OTI Online
win/spring 1985

Jimmy Swaggart's Will Be Done
by Merle Hoffman

I was excited. I had only seen him on television . . . strutting, ranting, raving, waving the Bible - raising it high above his head, almost tauntingly, a marvelous balancing act... exhorting the sinners to repent - the sweat dripping from his lips - his incredible energy, the strange sexuality. Jesus' man on earth. Christ semi-risen in polyester. Jimmy Swaggart - live at Madison Square Garden - No Charge.

"I'm not afraid to live and I'm not afraid to die - that's freedom." The young woman stared at me intensely - eyes shining - face enraptured. Behind her - a mass of painted red curls, orange jacket - radically clashing. "Look, look," she said. "Don't you recognize him?"

It was hard to see. Hands waved in front of me ... people standing, swaying, waving. "Look," she admonished. "It's him - Tiny Tim. He comes here you know. He's learning - he will be one of us soon."

I managed to catch a glimpse of "him" and his female companion. . . very young, very punk. The last time I had a vision of Tiny Tim, it was also as part of a crowd - one of millions of television viewers at his wedding. But, somehow, he belonged here.

I found myself standing. Voices raised in beautiful, emotional harmony surrounded me. Thousands of faces blurred into a faceless unit. To my left, a man gently gesticulating . . . marking the rise and fall of the music with his hands for those who could hear only with their hearts. . . "washed in the blood, washed in the blood of the lamb."

The last time I was at the Garden, it was for the National Horse Show. That also excited me. The wonder of the 2,000 pound animals soaring over 7 foot walls. The courage - grace - trust it involved. I knew about that.

I knew the intensity of riding and coming to a jump with my heart in my mouth. Learning to trust. . . trust myself, my horse and a little in fate. But I didn't know about this kind of trust. The kind that took away the fear of living and dying. The kind that promised freedom through blind obedience. Right hands raised in a gesture of semi-supplication, semi-salute. A scene worthy of Leni Riefen- stahl's famous documentary on Hitler's rallies - "Triumph of the Will." But here was a triumph of a different kind of will, Swaggart's - will be done.

The singing continues for a half hour - the sweet, swelling gospel music. The people, most of them poorly dressed, a third world constituency - waiting to be led by the hand - into the next world. Little children being held up on daddy's shoulders to see him better. . . a young. Orthodox Jew - side-curls and skullcap - passes in front of me. I can't resist. I catch his eye. "What's a nice Jewish boy like you doing in a place like this?" He takes the bait.

"Look - the synagogues are empty. This place is full. Look around you . . . people, happy, having a good time. There must be a reason." He gives me literature. Small comic books. . . pictures of Hitler and Pharaoh. A large print story line depicts why Egypt and Germany fell. They weren't "nice to the Jews." This message - that the Jews were truly the chosen people; that Jesus, after all, was a Jew himself was an overriding theme of Swaggart's sermon. Standing among false palm trees - a dais lined with family and supporters - the preacher fretted and strutted his way about the stage.

"We don't want religion in politics. We want God in Government.'

The young woman next to me squeezes my arm. "It's your first time, isn't it?" Yes, I nodded. "I've been saved for 8 years." She put her Bible in my hands... it was the kind that zipped . . . pages worn, notations and markings. She would translate the buzz words and key phrases "blood of the lamb" "rapture" "holy spirit". I miss the singing. Swaggart's voice - rising and falling fails to move me (perhaps the TV image enlarged him). I snap to attention. He's speaking about the E.R.A. - he's speaking against it - ah, I'm waiting now for the inevitable. . . it comes, 1.5 million babies killed a year.

But Jesus is coming. He is coming. He especially wants the Jews. (Ronald Reagan is of a like mind.) He exhorts them all - the Baptists, Pentecostals, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics, Protestants - all, all are false because they haven't been washed in the blood. Organized religion - too much politics, too many steps to heaven, too much red tape. Swaggart offers the fast fix - the direct connection to Jesus. It's that time. The music starts again. Small wicker baskets seem to be magically produced and pass quickly along the rows. I see an old woman, an old woman, put in a $20 bill. I wonder about the level of her sacrifice.

Tiny Tim hasn't moved. The punker still has her dark glasses on.

People are slowly moving towards the dais - to be saved, to recite the sinner's prayer. It's time to leave. No positive energy . . . merely routine. The halls of the Garden are oddly quiet - the hot dog stands weren't open ... no solicitations . . . only souls to be saved.

1 think of that young woman - the one unafraid of life and death, the one who talked of freedom. I birthed a foal once. I named him Freedom ... all black with a white star. His freedom, as all of ours, is very limited.

Outside, the city is the same - always different. Garbage piled high in front of restaurants . . . neon, glass, cement. Doorways decorated with bodies waiting - for something.

Tomorrow, or perhaps tonight, Swaggart and his soul-savers fly high - privately jetted - with their Bibles, wicker baskets and fake palms. Confident in their answers to questions that are unanswerable . . . while the cleaning crew at the Garden cleans up the dirt, remnants of God's children and Tiny Tim's tulips.

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