Coming of age in Oklahoma City Public Schools, I never really understood the national debate about religion and education. Maybe things were looser back then, but in both middle and high school, there seemed to be regular “intervention” assemblies every semester featuring various touring preachers and pastors—often labeled as “motivational speakers”—on the mic and, for the most part, everybody seemed cool with it.
From low-level CCM singers and “clean” comedians speaking out about the dangers of alcohol and drugs to an ex-Vietnam vet with a facial disfigurement courtesy of a “phosphorous grenade” lecturing the youth about pre-marital sex, most of the time, it was a by-the-book speaking engagement; a song would be sung, the guest would have “rap session” with the kids about the problems we were facing and then they’d pass out flyers or free tickets to the real main event, usually that night at some Baptist Church.
And while they would never quite come out and exactly say that we all needed to give our lives to Christ, the underlying message—His message—was always distinctly clear.
Out of all those modern missionaries that would come and try to save our schools and souls, however, few left me with as many bewildered emotions and heretical questions as the wonderfully gimmicky scripture sideshow that was John Jacobs’ Power Team did. Based out of Dallas, anyone and everyone who could pick up even the dankest of UHF channels were familiar with the 30 second screaming adverts that promised numerous feats of superhuman strength and stamina from a crack cadre of bodybuilders who cut the creatine to get down with Creation. It was easy to envy my Christian friends whose church youth groups footed the bill for tickets; meanwhile, all I had to look forward to at Saturday Mass was that hopefully we’d eat at Pancho’s afterwards.
Northwest Classen, in my 9th grade year, was notorious for the amount of random assemblies that’d be called on a seemingly continuous whim. When that near-weekly announcement was made in the morning that the entire afternoon would be spent in the auditorium for God knows what, well…it was even better than a substitute checking out the VCR and forcing us to rewatch Glory for the umpteenth time.
This particular assembly, on the other hand, was different. As we shambled into our designated rows, unaware of the future lower-back problems those wooden theater seats would bless us with, a faint mist that grew into a mild fog started to cover the stage. Someone went to the trouble to rent a fog machine from Party Galaxy obviously. A low-rent electricity filled the air.
As the auditorium darkened, a stinging guitar note buckled its whammy through the ancient sound system, giving way to heavy duty power chords backed with a powerful drum machine beat. Spotlights with gels beamed across the stage as the curtains opened and the stage-lights resumed to reveal five or so hulking well-tanned Caucasians with greasy mullets and even greasier tracksuits, standing in formation like the most inappropriate touring cast of Thunder Down Under possible.
As John Jacobs—or who I believe was John Jacobs—strutted out on stage to confused scattered applause, he gave out a hearty “How ya’ll doing out there, Classen Knights!” to far more rapturously pandering handclaps. He dutifully informed us that they were the Power Team and today, they were going to change lives, motivate students and break stuff. A lot of stuff.
Individually, these Godly gym-rats would stomp across the stage, beefy stock filling every inch of that red, white and blue tracksuit to an almost patriotically unfeasible degree. As someone’s latent sexuality started to blossom, the windbreakers came off and the various scaled-down acts of derring-do began, refit for the Northwest Classen stage, with Jacobs throwing out facts about dropping out of school and the evils of marijuana and why condoms don’t always work while these swollen meat tubers of manhood would bend steel bars and break four blocks of ice with a mere fist. After about ten tries.
Without the direct message that “with Christ, all things are possible,” however, it seemed as though blowing up a hot water bottle by mouth until it explodes or breaking a cinder block on some guy’s chest was, at best, tenuously connected to staying in school and practicing clean living and, honestly, felt kind of…dumb. After all of the pep talks and cheap theatrics, all we really had here was motivational vaudeville and well-worn carnival tricks and, without the Christian guilt to make me fully appreciate it, I kind of sunk into my chair, the sharp pin of cynicism deflating any good time I should have been having. My peers seemed to be enjoying the Hell out of it, so why wasn’t I?
Oh, the forced Satanic malaise of a well-fed adolescent. Spiritual ennui, be thy preternatural name.
As soon as they made their seemingly understood points, an unorganized school-wide meet and greet was in order as a sea of youthful humanity that had not yet discovered deodorant swarmed the foyer for autographs and comped tickets. Looking to avoid the mad rush, I stayed in my seat and watched as the theater tech kids angrily buzzed past me to start cleaning the stage, which looked like the aftermath of Gallagher II hosting a bodybuilding invitational.
As the crowd dissipated, I started to make my way to the lockers when I ran into one of the members of the Power Team. He asked if I had managed to snag tickets and before I could say an admittedly starstruck no, his chunky, wet hand handed me the last of the warm, pocket-moist tickets he had to giveaway. I was gracious and said thank you, knowing full well that even if I wanted to, there was no way my father was going to let me go on a school night. Or any night. We were Catholics, dammit.
Looking back on the whole event over two decades later, I feel a bit of spiritual remorse for playing the “too cool for school” role because, truth be told, man, would I enjoy a full-on Power Team show so much more now, as an adult. I’ll sometimes watch their old videos on YouTube and then get down on my hands and knees and pray to the New Testament God to re-form these Satan-bashing strongmen so I can fully appreciate their unadulterated artistry with a blow-out reunion performance at, let’s say, the Tower, before I die. It’s on the bucket list.
Right after an intimate unplugged session of Carmen performing Mission 3:16, in its entirety, of course.
You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.