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By the time I got there, in the mid-nineties, Houston was entering an era of glossy, self-satisfied power, enjoying the dominance of Southern evangelicals and the spoils of extractive Texan empires—Halliburton, Enron, Exxon, Bush.
I’d been taught that my relationship with God would decay if I wasn’t careful.
I wasn’t predestined, I wasn’t chosen: if I wanted God’s forgiveness, I had to work.
On Sundays, as we drove into the city, I sat quietly in the back seat next to my cherubic little brother, ready to take my place in the dark and think about my soul. I prayed every night, thanking God for the wonderful life I had been given.
On weekends, I would pedal my bike across a big stretch of pasture in the late-afternoon light and feel holy.
My mom sometimes worked as a cameraperson for church services, filming every backward dip into the water as though it were a major-league pitch.
There was tiered seating for a baby-boomer choir that sang at the nine-thirty service, a performance area for the Gen X house band at eleven, and sky-high stained-glass windows depicting the beginning and end of the world.When I was in high school, the church built a fifth floor with a train for children to play in, and a teen-youth-group space called the Hangar, which featured the nose of a plane half crashed through a wall.My parents hadn’t always been evangelical, nor had they favored this tendency toward excess.One Sunday, I told my parents that I needed a sweater from the car.I walked across the echoing atrium with the keys jangling in my hand and the pastor’s voice ringing through the empty space.My parents took to his kind and compelling style of preaching—he was classier than your average televangelist, and much less greasy than Joel Osteen, the better-known Houston pastor, who became famous in the two-thousands for his airport books about the prosperity gospel.My parents began regularly attending services at the Repentagon, and, soon afterward, they persuaded the school’s administrators to put me in first grade, even though I was four years old.I started feeling agoraphobic in the Worship Center; thinking about these intimate matters in such a crowded public place felt indecent.I took breaks from services, sometimes curling up on the couches in the corridor, where mothers shushed their infants, or reading the Book of Revelation in the unsupervised pews in the highest balcony.At the middle of everything was an eight-sided, six-story corporate cathedral called the Worship Center, which sat six thousand people.Inside were two huge balconies, a jumbotron, an organ with nearly two hundred stops and more than ten thousand pipes, and a glowing baptismal font.