I wondered what it would take to get me back into church after 8 backslidden years. I’ve plotted and speculated and daydreamed about what it would be like for me to listen to a sermon start to finish. I’ve avoided all church genres - whether my hipster Emerging church or my bible-thumping revival church or milquetoast rituals in a Midwestern chapel – and yes – rock concerts.
And then – a theatre reached out to me. Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis has been the setting of many gatherings over the last eight years. I’ve bowled with family and friends. I’ve cheered on the performances of friends and strangers on the itty bitty stage while drinking good beer. I’ve brunched and first-dated more than my fair share at BLB.
And then last night Get Mad About Sin! came along.
Get Mad At Sin !
A Message to the Young People of Today
by Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart
as Preached at the First Assembly of God in Van Buren, Arkansas
a performance by Andrew Dinwiddie
directed by Jeff Larson
Brother Andrew channeled not only flawless vintage Jimmy Swaggart but reminded the mouth-gaping hipster audience of its religious heritage… a curse that we cannot take lightly.
There’s no way I can convey the extent of my enthusiasm for this show. There is also no way I can claim to be an unbiased observer.
Less than a minute after I took my seat I had to get up to go get bar napkins just in case I’d need it for the tears that already choked my throat.
Before Andrew took the stage he played a mix of gospel hymns to which I found myself mouthing the words. I didn’t want to appear like an uncool crazy sympathizer so I stopped myself. Nevertheless I’ve been humming, whistling and singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” for the last 24 hours.
Music is one of the most powerful tools of indoctrination out there. No wonder our Christian parents and grandparents feared rock & roll.
My verklempt eyes dried up soon after Andrew took the stage. He played the role to perfect-pitch perfection. Spit. Marriage ring. Sweat. Lunges. Finger pointing up. Finger pointing down. Tremor of the Holy Spirit in his voice. Again, I stopped myself from nodding in agreement and shouting Amen. Thankfully I found myself laughing instead of crying.
This is a fucking Revival, man. This is the real fucking thing. This is America. This is Christianity. This is US!
Pop Rock and Heavy Metal and Hip Hop are no match for the spirituals and hymns and gospel songs I suppress. While some of you sang along to Pet Shop Boys and Madonna and Michael Jackson and Aerosmith I was steeped in gospel music channeled through my dad’s suppressed jazz. For Christ’s Sake! - I moved to the Cities to write and perform Jesus music. Last night's musical overture made me feel like a crack addict getting a fix after 8 years of sobriety.
No. I won’t pretend to understand alcohol and drug addiction. But Swaggart did. He knew that so many “young people of today” struggled with addiction and lust and shame. He funneled that shame and fear and loneliness into his churches and bank accounts.
But what do I know? You probably know more about Swaggart than I do. I only heard what was available on Christian radio and my parents were skeptical of big name preachers BEFORE Swaggart and Bakker’s shit hit the fan. I have never seen his televised “I have sinned” confession. Living without a TV probably had as much influence on my Fundagelical background as the Bible itself.
I don’t know how Andrew Dinwiddie wowed the folks in NYC, but I knew I was in for a good time when he walked onto the stage and methodically opened the black shuttered windows of the BLB theatre so the audience could watch “the world” walk by. And then while “Life is Like a Mountain Railway” blasted he nonchalantly swung the stage door to the street wide open. The summer twilight poured in and people stopped to stare.
And then Brother Andrew/Jimmy started to preach:
“In your Bibles would you turn with me to Romans Chapter One, Verse TwentyOne.”
I felt naked. I can’t remember the last time I was in Church without my Bible in my lap.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural . . . .
I have verses 22, 25, & 31 underlined in my Bible. Which ones are underlined in your Bible?
I won’t give you a play-by-play of the monologue- sermon - performance, but suffice it to say Andrew nailed it. There were times I wanted to raise my beer in a toast and times when I laughed out loud and times when the expressions on the faces of the audience said almost as much as the performance – smirks, clenched jaws, gaping mouths, mirth, anger, horror, and “o – the irony.”
Ironically, Swaggart rarely mentioned Jesus. It was social commentary on turbulent postmodern times – back when Rock & Roll was still very much “of the Devil.” Topics covered: homosexuality, adultery, premarital sex, depression and pill popping, pharmaceutical companies, mini-skirts, STDs & the SDS, Vietnam, “one lovely young coed,” abortion, communism, drugs, alcohol, suicide, and a “permissive society.”
The most laughs came when Swaggart talked about his time “ministering” to beautiful young women - in hotel rooms.
I’d like to say you can watch it for yourself… but you can’t until further shows are booked. There are clips of a NYC performance floating around the web and a very favorable review in the NYTimes: Not Exactly Preaching to the Choir (6/2/10).
I went to observe myself as much as the theatrics of it all. The experience was frightening and cathartic...which is one definition of good theatre.
And for those of you who have never been to a revival meeting – it’s about damned time.
Tell me your Swaggart, televangelist, or revival story - Or so no one feels left out – the name of your favorite 1980’s sitcom.
Press Release for Get Mad at Sin!'s Chocolate Factory Theater performance in NYC.