In seventh grade one of my closer friends got 'saved' over the summer. Kelly was one of those girls that happened to see her "Life in Christ" as the addition of church activities added to her social calendar... nothing more than a new event to scam a boy or two. She never really took it very seriously... One weekend while I was spending the night one of her full-blown zealot friends invited us to a concert in Wichita... I know I should have been suspicious... I know I should have asked... but I didn't. The next thing I knew I found myself on a bus full of kids singing contemporary Christian songs at the top of their lungs on their way to a Carman concert, and the error of my judgement was just beginning to dawn on me.

My grandfather was a Baptist minister... I was not unfamiliar with the church. Baptists can't even try to marry anyone without at least one call to save someone in the crowd... However, my aunts and my mother had swung rather wide from my grandfather's mark and did quite a bit of dabbling in the occult. I never went to church unless I stayed the night with my grandparents. My youth exposed me to many of my mother's explorations, and I was completely comfortable with seances, ouija board sessions, readings, tarot, shopping for crystals and meditation. My mother left my faith up to me... she encouraged me to find what worked on my own. I'm sure she saw my attending this concert as an attempt to do just that.

Carman is a Christian singer who targets youth and is all about winning lost souls for Jesus. Throughout the concert he sang, he cried, he saved... The culmination of the event was a song, which I believe was something about the Devil and Jesus in a boxing ring (apparently he likes this metaphor, because he made a film starring him as a retired boxer that saves teens for Jesus.) As the music swelled and the lights began flashing and the dry ice clouds choked the crowds he started asking people to touch one another and pray... He wanted everyone to stand up, reach out, and exalt the Lord.

I, needless to say, remained seated.

As the music hit its climax and he was booming away on the sound system about Jesus getting back up from some seemingly fatal blow delivered by Satan, people everywhere started falling down and convulsing. They were utterly out of control... jumping and shaking and rolling their heads with their tongues lolling out, falling all over me. It was abhorrent.

What disturbed me most of all was that I could feel the energy of that crowd in their 'spiritual ecstasty.' Their frenzy was like some kind of static electricity on my skin and it gave me goose bumps wholly unwillingly. I felt violated... and I felt trapped. I was utterly surrounded by people who were exhibiting behavior well outside of any sociably accepted norms... and really getting off on it. All I wanted was to get the fuck outta there. That concert wasn't over soon enough.

On the ride home, I questioned my reaction. I'd witnessed more than a few metaphysical scenes during my childhood which would have easily spooked my friends... Ouija indicators zooming off the board and across the room, mediums, talk of spirits and guides... Why did this obvious affect of crowd psychology upon my person rattle me so? I realized that what I was really watching was that dark, ancient, bizarre spirituality which tasted of the basest of human ecstatic ritual of frenzy and release... instead of wailing voices, drums, facepaint and a fire they had Carman and a ear-splitting sound system. It was RITUAL like voodoo... a sundance... headhunters... What I had just witnessed was no different than those rituals at its lowest common denominator... and it got me thinking...

Aside from being very, very disturbing, the whole experience piqued my interest in human ecstatic ritual and got me searching for answers and into Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. I just never expected to encounter the 'exotic' so close to home...