunk, just like she did all those other nights.
But eventually the Lord renewed her. It was Easter Sunday, the day I was crucified as part of a skit. While I dragged that wooden cross to the front of the altar, my cousin later told me, my sister was crying. During altar call Brother Sam laid hands on her. When I looked over, she was on the ground, agonizing and waving her arms and legs frantically about. Her demon friends were being cast out! The Spirit of God suddenly gripped my lower back muscles; this triggered a loud yell and was followed by a thick numbness of my flittering tongue. I felt my body slowly lose control as my hands skinned the carpet then grasped the air high above my head. I stomped all over the altar, removing my shoes and tie, until sweat drenched the upper half of my shirt and until my feet were sore for a week. I realize this now: I never lost anything. No, I gained everything when I made up my mind about God. Job, when his sons and daughters were murdered and all of his possessions were destroyed, said it: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”8
Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG). April 2006. Australian Bureau of Statistics. October 24, 2010. <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/775012EF0 058A77DCA25697E00184BDC?opendocument>.
Bassett, Mark. Apostolic Life Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church. “Answering Gregory Boyd’s ‘Sharing Your Faith With a Oneness Pentecostal.’” United Pentecostal Church. October 26, 2010. <http://www.altupc.com/altupc/articles/boyd.htm>.
Behrens, James. “In Another Place, ‘They Danced God Into Coming.’” National Catholic Reporter. 5 Feb. 1999:
Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough. Vol. 1. 3rd edition. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935.
Merriam-Webster Online. 2010. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. November 1, 2010. <http://east .merriam-webster.com/medical/glossolalia>.
“Religion.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Ed. Charles Herbermann, et al. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Print.
1) As experienced by the church in the New Testament; also known as “Glossolalia,” which is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “profuse and often emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in some states of religious ecstasy and in some schizophrenic states.”
2) Matthew 16:24; King James Version
3) Psalm 42; New American Standard Bible
4) Or “Holiest of all,” the innermost sanctuary within the tabernacle of Moses; the “Shekinah” glory of God would come down upon this place as a pillar of fire which would be visible to the Israelites without the tabernacle, but none but the high priest could enter; all others would die.
5) Hebrews 11:6; New International Version
6) Found in John 1:12, which also mentions believing in God beforehand.
7) Psalm 15; New King James Version
8) Job 1:21 New King James Version
Victor is a member of the class of 2014 at MIT and is majoring in Mathematics. He was a part of the Spanish praise team in his church in California and continues to sing for God with the MIT Gospel Choir. He is a proud brother at Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. Victor doesn’t mind being different; he still upholds most of the holiness standards of his church and also recently became a vegan. If you ask him, then, why he does what he does, he can give you several reasons.