“I always think there’s a band, kid.”
~Harold Hill, in The Music Man
I don’t know much about revivals. Most of my information comes from the movies, like Elmer Gantry, but also from movies like The Apostle with Robert Duvall and Leap of Faith with Steve Martin. These are great films, though Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster in the title role, stands out as one of my all-time favorite movies. Originally a book by Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry spins the tale of a charismatic huckster who hitches his wagon to the luminous star of Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), who travels the country leading revival meetings. Unlike The Music Man, featuring a similar snake oil salesman in Harold Hill, Elmer Gantry does not end with a parade.
When my church offered a series of revivals called “Ordinary Revival”, however, I was ready. I’d been working on myself, really working on the inner life – contemplation, emptying, opening, studying, solitude, silence – for a few years and was ready for some exuberance, singing, praising, and lifting up.
So I signed up. Not knowing what to expect. I go to a mainline, Protestant church so I hadn’t seen a whole lot of dancing in the aisles over the years, but enough to know that a revival might be a lot of fun and a lot of transcendence and a lot of community all at the same time. I was ready. Eager.
The location was a thirty-minute drive outside the city where I live to a smaller town. I wanted to get there early because I hadn’t been to this particular church before and I wanted to be on time. I found the church and, because I was early, I ran over to a coffee shop to while away some time.
While I’m waiting, I double check my invitation to see what more I can learn about the event, and come across an email I’d received but somehow missed earlier in the week telling me the revival had been postponed until a later date.
A revival. Postponed. The spirit must have not been ready for a revival last night.
I have no idea why it was postponed. Knowing my church and how seriously it takes its mission and responsibility, I’m sure it was for a good reason. I wasn’t mad or even irritated, except with myself for having overlooked the notice of postponement.
But I had to ask myself – why would you ever postpone a revival?
Even if one minister was available, one lay speaker, one person who could sing from the heart, and/or one piano player who could lead everyone singing Amazing Grace, why would you postpone a church revival?
If the fire marshal closed the building, isn’t there a barn down the road?
Even if one person showed up, one person was touched, one person was embraced, why not “revive”? “Whenever two or three are gathered…”
Or no person. What if no one showed up except someone to open the doors?
“Revival” (or perhaps “vival”), in whatever form it takes, seems to me the heart of a religion. Spiritual formation. Spiritual disciplines are then the practices to develop that heart every day. And service, sacrifice, generosity, humility, and all the virtues are the fruits. It’s all iterative, each interacts with all the others.
At least that’s my take. I’m just a sixty-six year-old layperson who wanted to experience a revival this weekend. Looks like I’ll be waiting until next year.
My suggestion? Never postpone a revival. Open the doors and see what happens with whomever shows up.
I drove home. Sat in my back yard. Watched squirrels and birds, reflected on my St. Francis and Buddha statuary, and had a bit of my own, more intimate, personal revival.
Elmer Gantry clip: https://youtu.be/30TkCJGsXas
The Apostle trailer: https://youtu.be/fQe1Kehx110
Leap of Faith clip: https://youtu.be/NgEOTc2qgVg
The Music Man clip: https://youtu.be/eBQWsBiM5YY