Charismatic Gratitude

Read this excerpt from _Grateful_ by Diana Butler Bass, then let’s discuss.

The sign outside read “Trinity,” and a stylized dove hovered above the logo formed from a Celtic cross and triangle. Underneath the picture, the line read, “Assemblies of God.” I wandered into the small church on my own, no friend, no family to accompany me. I was only seventeen, following the path of life’s first spiritual journey, and I had no idea that the Assemblies of God was a Pentecostal denomination, a group emphasizing the power of God through gifts like speaking in tongues and miraculous healing. I was not looking for any of that, however. I was just curious about church.

The sanctuary was simple, more like a cafeteria with carpet and nice chairs than any traditional church. Although the building was new, the congregation was not small—many people filled the seats as a professional-sounding band played music to warm up the crowd. The preacher, in a business suit, an odd choice of vestment for an Arizona summer, stood up.

“Welcome!” he shouted, “Welcome to God’s house! Let’s all thank Jesus for bringing us here! Get up! Stand up! Thank Jesus!”

The music swelled and people swayed, some chanting in a language that sounded like Latin to me, but full of strange intonations, maybe Chinese. The pastor pointed at a woman in the congregation.

“What do you thank Jesus for today?” And the reply: “That my mother was healed!” He shouted back, “Praise Jesus!”

He pointed again, “And you?” The response was tearful: “God paid my electric bill!” “Yes!” cried the preacher, “Thank you, Jesus!”

The music went on—a soft-rock litany of “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, thank you, Jesus.”

“Oh yes!” the pastor shouted, now needing no prompt from the congregation. “Thank you, Jesus! We all thank you! We praise you and thank you!”

It was like a spiritual sea, full of waves of praise, as all around me people with eyes half open joined their words to his as if mesmerized by gratitude, first gently whispering thanks and then shouting praise. From every direction flowed thanks—appreciation for miracles received, prayers answered, healings bestowed, financial provision, good weather, missionaries in foreign lands, heathens converted, children who spoke in tongues, the pastor’s recent sermon, and all who came to paint the new church. Hands were raised, palms facing up, waiting to receive the gifts of a good God; lips were ready with eager words of thanks. Everyone awaited grace, overwhelmed by gratitude.

Everyone except me, of course. I felt nothing.

Well, that is not entirely true. I was bewildered by this polyphony of appreciation. Maybe a bit angry, as I felt left out of their thanksgivings.

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