Okay. So I was sitting at work today minding my own business when my brother called. I did not expect it to be him on the other side of the line. I have caller-ID at work; my brother lives in Wisconsin; the call was local (relax, Jonathan Edwards used more than one semi-colon every once in a while). Sure enough, there was R—-, giving me his standard greeting.
I like R—-. He is one of the best brothers I have, falling quite easily into the top three. Every year R—- comes up to J— —–‘s “House of Bread” Pastor’s Conference. Every year he forgets to tell me when he’s coming up. Then he calls me when he’s already up with scarcely sixteen hours before he leaves, and wants me to do something with him. Well . . . actually . . . not really. He calls because he knows that if I find out that he is within 60 minutes of the Twin Cities and does not contact me in some way, shape, or form, that I will give him a stern lecture in the proper manifestations of brotherly love (that’s phile-o for those of you following along in your Greek Bibles). So in an effort to dodge a guilt trip, he calls at the last minute, confesses that he is within striking distance, and apologizes for not calling me sooner. Yeah, right. I’ve heard that before.
R—- told me that his next session was a mere three and a half hours away. Meanwhile, I was hoping to work a little later tonight because I’m currently swamped. And the President was speaking at 8:00 p.m. I had my evening nicely planned. Things were a little tight, but they were nicely planned, all the same. Nevertheless, I decided to break my neat and tidy plans and go take him out to dinner.
So I drove down to get him. This ended up being an ordeal. Really, (and I am being serious here), I can handle downtown Minneapolis just fine, thank you. Except tonight. So I finally found the Hilton (it’s all about getting on the right one-way street at the right time) about ten minutes after I said I would. I picked him up and took him up to the North part of Minneapolis. We stopped by one place, but the entrees starting with $19.95 lamb chops on the menu outside the door deterred us. So I decided to take him to Wendy’s instead (this story is completely true). We both were in the mood for their Spicy Chicken sandwich (I love that thing). We ate, and talked about how conservatives love the “rule of law.” A good time was had by all.
Then we headed back to the Hilton for R—-‘s evening session at the conference. I had no intention of going to the session, partly because I was not a paying participant, and mostly because I was still hoping to catch the State of the Union address (I ended up missing the best part, which appears to be the Cindy Sheehan debacle before it started). But not going to the conference does not mean that I could not reasonably stop by the conference book store. So we pulled up, R—- worked some magic with the bell-hop, I parked my van in their drive-up, yielded my keys and was soon started up the escalators to the third floor to book-buying glory (Bethlehem’s bookstore has good prices and a pretty good selection). As I entered the third floor, where the conference was taking place, I was either running into or seeing a fundamentalist every ten feet. If you randomly threw up a water balloon, odds would be good that you’d hit a fundamentalist.
The book area was in the room adjacent to where the conference sessions were held. The room is very large with a large ceiling–bigger than many church auditoriums I have seen, perhaps as big as a half-gym. They have over a dozen tables with many books. Great amounts of money could be spent here: Puritans, Bibles, commentaries, studies, biographies, church history, audio sermons and really cheap prices on Piper’s books. A young man with not much less restraint than I could have easily lost his control in that great hall. As I was busy methodically making my way through the place, I was beginning to sense that my time to depart was nearing. R—-, who was still with me (he was actually off a couple tables over eyeing some other items), would soon need to be joining the rest of the men in the final evening session.
That’s when I heard it . . . the sound of war.
The madness was beginning, the drums and the bass were beginning to warm up. A kind of singing followed. It sounded like someone was playing a worship CD in the next room–very loudly.
With the music’s loudness ever increasing, I made my final selections and headed toward the exit with R—-. As we walked by the room, the doors were open and the session was filled with men and women standing in front of their chairs. I could see up to the front of the room several yards away a choir on platform raisers. The choir was swaying to the rhythm. The people in the back did not look like they were involved. In fact, most people were just kind of staring. I was kind of doing the same thing–it’s just I was walking while I was doing it. I could not see the people in front, but I assume they must have been the ones who were “into it.” I was kind of doing the same thing–it’s just I was walking while I was doing it.
I am at the point now where I just find these things funny. They are so far beyond anything related to the Christian tradition I know, I just laugh at it. And that’s what I did tonight. I laughed. I was astonished. These things are good for me to see; they remind me that there are actually people out there who like this stuff. I said to my brother, “You know, this is what many called ‘enthusiasm’ during the first Great Awakening.” I asked my brother if he liked the idea of a frenzy. I have no real idea how conservative he is on these matters, but I am not one who usually passes up a chance to state the point of the situation. I asked him what he thought of an unbridled frenzy, where one “worships” whether they like it or not.
I remember one of the few times I have had the pleasure of hearing J— —– “in person,” he spoke on the necessity of loving God with our minds, and how we do it. I had a distinct disconnect as he concluded speaking–what about contemporary worship? How is that loving God with all your mind? The exalted poetry? The thought-provoking music? This is not to say that I am smarter than J— —– (okay, you can stop laughing now), or even that I love God with my mind in any way as well as he does, but that was an area where he seemed really inconsistent.
My brother and I parted ways before I descended the final escalator. It was good seeing him again. It was also good to remind myself why I am not planning on attending the “House of Bread” Pastor’s Conference.