Sunday, July 10, 2011
Memories of IHOP
P stands for pancakes. At least it always has for me and my daughters, who made ritual visits to IHOP on weekly grocery runs in the 1990s. So when I read in the New York Times today about a converted strip mall in Kansas City that has instituted perpetual prayer and is known as the International House of Prayer, all I could think of was chocolate disks drenched in syrup, with two dabs of whipped cream for eyes and a maraschino cherry for a mouth. I wasn’t surprised to read that self-taught evangelical pastor Mike Bickle, who founded this IHOP, is being sued by the real IHOP. Sorry, Mike, there will always be only one IHOP.
The picture above, however, is not my daughter pleading for one more silver-dollar pancake. It is one of the tens of thousands of worshipers who flock to Bickle’s Kansas City establishment, where young volunteers by the thousands study the Bible, maintain a perpetual din of praise music (a new variant on Perpetual Adoration, maintained 24/7/365 since 1999), and fast at least one day a week.
I am of two minds about this phenomenon. Mind One says, there are worse things than prayer. Mind Two, getting louder by the minute, is spooked. Although we apparently have escaped the Rapture, Bickle cautions that the end times are likely to occur soon, while preaching steadily on angels and demons.
What strikes me most forcibly is the cultish aspect of the place. The article tell us:
“Some former students have complained that the sensory overload and isolation had left them unable to think for themselves, and that some leaders had urged them to avoid contact with skeptical parents.
“Stephanie Gerard, 27, said that she was asked to leave the Bible school two years ago after she started challenging her teachers’ fascination with mystical “signs and wonders,” and that after months of praying and fasting, ‘I sounded like a clone.’”
Sensory overload (yes, there can be too much praise), isolation, and threat of banishment are classic techniques of mind control, limiting freedom. I’ll stick with the Catholic Church, where we come and go as we please, with pancakes at the real IHOP after Mass.
The full Times article is here.