Philadelphia is either home to the most genuinely Christian movement in America or it's a festering spiritual slum. All depends on how you look at it.
Nashville, Tenn. Just spitting distance from Confederate flag-flying tourist knickknack shops, hundreds of eager young people have flocked to a Christian-run youth club to see a Philly band called mewithoutYou.
After the show, the young Christians will hang around to seek wisdom from 29-year-old Philadelphian Aaron Weiss, the band's incredibly charismatic lead singer.
The band tours the U.S. most summers in their battered, leaking, sweat-reeking vegetable oil-fueled 40-foot 1976 MC8 charter bus. There's no toilet, just a hole that empties onto the road.
Most trips are interrupted by the need to drain the fat from a nearby fast food restaurant's Dumpster. Most nights the band, the crew and the band's dog sleep in onboard bunks as the bus travels impossible distances through the night.
I've invited myself along after stumbling upon mewithoutYou while reading Rapture Ready--a long rant by secular Jewish author Daniel Radosh about mass-marketed Christian culture.
Halfway through the book, Radosh meets Weiss, a Dumpster-diving, celibate, homeless young Christian rock singer who takes walking-it-like-you-talk-it to righteous extremes.
I traveled across the Bible Belt with the band for 10 days--starting in Nashville with stops in Kentucky, rural Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Texas.
Every show ends with lead singer Weiss out on the sidewalk or parking lot with acoustic guitar, glowing with sweat, smiling beatifically, surrounded by grinning, enraptured young people.
I've seen hero worship. I've seen lust. This is something different.
"Keep your eyes open," says guitarist Mike Weiss, Aaron's brother and a dead ringer for Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. "It gets weird out here."
True enough. At a bar in Birmingham, Ala., stunned parents who brought what drummer Rickie Mazzotta calls their "cookie-cutter Christian kids" to see a nice Christian band, stare in horror as the puppy-dog-eyed, scruffy, unshaven singer praises Allah.
Geek Invasion 2013