I saw recently in some Lutheran publication we get (it was either the Lutheran Witness, or the Reporter) that the next youth gathering is going to be held in New Orleans. I have been to two youth gatherings. The first was in Denver when I was a freshman in high school, that must of been the summer of '88 (and for those that understand the reference, I was in the downpour at Red Rocks Ampitheatre). And the second gathering was four years later in New Orleans in the summer '92. That experience I hope I never forget. If there is one thing that I can point to and say "that's where I got IT and understood IT" then the NO gathering would be it. I was old enough to truly appreciate how much deeper the Word can be. The first gathering was "fun" for me. I had a blast, but the NO gathering, there was something that really got me and turned on my "faith pilotlight." I had one of those "mountaintop experiences" that threw me for a loop. It was also there that I felt for the first time a true calling by God to witness and I began to think about the ministry seriously.
I remember the night pretty clearly. The speaker that night was a pastor who used to live in New Orleans. He told his life story (he had gotten poliopas a small child), but he also told about a particular kid he got to know and ministered. His name was Cody and Cody was one of those kinds of kids that no one wanted to be around or associate with-- mainly because he always seemed to be in trouble. Cody got involved in drugs and the like and was eventually on the wrong side of a gun barrell and killed. But the story that this pastor (whose name suddenly escapes me) told was amazing and I could feel myself changing inside as I listened to him. It was a light feeling, a feeling of comfort and peace, of joy and comfort. At the time I was at best a marginal Christian (or as I like to call it a "stand up/sit down" Christian-- meaning I knew when to stand and sit and I knew the words, but they didn't have that much meaning to me). But for some reason that night things started to turn around and God settled in my heart.
That wasn't the only experience I had with church that summer. The other experience was being the Synod President's personal page at the Synodical Convention in Pittsburgh. Basically, my job was to figure out who was at what microphone and what order they had to be recognized. I got to see how church politics works. It was... interesting.
Its been a long strange trip since that summer in '99. My faith has grown, but it has, at times, shrank. I have been to the "mountaintop" a few times and been stuck in the muck and valleys a few times, too. I have learned the beauty of prayer and comfort of meditation on the Word of God and I have known the feeling of guilty conscience telling me I'm no good and that God doesn't love me.
Whenever I get to that point of fear and loathing (to steal a phrase) I just remember that chant from N'awlins.... "Who Dat... Who dat... Who dat say the gone beat God's saints...?" The answer? No one.