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Kirby: Dear God, give it to me straight

Published May 15, 2013 5:34 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I heard someone speak in tongues once. By this I mean that I was physically present when it happened. Also it was directed at me.

The memory of that experience is vague because it occurred early on a Sunday morning more than 40 years ago, in another world (Georgia), and I was not yet entirely myself yet.

After a night of sinful endeavor, a friend and I missed our bus back to the barracks. Perhaps feeling guilty, 'Normus insisted that we kill time until the next bus by visiting a church across the street.

I don't always like attending church even when it's my decision. I positively hate it when it's someone else's and that someone is large enough to make it stick. I finally agreed because 'Normus said he would forgive a debt if I accompanied him, and that there might be girls.

The name of the church was something like the First Congregation of the Hollering Redeemer. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

The pastor was already preaching when we slipped inside and sat on the back row. There were a number of girls in the congregation, all of them matronly and disapproving.

I don't recall what the sermon was about, but it was something that clearly excited the pastor. The volume went up until he was actually sweating and shouting.

Shouting doesn't work on me. In fact, the louder someone talks, the less inclined I am to listen, unless there's a gun involved.

I suggested to 'Normus that we leave, but he insisted that the good part was coming. He was right, because at that moment the pastor stopped making any sense at all.

At first I thought it was that his accent had lapsed into another form. Neocracker Georgian or something. But then I realized that it wasn't English at all — and he was serious.

I won't attempt to imitate the words because I don't remember them and probably wouldn't get them right if I did. I could end up swearing in tongues and summon the devil by accident.

At the time it felt as if we had entered another dimension. Worse, everyone seemed to be getting it but 'Normus and me. When the pastor noticed our doubt, he began pointing at us while speaking.

I would later learn that what we heard was glossolalia, or a gift of the Spirit more commonly referred to as speaking in tongues. I wouldn't experience the likes of it again until televangelists Robert Tilton and Jimmy Swaggart used it on late-night TV to leverage money out of the easily impressed.

I'll concede that being set upon by the Holy Spirit and forced to speak in tongues is at least technically possible. Anything is if you're worshipping an omnipotent being. My question is why.

I already didn't understand a lot of the stuff I heard at my own church back home in Utah. Speaking in tongues with a Southern accent was a whole other level of "huh?"

Eventually I concluded that if God had something important he wanted me to know, he wouldn't put it into code. It would be something even an idiot could understand.

Proponents of glossolalia might argue that the reason I can't understand what's being said in tongues is that I'm simply not spiritual enough to understand the higher language of the Lord.

Ironically, I get that a lot at my own church where everything is in English.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley. 'Adam and Steve' bound for NYC

Coming Sunday • Matthew Greene, a BYU graduate, will take his play "Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea" to this year's New York International Fringe Festival. It marks the third time the Big Apple has bitten at gay Mormon themes in Utah-produced drama. > The Mix