The Power of Experience

This past Saturday marked the beginning of the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, kicking off two weeks of festivities building up the most exciting two minutes in all of sports. It’s the one day of the year where everyone thinks they’re a horse racing expert, and millions tune in to watch the fastest natural athletes in the world, with speeds on the home stretch approaching 40mph. But it all starts with Thunder over Louisville. If you’ve never been, you might just want to check this out before continuing. It’s 24 minutes long, and here’s some perspective: Imagine going to the biggest fireworks show you’ve seen and checking out the finale – Now, imagine that finale for a half hour.

Here’s some Thunder 2012 stats:

  • Attendance: Estimated at 400,000 (some years as many as 750,000)
  • 23 tons of fireworks
  • Cost to produce: Excess of $1 Million
  • Economic impact on Louisville: $56 Million
  • Number of Mullets on Waterfront Park: Indescribable
  • Traffic impact: Normal 20 minute drive can take 3 hours
  • Air show leading to Thunder: 60+ military/civilian aircraft for 7 hours
  • Chances of getting a hotel downtown: Better know someone rich and important!

Why is this such a big deal? Because there’s something overpowering about the experience. My wife has asked me often why I will look at my phone during fireworks shows, and my response to her every time is: “If you’ve been to Thunder, nothing impresses you anymore” – It’s almost impossible to grasp the scope of the event until you’ve been to it, and once you have it really does sour every fireworks or air show you could go to afterwards. The amount that goes into the event and the end result really is awesome. That word gets overused and undervalued, but this is certainly one of those times it is appropriate.

Here are four reasons why this is such a unique event:

  1. There is an expectation – You don’t pack a half million people (perspective, that’s more than double the population of all of Western Kentucky) in one area without having something planned and those people expecting something. Dud Over Louisville would last one year. Plus, you can see the barges get into position before the event, see all the road closing signs, and the constant news reports about Thunder Traffic.
  2. There is a wow moment – Actually there’s several, from the flyovers with the afterburners on to the skydiving to the B-2 Stealth Bomber to the mile long bridge fireworks to the boom you can hear 10 miles away to the finale that lights up the night sky like noon.
  3. There is a commonality – I have yet to sit down next to someone at Thunder who looked at me and said “Now, why are we here again? Is someone playing?” Everyone is there for a common reason, to be awed. From being a little kid on my dad’s shoulders to going in college with friends to hopefully being able to take Sam and have him on my shoulders, people are there for a common reason.
  4. There is a longing for more – One thing I’ve experienced is that when it’s over I always hoped there would be another round. It’s hard to watch the display and not wish for more.

In case you’re wondering, the date for 2013 is April 20 – Make your plans to go

Why does all this matter? Simply this, experiences like this are so powerful because they happen so rarely. If Thunder happened every Saturday night, it would lose its wonder. It would become simply another attraction, another event, another thing on the calendar. Because it’s rare, it is something you have to wait for. There’s not immediate access, even on TV and YouTube it just isn’t the same.

But here’s where the rubber meets the road – Every week as believers we have the opportunity to have a Thunder-type experience, where each of those four reasons that makes Thunder unique play themselves out on a weekly basis. And it’s with the God whose creative power and beauty makes Thunder look like a firecracker show. It’s with a Word that has the power to change the most wicked of hearts. It’s within a Body that is representative of the crucified Savior and is the instrument of redemption of a fallen world. But sadly, for many of us, this encounter and experience with the Divine is routine, trivial, and negligible. This week, prepare yourself for Sunday and the coming together of the Church to be built up by the Word and by corporate worship. Look forward to the opportunity to be awed by the grace of God who chooses to meet with us through the Word read and preached. Expect to be awed by the fact that God allows us to worship Him through song, through witnessing others baptized, and through the partaking of Communion where we pronounce the risen Christ and await His return. Be amazed at the fact that the Church is the gathering of those from every walk of life who have come under the banner of Christ.

And the most wonderful thing is, this is an experience that should never become routine, God’s wonder never gets old, not after decades or millennia.


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