Given a chance to attend "Peter Lowe's Success ‘97" at the Orlando Arena, I was intrigued. The lineup for the virtual Monsters of Rock tour of motivational speakers was huge, and surely justified the $225 cost of my "Premier" ticket, guaranteeing a seat close to the stage.
It was billed as an all-day affair for business professionals, and would consume an entire 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. workday. Although slightly cynical, I still hoped to glean some wisdom from these gods of self-improvement. Apparently I was not alone. By 7:30 a.m., the Arena lots were closed and I was steered toward the Citrus Bowl, a short shuttle ride away. Back inside, all manner of professionals packed the house, each with cell phones and pagers whose incessant alarms testified to their bearer's importance. (In fact, lines for the pay phone were consistently longer than those for the bathroom.)
Emcee for the day was Tony Robbins. Equipped with a smoke machine, fireworks, a full gospel chorus and a sound system that blared pop hits from "Everybody Dance Now" to "Come on Ride the Train," he brought everyone, including me, to their feet, as if this were a rock concert and Robbins himself were Mick Jagger. He had us dancing, smiling, giving people next to us back rubs, doing aerobics.
In his message, he insisted that each person ultimately has the power to create not a good, not a great, not even an outstanding, but an "extraordinary" life. Sure, bitterness crept in when I thought how freakin' loaded this guy was, but at some point I actually felt a tingle. Was I being motivated? What Robbins was saying was not brain science, but it made an odd kind of sense to me, made me feel a bit warm and fuzzy, and most definitely beat a day at the office. So I listened ... and listened ... and listened ... until four hours later, when the headliner, Peter Lowe, at last appeared.
By this time I was thinking, how much motivation can you squeeze into one day before it becomes exhaustion? Poor Peter Lowe. He had to speak in the afternoon -- after the lunch slump.
The video, "Who Is Peter Lowe?," lit up two giant screens with clips of him doing missionary work in South America alongside his beautiful wife and son. There also were clips of interviews with the Rev. Billy Graham, and famous athletes and stars. Then Lowe himself emerged, Oz-like, from behind the curtain -- short, small and with the most grating nasal voice you've ever heard.
As soon as it hit me that his message was no better than those cheesy pep talks delivered by high school coaches, I planned my retreat to the lobby. Perhaps sensing wider restlessness, Lowe called for a break -- but promised that all who remained would get a "bonus 15-minute session." Not wanting to miss out on the one piece of information that might matter most, I stayed.
That's when it turned from a retreat to a revival. Almost immediately, Lowe revealed that success is not possible without God. He said Jesus Christ is what gets him through his day. Applause filled the Arena. Surely Christianity was the predominant religion in this crowd, and people were happy to reaffirm their beliefs. But Lowe's tone of voice was shifting from motivator to preacher. He continued with intensity, growing louder and inserting more and more references to God. The audience cheered.
Whether or not they knew it, they were being steered. This is where Lowe added the idea of "getting rich" into his equation. He requested that those who had not accept Jesus then and there -- right in the middle of a so-called "business" seminar. Forms were passed out with a commitment to Jesus already printed on them, which you could sign and return with your address so that Lowe could send you additional "free offers," including tapes and books. He actually guaranteed that if you accepted Jesus into your heart on that day, you would become incredibly financially wealthy. And he encouraged everyone to look into his book, "Getting Rich By The Book," which laid out the supposed correlation between the New Testament and money in the bank.
When he finally finished his revivalist sales pitch, most people applauded. Some gave him a standing ovation. Even more raced to the lobby for those additional "free" materials laced with religious overtones.
I wasn't feeling motivated at all. I felt angry that those around me couldn't see that Lowe was simply manipulating a soft spot -- their religion. The tactic is an old one, and Peter Lowe won't be the last to get rich through people's soul searching and self-doubts. For him, the link between religion and riches is crystal clear.
Success '97 surely succeeded for the speakers who sold bushels of tapes and books. But I wonder whether those in the audience like me, who came wanting more, left with anything other than an excused absence.