By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
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By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
"I volunteered for the Prayer Team just to get the free T-shirt," one of the men shares with me, as I high-five him.
The Prayer Team Leaders, who both seem giddy, give a briefing.
"Put your hand on them, but not inappropriately," the giddy Leader explains, demonstrating by placing his hands on the other Prayer Team Leader's shoulder, and then his back.
"Can you demonstrate what would be inappropriate?" I ask.
"Should we have our Bibles with us to quote specific passages?" interrupts a man holding, well, the Bible.
"Let God give you the words," the Prayer Team Leader offers in an effort to keep things moving.
"All right!" I enthusiastically scream, being this is the pep talk before the big game and I want to go to the playoffs. "You tell 'em!"
"When they make the altar call, that's when we're going to have the big rush," he adds. I imagine it will be like when Denny's is hit with the after-bar crowd.
"Should we put a time limit on our praying?" I inquire.
"Take your time with it," he says. "Most of all, have some fun out there."
"Yeah! Woo!" I scream, pumping my fist. "Take your time with it. That's right."
The hardened man next to me looks over, so I offer him a high-five.
"OK, I want everyone to pair up, so you can give a little prayer for one another."
I look around. Should my prayer partner be the creepy guy with the mustache or the Sunday school teacher to my right? Overthinking the situation, I realize I'm the only one without a prayer partner. The others already have their hands on one another, heads bowed, and are getting down to some serious praying. I have a dejected look like the last one chosen for kickball.
The two Prayer Team Leaders, hands on shoulders about to pray, look over at me.
"Martin, come on over here," they say with big, aw-shucks goofy grins.
I scamper across the hall like a puppy about to get his stomach rubbed. With hands on each other's shoulders, we form a prayer threesome. We're supposed to take turns and pray with each other for strength. While they do this, I've taken it upon myself to say random stuff and repeat it.
A Leader begins: "Oh Lord, please show Martin that we're a crazy bunch, but we follow your path ...."
"Crazy bunch. Oh Lord, crazy bunch!" I exclaim. "Evil days! Evil days!"
When finished, we take turns hugging each other. Why? Because we're men with men. Not gay men, of course, but men in the way God intended us, and because of that we're not afraid to hug. Again, there's nothing gay about it. High-five!
With a multimedia array of arena-size video visuals and lights in a manly U2 style, a Christian power-rock band called the Newsboys kicks things off, causing one of the volunteers to do a crazy, spinning, filled-with-Jesus Grateful Dead dance.
"How many people here are pastors' sons?" questions the lead singer with an Australian accent, as a few hands go up. "Security," he adds in joshing fashion to gosh-darn chuckles.
Then, projected on a large video screen, comes tonight's master of ceremonies -- the self-proclaimed "Brother like no other," a large, black, hip hop guy whose catchphrase, for some reason, is "Ight!" MC Reggie Dabbs gave them the word, and it was "Ight" (short for "all right").
"What's up! How many is this your first Promise Keepers?" the Brother like no other asks, making a stage entrance.
Huge hoots and hollers!
"Ight!" says the Brother like no other.
"Ight!" scream 10,000 men.
"Now you're talking black."
"This is the Promise Keepers, men in the house," explains Dabbs, telling it like it is. "We're not looking for losers ...." Surprisingly, no, he explains, the Promise Keepers are only looking for winners.
Then, without much of a segue, "One of my favorite books as a kid was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," he says, pimping for applauds. Confusingly, we then watch a five-minute trailer for the upcoming Disney film The Chronicles of Narnia. I'm not sure of the connection, other than maybe sometimes Jesus needs a corporate sponsor, too.
"I tell y'all, that's the book I grew up with," says the Brother like no other. "It's all about stories. How about that Spider-Man?" Huge, thunderous applause, followed by a joke about a little white boy. "Or Lord of the Rings?" Bigger thunderous applause. Then, "But the greatest story ever written was written by God!"
A serious hush runs through the crowd of 10,000 men. One of the Prayer Team Leaders catches me by surprise, squeezing my shoulder, which scares the hell out of me. Momentarily forgetting, I give him a what-the-hell-are-you-doing-that-for look, as he moves on to squeeze other volunteers' shoulders.
"God has a plan in his hand to write about tonight," Dabbs states. "It's time to say, 'Wake up!'"
Judging by the noise, one would think the Sharks just won the Stanley Cup.
And then a manly SportsCenter-like update, "Eleven to seven, Angels are winning."