Quiet and relaxed. Temperature was just right. Breathing slowly, purposely, focused on the black emptiness behind my eyelids. Listening to the hum of a fan that spun just a little too loudly above my head. No, don’t think about the fan. Blank it out. Open my heart, as I inhale. Breath rushes in through my nose, tickles my throat, and swells my lungs. Is my heart open? Imagining each throb spreading wider and wider the little muscle that pulses in my chest. But no, that’s not right. Not my literal bloody heart behind my ribs. Open my spiritual heart, did I do it? Am I open? Ugh. Stop filling my thoughts with these stupid questions. Clear my mind so I can hear his voice.
If there was any doubt of the fallen nature of humanity, I think these days that façade is finally falling. Though we want to look to the best side of people, and we want to believe that everyone is basically good, we are bombarded with reminders that this isn’t the case. Sin is on display everywhere we look. Good intentions turn bad as mankind continues to tear itself apart.
It must have been hot and muggy that afternoon, walking down to the river Jordan. Dirt scratching between their toes and thirst cracking their sunburnt lips. The tour guide raised his toasted arm again over the heads of the crowd, to direct the exhausted stragglers on the right path. A few older women sat down on a rock, complaining about how long this was taking, and what else they should have done this morning.
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There are more prominent hucksters in American religion, but perhaps none as honest as Marjoe Gortner. “Charlatan” is a word custom made for him. I’m not sure why I hadn’t come across the 1972 Academy Award-winning documentary Marjoe before I found it on Sundance Now (you can also see the full film on YouTube here). After watching it, I was all the more surprised I hadn’t seen it—until I found this fascinating interview with the director, Sarah Kernochan, who says it was all but lost until 2002, when she came across an original negative of the film. (Another essay by her is here [although her misspelling of “Pentecostal” and her facile connections make me grimace].) Even so, maybe because he was before my time, I’d never even heard of Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner.
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