There's no real context for this post, other than a discussion that's taking place on MetaFilter at the moment about some particular Charismatic quirks. The various waves of Charismatic/Pentacostal miracles are a topic of fascination and dread for me. The miraculous gold dust discussed in the MeFi thread was one of many apocryphal stories while I was still in the church, and by the time people I knew claimed to experience it, I had quietly eased out of the community, sorting through my own confusion about it.
What I did see, first hand, were the ripple effects from the infamous "Toronto Blessing" and the "Kansas City Prophets." One of the most vivid memories I have of the era is from the 1996 Passion For Jesus conference.
At one of the church services that followed the conference, a few thousand people squeezed into a converted soccer stadium to hear a sermon by one of the speakers who'd stayed late. I was troubled by my own questions but earnest and hopeful that I could make some sense out of my own struggles with faith and a sense of God's distance. The speaker began talking, but very quickly it became clear that there was not much content to the sermon -- the focus was on the "Move of God's Spirit" that the speaker felt was in the room. Slowly, around the room, people were chuckling here and there. Some started laughing. The speaker told us that was God moving. In the third row, I was grappling with the recent death of a friend with AIDS, and was only really beginning to scratch the surface on some of the questions that raised.
The laughter spread. By the time five or ten minutes had passed, hundreds of people in the audience were laughing -- many literally falling out of their folding chairs. The speaker was shouting over the din, announcing that this was God's joy, proof of his love. I rested my head in my hands and slowly, without much thought, began to sob: it was one of the most intensely, crushingly isolating experiences of my life. I'm pretty sure that no one was able to hear over the crowd.
Hours later, after the service had broken up, a friend asked me about my experiences at "ground zero" near the front row. I tried to explain, but at the time I wasn't quite sure what had happened. They assured me that tears were "another one of the ways God moves sometimes." I nodded; I supposed at the time that explanation was as good as any.