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Preach for the Stars

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The solution is a loving relationship with the greatest guy of all time, the Son of God. Ryle has expressed an almost romantic longing for God and Jesus. He once used one of the most sensual Bible passages to illustrate how God quickened his dreaming: "There were nights," he told his congregation in 1991, "when I would awaken four, five, six, seven, eight different times and write down a dream and go back to sleep and get another one." Then he quoted Chapter 5 of the Song of Solomon: "I sleep, but my heart is awake, listening for the voice of my beloved." The rest of the chapter goes on to describe the "beloved" as a man who's "radiant and ruddy," with black wavy hair, eyes like "doves," lips like "lilies," a body like "polished ivory," legs that are "pillars of marble" and a mouth that is "sweetness itself."

Not that Ryle approves of homosexuality. On that subject, he makes Jerry Falwell sound like Barney Frank. "Homosexuality is a festering boil on the hide of the hideous beast of atheistic humanism," Ryle barked during a 1993 sermon.

For Ryle, the only acceptable beast is Ralphie, the buffalo mascot of CU's football team. While Ryle was team chaplain, Ralphie provided him with prophetic visions of the Buffs' success.

The pastor describes his relationship with Ralphie in his book Hippo in the Garden: On August 22, 1989, Ryle had a dream from God that there was "something like an energy field" surrounding CU's football team, and a voice told him, "This will be their golden season!" He told McCartney about the dream. Sure enough, CU had a great season and was playing Notre Dame for the national championship. But before the game, Ryle noticed that one of Ralphie's horns was broken. This meant that God's spirit had left the team. Sure enough, the Buffs lost 21-6 to Notre Dame. Before the next season, God revealed to Ryle in Isaiah 11:11 that the Lord "would reach out His hand a second time." Sure enough, the Buffs had a great season and matched up against Notre Dame a second time. This time Ralphie's horns were intact and the Buffs won. Their season record? 11-1-1, matching the Biblical passage. Go, Buffs!

No one at the Boulder Valley Vineyard wears a tie. The preachers don't don fancy robes; they wear sweater vests. There's no stained glass, no statuary of Jesus and Mary, no big church bureaucracy, no hymnal, no prayerbook, no silver chalice. Everybody's encouraged to be a minister. The men, that is.

People put their hands on one another and pray. Sometimes they speak in tongues. They believe that the healing power of Jesus works in today's world. On Wednesdays they meet in scores of small groups for prayer, fellowship and meditation about Jesus. (For many Vineyardites, that's the most important religious work they do.) There is no confessional at this church. The preacher confesses his sins to you.

Vineyard preachers have a lot to tell. One-quarter of them--and their members--were frequent flyers on marijuana before Jesus intervened, according to a survey conducted by one scholar. Among Ryle's flock, there's plenty of touchy-feely talk about how Jesus continues to intervene in your life, if you submit to him. Services are simple. Ritualistic religion? Not here, man. Only Jesus.

And a bunch of white Republicans. Whatever they were before they found Jesus--and some of them were liberal Protestants--Vineyardites are a homogenous bunch, say scholars who have surveyed the movement. While they strongly disavow racism, they are extremely conservative regarding homosexuality, abortion and obscenity laws. They are taught to be that way.

At the Boulder Vineyard, the atmosphere is like that of a support group. People are genuinely friendly and reflective. Everyone carries a different Bible on the way to services, and men with ponytails embrace men wearing Dockers. Church membership is between 700 and 900 people, and most members are in their thirties, but who's counting? You don't have to "join." You just go.

A week after the Promise Keepers rally in D.C., hundreds of people go to the Boulder Vineyard for Sunday services. Milton Carroll is on one stage, on the far left, near the blue-and-white flag of Israel on the wall (Ryle believes that blue is a blessed color); he strums a guitar and leads the congregation in "Holy Is the Lord." The music is sweet and soft, Christian pop at its most mellow and simple. The words scroll by on the TV monitors--and some of those words aren't so mellow. The congregants swing and sway as they gently croon, "We live for the day when every knee will bow."

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy