I am sure Greg Downes’ article (Hysteria or Holy Spirit? p32) will ruffle a few feathers. He asks some hard questions about so-called ‘manifestations’ of the Holy Spirit – shaking, laughing, crying, falling over – which often happen in Christian gatherings. As a charismatic Christian, he’s not against those things, and neither am I. Miracles, healings, signs and wonders, being filled with the Spirit… these are the things which take God from a head question to a heart experience. However, sometimes, with the best of intentions, we can try to force these experiences. In the real world, Derren Brown and others have demonstrated how easy it is to re-create the atmosphere of a Christian meeting using the power of suggestion in place of God. How does that reflect on us? I don’t think it’s disastrous; it just means we have to be doubly vigilant about the way we do things. Are we manipulating people into experiencing God? Are we telling them what should be happening and what they should be feeling? It’s a very dangerous game, trying to do God’s job for him. It’s how people get hurt and can be catastrophic for people’s faith journeys. A friend of mine, not a Christian but brought up in a Christian home, had a bad experience at a summer camp as a teenager. At the end of an emotional meeting, lots of teenagers responded to an altar call and began praying in tongues. When he wasn’t similarly struck, a crowd of people laid hands on him and began aggressively praying that he would have the gift. He tells me how pressured and then how excluded and inadequate he felt when nothing happened. Based on that experience, he concluded that Christianity couldn’t be for him. What would have happened if, instead, someone had taken him to one side, told him God loves him, and encouraged him to listen for the ‘still small voice’? There are too many stories like this and we need to address the problem. Why is there such a huge drop off rate for teenagers who make commitments at summer camps and then afterwards decide not to pursue it? It is partly because they doubt the authenticity of the experience they had. There is a huge burden of responsibility here on anyone involved in leading a meeting. We need to look again at the accepted routes into experiencing God’s presence, and ask ourselves whether there could be a better way, which reduces the risk of manipulation, coercion and dishonour. Let’s believe in a God who is powerful enough to work without any ‘help’ from us. And then see what happens.