We were almost there!
The fifteen passenger van I was sitting in heaved to the left as we turned into the amusement park. It was Kingdom Bound time at last! Kingdom Bound was a Christian music festival that ran for three days inside an amusement park in upstate New York called Darien Lake. It was the most important event of the year, second only to Christmas. I’d spent the entire summer saving money for this one trip. Our church youth group talked about it endlessly. When the flyers came in the mail we poured over them, noting each band and speaker. We dreamed of that glorious three days at the end of August when Darien Lake became the property of Christians.
The excitement was palpable. The thick humid air clung to my skin. Even the heat and smell generated by the twenty bodies inside the van did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm. It was the hottest time of the year in Upstate – absolutely sweltering. I hated the heat but as I said, Kingdom Bound mania knew no bounds. Its fires burned bright and could not be diminished by mere weather conditions. We were finally there.
I knew exactly what I was going to do. While everyone else was probably going to ride rides or camp out at the main stage, I was on a mission. My first stop was going to be the vendor’s tent. Why? Because it was the largest collection of Christian music I had ever seen. Any artist. Any style. Sometimes they would even have rare indie stuff that never saw the light of day in my little hometown Christian bookstore. I had almost two hundred dollars in my pocket to get me through the weekend. Most of that would be spent on tapes and t-shirts. I might buy some food too, but only if I was in danger of dying of starvation.
The van looped around the parking lot as my aunt Missy tried to find a good parking spot. Out of the van’s smudged window I could see the peaks of the Viper roller coaster in the distance. The van eased into a spot at last. My sister, Elise, grabbed my shoulder from behind and shook me excitedly, “We’re here! We’re here! We are finally here!” I snapped out of my reverie and gave her a big grin.
“Vendor tent, here I come!” I said excitedly.
“Not me,” Replied Sylvia, one of the other girls in the youth group. “I’m going to park my butt in the front row of the main stage and never leave. If I’m lucky, I’ll be splashed by my sweet Kevy-poo’s sweat!”
“That’s gross,” I replied. “But good luck, I guess.” Sylvia had a massive crush on one Kevin “K-Max” Smith of DC Talk – a hip-hop group that was one of the more popular bands among my fellow teens.
“That’s where I’ll be too!” said my aunt Missy. “I just want to see Ray Boltz and Al Denson up close.” They were a couple of adult contemporary performers that I didn’t really care for. Ray Boltz in particular was a favorite of anyone who sang “special music” in church. I think I’d heard his song, “Thank You,” at least a million times by singers of varying ability. That is, varying from “almost listenable” to “horny cat yowling in the night.” Besides, back then I was all about heavy metal.
It was then that my grandfather turned to me and said, “When are the services?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. My grandfather had been a pastor for over forty years. He’d been the shepherd of a several churches spanning two denominations. He played the trumpet. His wife (my Grandma) played the organ. Together they were the picture perfect ministerial team. However, he was an old school type guy – very traditional. He rode with us the entire way in a grey suit and tie. He never even took off his jacket. He also didn’t say much during the hour and a half long trip to the park. The few words he did speak were to my aunts only.
“You know, services? This is a Christian event isn’t it? Aren’t there any services?” he asked with a slightly annoyed tone.
“I think there are some in the mornings.” I replied. I unzipped my fanny pack (hey, don’t judge) which housed my cash stash and pulled out a map of the park. “They’re over here in the worship tents” I said, pointing to the map. “I think they’re at eight or nine o’clock. I don’t know if we’ll even be here by then.” We weren’t camping at the park like many of the festival goers. We were staying at a comfy little Holiday Inn a mere fifteen minutes away. Also, we were not early risers.
My grandfather just sighed in response and rolled his eyes. “Of course not. But thank you for showing me.”
I put my map away and wondered if it was really a good idea for him to come. He’d heard my sister and I talk endlessly about it and I guess he wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was sure he wasn’t going to like it. Like I said, he was old school. It was all about hymns and Sunday school and meetings and services. He was into “the ministry” and didn’t have much use for anything that didn’t serve a “spiritual” purpose. I remember vividly getting a stern lecture from him about one of my band t-shirts. I think the band was Vengeance Rising. He said the design couldn’t have sprung from a Christian mind. No sir, I didn’t think he was going to like anything he saw here. After all, he would be the only man in the hot August sun wearing a suit.
There were actually nineteen of us (not counting Grandpa) this particular year. It was me, my sister Elise, and Sylvia. Then there was Kim. Elise, Sylvia, and Kim were the, how do I say, de facto “leaders” of the group – socially speaking. Then there was my aunt Missy the official “youth group leader” (“youth pastors” hadn’t quite been invented yet), and my other aunt Helen. They took great pains to remind us kids to be on our best behavior because, as they said, “This is our vacation too!”
My friends Matt, Jason, and Chris came along as well. They were friends from the neighborhood. I couldn’t ever tell if they were really Christians. They came to youth group on and off. We never really talked about spiritual things much. Mostly we just spent our time playing Nintendo and goofing off. However, in whatever spiritual state they may have been in they could not resist the siren call of Kingdom Bound. The rest of the group was filled out with some of Elise’s friends from school that I didn’t know very well. They’d only come to youth group sporadically. I did know one of them, Brooke, because she was absolutely gorgeous and I had a major crush on her. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no courage back then and didn’t really say much to her.
We all filed out of the van and clustered in a big group on the parking lot. The sun had been beating down on the blacktop all morning so it was nice and hot. The heat radiating from the asphalt combined with the bright summer sun beating down on our heads made being outside insufferable. Aunt Missy began her usual speech, “Now here’s the deal. We will be at the main stage. If you need anything, if there’s an emergency, come see us. An emergency means someone is missing, bleeding, dying, or dead. If you need food – go buy it. If you need somebody to carry your stuff, buy a backpack. We will meet back here at the van after the Carman concert tonight. Alright?”
We all shouted an affirmative “Yes, Ma’am.” And off we went.
“We’re headed for the Viper,” Jason offered. “You coming, Jax?” My friends shortened my name, Jackson, to Jax. I usually told people it was because I liked to use Jax when we played Mortal Kombat II. The truth was they called me “Jax” because I had a fondness for Jax brand cheese puffs.
“Nah, you know where I’m headed.” I said.
“Okay, dork.” He said laughing.
As our clot of sweaty teenagers gradually made its way to the front gate my grandfather tapped me on the shoulder.
“Could you show me where the worship tents are?” he asked. I was kind of surprised. I don’t think my grandfather had asked anything of me ever, least of all advice on where to go. Thankfully, the worship tents weren’t that far from the vendor tent so I wasn’t losing much time. I was really annoyed at the inconvenience but I tried not to show it.
“Yeah, I guess. Follow me.”
As we walked I reveled in all the familiar sights and sounds. The little souvenir shops, the lemonade stands, the big red barn where they held the silly vaudeville-type shows. The Sea Storm. Ah, the Sea Storm, my absolute favorite ride. It was my favorite because it jerked me around just enough to be fun, but not so much that it was scary. Yes, I was a real wuss. Despite his age and heavy, polyester suit, my grandfather managed to keep up with me.
“The tents are over there,” I said, pointing to several white peaks not far from where we were standing.
“Okay. Thank you,” he replied and stalked off without saying another word. I just didn’t understand it. If he was going to be so unhappy why even bother coming? It was one of the many questions I had for my grandfather. Like why wouldn’t he ever talk about anything? Why was our Christian music so bad but his hymns so good? Why was it so important to wear a suit all the time? On the off chance I broached the subject he would just grunt something about it being “just the way things are.”
Furthermore, I didn’t understand how a man who never wanted to talk to his family and grumble about every new thing under the sun could call himself a Christian. Weren’t we supposed to be joyful? Life abundant and all that? How could such a man could claim to serve the infinite Creator of the universe? My grandfather was so myopic in regards to how things should be that sometimes I wondered if he was even born again. He just seemed so angry all the time. Sometimes I would find myself thinking, I really hate having him around. Maybe all this was all just for show or a social thing. Or a power trip. Only God knew.
I shook my head as he walked away and focused on the task at hand: tape hunting. My tape collection was a thing of beauty. I can say, with some certainty, that it was one of the largest collections in upstate New York. I had all the albums from all the great metal bands: Deliverance, Tourniquet, Vengeance Rising. I’d even gotten to score some cool demos from bands like Immortal and Thresher. I loved music. It was my life blood. It brought color to everything I did. School was more bearable because I looked at my tape inserts during class. I remembered things, not based on date or time, but by the music I had when it happened. Most of the Scripture I had memorized was the stuff in Christian metal lyrics.
Needless to say the vendor tent at Kingdom Bound was my Promised Land. It was a veritable bounty of Christian music goodness. I walked into the tent and basked in the ambience. The smell of straw wafting up from the ground along with the cedar shelves containing thousands of tapes and CDs filled my nostrils. The racks were filled with colorful album art ranging from simple portraits of the artists to lush illustrated landscapes that would put Roger Dean to shame. The illustrated covers usually contained rock or metal. It was one of the few times that you could judge a book by its cover! Last year I must have spent one hundred dollars just on tapes alone. This year? The sky was the limit! Well, the money in my fanny pack was the limit, but still!
The game was on. I strode over to the tape section and quickly found the “Artists A - D” rack. I examined each one in turn following with my finger like a child reading a Golden Book, careful to read the artist and title so as not to miss anything important. I slowly worked through the alphabet this way.
Once I was satisfied that I had seen everything I grabbed a few tapes, probably three at most. I didn’t want to spend all my money in the first hour of the trip, you know. I grabbed the latest release from Sacred Warrior and some band called Torn Flesh. I was even able to score The Downward Spiral by the Moshketeers. They were a band I’d heard a lot about but, since they weren’t on a “major” record label, they never made it to my local store. There was a lot of buzz about them. They’d been thanked in a dozen other bands’ liner notes. Word on the street and in the zines was that they were awesome. Now I had one. I was happy as a clam.
After perusing the tapes for a good half hour I ventured out to see the other sites. Festivals like this were crammed with vendors. You could get some great Christian books for only a few dollars. I used to load up on Christian t-shirts as well. Sometimes, joy of joys, you would find another music vendor. Not to mention seeing the artists themselves selling their merchandise. That was the cool thing about Kingdom Bound, the artists seemed a lot more accessible than regular musicians. While walking around I met the guys from Sacred Warrior and even had them sign the tape I had gotten a few minutes earlier.
I glanced down at my watch, it was almost two o’clock. I opened my fanny pack and checked the schedule. Ronnie Hawke was speaking at the worship tents. He was the guitarist to one of my favorite bands: Holy Knyte. Yeah… the names left something to be desired back then. I really did want to hear him speak though. I realized that he was probably going to be at the same tent where my grandfather was.
I made the journey to the worship tents in the hot sun, not before stopping to grab a soda on the way there. As I approached the tent I looked around for my grandfather. I found him in the third row, near the middle. There he was sitting in his full suit. The only one in the crowd I might add. A young woman was up on stage butchering “How Great Thou Art.” And I do mean butchering! Like a serial killer hacking up a victim, not one note of this classic hymn went unmangled. I snickered a little as she botched the last note in spectacular fashion. I was sure this would be Grandpa’s favorite part.
I sat down several rows behind Grandpa. I didn’t really want him to know that I was there. Not that he would have talked to me anyway. The young lady singing mercifully gave up the stage to the MC. He was an older guy with a brown mullet, a Christian T-Shirt (which had the Burger King logo reworked to say “Jesus the King” or something). He also had on some eye-piercing neon colored tropical shorts because it was the Nineties. Hey, we were all guilty.
“Thank you, Madeline, for that song.” He said. “Our God really is great isn’t he?” Several “amens” arose from the crowd. He continued, “We’ve got a special treat here today folks. He’s going to be talking about evangelism and how important it is to reach those people who we wouldn’t normally talk to. Everyone please welcome the guitarist for Holy Knyte, Ronnie Hawke!”
Everyone clapped, politely. This wasn’t the place to gush.
“Hey everyone. Thanks for coming.” He said. Ronnie Hawke was a lanky guy with long black hair and a black goatee. His hair was pulled back in a pony tail. He was wearing black denim shorts and a white Vengeance Rising T-shirt - specifically the one where Satan was bound in chains and being thrown into the abyss. I had one too. It was one of my favorites. Black Nike high top shoes completed the ensemble.
“I know I probably look a lot different from some of the other people you’ve seen up here today,” he said. He was kind of a soft spoken dude. He didn’t really project a “rock star” persona either. He gave off a vibe that he was just a regular person.
“But rest assured. I am 100% completely sold out for Jesus.” He went on to give his testimony. He’d come from a broken home with an abusive dad. He hung around a bad crowd. Got into some drugs and trouble with the law. Then more drugs. Then more trouble with the law.
“I hit rock bottom, man.” He said of his second visit to jail. “My friends had all left me, my mom wouldn’t even talk to me anymore. I didn’t have any money to get drugs. Then one day I was sitting in my cell thinking about killing myself. I was looking around my cell looking for something I could do it with, you know? Then a little voice popped into my head. It was the weirdest thing. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had a lot of voices in my head, but this one was different.”
He described the voice as “quiet, but strong.” Not like any other voice he had ever heard. He told us that the voice suggested he go to the weekly church service. I knew what he was talking about because I’d heard that voice too, not a lot though. I could count the times on half of one hand, but enough to know what he meant.
“So I did,” he said. “I walked in there and saw this dude in the front. He had a suit on. Kinda looked like that dude right there,” he said pointing to my grandfather. People looked him. Grandpa looked around at the people looking at him.
“Sorry, mister.” Ronnie said. “No offense or anything. It’s just that, when I saw that guy I thought there was no way anything he could have said to me would have mattered. I was wrong. He told me about God and about his Son, Jesus. He told me that there was more to life that just breathing. He said that God had provided a way for me to be forgiven and be a better person.”
It was hard not to be affected by Ronnie’s testimony. He was so sincere. He wasn’t crying (never trusted criers) but you could tell, just by the way he talked and the look in his eyes that this was a real thing to him.
“I accepted Jesus that day.” Ronnie said. “Now I said all that to say this. I would have never known the love of Jesus if that man hadn’t done his prison ministry. This dude had a vision to reach people that most people didn’t think about talking to. It’s because of him that I’m in the Kingdom of God.”
Several “amens” rose up from the crowd. He went on, “That’s why the guys and I started Holy Knyte. There’s kids out there that won’t come to church. They won’t come to a church event. But they will come to a club. They’ll come to a heavy metal concert. They’ll listen to me when I talk because I look like a rock star. I’ve got a chance to get kids into the Kingdom of God!”
He shared a story of a time after one of his concerts. A kid, a lot like he was pre-conversion, had challenged their beliefs after a show. Ronnie said the band didn’t argue with him or debate him. They just tried talking to him about his life, asked questions, and listened. Eventually they were able to share the gospel with him and he got saved right then and there.
“I still get letters from this kid,” Ronnie said. “He says God is calling him to be a missionary! Can you believe that?” Ronnie was getting a little more animated. “He’s gonna go off to some third world country and help build the Kingdom all because of this silly music we play! I tell you what, guys, even if I never play another note I am so grateful and humbled by the work God has done through the band.”
Ronnie wrapped up his talk shortly after that. He shared one of his favorite Scriptures and prayed. He blessed everyone and walked off the stage. I was impressed. He hadn’t really said anything that I didn’t already know or didn’t already agree with, but it was cool hearing it from the man himself. I had to restrain myself from running over to him and vomiting affirmation all over him.
As I got up I briefly wondered what my grandfather was thinking. He’d never respected my music or the people who made it. When he found my sister and I listening to it he’d always say, “Sounds like they’re getting ready to cook the missionary!” I saw my grandfather get up and turn around. He’d spotted me and made a beeline. There was no escape. I was bracing for a diatribe of some sort. I was pleasantly surprised.
“I’m hungry.” He said matter-of-factly. “Is there anywhere good to eat around here?” This was the second time my grandfather actually asked me for something. Two in one day! The devil must have been shivering.
“Um, yeah.” I replied. “I was going to go get a burger. You can come with me, if you want.” I said. I was really hungry because I didn’t really eat anything all day, chosing to subsist off Kingdom Bound excitement. I was hoping he would turn down my invitation. I didn’t want to sit there in awkward silence or, worse, hear some lecture.
“That sounds good.” He said much to my chagrin, “Lead the way.”
I led him over to a burger joint by the Sea Storm. We waited in line and got our food. We both got burgers. I guess we have something in common, I joked to myself. We sat down and started to eat. Well… I started to eat. Grandpa bowed his head for a second and whispered a quick prayer of thanks. I felt a little ashamed that I didn’t think to do that.
We sat and ate in silence for a while. The whir-whir-whir of the Sea Storm and the cacophony of ambient noise provided the only accompaniment to our meal. Finally, against my better judgement I decided I would ask him about what the thought of Ronnie Hawke’s testimony. I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment.
“Looks like a hippie,” he said. “Probably doesn’t have a real job.”
I wasn’t surprised, but I was hurt. Why did it always have to be like that? I wanted to argue, to defend my “hero.” I wanted to point out all the good he’d done. How God had saved him from a horrible life and gave him a new purpose. I wanted to ask why that wasn’t good enough. But after so many years of Grandpa ridiculing my music I just didn’t have the energy to fight another losing battle. I stared down at the few remaining pieces of my burger and pushed some ketchup around with a fry. I wished he would just go away.
I looked up. Did my grandfather just say sorry? He’s never said sorry! Thoughts poured into my mind – Did I hear him right? Is this real? Is this really happening? Am I going crazy? No, I’m dead. I died at the tent and this is my near death experience. This can’t be real.
“This must mean a lot to you,” he said. It was real.
“Well, yeah.” I said. “It means more than you know.” Since we never talked, he couldn’t know the half of it. The time I’d spent alone in my room worshiping to Sacred Warrior’s “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the time I was really depressed and The Lead’s “Suicide Is a Lie” gave me hope or how excited I got about Jesus’ resurrection while listening to Vengeance Rising’s “From the Dead.” He truly had no idea.
My grandfather sighed.
“I’m sorry,” he said, again. He had a tired look in his eyes. It was like, in this particular moment, all his years weighed heavier on him than normal. I realized something serious must be going on. First, my grandfather apologized to me and I cannot overstate how momentous that was. Second, it felt like he’d let down his guard for a minute. He wasn’t “Pastor” or “Elder” or even “Grandpa” – he was just a tired old man.
“I must be getting old,” he said after a minute.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I bet you’re wondering why I came with you guys this year.”
I laughed. “That is an understatement.”
Surprisingly, he smiled and chuckled too. “No doubt it is. The short answer is that God told me to.”
“Really?” I said, genuinely interested.
“Yes. I do listen to you guys, you know. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I do. It seems like all you guys talk about is this music and concerts and this festival.” He was right about that. An inordinate amount of our time was spent discussing all of those things.
He sighed again. “But you talk about God too. You talk about Jesus. And you do it a lot more than I ever did when I was that age. I can’t stand some of that racket you guys listen to but if God is talking to you through it, well, then maybe there’s something to it.”
I just listened in stunned silence.
He went on, “I was talking to the Lord one day about you guys. I asked Him all about this stuff. Do you know what He said?”
I just shook my head no.
“He said, Man looks upon the outward appearance but I look upon the heart. I had a vision of this festival. I got the distinct impression God wanted me to go with you guys this year. So here I am.”
He popped the last big of burger into his mouth and chewed. I polished off mine as well.
“I have an idea,” he said after he finished. “What say I go to one of your concerts if you go to something I want to go to.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Did my own grandfather just agree to go to a Christian metal concert? I shuddered to think about what he might subject me to, but I was excited that he was actually taking an interest in me.
“Okay. Sounds good.”
“Tomorrow there’s a service around eleven in the morning. Will you go to that with me?”
“Yes.” I said. I meant it.
“And what concert shall we go to?”
I thought about it for a minute. I could take him to see Holy Knyte but I knew the vocalist’s helium high falsetto vocals would really irritate him.
“Um… Sacred Warrior might be good.” I said. I picked them because they did actually sing, and while there was the occasional high pitched wail it was mostly melodic.
“It’s a date.” He said.
We took our trays to the trash bin and went our separate ways. He was off to see some speaker at the tents and I was off to ride the Sea Storm a few times before Novella performed. As I waited in line for the ride I could only think of tomorrow. It’s going to be an interesting day.
The next day we got to the park a little early. I think Grandpa had talked with my aunts the previous night. The ride from the hotel was a bit different. Everyone noticed it. Grandpa was listening to all of our stories. He was asking questions.
“So who’s this Carman now?” he asked my sister. Naturally she launched into a dissertation on the man and his music. It even included an impromptu acapella sing-along of “I Got the Joy” with Sylvia and Kim. I could tell he still wasn’t quite sure about everything but he kept at it. I started to feel something for my grandfather I’d never felt before: admiration.
Before long we arrived at the park and filed out of the busted old church van. “Old Faithful” we called it. It was a dark navy color and was on its last legs, but we all felt a certain affection for it.
“You ready for today?” Grandpa asked me.
I smiled, “Are you?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he replied.
Our walk to the tents was a stark contrast to the day before. We didn’t stalk in silence. We were a bit more leisurely. Grandpa was still wearing a suit – a blue one this time. But he’d seemed to lighten up a bit.
“Do you like Carman?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s kind of cheesy sometimes. But his songs are fun to sing.”
“He sounds cheesy.” Grandpa said. We walked for a minute or two in silence and I thought we were going back to business as usual. Then he asked, “Hey you know what song I used to like when I was younger?”
“What song?” I asked. I thought he was going to say some hymn or classical piece of music.
“It was called ‘Let a Man Come In And Do the Popcorn’ by the one and only James Brown.”
“What?!” I laughed hysterically. He laughed too. It was a good feeling.
“I guess what I’m saying is that I get cheesy. But don’t tell anyone I told you that. It’s our little secret.” He mimed zipping his lips and locking them. I did the same back, indicating I would take the secret to my grave if necessary.
We walked and talked some more. He’d ask me what who my favorite band was and why they were my favorite. Then he’d talk about some silly song from his childhood he liked. I couldn’t believe it. We were… bonding.
We finally reached the worship tents and took our seats just in time for the service to start. It was pretty standard. You’d never guess that we were even at a Christian music festival. There were announcements, offerings, testimonies, even special music. Crappy, awful special music. The same woman that had sung yesterday was going to sing again! And she was going to sing “How Great Thou Art”… again! I sighed and rolled my eyes. I braced myself for the grotesque vocal mutilation this song would once again suffer. My grandfather must have seen me.
“Look, I know she’s not the best singer,” he whispered. “But just try to listen to the words, okay?”
I agreed. After all he was going to Sacred Warrior later and I’d no doubt be telling him the same thing. She began singing and it was just as awful as before. No, it was worse. It was like she just wasn’t happy with her previous performance. Not only did she miss every note, she garbled and shrieked them in ways I didn’t think was possible by human beings. I was sure that every dog in upstate New York was going bonkers right now. However, I made an effort to listen to the words because I promised Grandpa I would. What I heard surprised me:
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my saviour God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art…
I didn’t expect to be moved by what I heard. After all, I couldn’t count how many times we’d sang this song in church. I never paid it any heed thinking it was just a “boring old hymn.” However, when I focused on the lyrics I found that I barely noticed the woman’s singing. I was taken up with those powerful and humbling words. At some point I closed my eyes and sang along. I started to feel like God had arrived and was right here listening to us sing to Him. I felt bad that I had written off church hymns because they didn’t fit my style. I could definitely see why people had so much love for them.
“I like that song,” I whispered to Grandpa.
“I’m glad,” he said. “Thank you for listening.”
The rest of the service came and went without much fanfare. The sermon was your standard “Great Commission” type sermon wherein we were exhorted to “go out into the world and preach the gospel.” The speaker was really boring. He’d told a couple lame “pastor jokes” that got big laughs for some reason. He also threw in some “hip” slang on occasion and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Worse, he had a very laid back, soothing voice which made me drowsy. Even though I was trying hard to listen to what he was saying I found my mind wandering. I thought about the vendor tent and which tapes I might buy next. That one with the hurricane on the cover looked cool. Then I thought about maybe possibly talking to Brooke. Doesn’t she like Carman? Maybe I can ask what her favorite song is? Er…maybe not. After that I daydreamed about being a starship captain. Make it so! I think I heard maybe forty percent of the total sermon. I guess the best thing I could say about it was that it wasn’t heresy.
The benediction couldn’t come soon enough.
“Well?” Grandpa asked.
“It was good.” I said. “I really like that song.” I left out the fact that I thought the sermon was as exciting as watching grass grow.
“Yes. That’s one of my favorites.” He said.
“Along with, what was that? ‘Let’s Do the Popcorn?’” I joked.
“It’s ‘Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn’” he replied laughing. “I’m never going to hear the end of that am I?”
The Sacred Warrior concert was at one o’clock which gave us enough time to eat and get to the park stage in time to get a decent “seat.” Once we arrived we saw people grouped at the front of the stage.
“I don’t suppose we could sit back a bit?” Grandpa asked. “This is probably going to get pretty loud.”
I agreed. To tell you the truth I thought they were too loud as well. We picked a picnic table a little ways back. That way we could sit down but still see the stage. While we waited I informed my grandfather all about Sacred Warrior and what he could expect.
“Just try to listen to the words, okay?” I asked, mirroring his question to me.
“I promise I will do my best.” I knew he meant it.
Sacred Warrior took the stage promptly at one fifteen – late, like true rock stars, They also had a few delays with malfunctioning guitar monitors. I looked at Grandpa. He looked at me with a sort of well, here goes nothin’ look.
“Hey everyone out there!” Vocalist Rey Parra shouted from the stage. He was met with maelstrom of screams and shouts.
“All right!” he shouted, “Kingdom Bound! Let’s rock!” And with that they launched into the song “Master’s Command” They were kicking major butt! The sound was loud but mixed well so you could hear everything clearly. The band had energy. Even Rey, who was kind of a big guy, was all over the stage. Occasionally he would stick the microphone out to the crowd who would sing a line or two. I was in heaven. Well… as close to… you know what I mean.
Then something odd happened while they played. The band was cranking it out and Rey sang in his clear, clean, soaring vocal style:
How can you say you love me
Yet have so much hate for your brother?
Don’t you know that the law says we’re murderers
If we hate one another?
I looked over at Grandpa to see his reaction and I noticed he was crying. Real tears. I had never seen my grandfather cry ever. He put his head in his hands and sobbed. I heard him talking but I didn’t know what he was saying. I strained to hear his words but the music drowned out his supplication. I put my hand on his back and asked him if everything was alright.
“It’s okay.” He shouted. I just barely heard him over the din. “Really. I’ll tell you later. Just enjoy your show.”
I did as he asked and left him alone. The band was well into their fourth song when he finally looked back up. His face was red, his eyes bloodshot but he was smiling.
Then he cried again. It was when the band played “Many Will Come,”
We will see Him standing
When the rest are gone
He’ll be dressed in white
And He will shine!
While it wasn’t the heaving sobs from before it was very noticeable. He got some weird looks from some of the metal kids that were hanging around us. Several asked him if he was okay and if they could help him. It was amazing. I kept telling them he was okay. One guy in particular, he had a Mohawk, ripped black jeans, a t-shirt with the devil being hit over the head with a guitar, and to top it all off tattoos. Lots of them.
“Does he need some food or water or something?” he asked. “I’ll go get it. Does he need any help?”
“It’s okay.” I shouted.
“I’m okay.” Grandpa said. “Really. Please, kids, enjoy your show.”
When Roger Martinez, vocalist for Vengeance Rising, took the stage to do some guest vocals for one of the band’s songs I thought maybe my grandfather had finally gotten himself together.
“I can’t understand a word that man is saying,” he said as Roger growled out the lyrics to “The Flood.”
I laughed. “It’s okay, neither can I.”
I thought it was over. The crying, I mean. I was wrong. The band played “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It was one of my favorite songs. I sang my heart out. I raised my hands and sang. I did sneak a peek at what Grandpa was doing and to my utter shock he was standing on the picnic table, hands raised, tears streaming down his face, singing along with everyone else.
Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and earth
Are filled with Your glory!
I felt that presence again. The same feeling I had singing “How Great Thou Art” at the service earlier. It was that wonderful, beautiful feeling God Himself had arrived to dwell among His people. I stopped what I was doing and just watched Grandpa. I realized that everything I had ever thought about him and his faith was wrong. I always thought he was just some fossil - some fossil that loved his own way of doing things more than he loved God. I was wrong. Then I heard that voice – Ronnie’s “voice.” That small, strong voice in the back of my head said, You’ve hated him. It wasn’t condemning me. I didn’t feel shame from it. It was just stating a fact. The lyrics to “Master’s Command” floated into my head. I realized I hated my grandfather and in the eyes of God that was a serious problem! I was ashamed of what I’d thought about him. I saw the evil that was in my heart and I asked God to forgive me. I made a mental note to ask Grandpa to forgive me too. I wanted to make it right.
The concert ended and the crowd was began to scatter. The next concert wasn’t for another hour or so. Grandpa and I just sat on the picnic table in silence. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was for what I’d thought about him, but it just didn’t seem to be the right time. It seemed like an eternity. Just us two sitting there, peacefully. Finally, Grandpa broke the silence.
“Thank you for bringing me here!” he said. “Thank you!” His face was beaming through his tears. I had no idea what was going on.
“You’re welcome.” I said.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve been blubbering like an old maid this whole time.” I was wondering but he spoke before I could ask.
“I know why God wanted me to come here. I’ve held hatred in my heart for a long time. Hatred of change. I loved the way things used to be. The old hymns, dressing up your best for God. A reliable service you could count on. Ministry was a certain way. It was comforting. I always felt God’s presence in it. But things were changing, they are changing, and I hated it. Then you and your sister started listening to this,” he chuckled “racket and calling it Christian. I hated that too. I even started to hate you guys.”
This was a revelation to me. Not that he hated me, I was always pretty sure of that, but that he would open up like this.
“But that song,” he continued, pointing an old gnarled finger at the stage. “That song… how can I say I love God if I hate my brother? My grandchildren? How can I continue to act like everything is okay? Even these kids with their ripped-up clothes and their chicken hairstyles couldn’t do anything but make sure I was okay. Everyone here was worshipping God! I’m so sorry. Sorry for judging you and your sister. For hating you when you were just trying to get close to God in your own way. I thought I was preserving some sort of holiness by being distant and judgmental. I’ve wasted so many years. Years I could have spent with you guys. I’m so sorry.”
Grandpa looked into my eyes and I could tell he meant every word he said.
“Will you forgive me?” he asked.
“Yes.” I said, unreservedly. “I’m sorry too.” I said.
“I hated you as much as you hated me, maybe more. I hated that you would never listen to us ort that you would never give us a chance to be ourselves. I thought Christianity was just some sort of power trip for you. I never thought that you might love God just as much as me. I never thought you might have struggles too. I don’t want to be a bitter person. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Then he hugged me. I don’t ever remember previously getting hugs from him. It felt nice.
“You know,” he said sniffling, “I think we’re going to be okay.”
And we were. To my recollection he actually enjoyed the rest of the trip. Though later on he admitted that, while he liked the lyrics of my metal bands, he still thought it was racket. I thought that was fair enough. This was truly the best Kingdom Bound I had ever or would ever experience. My grandfather had truly changed and so had I. Everyone knew that a new day was dawning when, on the last day of the festival, Grandpa took off his jacket and left it in the van!