“My mom is no longer constrained by the gravitational pull of this earth.”

This was Alien Aunt’s way of announcing grandma’s death to her peeps on Facebook. As a spiritual statement, I can’t begin to evaluate this description of death. Any atheists reading this will probably mutter some dismissive diatribe to the effect of “that’s the end of it, you idiot.” All I’ll say in response for the time being is that we’re talking about the death of sentient beings who were conceived from almost nothing and whose neurophysiology we still don’t very well understand. Even from a rational perspective I find it highly unlikely that very many people are independently tuned to the frequencies needed to understand this situation and even less likely that scientists are the ones best attuned. Reading that, some of you are probably convinced that I’m smashed-in-his-knees-with-a-two-by-four nuts, but I’m just sayin’. Also, I saw grandma die less than a week ago; I know what happened physically, but I’m far from sure of what happened spiritually.

What impresses me about Alien Aunt’s description of grandma’s death isn’t the description itself but the person making it. To change the metaphor a bit, Alien Aunt is not constrained by the gravitational pull of self-evident reality. Pentecostalism has a way of freeing one from such worldly concerns because, ye of little faith, God will provide. Funny thing, though, quite often this providence takes the same form and has the same proximal origin: cash money from someone with a bank account. There are other forms, too. In an old-timey agrarian barter society, it might be a chicken from someone who has the wherewithal to breed poultry. For the weary pilgrim, it might be a surfable couch from someone who isn’t living under a freeway overpass. For the congregation in need of a physical sanctuary, it might be a skilled carpenter with access to wood. But each of these sorts of providence shares a common theme: they all rely on people who aren’t totally out to lunch and have some stewardship abilities–which, in a Pentecostal setting, is asking a lot more than one would hope. We aren’t talking about manna from heaven. You can’t just walk down the streets and whimsically pick oranges off trees (well, in Sacramento you can; just keep an eye out for the cops, so you can forget about being whimsical).

Ah, the Pentecostal replies, God works through His people. Godly people bless godly enterprises with their generosity. The Holy Spirit comes into these people to convict them to give of their own blessings. After all, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Sure. There’s nothing mysterious about prevailing upon some pushover to dump money down a rat hole of piety.

It takes some familiarity with Alien Aunt’s circumstances to translate her communications. A few years ago, she followed a “leading” from God to move from California, where she had a large social network, to Tennessee, where she was casually acquainted with a handful of people at a church that she’d visited. She drove east on a northerly route to visit and, of course, crash for free with people she knew along the way in Oregon and Montana, then made a big push across the prairie from Miles City, MT to Grand Rapids, MI. A week or so into her trip, she told me in an e-mail that she wasn’t sure whether Nashville was still “part of the plan.” God willing it would be, but for the time being “the plan” for her was to stay put in Grand Rapids. Translation: Alien Aunt was out of gas money and accepting alms, but crashing with these friends for the meantime, since they were either quite fond of her or too squeamish to put her out on the street.

God and His people provided by and by, and Alien Aunt made it to Nashville. It was indeed part of the plan. Those of you who are or had the misfortune of having been raised as Calvinists know that everything that happens is part of the plan. Five Points is not an Atlanta train station where schizophrenics congregate at dawn. Part of the plan for Alien Aunt  was to see Nicole Kidman in a Starbucks one morning. Another part of the plan was for her to get free ticket vouchers from United because she volunteered to be bumped from overbooked flights on a trip to visit her hosts in Grand Rapids. The plan has not included getting noticed on the Christian music scene or having personal finances that are anything other than parlous. Some plan, that.

Alien Aunt’s relationship to reality is the same as the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s to, you guessed it, the gravitational pull of this earth. With just a little rocket boost now and then and a Teflon coating to deflect space junk, she can stay in a comfortable orbit for impressive stretches of time. That, if nothing else, is part of the plan. Any communications with Houston will be cryptic, but if I can translate Russian I can certainly translate Evangelese.

Fire up the transporter, Scotty, and save me some space on the Holodeck! We have some serious orbiting to do!

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