January 11, 2009
I lost my virginity thanks to a Youth Group outing and a group of impossibly large men.
OK, OK – not my real virginity. Being the good little Evangelical girl I was, I was saving that for my wedding night. But my spiritual virginity was as good as gone. Vamoose. Sold down the river to some guy named Jed. Or, more accurately, Scott.
We hadn’t exactly planned it. There was no flag raised in the days leading up to the earth-shattering event that read: THE END IS NEAR! How it managed to sneak up like that when we were trying to be so spiritual is beyond my comprehension. Sure, we’d snuck off to the back stairway a few times to make out. We were 14. We could hardly be blamed for a little hormonal playtime. But we had always had our boundaries. In the final analysis, I simply refuse to acknowledge that this tear in my spiritual hymen was entirely our fault.
That fateful weekend, we boarded the Youth Group bus along with 30 or so other hormonal teens for a field trip. The bus, whose name was “Gus” for God’s Ultimate Servant, had been our project the previous year. We’d had a pancake supper to raise enough funds to buy it secondhand, with the intention of being able to bus kids to church on Sunday who didn’t have rides. We even spent one whole Saturday throwing day-glo paint at it in an attempt to make it the coolest vehicle for Christ in all of Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, there were only one or two kids who actually needed a ride and there seemed to be a bit of a debate as to whether they were coming with their parents’ permission or not. When the church board expressed concern about a potential lawsuit, its Sunday morning glory ride was retired soon after. But when it was field trip time, it was Gus’s time to shine.
This wasn’t just any field trip, mind you. We, along with half the city it seemed, were headed to the city arena where we would watch gape-jawed as muscle-encased men bent rebar with their teeth and broke blocks of fiery ice with their foreheads.
That’s right, John Jacobs and the Power Team had come to our town. Boy, was our Youth Pastor jazzed. He had even worn his muscle shirt which read “Jesus!” across the front, where the middle “s” was in the shape of a lightning bolt. Beaming Scott and I herded in with the crowd to take our seats in one of the balconies.
Over the course of the next two hours, we were awed by these modern-day Sampsons. There must have been at least seven of them. Huge, hulking men with a clear message for Christ in between acts of wonder – changing the world, one head-bashed brick at a time. One of them would stand before us as John Jacobs narrated for us something along these lines.
“See this man? His name is Bo.”
A giant of a male specimen would stand before us, his muscles quivering in the spotlights like a Clydesdale’s.
“He gave his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ eight years ago. Bo is no pansy, folks, he stands 6’5” and weighs in at 322 pounds. Don’t be fooled by his massive exterior ladies, he’s a got a teddy bear heart.”
The women in the audience raised up a collective giggle. I felt on top of the world and even allowed myself to wonder whether he would find me attractive if we were stuck in an elevator together.
“Now you’ve already seen him crush through a wall of ice 8 feet thick tonight. But that ain’t nothin’.The thing about Bo is – the crazy thing about Bo is – he’s got a set of lungs like you wouldn’t believe.Now he’s gonna take this water bottle…” We all watch in rapt attention as he dangles an ordinary hot water bottle before us, “…he’s gonna take this hot water bottle and he’s gonna blow it up until it pops like a toy balloon.”
Shocked that a mere mortal can accomplish such an act, we burst into applause. I am feeling faint. I looked over at Scott, who is glowing at me.
“Now this ain’t no toy. Heh heh. Just so you know that we’re not playing any tricks on you tonight, I’ve invited an expert in the field to determine whether this is, in fact, a genuine hot water bottle.Grandma, can you come up here for a moment?”
We cheer as a frail looking woman approaches the stage. We are reverently amused at the contrast between grandmother and grandson. She speaks something crackly into the mike and we raise a mighty cheer. Bo stands before us now and puts his lips to the bottle. Guitars scream over the speaker system and a beat thumps through our skeletons.
“Now ladies and gentlemen,” John tells us over the music as Bo begins to blow. “This is something Bo has done over 1,000 times. If he fails, a rush of air so strong will force its way back into his lungs, causing them to burst. Just because he’s done it before, does not ensure his success. Do not attempt this at home. Just one mistake, ladies and gentlemen. Just one mistake…”
The suspense builds as Bo blows into the hot water bottle. He hesitates a little and I hear our Youth Pastor James behind us begging, “Please Jesus.” Bo seems to get over his hump and deposits another lungful of air into the hot water bottle, now as big as a soccer ball. He’s on a roll now. It’s as big as a five gallon cooler. He huff huff huffs into the bottle until – POW! It explodes like a flimsy balloon! Oh!If only my grandma could see what they had done to her beloved hot water bottle, it would blow her mind! How great the strength of Jesus is! Scott grabs me around the shoulder and pulls me in for a victory squeeze. Oh yes! How great He is indeed!
Bo who can blow diminishes during the applause to the back of the line-up just as another hulk of a man jogs up to the front. He has a phone book in his hands. Effortlessly, he R-R-RIPS it in two! The crowd goes crazy. But they are just warming up. We have yet to witness John Jacobs, himself, snap the chains between not one, but TWO sets of handcuffs from his wrists. The music is cut off so that we can hear the sound of the chains as they tear. People around me cry out, “Jesus!” just before he does it. We hear the mighty snap. HE DOES IT! It’s a MIRACLE! How we praise Jesus for breaking the chains that bound us after that! The crowd goes NUTS! I’m crying. Scott is screaming. People have their hands in the air to thank the Father above for these men who remind us of only a fraction of His power.
An altar call is initiated. The Power Team boasts that 2-3 out of every 10 people who show up to their performances give their lives to Christ – and I can see from my place in the balcony that it’s at least that many. People are pouring down the aisles to give their lives to Christ – and perhaps to also touch the members of the Power Team. John Jacobs is there to lay his hands on foreheads and slap high fives. And it really is that amazing. People are changed. Some people are healed. Many are saved.
In the years since my attendance at the city arena that night in Colorado Springs, I have lived in several different places. Currently, I live in Boulder, Colorado – which everybody knows is 25 square miles surrounded by reality – and I’m not so sure that the Power Team would go over so well with this crowd. The people here are entirely too, I don’t know – metero, or something. The idea of testosterone-dripping, red meat-eating men (and now one woman) might be seen as an affront to our patchouli-scented little utopia here. Well, they might dig the chick – but that’s not the point. I imagine that if a group like John Jacobs and the Power Team wanted to come to Boulder, it would have to switch up its gig. Perform amazing feats of yoga, or something like that. Francis Lee Mao-Mao and the Amazing Bendable Team. Their tag-line could be something like, “Changing the world one asana at a time,” or “Bending over to win you to Christ.” Whatever the case, if it wanted any success at all, it would have to adapt.
But we had seen just what we needed to see that night. Jesus truly wasn’t for sissies. He was strong.Indisputable. In control. Virile…
Back on the bus after a two-hour long adrenaline rush, we were exhausted. My friend Gina and her boyfriend Todd sat opposite us in the back seat of the bus, laughing privately about some inside joke.Some of the kids, still jazzed by the evening’s performance, were loud at first, but quickly settled in to a pattern of silence. Some even fell asleep. I fell into Scott’s arms.
It was just a lot of kissing at first, I swear. We had been through a lot together that evening and we just felt so…close. So ooey-gooey, ishy-squishy close. At first, when he began touching me under my shirt, I was alarmed. But he just said, “Shhh, I think God has given us to each other.” Well, that just about made my heart go crazy with desire. To think that God had preordained us to be together!
I did peek over at Gina and Todd once or twice, but they were too distracted to notice what was going down in the seat next to them. Finally, I just settled in to the ecstasy of it all.
Don’t get me wrong. I said earlier in this chapter that nothing happened, and in Clinton-speak, nothing did. I absolutely, verifiably, most emphatically did not lose my “technical virginity” that night.But I’d read enough in the days leading up to that to know that there is a thing called “spiritual virginity” in the Evangelical world that sounded just as ominous if not more so. When a girl loses her “technical virginity,” for example, it is impossible to get it back. It is possible, however, through the grace of Jesus to regain one’s “spiritual virginity” – even if one’s “technical virginity” has been lost.
Well, my friends, I stand before you today to tell you that I did not lose my “technical virginity” that fateful night on Gus the Bus. But what I did lose was perhaps something far more valuable, because it involved the way I thought about the world and the way I fit into it. Because I learned something about myself that night. And that one thing is this: Bo’s not the only one who can blow.
*Excerpt taken from “In Handbasket: Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical.”