Holy Roller: Finding Redemption and the Holy Ghost in a Forgotten Texas Church by Julie Lyons (Buy from Amazon.com)
My Review ***** (out of 5)
Put this book on your must-read list, especially if you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. I've now read it twice, and am giving copies to several people. It's G-O-O-D!
(Mrs. Lyons was the Editor-in-Chief for the Dallas Observer before she left her job in order to write this book. The writing and storytelling style of Holy Roller remind me of some of the cover stories I've read over the years in the Observer, but that could be coincidental.)
I was driving on the wild frontier of gangsta-land, a place I'd learn to navigate by the sites where people got murdered. South Dallas always stayed crazy, and I was just getting used to the experience--the occasional kak-kak-kak of semiautomatic-weapon fire, the graffiti tags of the Trey-Five-Seven (.357) Crips, the distinctive choreography of drug dealing, with crack rocks passing invisibly from hand to hand in furtive motions that I came to recognize from afar.- - -
I was twenty-seven years old, white, and quite conspicuous in black South Dallas the evening in late April 1990 when I set out to find a different kind of story for the Dallas Times Herald. Since starting a job two months earlier as a crime reporter, I'd been getting to know the roughest parts of the city, places like this. It was nothing like the small Wisconsin town where I grew up.
I'd tell myself I wasn't scared, but I think I was driving too fast to know for sure. This time I wasn't chasing flashing lights toward Bexar Street, hoping to get there before the witnesses and walking wounded had melted away in the dark. Instead, I was looking for the scene of a miracle.
There would be no crime-scene tape marking the spot. It was just me in my little car, prowling the streets and looking for a spiritual outpost. I had no idea what it would look like; all I knew was there had to be a church in this part of the inner city where people came searching for a supernatural breakthrough. I had decided it would be impossible to live in this crumbling, seemingly godforsaken territory without clinging to some shred of hope that things could get better. I was determined to find the place people go when despair drives them to seek a miracle.
I turned a corner and entered a neighborhood with all the familiar signs: slender boys with darting eyes, standing like pickets on the corner, beckoning to people in cars that were slowly passing through. I steered around potholes and broken glass in the street and looked past the drug sentries for evidence of light and life in the neighborhood's churches. You'd find Baptists on one corner and Holy Sanctifieds on the other, with a House of Prayer for All People wedged in between. They stood as silent witnesses while hell swarmed all around them. The truth is, I really didn't know what I was looking for. I just knew I couldn't leave South Dallas until I found it.
All this began with a lie, a made-up story idea that I pitched to my editors at the newspaper. See, there are these preachers in the ghetto who pray for crack-cocaine addicts, and people are supposedly getting miraculously "healed." And oh, I know a bunch of these preachers. The best you could say in my defense is that I thought about the story so much that it became real to me. Before moving to Dallas, I had lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Troubles erupted regularly into fire bombings, shootings, and retaliatory acts between working-class Catholics and Protestants. I had gone to the province of Ulster to write the story of a terrorist who found God and was now trying to lead his former enemies to reconciliation. I learned while living in Belfast that among certain types of Christians, unexplainable things were almost commonplace. You just had to know where to look.
My previous work as a crime reporter at the Seattle Times had led me to believe that miracle-working preachers could be found in any major city. In Dallas in 1990, the crack epidemic was leaving a trail of wreckage--of neighborhoods gone to hell in a swath of murder and ruin. Thanks to my experiences in Belfast and Seattle, I had come up with a simple theorem: where desperation multiplied, there you would find God.
At the Dallas Times Herald we were always looking for new angles to pursue in reporting the crack-cocaine story. I needed something bigger than yet another shooting, drug raid, or body found in the street. Why not make my mark at the paper by uncovering the miraculous? Here, then, was the problem: I didn't know any preachers who fit this description. There is a game that newspaper reporters play: you invest as little work as possible before pitching a story to your editor. That way, if your editor rejects the idea, you haven't wasted too much effort. I mentioned my story idea of supernatural healing, and to my surprise and secret horror, the editors seized on it immediately. They scheduled the story for Sunday A-1. I had just a few days to find my mythical ministers and write a lengthy feature story about themin time for the early edition, the "bulldog."
That's why I was cruising aimlessly through South Dallas. As evening moved quickly toward night, I was way more scared of my editors than I was of the ghetto. I passed dozens of churches without stopping. If the lights weren't on, I kept rolling. I eventually turned onto a one-block street, Brigham Lane, and saw two churches, one on each corner.The first seemed inconsequential, with a sagging roof and handmade sign. But at the other end of the block stood a tidy, brick-walled structure. I noted the affiliation: Church of God in Christ. Black Pentecostals. Holy rollers. I aimed for the far corner.
I had my music cranked, a soca artist from Tobago named Shadow, who had an insidiously hummable tune, "Tabanka." It has something to do with the sickness you feel when you're hopelessly attracted to someone. I craved the melody and syncopation of my beloved Caribbean music. All the plastic parts of my little Honda were rattling with the heavy bass line, and the noise helped to bury my nervousness.
I was driving past the scruffy-looking church when something intensely spiritual happened. I don't know how else to say this: God was in the car with me. I could feel his presence, a palpable thing that made my senses light up, even amid the dissonance of blaring soca. I might have been a tough-minded crime reporter, but I had recently reconnected with the faith of my childhood, and I was engaged to be married to a man who was a devout Christian. I was far from figuring things out but eager to investigate anything that might shed more light on questions about God's work on earth.
Is that really you, God? I thought. What else could I think? I turned the music down and pulled my car to the curb.
You want me to stop here, don't you? I said to myself and, I suppose, to God as well. Just then a girl popped out the front door of the dilapidated church. As the girl skipped down the sidewalk, I got out of my car, reporter's notebook in hand, and stopped her just short of the house that stood next-door.
"Do you believe in healing prayer?" I asked without introduction.
"Yes!" she said enthusiastically. She was brown-skinned, with pigtails, or so I recall. I don't remember very clearly anymore. I guessed she was about ten, but back then I wasn't good at estimating children's ages.
"Does your minister pray for drug addicts?" I asked.
"Yes!" she answered again.
"Are any getting healed?"
I asked her to point out her pastor to me. At that moment a black man wearing a suit jacket and tie stepped outside the church's front door. Several church members were visible in the dim yellow light of the tiny foyer behind him. A thought flashed in my brain: Oh God, don't let him be one of those overbearing egotistical preachers. I'm not even sure where that objection came from--probably from a bad experience I'd had in my years as a reporter.
I walked over and introduced myself as a journalist. The pastor was Fredrick L. Eddington Sr. He was tall and I am not, and I remember he bent down slightly as he listened to me.
"Do you pray for crack addicts?" I asked. Might as well get right to the point.
"Yes," the pastor said.
"Are they getting healed?"
The pastor paused for a moment. "Some of them are," he said. We chatted some more, and I got the impression he was choosing his words carefully. Still, our conversation was casual. To listen to Pastor Eddington, you'd have thought we were discussing the weather or the Dallas Cowboys. But we were talking about miracles. This wasn't at all what I'd expected. The pastor came across as humble, gentle, plainspoken. And he didn't seem the least bit surprised that a young white woman--a stranger who clearly didn't belong in this neighborhood--had suddenly materialized out of the darkness.
I was looking for a feature story to run in the Sunday paper. What I was about to discover was a passionate, self-taught man who would introduce me to a world of spirits, healing, prophecy, and warfare waged to the death between invisible forces of good and evil. To Pastor Eddington these things were not superstition, legend, or overwrought emotion. This was reality, and over the next few months I would see it for myself.
Months later, talking with Diane Eddington, the pastor's wife, I inquired about the little girl who had come skipping down the walk in front of the church, telling me that healings took place there. I asked the First Lady to point out the little girl so I could thank her, and Diane told me there was no such girl. I thought back to the night I had found this church. The sun had just set, it was a neighborhood where the crackle of gunfire was often heard, and a young girl was the only person on the sidewalk. I realized that no parent would dream of allowing her child to be out alone at night. Not only that, but no one who attended the service that evening had seen a girl matching the description I gave.
So who was the girl I talked to? Diane had an answer.
"Oh," she said, "you was just seeing an angel."
Here's an interview with Julie Lyons about the book from KERA Public Radio. The interviewer chose to spend more than 25% of the show (i.e., 11+ minutes at 15:16-26:43 of the less-than-48-minute interview, plus some of the callers' questions) on Julie's biblical views of (and personal struggles with) same-sex attraction and homosexuality, but there is so much more to the book than that, and so much more Julie could have discussed.
Which is all the more reason for you to GET THE BOOK AND READ IT ALL. :^D
** You can email Julie Lyons at: firstname.lastname@example.org **
Julie Lyons was working as a crime reporter when she followed a hunch into the South Dallas ghetto. She wasn’t hunting drug dealers, but drug addicts who had been supernaturally healed of their addictions. Was there a church in the most violent part of the city that prayed for addicts and got results?
At The Body of Christ Assembly, a rundown church on an out-of-the-way street, Lyons found the story she was looking for. The minister welcomed criminals, prostitutes, and street people–anyone who needed God. He prayed for the sick, the addicted, and the demon-possessed, and people were supernaturally healed.
The Body of Christ Assembly (new building) - I visited the church 8/2/09, from whence came these photos
Lyons’s story landed on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald. But she got much more than just a great story, she found an unlikely spiritual home. Though the parishioners at The Body of Christ Assembly are black and Pentecostal, and Lyons is white and from a traditional church background, she embraced their spirituality–that of “the Holy Ghost and fire.”
It’s all here in Holy Roller–the stories of people desperate for God’s help. And the actions of a God who doesn’t forget the people who need His power.
About the Author
Julie Lyons is an award-winning writer, editor, and investigative reporter who for more than eleven years was editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer, an alternative weekly newspaper owned by Village Voice Media. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a B.A. in English from Seattle Pacific University. She and her husband, Larry Lyons Jr., live in Dallas with their son.