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October 14, 2013

the day i spoke in tongues

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Nearly ten years ago, a friend from high school invited my wife and I to his wedding. He (G) and I had shared great times and memories, most of them related to various adventures in sports and tomfoolery. I take most of the blame for the fact that we lost touch. We fell in different circles during the transitional years from high school to college, and for a while I truly wasn't much fun to hang out with.

But for a few reasons, G and I kept in contact during the post college, pre-Facebook period. Upon replying that we would be glad to attend the wedding, he asked me to say the prayer before their reception dinner. Flattered and scared, I hesitated.

For the most part, G was aware of what I stood for. I didn't know most of the people who would be in attendance. From what I gathered, few of them were Christians. I didn't try to pin down the values and beliefs of the bride and groom or require 6 weeks of premarital counseling. I simply agreed to pray. This would be a challenge but possibly an opportunity to genuinely bless them and maybe bring some Jesus to the party.

In preparation for this I prayed for insight - to come up with something original, meaningful, and brief without being preachy or showy. I rehearsed and prayed that it would be well received and touch people for God in some way. Looking back now I would even say that my intentions were mostly pure.

The moment came when I stepped to the mic in front of two hundred (or so) seated in a formal reception room at Station Square in Pittsburgh. For the sake of transition, I wanted to quickly ask that we quietly bow our heads to pray before the meal that we celebrate. But the mic that functioned just fine for the MC moments earlier suddenly went haywire. When I opened my mouth there was a sharp cracking and my voice cut in and out at the rate of about three times per second.

The room hushed as the harsh noise managed to startle and confuse most attendees. What's with the awkward guy mumbling gibberish?

A more seasoned speaker would have possibly stopped to address the problem or set the mic down to project his voice naturally. But instead I swallowed hard and plowed through. The mic persisted in its malfunctioning which further threw me off. The words I had carefully prepared came out backwards and garbled, which by then I'm sure would have sounded terrible even with a perfectly good mic.

By the time the disaster settled, the MC was standing beside me with his hand open. He grabbed the mic and quickly snapped a new one in place. The background music resumed immediately followed by the hum of table conversations, drinks, and appetizers. I scurried back to my seat and dove into the security of my salad and napkin.

And that's how the insecure, formerly Catholic and presently rational evangelical boy who espouses a completely reasonable faith and disdains the idea of charismatic anything spoke in tongues before a crowd of unbelievers and old acquaintances.

It did not immediately dawn on me that I had spoken in tongues. But months afterward I realized that the outward appearance of my performance would have garnered a hearty amen from even the least zealous Pentecostals. To this day I'm unsure why or whether or not God allowed that to happen. But I know that reflecting on the experience caused some things in me to change.

I won't suggest that God united two people in marriage and gathered a room full of unbelievers and unreliable AV equipment just to teach me a lesson. But it's possible such things could occur in the process. For all I know, I truly did speak in tongues that day, The Spirit moving through and to an unwilling vessel to deliver a hard-line message about beliefs, grace, and humility. 

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