Rick and I, and a friend, attended a concert performed by the Booth Brothers, an excellent Florida-based southern gospel group, at an outdoor amphitheater in a nearby park over this past weekend. We have probably attended twenty of their concerts over the years (an example of their singing).
During this concert, the character of 'small-town Pennsylvanians who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them' was made manifest in a minor way, but one that I don’t believe Senator Obama capable of comprehending.
The Booth Brothers performed on a large covered stage. In front of the stage, on a newly-asphalted area were perhaps fifty eight-foot-long, newly-constructed benches, with an area equal in size left empty for people to set up their own lawn chairs. There was also a vast expanse of grass on either side of this area, to the left and right of the stage. And, far from the stage itself, beyond all of this, was a large grassy hill.
By the time the program began, the benches were filled with young Mennonite men in their suspenders and straw hats, Mennonite women in their small white head coverings, and other Christians of all denominations. The remaining asphalt area was filled with others in lawn chairs. The side grassy areas were covered with lawn chairs as well. And the grassy hill area was also completely occupied by people who had brought their own chairs. We sat up on the hill, perhaps two hundred feet from the stage, with a panoramic view of everything.
The program, as always, was beautifully performed, and indescribably inspiring.
About two-thirds of the way through, the threatening skies ceased to be merely threatening. The rain came down in buckets, accompanied by occasional subdued rumbles of thunder, and lightning in the distance.
About a quarter of the audience left. The remaining perhaps five hundred people simply pulled their umbrellas out from under their chairs or benches and continued to enjoy the uplifting music.
The performers, seeing the increasing severity of the storm, semi-seriously invited whomever wished to do so to bring their chairs up onto the sheltered stage -- at which time perhaps a hundred of the audience slowly and courteously folded up their lawn chairs and, in a quiet and orderly manner, walked up the steps on either side of the stage and formed a large, four-person-deep semi-circle behind the performers, while they continued to sing. Most of the stage was now occupied by audience members, with just enough room for the performers to comfortably do what they do best.
From our vantage point up on the grassy hill (I truly wish I had brought my camera), we saw a beautiful rainbow of hundreds of variously colored umbrellas below us, stretching all the way to the stage, and a stage upon which many of our fellow audience members were sharing in fellowship with those whose performance they had come to hear -- and the message was so strong that they were not going to be denied.
The Booth Brothers sang the remaining selections as if they were performing ‘in the round’, not wanting to slight those now seated behind, and alongside of, them. Clearly moved by the spontaneity of it all, they expressed their appreciation to ‘the faithful’, and extended their program a good half hour longer than scheduled, singing many more selections than intended. At one particularly powerful point in the program, Michael Booth commented, ‘I really do like you gun-totin’, religion-clingin’ small town Pennsylvanians!’ – which, of course, brought uproarious applause.
About twenty minutes after the skies had opened up, they cleared. We all enjoyed three or four more vocally inspiring pieces, prayed together, and called it a night.
As we were driving home, all three of us commented that those who see small-town Pennsylvanians through a closed-minded, left-leaning stereotypical prism would not have comprehended the simple beauty and spiritual closeness of what happened in that park. Either they would have been among the small handful who left when the rain began, or they would have begrudgingly sat through the program, focused on the fact that they were damp and disappointed in the weather.
Not so with the large majority of those who attended Sunday night’s concert. And for that we were all greatly blessed.