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Power Rangers

"This is going to be the worst week the Devil has ever had in Grand Junction," Jacobs announced. "We are here to wage war on the Devil, people. People, look me in the eye!" We looked, the music swelled, and the team members went through their paces, bringing massive armpits down on blocks of ice, jumping through walls of fire, blowing up hot-water bottles--"Their lungs tingle, people; one hiccup could explode them!"--until they shattered in a rubbery mess. Baseball bats snapped like toothpicks, and the Big Samoan hoisted what looked like a small sequoia tree, then pressed it with the help of the audience members, who were told to yell "Jesus" at the top of their lungs. Two Team dudes lay down on beds of nails--"Can you hear the nails popping through their flesh, people, can you hear it?"--and proceeded to out-bench-press each other. Then, when hyperventilation was about to set in, came the official Moment of Quiet Reflection.

Team members sat down on folding chairs to listen intently while one of their colleagues--Brad Tuttle, in this case--testified. Once, he said, he was a football-playing, godless thug. "I worked security for Mstley Crue and Van Halen," he recalled, striding up and down on stage with his mike, jabbing the air with his forefinger, "and I saw young girls picked out of the crowds. Ten minutes later those same young girls would come out of the door raped and abused. There was nothing I could give those girls. I didn't know Jesus."

And he wouldn't have found him without John Jacobs, who saved him at a regular old altar call, such as we were promised later that night. "Glory unto you, Father, for that," Tuttle shouted. "This is not a Christian event! There are non-Christians here! We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us."

To prove it, he ripped apart a couple of license plates with his bare hands, which spurred on a shorter flurry of baseball-bat snapping and log-hoisting. Next, Jacobs himself came up and ran down a list of what we might expect if we stayed for the next four nights of the crusade. The Double Flying Praying Mantis Ice Strike! Trey Tally jumping through a wall of ice, headfirst! Criminals converted. Abortions forestalled. "The best way to get a miracle is give one to someone else," Jacobs added. "We will now pray over our checkbooks."

Sure enough, small envelopes appeared at all the seats. We forked over a small "love offering," for which we were amply rewarded when Jacobs broke out of a set of regulation handcuffs. Finally, he reminded us that there were people in the audience who did not know God and that the Team had come for one reason only: "not to brag on our muscles, but to brag on Jesus. Young people, look me in the eye!" Jacobs concluded. "Religion is boring, but there is nothing more exciting than Jesus Christ!"

In short: The Power Team without Jesus? Wouldn't that be sort of like Miss Saigon without the helicopter?

By the time the official Moment of Quiet Reflection begins at Lake Middle School, the kids in the audience are frothing with excitement, even though what they have just seen is a mere shadow of the full crusade production.

"Okay, young people," Trey Tally says, "I wanna tell you how to see the Power Team again. Everyone say Heritage. Her-i-tage! That's where we're gonna be tonight, at the Heritage Christian Center, and it's gonna be like ESPN and the Guinness Book all wrapped up into one two-hour show, and you know what? It's free! So bring your families and bring your neighbors. Where is it?"

"Her-i-tage!" the young people scream.
"Now, listen up. Here comes Keenan Smith to give you words of encouragement."

Jesus, I think.
Instead, Smith provides commonsense exhortations. Don't piss your life away with drugs and alcohol. Don't look for the easy way out. "And don't listen to those beer companies, where the commercial shows a guy opening his beer and he says, Life doesn't get any better than this! Young people, they never show you this guy driving drunk and killing a whole family! They never show you the fat guy drinking in his living room, yelling at his kids, giving his wife a black eye!

"Young people, I grew up with alcoholics and turmoil. I remember when my mama asked that awful question a lot of you have heard: 'Who do you want to live with, me or your dad?'"

Many small heads nod. No one has to tell anyone to look me in the eye.
"I heard where Peter Coors said we should stop preaching at kids not to drink and start teaching them to drink responsibly," Smith continues. "That's like saying, 'Why don't you throw up gracefully?'"

This is mildly amusing, but only because of the vomit angle, and the kids who do not seem to have given beer advertising much of a thought shift in their seats. Girls begin whispering to each other. Ever on the alert, Smith sprints down the aisle, issuing a diatribe aimed at Girls Only. The message: Listen to that boy who tells you you're so hot by the lockers each morning and he will end up telling everyone in the locker room what he "scored" off you.

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