In fact, even though I was raised Jewish, the closest I ever came to regular religious practice was shortly after my eleventh birthday when I decided to become Amish.
My parents had just taken my sister and I on a vacation to Pennsylvania and after spending three days in Amish country, I thought I had discovered my calling. About an hour after we returned home to Boston, I gathered the family together in the living room and declared my intention to wear suspenders, refrain from using the telephone and to one day obtain my own horse and carriage.
Of course, several hours later, when my father asked if I wanted to go out for ice cream, I decided that perhaps being Amish wasn’t exactly the path I was looking for.
My only other experiment with a religious life occurred the following year when, after two long days of careful consideration, I declared my intention to live a strictly kosher lifestyle. This one lasted for no more than twenty minutes, right until my mother explained that I would not be able to mix dairy and meat and therefore would have to forgo eating cheeseburgers for the rest of my life, which at the time sounded devastating.
These days I’ve now stopped declaring random religious intentions, but I haven’t stopped being curious about religion in general and its role in the world. There is no aspect of any religion that I would not be wholeheartedly interested in experiencing and this curiosity has led me to Sufi festivals in Lahore, Buddhist celebrations in the Himalayas, multiple tours of the Vatican as well as ceremonies of the B’hai faith, Hinduism, Cao Daism, Judaism, Sikhism and Scientology.
And at times I’ve found myself fascinated, intrigued and impressed by what I’ve seen and participated in and other times I’ve been disturbed, shocked and confused. But no matter what, I’ve appreciated every religious experience and found myself to have gained a greater understanding of a people, culture or country as a result.
AN UNFORGETTABLE SHOW
This past Saturday night I went to Cancun, one of the wildest party cities on the planet, and I joined the throngs of people piling into the 15,000 seat soccer stadium. Everyone was rushing for the entrance hoping to find perfect seats, and by the time I made it inside, all that was left were a few seats on the topmost row, high above the field and quite far away from the stage. However, thanks to an impressive setup of spot lights and two massive television screens flanking either side of the stage, my seats didn’t seem too bad in the end.
As showtime approached, the crowd around me began applauding and cheering loudly and every few seconds someone would let out a deafening whoop of anticipation. Then, without warning, every single light in the stadium instantly shut off, prompting the audience to scream even louder and jump up and down until I could feel the stadium trembling beneath my feet.
Boom! The lights suddenly flashed back on – purples, whites, yellows, blues and reds lighting up the night time sky with the intensity of an atomic explosion. Music blasted out from the speakers scattered around the bleachers, putting the crowd into an uncontrollable frenzy.
The well-dressed MC slowly approached the microphone in the middle of the stage, tapping it a few times before yelling out: “Bienvenidos Cancun!! Bienvenidos Mexico!” over and over again.
And then, from behind the curtains, entered the star of the show…Mr…actually, Pastor…Cash Luna.
Yes, that’s right, Pastor Cash Luna.
And there I stood, surrounded by 15,000 bouncing, roaring people, all with arms raised high into the heavens, streams of tears falling from their eyes and strange tongues pouring out from their mouths.
Welcome to Noches de Gloria (Nights of Glory), my introduction to evangelicalism.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE BACK ROW
As I stood in the back row looking down over the entire scene in front of me, listening to the modern religious rock songs, sermons, prayers and endless talk about miracles, my eyes remained wide open as I tried to soak it all in. I am certain that I could sit here now and write a few thousand words analyzing what I saw last night, but I’ve decided that I’m not going to write too much at all. I think I need more time to fully piece together what I witnessed among this crowd of intense believers and their savior Cash Luna.
What I will say is this:
Did I find it odd that the longest and most passionate sermon of the night dealt with the virtue of giving donations to Pastor Cash Luna’s organization? Of course.
Was it strange that after Pastor Cash asked anyone who had experienced a recent miracle to approach the stage, only a handful of people climbed out of the stands but a long procession of 300 people suddenly appeared from behind a hidden wall? Yes, it was.
Do I think Pastor Cash Luna could have chosen a less suspicious name? Definitely.
But again, I’m going to withhold from forming any opinions as I will admit that I still don’t fully understand what evangelicalism is all about. I do know that the combination of eerily trippy music, the loud wailing and convulsing of the crowd and the tears on the face of the Pastor himself, made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Truthfully, and unlike many of the other religious ceremonies or celebrations I’ve taken part in around the world, I simply didn’t feel any connection with the message or vibe surrounding this event.
But clearly I was in the minority as I was absolutely the only one of the 15,000 attendees without my arms raised and without a tear in my eye. The family of six standing next to me spent the entire three and a half hours screaming in such terrifying tongues, sobbing so uncontrollably and shaking so violently that the volunteer staff in our section had to repeatedly check to make sure they didn’t require medical attention.
Did I experience the same power that this family undeniably felt? No. I actually felt confused and a bit freaked out by the fact that so many people believed giving money to a man of god who called himself Cash, was going to guarantee their entrance into heaven.
I’m not in any way trying to make fun of my experience last night. These are simply my initial thoughts after observing and trying to make sense out of something that had previously been completely unfamiliar to me.
Am I glad that I attended this event? Absolutely.
However, next Saturday, I think I’ll go to a night club in Cancun instead, where there’s a better chance that a man named Cash Luna will be the DJ, not someone asking me for money.
Have you ever been to a evangelical event? Was there something truly incredible taking place among the crowds that I simply missed?