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Our bodies went back to Alabama a few days after our trip to Brownsville. But my mind stayed in Pensacola. I couldn't quit thinking about what we had seen and experienced. Jesus was in my head.
As soon as we got home, mom began planning another trip back to the revival. And so about a month later, we went back.
I can't remember who exactly went with us on this trip, but I think some folks from our Baptist church came as well.
The second service at Brownsville was even more intense than the first.
This was now late summer, 1996, and news of the revival had spread, and the crowds had grown. Lines formed outside the doors of the church, sometimes hours before the service started. They packed even more people into the sanctuary and set up metal chairs in all the extra rooms of the church for people to watch on closed circuit TV. We got seats in the main auditorium.
Lindell with the long hair slipped onto the stage and took his place behind his musical pulpit.
The choir and band joined him. One of the first songs they played that night (I would later find out) was the big Brownsville hit "Enemy's Camp." This was, for all intents and purposes, the theme song of the revival. It was a peppy, organ & drum driven anthem with southern soul. Lyrics...
Well, I went to the enemy's camp and
I took back what he stole from me (x3)
I went to the enemy's camp and
I took back what he stole from me
He's under my feet (x6)
Satan is under my feet
This song was Fun with a capital F, and it came with hand motions. On the "took" you reached your hands out in front of you like a zombie reaching into his sock drawer. And on the "back," you closed your fists, snatched those socks, and pulled em into your chest so fast. That was symbolic of Jesus plucking you right out of Satan's bony grasp.
After that, everyone danced on Satan's face which was The. Most. Fun.
Most of the song is the lyric "He's under my feet!" repeated over and over again. When white Christians talk about "dancing" in church what they really mean is jumping up and down like drunken hairless kangaroos. What I loved about Brownsville was that virtually EVERYONE did the drunken hairless kangaroo jump to "Enemy's Camp." Even all the old guys in suits, sitting up on stage did it. No one was too cool there. They just let themselves be free. I liked that.
Another big hit back then was called "The Happy Song" which is pretty ridiculous—and pretty amazing—for a church song. It would later become my favorite Brownsville song.
I can imagine the old church fathers from centuries past listening to this song, recoiling in righteous horror, and immediately sentencing its writer to death by burning. It's a far cry from the hymns of old, but I loved it. Lyrics...
Oh I could sing unending songs
Of how you saved my soul
Well I could dance a thousand miles
Because of your great love.
My heart is bursting Lord
To tell of all you've done
Of how you changed my life
And wiped away the past
I want to shout it out
From every roof top sing
For now I know that God
Is for me not against me
Again, this was a dancing song. I found a Brownsville Youtube clip that perfectly captures its essence, and if you do anything today, I want you watch the lady in green in this video...
I was way too cool to jump into the worship flow that night, but I was watching, again, in awe...
These people are so happy. They are so joyful. Church is fun. Apparently even Jesus is fun. Apparently Jesus and God like dancing...or jumping. These people have something. What...is...this???
The music wrapped up, and Steve The Evangelist took the stage again.
Steve probably preached several thousand times at that revival, but his quotes and themes were consistent...
"There are a lot of people here who are religious...but they don't know God! Religion is all your futile attempts to get to God."
"Religion is hanging around the cross; Christianity is getting on the cross!"
"If there's sin in your life, there's something separating you and God!"
"Don't quench the Holy Ghost!"
"Religious person: I don't care if you know about God. I want to know if you know God!"
"If you need Jesus to wash your sins away, you need to come down here. RUN!"
"Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"
Remember, he wasn't condemning people to hell. He was pleading with people....begging almost.
I had been thinking about all this stuff since the last time we were there—sin, Jesus, religion.
It was like a dull light over in the corner of my mind that got a little bit stronger each day. Steve's thing about religion vs. true Christianity made sense. I had lots of religion. I even had gotten baptized when I was 8, because I felt like the preacher's kid needed to get baptized. But it didn't mean anything to me. And I knew I had done bad things. I knew I wasn't okay.
When Steve finished, a thin Pentecostal girl with long wavy hair and an ankle-length denim skirt came out on stage.
Her name was Charity. She ended every service at Brownsville by singing the same song, Mercy Seat, during the altar call. The altar call is when people are invited to leave their seats and walk down to the front of the sanctuary, repent, and pray to receive Jesus.
This was it. Tonight was for me. I had to do it..
It felt like there was a giant Jesus magnet down front, and my whole body was a big ball of sin-infused iron. It was irresistible. Some might even call it an "irresistible grace" that was drawing me in.
I don't remember if I ran down front, but I remember I wanted to. I stepped out into the aisle, joining hundreds of others, and cut a sinner's trail down that mauve carpet to the very front of the sanctuary. I crouched down on my knees—squishing my body into a ball—and laid my hands out in front of me, palms up. Other people were packed in all around me.
And for the first time in my life, I talked to God. I really talked to God. I got real with Him. He was right there...listening, like a good, good father would. I thought about all the bad things I had done in my life—cussing, lying, being a jerk to mom—and I repented. I turned away. And I could feel Him there—listening—not mad at all. I asked Jesus to be in control. I asked him to change me. I asked him to be my friend.
You might need to stop reading, because I'm going to lose some of you guys right here...
You're gonna think I'm a whacko and jump off the BBP train just as quickly as you got on. But I'm committed to telling my story as truthfully as possible, and I'm not backing down...
What happened after I talked to Jesus was, looking back on it now, pretty strange.
After the altar call, there was a tradition at Brownsville where people—anyone really—could go down front and get prayer. All the revival big dogs—the ministers in the black suits—would come off the stage and begin moving through the crowd, touching people, and praying for them. It was quite chaotic with people pressing in from all sides, trying to receive prayer. It looked like when a farmer rolls up in the truck with some feed and all the cows come running, huddling around him, trying to get a bite. These people were hungry, and the ministers had the feed.
The prayers they would say weren't long. Each guy had his own style, but the format was consistent—touch the person on the forehead and shout something like "Bless 'em Lord!" or "Jesus!". One guy would always shout, "Fiiiiire!". He was my favorite because it sounded like something from a video game. They were basically just asking God to bless that person with whatever they needed.
And at Brownsville, almost everyone fell to the ground when they received prayer. In the Christian world, we call this "being slain in the Spirit."
I've heard it explained this way: When God decides to cross into our dimension, and get really close, our bodies can't handle it, so we pass out.
The ministers in black suits began their quest through the crowd like conquistadors. I was still down front when they began. I had my moment with Jesus and instantly thought, "I should get prayer too."
Buckle up, 14 year old Brett...buckle up...
As the organ and choir continued to play, I made my way to the nearest guy in a suit.
I believe it was John Kilpatrick, the head pastor of the church. John was a big hulking guy, maybe 6 foot 6, with shoulders like mountains, short jet-black curly hair, and a browline like a steel caterpillar. He was a force...the Optimus Prime of this spiritual universe.
I could see John...he was heading my direction. He was touching foreheads, and people were dropping like flies. The ministers were always followed by "catchers" who were church volunteers—mostly men—who would physically catch people as they fell. I'm sure some guy fell once, gashed his head open on a pew, and that's when they felt the need for catchers.
The catchers were like those little flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz, bouncing around all the action. They had to be fast because people were falling everywhere, in every direction, all the time. It was like sniper fire. Looking back, it wasn't very safe, but oh well...
The catchers were flanked by little church ladies holding a stack of "prayer cloths."
Their job was to cover up the women who passed out, because they'd often lay there for a long time. Keeping God's ladies modest as they basked, prostrate in the presence of God, was always a priority at Brownsville. They kept it classy.
John Kilpatrick moved down the aisle leaving a trail of bodies in his wake until, finally, he swiveled towards me. We locked gaze for a second, and then he closed his eyes real tight. Sweat was streaming down his brow...the caterpillar bristled. He reached his big man-hand towards me, and two hairy fingers landed on my forehead. They were greasy, and they carried the unmistakeable scent of anointing oil. Anointing oil was used in religious ceremonies in the Old Testament, so they used it often at Brownsville. If you've never smelled anointing oil, just take a big whiff the next time you walk by one of those kiosks selling Turkish facial creams at the mall...you'll get the gist of it.
Brother John pressed his greasy fingers into my forehead and shouted "Bless him, Lord!".
He definitely didn't push me, but it wasn't a light press either. He stopped, fingers still on me like a skull doorbell. "Bless him, Lord!". He was louder this time. He lingered, swaying back and forth slightly.
I didn't feel anything,
and I wasn't passing out.
This was getting awkward.
I didn't know what to do so I just went for it: I fell over.
It was more of a wilting than a fall. I wasn't sure the catchers were behind me, so it felt safer just to crumple, like a Coke can being stepped on.
After I landed, I found myself completely laid out, flat on my back. My eyes were closed, but every now and then, I'd peek and see all kinds of feet around me—pumps, heels, loafers, tennis shoes, sandals. And there was a smell, a very footish smell. Big John Kilpatrick kept moving.
The crowd around me thinned out, and I was left laying there. They'd put a prayer cloth on my legs which was keeping me warm. It was kind of cozy.
I closed my eyes and decided to have a talk with God. I told him I was sorry again for the bad things I'd done. I told him I wanted to be a new person. I told him I wanted to know Jesus. And I remember very clearly what I prayed after that because I said it over and over and over,
"God change me...
I wasn't praying for God to change anything in particular, I just knew I felt spiritually dead, and I needed to be alive.
As I laid there praying, I began to feel a funny tingling in my lower back, more of a buzzing really.
I can still pinpoint the spot where it started. It was small at first, but began to spread. It was the same feeling as putting the tip of your tongue to a 9-volt battery (which I had done as a kid). This was—quite literally—an electrical current running through my body.
Oh my goodness—I thought—this is really happening.
The buzzing/tingling sensation eventually overtook my entire body like the slow-moving tide of an electric surf. It felt good...so I just laid there in a state of spiritual ecstasy, alone, talking to Jesus. It was so real. All the colors were now in full view, and it was beautiful.
I would be told later that I was experiencing the "manifest presence of God." Others would call it the "glory of God." idk, to be honest.
20 years later, I don't really know what to make of that experience. I've only told a few people that story in my life. I'm always hesitant to tell it, because I fear they'll think I'm making it up or that I'm crazy. But I'm telling you, it was very, very real. It happened.
I didn't "think" it happened...it happened.
I didn't imagine it happened...it happened.
And I will go to my grave always remembering the time my entire body was mysteriously electrified while lying on the mauve carpet of a church in Pensacola, Florida. And it was the same day I became a new person.
I eventually picked myself up off the floor, and found my way back to mom. This night was unforgettable. And the journey was just getting started... 👊
B.B.P.S. - If you like churchy music, do yourself a favor and go listen to a whole album of Brownsville music from 1997.
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.