Well, the votes are in and it looks like you crazy sons of bitches want me to read Why You Should Speak in Tongues by Norvel Hayes. While this sounds hilarious, I’m not sure what to expect other than pure and potent insanity. Could I be pleasantly surprised by a tongue-in-cheek mockery of this peculiar practice? Or is the author in dead earnest about glossolalia?
I guess I’ll find out and let my readers know one week from today. In the mean time, feel free to look back over previous book reviews I’ve done. I’m quite proud of the books you have voted for me to read.
I personally have only seen people “touched by the spirit” in person once when my mother sent me to a youth religious conference in Louisiana called Steubenville South.
The teens from my former Catholic church drove from our home city in Tennessee to Alexandria Louisiana in a tour bus, which more often than not didn’t have air conditioning. Unfortunately for us, the conference was held in the middle of summer in the fucking Bayou.
The first thing we did when we got there after 8 hours of constant driving was not get food. Oh no. Our spirits had to be fed first, so we sat for another hour and a half at our retreat house and endured a long (and also unairconditioned) Mass in the little chapel. The retreat rooms themselves were about as nice as a Motel 6, but the prayer garden was beautiful with statues and fountains and roses everywhere.
After that, we took the bus to Ryan’s Family Steakhouse and ate like Somolian children at a donut shop. A tiny wafer of wheat byproduct is not enough to sustain a group of rowdy teenagers. When we weren’t doing religious bullshit, we had a lot of fun. I grew close to my highschool best friend, Kathleen, and we played a lot of games together as a group like ultimate frisbee and enjoyed fellowship with peers from all around the country. I believe this social interaction is what brings these kids back every year rather than the mass confessional booths all across the stadium park or, as I mentioned earlier, the mass hysteria and speaking in tongues. A good number of the kids in my group (myself included) were homeschooled, and it was one of the rare occasions of being around peers other than our siblings.
I remember the conference vividly that first night. The theme that year was the ever- ambiguos “Just Live It!”. We were in the giant sports stadium where Steubenville South is hosted every year. Somewhere between 5 and 7 thousand teenagers are crowded in the uncomfortable plastic seats listening to fantastic music from everyone from Mercy Me to a pain-obsessed (but at the time awesome) rapping priest named Stan Fortuna.
Towards the end of the night of concerts, blessings by dozens of bishops, dancing, talks about chastity, meeting new people and doing the wave all around the stadium this one priest came out. The others had talks that were more or less upbeat, but not this guy. He wanted to talk to us about our secrets. I seem to recall him going through a list of the most horrendous stuff a 15 year old could hear. Have you been raped? Have you had sex with your pet? Does your family beat you? Do you feel unloved? Are you alone at your school? Is there something you’re afraid to tell your friends?
Shout it out brother or sister. Just shout it out, and you will be forgiven.
Out of nowhere people started screaming and crying. Little teenage me was shocked that so many people apparently had been raped by their pets. Kathleen and I looked at each other in horror as the mass hysteria started affecting members of our group. I vividly remember people hysterically crying or laughing and then their eyes rolling back into their heads while they shouted jibberish words.
“They’re receiving the Spirit,” my youth group leader said.
Kathleen and I continuted to glance around with the deer-in-the-headlights look.
“Do you think it’s God?” I was asked.
“What else could it be?” I replied.
Because, at 15, I didn’t know why anyone would publicly shout crazy words unless they were controlled by some Higher Power. It didn’t make logical sense to make a ridiculous spectacle of yourself otherwise. I didn’t understand the concept of dehydration or mass hypnotism, or extreme fatigue caused by standing for hours at a time. In retrospect, the most important person at the conference were not the bishops, the rapping priest, or the exorcist who claimed to bring the Spirit down on us kids. It was the janitors at the stadium. Lying face down on the cement floor were thousands of teens, just waiting to get infected by something gross someone tracked in. It makes me angry when I think of how many risky and potentially fatal things happened when youngsters were fainting everywhere from heat exhaustion and encouraged emotional trauma, yet everyone was just praising God.
I look forward to reading this book, 10 years after Steubenville, and sharing a fresh perspective.