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Bialecki - Quiet Deliverances

Bialecki - Quiet Deliverances

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Quiet Deliverances
 Jon Bialecki
In anthropological and sociological literature, charismatic Christianityis often thought through in experiential and embodied terms; this isparticularly true of writing on the Vineyard, a Southern California–originated, worldwide denomination that sees itself as combining thebest of both pentecostal and evangelical practice. Tracing its rootsback to the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s, the Vineyard is now a de-nomination that rejects its denominational status, presenting itself as a church-planting “movement.” The Vineyard, however, has effectsthat exceed its own body (denominational or otherwise): the Vineyardis seen as playing a vital role in the “Californianization” of AmericanProtestantism (Shibley 1996), and in acting as a vital “way station” forthe global propagation of neocharismatic and Pentecostal Christian-ity (Martin 2002: 38) (see generally Bialecki 2008: 369–70). Primarily(but not exclusively) middle-class, educated, and white, the membersof the Vineyard, with their strong interest in spirit-filled, supernaturalreligious practices, almost seem as if they were made-to-order to refutethe theory of modernization as disenchantment. In light of this charis-matic activity, it is not surprising that commentators on the Vineyardoften see the visceral and immediate aspects of both practice and (un-marked) ritual as the key to understanding this denomination’s par-ticular appeal (see e.g., Luhrmann 2004a, 2004b, 2005, 2006;
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Miller1997). While this is not always stated openly, this focus on embodi-ment is often subtly put forward as running contrary to models thatsee the power of theologically conservative religion as emanating notfrom its use of the body, but rather from its distinctive, everyday ritualuses of language and rhetoric (Lurhmann 2004; see Crapanzano 2000;Harding 1987, 2000; Meigs 1995; Stromberg 1993) to at once raise andassuage anxieties, and to allow access to a set of transcendent referentsthat can be deployed to grant an imminent authority in the here andnow.
 
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 Jon Bialecki
Like many other discussions, this debate occurs because the op-posing points are both correct—Charismatic linguistic and hermeneu-tic practice is indeed complex and powerful in the Vineyard (Bialecki2009a) as well as in American charismatic and Pentecostal Christianitygenerally (Bielo 2008, 2009; Csordas 1997, 2001; Shoaps 2002), andfew who have witnessed speaking in tongues, charismatic healing, orecstatic worship could deny the sensory and embodied aspects thatseems to be a vital part of the thrall that this form of religiosity is ca-pable of producing (Csordas 1994, 2002). In point of fact, this debatehas been productive in fleshing out the contours of charismatic Chris-tianity, and to the degree that one can imagine that a sense of self andthe capacity to represent are imbricated with, if not actually an aspectof a unified semiotic ideology—a point lost on none of these authors—these seemingly cross-cutting analytics are perhaps more tightly con-nected, and easier to harmonize, than the previous discussion wouldmake it seem.But even if we do think that these processes may not be at log-gerheads, it still leaves unexplained instances where neither categoryseems to be fully apposite. What are we to make of, say, social charis-matic ritual in which there is no special language indexing any extraor-dinary status, in which the vital body movements are unmarked, andin which the two parties involved may have radically different under-standings of what has transpired? That is the question that this chapterwill take up. Here, this specific improvised ritual serves as a limit caseagainst which embodied and discursive narratives of charismatic reli-gious practice can be tested, and while they shan’t be found wanting,what will be discovered is that in the end, both of these practices mustbe thought through as partial explanatory frames, and that ideationalmaterial—that is, the charismatic cosmological imaginary—also has a vital role to play.
Quiet Deliverances
The ritual that this chapter concerns itself with is deliverance from de-mons—the removal of evil spirits who can have influence (though only very rarely complete control) over fully professed, born-again Chris-tians. We will first discuss them in prototypic form before we turn tothe variant that actually concerns us here, if only because that is theonly way that the variant is even understandable
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a variant. Whileakin to exorcism in many ways, deliverance rituals differ in that theyare often spontaneous, and can be (in theory) conducted by anyone
 
 
Quiet Deliverances
 
251who is operating “in Jesus’ name.” In the most striking cases, they aretriggered by someone’s sudden violent, abusive, or obscene reactionto Christian language or practice—particularly when such a reactionappears to be at variance with the person’s previously stated religiouscommitments. Because of their improvised nature, deliverances canoccur almost anywhere—at a prayer session in a home, during a reli-gious conference, or in the church office. These rituals can be ratherflorid and dramatic affairs at times, requiring the demonized subjectto be forcibly held down while the person or people conducting thedeliverance shout prayers, encouragement, and exhortations in an at-tempt to loosen the demon’s hold (for a description of what a fullydeveloped, fully elaborated deliverance looks like, see Bialecki 2009b:89–100).But—and this is vital to our discussion—not all deliverances arelike this. Rather than being showy and striking, they can be modest,and often times so quick as to occur without others in the room notic-ing—including, often, the object of the deliverance. In fact, they areso slight, so unmarked, that they can be folded into other quotidiancharismatic practices, such as intercessionary prayers over a personduring a meeting. In fact, I had observed this “quiet” ritual numeroustimes before its particular nature was brought to my attention.Sitting in a sunny court outside of a Southern California coffeeshop, (a common occurrence during my fieldwork) a church small-group leader
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was recounting how she has had to, at times, pray overpeople who seemed to have something “unclean” and “not of Jesus” inthem. After discussing rather florid instances, in which she could intuitthe presence of a demonic alter in some inarticulable, wild aspect of the eyes of the people she was praying over, and how after casting thesebeings out “in Jesus’ name” the sufferers would report a sense of free-dom, she stated that there were other, similar kinds of prayer practicesthat she engaged in as well. Sometimes, she reported, she would geta sense that when people she was praying over were “in a rut,” wherethe person is getting the same prayer every week, where things were just not getting better, and especially where it seemed that people werebeing held down by feelings of shame, fear, and guilt, she would pro-phylactically cast out demons. The form this would take was simply aprayer asking for the emotion or psychic state to be gone “in the nameof Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name.”When this was mentioned to me, it was a bit of a shock; duringmy time in the Vineyard, I had often heard prayers of this sort beinguttered, but I had never paused to consider that these prayers for emo-tional relief were envisioned as doing anything other than requesting a

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