I can still smell the wet canvas and sawdust of my father’s revivals. Like many old-school country preachers, he believed that any self-respecting revival was held in a tent. The fact that he’d been sent by his denomination from Texas to serve as a “home missionary” in Long Island, New York, didn’t dissuade him.

Every year he rented an old circus tent and set it up in the parking lot of the church he had planted. My brother and I would string naked light bulbs between the tent poles, push the cheap electronic organ onto a plywood stage elevated by cinder blocks, and set up wooden folding chairs that would pinch your butt if you weren’t careful. I have no idea how Dad found sawdust on Long Island.

The choir was composed of women wearing zippered housedresses and the few husbands who were compelled to join them. One of the highlights of the evenings was the Eastern Valley Boys Quartet. The boys wore green blazers and had too many teeth. The really big guy sang tenor, and the small one had an amazing bass voice. We knew little about the guest preachers—where they went to seminary or even if they’d gone to seminary. Unlike the stereotype of revivals, however, the sermons were not about hellfire and damnation. Mostly they were a call to receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ.