He stepped away from the podium, moved closer to the crowd, raised
his arms as if to lure us into a hug. “None of us is perfect,” he said. “God
has every right to punish us. But He looks down on us in this little ball-
room, on this little planet, and He still says, ‘I love you.’”
The preacher invited us to come to the edge of the stage, where a half-
dozen volunteers were lining up to receive us and lead our prayers for
Jesus to enter our hearts so that we might be saved. Jackie stood among
them, dressed in an ACN shirt and jeans, her hands pressed together.
I went near to hear as she talked with a woman, but it was too noisy.
The band played a gentle song, and on the other side of the stage a man
shouted in tongues. Jackie took the woman’s hands in hers and listened
as the woman whispered in her ear; then they closed their eyes and
prayed as a crew of hotel workers made their way toward the front of
the ballroom, stacking chairs as they went along, piling them onto carts
that were filled up and wheeled away, and by and by the room emptied,
and someone dimmed the lights, as if nothing had ever happened there.
Some of the names in this essay have been changed.
Joe Miller is the author of Cross-X, winner of the William
Rockhill Nelson Award and the Harry Chapin Media Award in
2007. His essays and short fiction have appeared in Salon, New
Letters, Pleiades and Decomp. He’s an assistant professor of writing at Columbus State University in Georgia.