A Jesus Explosion In the Garden
New York — Ted Beckett is talking to Jesus. Right here, slumped on an aluminum flolding chair just a few feet from The Cross, with his legs open and his pants strained across his sinew so that they’ve ridden up a good few inches above his mustard socks and the two-tone shoes on his huge Christian Soldier’s feet. Ted Beckett from Dallas, just coming off a hot streak in real estate that’s made him a lot of money, more money than he’s ever had.
What he would’ve done ten years ago with a stake like that was catch a plane to Vegas and keep rolling until it was gone, but that was ten years ago before Ted was … saved. So now he’s stopped off in New York on his way home from Haiti, where he’s been opening a foundling’s home and doing a little open-air preaching as well, casting out the Devil from the deep dark satanic hearts of the knife-dancers and fire-walkers, and where he even stopped the rain — when a big black cloud came heading for his meeting he just prayed and raised up Jesus and the cloud went away.
He’s stopped off in New York for the Compassion Explosion in Madison Square Garden, and here he is, slumped down in his chair clapping his big meaty mitts and leaning over and slapping me a good one on the knee and he says he’s been talking to Jesus and Jesus is waiting for me, waiting to fill me with the Spirit if I’ll just get down on my knees and open up my sinful heart —
“There’s room for you at The Cross,” he says.
The Cross is about 40 feet long and carpeted in flame-orange and dripping with gross white carnations laid out across the middle of Madison Square Garden like a mannequin’s catwalk. The Cross is the stage. And up at the Eighth Avenue end there’s a mighty platform set up, hanging with blue and pink and grey rayon draperies and smothered with flowersprays. The Speer Effect, like the great billowing banners and swastikas Albert Speer designed for Hitler’s rallies in the Thirties.
Things are starting to hum up there. As the Hammond organ feels out a few ministerial chords, all the visiting castors are getting fidgety in their seats, starting to raise up their arms and roll their heads. The front row can hardly sit still any longer, the Reverend Kent Rogers is starting to kick and hallelujah, and already, before the Explosion’s properly begun, we’re starting to have church here in the Garden, the folks are starting to raise up Jesus right where Sly and the Family Stone were raising hell the night before.
The whole blessed place is packed to the rafters with saints. They’ve come from Atlanta and Nashville and Phoenix and Philadelphia and Detroit and Washington, busloads of the faithful, row after row of black mamas in their church-going best — gay florals and flowing rayon prayer-gowns and $5 wigs all bent and lacquered into little helmets and hats, Sunday hats, miraculous gear, laden with fruit and honeysuckle. Twenty thousand cleaning ladies and their kids all packed into the Garden for the Explosion, all just itching to testify, all the saved and soon-to-be-saved and wish-they-were-saved brothers and sisters of Don Stewart. Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! Somebody say Amen! Don’s going to preach them happy tonight.
Don, in case you’ve never heard of him, is the Man from Miracle Valley. He’s the anointed spiritual heir of A. A. Allen, who was one of the truly great raving fanatics on the Hallelujah Trail until he met his homegoing, they call it, about a year ago. A pentecostal evangelist who preached thunder under the biggest gospel tent in the world, he had preached salvation and damnation all over the country and abroad for 30 years, and performed miracles as well. He lay his hands on the lame and the blind in Jesus’ name and cast out the afflictions of the Devil — the Miracle Restoration Revival he called it, and it made Billy Graham and Oral Roberts look low key.
Young Don took up A. A.’s torch last year, and since then there’s been some changes made. He’s just 31, and God forbid he might overlook one precious soul among all those 200-pound black ladies who make up 90 percent of the congregation, but Don’s on a new trip. He wants you. More precisely, taking his text from the first chapter of First Corinthians:
“The apostle Paul said, God chose the foolish, the despised, those that are not — and young people, the longhairs, the hippie-type individuals, all of them have been, as far as the middle class goes, they’ve been looked down upon, scorned upon, even despised and hated. I may have even had a few hangups myself, I’ll be honest with you. But it could be that they are the ones chosen by God, to confound the wise.”
Don would love to embrace the Jesus freaks. To him, all those streetcrazy children of Zion hollering for Jesus are a sign, one of several, that the hour is indeed getting late, the last count is at hand, the Second Coming is upon us. He was poolside at Pat Boone’s this summer, baptising freaks off the Strip. He’s taken his hot gospel to the communes outside Taos, to the layabout panhandlers in Washington Square, because his ministry preaches directly to the strung-out and disinherited, to all the ghetto blacks and Puerto Ricans and dope-crazed teenage homeless with nowhere else to go but to The Cross. It’s his ambition to preach the gospel on satellite TV, but right now he’s having trouble just getting on the air because the National Council of Churches disapproves. He’s thinking about taking the networks to court.
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