Shaken and wide eyed like his entire life was flashing before his eyes, Garrett Kling slipped down the street into the backseat of A Journey's car. His forehead was glistening with droplets of sweat as his black polo shirt spotted around the collar of his neck and underneath his arms. He dropped his black bag filled with bulky multimedia equipment onto the floor. Exhaling, he leaned back to let the car seat take his body. His head instinctively turned towards the window to his right and his eyes gazed a lost stare towards the objects, stores, sidewalk, and people passing on the street. Kling fell silent.
I was in the front passenger seat and observed him from the rear-view mirror, trying to get a glimpse of the quiet and contemplative Kling that had just came out of his reporting site. This morning the Kling that I had met was eager and verbally expressive.
What happened to him, and who is he really? Will he be able to last the day with us? We alight at a religious site and quickly engage people. We go through dozens of worship styles, languages, ethnicities, and nationalities in a day. A Journey is a crossroads for religions to meet.
I hadn’t previously met Kling. He was one of the three journalism students from the World Journalism Institute who took A Journey's challenge of spending the day reporting with us in Jamaica, Queens. He was a tall and lanky, 20 years old and excited to visit New York City for the first time. Kling hailed from Watertown, Minnesota, a town of 4,205 people in 2010. Garrett Kling's father, Paul Kling, is the pastor for the Watertown Evangelical Free Church, a giant in the town with its 300 members. However, only a little above average in size for a New York City church.
Kling opted to do a story about a Pentecostal church on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. True Worship Church of Christ welcomed Kling and allowed him to document and record their service. Kling even got to personally know the pastor, Pastor James Pressey, and the pastor's mother, Lula Pressey. So far, everything seemed fine to Kling, another incredibly successful Journey experience.
However, he was not prepared for the type of worship Pastor Pressey and his congregation practiced. Later, Kling admitted that what he saw at his reporting site challenged his understanding of faith and people. New York City is a spiritual crossroads for all of America and, indeed, Kling's presence with A Journey symbolizes this. New York City became place where Kling redefined his faith and here's how.
Two events really shook his world. A woman in her twenties fell right by the pulpit. Kling recorded, she was “standing and falling with people raising their hands” to cast the demons away from her. The members covered her with blankets and clothes.
The second event was a woman, also in her twenties, who came to the altar to be saved. The woman was not shaking and falling like the first woman. Evidently, some members of the church thought that her spirit need some jump starting. So, “one member was shaking the girl to profess [that she accepted Jesus Christ].” Kling was shocked by the physicality of the spiritual urging. “I just never felt the girl was genuine about it,” Kling later reflected.
The entire event was filled with a frenetic piano clashing with loud drum music. Pastor Pressey chanted and screamed, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Meanwhile, like a novice member, Kling sat with the children in the back of the church. From there he had a little distance from which to reflect on what he was witnessing and how it shed light on his own religious upbringing.
Growing up as a preacher's kid, Kling had attended youth rallies throughout his adolescence. In 2006, at the age of 16, he attended an Evangelical Free Church youth conference in Perdue, Indiana that still resonates with him today.
The speaker was a Southern Baptist by the name of Mark Cahill. In that conference, Cahill “snapped his finger for 3 minutes and was completely silent. Then he said, 'Every 3 seconds, someone goes to hell.'” Cahill encouraged the youth to help those who are lost to accept Jesus Christ. That summer, the youth all made a point to do that in their home towns.
“At that time, I believed it,” said Kling, “We went out on the streets [of Perdue, Indiana] in groups and asked people if they had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.” The teenagers found that not everyone believed that Hell was imminent. “We got plenty of rejection.” However, rejection didn't stop Kling and his friends. “That summer,” Kling continued, “I was on fire for the Lord. I was excited about sharing my faith.”
This excitement of “getting on fire for the Lord” lasted through his sophomore year of high school, but ebbed away in his junior and senior years. “I think my faith was emotional. I got excited because of different speakers and friends. Once that feeling left, God didn't feel real anymore. I still went to church, I wouldn't say I renounced my faith. Once I got to college, I branched out on my own through friends.” The exposure in college allowed Kling to redefine his faith as a faith based on truth rather than on emotion.
Kling's experience with the True Worship Church of Christ brought him back to the emotions of faith when he was a young teenager. He had left that way of doing faith. Now, a sense of schism opened up between what he believed and what he was observing. On one hand, he felt like the members were pressuring the girl to be saved and perform false dramatics based on rapture. On the other hand, Kling “didn't want to say it's not true because for them it's what they've grown up in, and they are a group of people that have a special way of communicating.”
Kling struggled between these two viewpoints. When I asked him how his experience with the True Worship Church of Christ related back to his youth rally days, he replied, “Relating to my own, it felt very emotion-based. I certainly had a period when I felt my faith was led by my emotions. I felt like they were trying to get her emotions out.”
Caught between an objective canon of journalism, his negative judgment on emotional faith, and his present belief in a reasonable faith, Kling lapsed into silence in the car as we came up to the stop light. He was weighing “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” Which road to understanding should he take: dismissing someone else’s faith as too emotional or contrived; or accepting it as authentic but different? He mused, “It has to come from your heart, no one can do that but God” he said. “It's a hard balance. I'm still trying to sort it out.”
I recently caught up with Kling to ask him about how he now looked back upon his New York City experiences and how has his faith changed.
You were shocked by woman falling on the floor with a demon and the shaking of the girl to confess Christ. How do you view these incidents now?
I certainly still reflect on that day. I had never before witnessed a woman literally shaking to exorcise a demon out of her. I had seen it on television, but it is so shocking and raw seeing it so close. Since then, I think my heart has changed. First of all, I realize I should not be the judge in determining how God works in someone's life. God speaks to us in different ways through the way we are raised, what culture we live in, and the experiences we have early on in our lives. My "way" of doing church is not necessarily the right or wrong way; their way of "doing church" is not necessarily the right or wrong way. I think there needs to be a level of common ground where we strive to learn and understand each other and in the end find that we share a common goal -- to glorify God.
What difference have these incidents made for your faith now?
I would say that I am becoming more aware of the breadth of God by seeing the different ways people worship God. I am also beginning to be more aware that I have compartmentalized God into the one that I have worshiped at my local church all my life. I'm learning that God can do bigger things than I may believe and that has grown my life in immense ways.
Do you read the Bible differently now?
To be honest, I don't know if my reading of the Bible has changed much, but I am more aware of how others may interpret parts of the Bible differently. A lot of the Pentecostal denominations like the one I experienced may more heavily rely on verses in Scripture regarding how we experience the Holy Spirit. I am not saying that they experience the Holy Spirit more or less than I do, but their methods of finding it is perhaps different.
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