Brother Max

bible_old3

“You’re aaaallll sinners! Repent before it’s too late!!” 

I turned to see where the voice was coming from.  I was late for my freshman psychology lecture, but I had to see what was going on.  There in the middle of the grass mall was a large circle of 50 students with a skimmer straw hat moving slowly in the center.  I rollerskated up the sidewalk (hey it was the 80’s) as the crowd shouted at the man in the middle.  That’s when I first laid eyes on Brother Max.

Brother Max was a traveling preacher.  He was in his late 50’s, and wore a white seer sucker suit with suspenders and a yellow bow tie. He reminded me of one of those snake oil salesmen that wandered from town to town in the old West.  But Brother Max was not selling snake oil.  He was selling Christianity.  And now, like a single gladiator in the middle of a great coliseum, he was inviting the crowd to clash with him in a war of words.

At first I was amused.  He danced around on his soapbox (OK, plastic milk crate) and alternated between reading scriptures from his beat-up old bible and rebuking random members of the audience.  The audience alternated between booing and laughing. I admit I laughed at the spectacle too, until Brother Max walked up to a young sorority girl proudly displaying three Deltas on her pink sweatshirt, and said, “Yooooouuu are a prostitute, and yer going to hell if you don’t repent.”

Whoa! Now hold on a minute. I am a Christian and this was not the tolerant, respectful religion I grew up with. This guy was going WAY over the top and inciting the crowd with hostility.  I somehow felt like they were laughing at my faith now, and suddenly didn’t feel like being silent anymore.

“Hey, you don’t know her!!” I shouted, apparently loud enough for Max to hear from across the circle.  He wheeled around and looked right at me.  The crowd got quiet as he took six long exaggerated steps toward me and stopped six inches from my face.  I could see the fire in his eyes through his thick glasses, not unlike looking through the bottom of two rootbeer mugs.  He smelled like an odd mix of cotton candy and beef jerky.

He growled, “And you’re going to Hell too, boy.”

Everybody laughed at the theatrical display, but then got really quiet and turned to look at me.  Was I going to respond, or back down?  Not wanting my religion to be mocked anymore, I expressed myself, eloquently,

“You’re an idiot!”  The crowd emboldened me with a laugh.

Brother Max came right back with, “You’re a blasphemer!”

I shouted a little louder, “You’re a blowhard!!”

The crowd roared again. It had now grown to over 100 people.

Brother max escalated “I challenge yeewwww to repent of your sins!!”

All the expectant eyes were upon me.  To this day I’m not sure where it came from inside me, but I shouted “Well, I challenge you… to an arm-wrestling match!”

This got the biggest laugh of the “show.”  I looked left and right, congratulating myself on my quick wit, but Brother Max was not ready to give up.

“Come on bring it, little man.”

Excuse me?  Did he just accept my challenge to an arm-wrestling match in front of 100 people?! There was no backin’ down now.  I threw aside my backpack and said, “You’re goin down, Brother Max.”

Now picture the absurdity of the scene for a moment.  Here was a 50-something man in a white seersucker suit and yellow bow tie, lying down in the grass to arm-wrestle a freshman wearing a Purdue sweatshirt, blue jean shorts and rollerskates.  Brother Max was short but stocky, probably outweighing me by 80 pounds. My skinny arms were about half the size of his. I was not optimistic about the outcome, but there was no backing down now.

The crowd closed in and counted down from 10 like a rocket launch.

10 – 9 – 8 – 7

His hand felt like a big hairy catcher’s mitt, and I gripped the best I could.

6 – 5 – 4

He glared at me through those rootbeer mugs, magnifying the fire in his eyes.

3 – 2 – 1 – Go!!

The battle didn’t last long.  I put up a 10-second fight before he turned his wrist and slammed my arm back into the grass.  The crowd cheered and booed at the same time.  Then something unexpected happened – Brother Max didn’t immediately let go of my hand.  He held on for a few seconds more, as a big smile curled across his lips.  He whispered something I’ll never forget, “I’ve got their attention now, don’t I boy?”

Max got back up on his milk crate to preach and I slinked away to my Psychology class. My Christianity was still intact but my pride… not so much. I was now known as “that guy who arm-wrestled Brother Max and lost!”

But the story doesn’t end there.  An hour later, after my class, I was rolling by the mall.  There was no longer a crowd in the grass, but I saw Brother Max under the shade of a big oak tree, talking quietly to a group of four students.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he was handing them small bibles and turning to specific pages for them to read.

Is it possible that crazy Brother Max was really a marketing genius, creating a scene in order to be heard?  Was he simply demanding attention from the many to really reach just a few?

There are 2 lessons I took away from my run-in with Brother Max. Take your pick:

1)     Don’t let your alligator mouth get your hummingbird butt in trouble.

2)     First impressions, and intentions, are not always what they seem.

For that lesson, and for the four other students he reached that day, I say… thank God for Brother Max.

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24 Comments on “Brother Max”

  1. Jeff G Says:

    Oh my God! That was a 30 yr slingshot back in time to the mall at school!
    I had forgotten that “Throwdown”. I remember friends coming up to me that day and saying, “hey your little brother arm wrestled Brother Max!” Of course, I thought they were all kidding until I saw you in person later at the skating rink for a shift.(hey it was the early 80’s) I didn’t even get the question out of my mouth when you were already answering, “He was alot stronger than he looked for an old guy!”

    I hadn’t thought of Brother Max since I graduated from Purdue. He was quite a fixture, and I recall being with you on a few occasions when “we” were lightly heckling. Nice to see there was a gem that lasted from that encounter.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Haha, thanks Jeff. Do you remember his last name by any chance? I was hoping to find a photo of him somewhere on the Internet. Maybe the old archives of the Purdue Exponent would have one?

  2. Julie DuVal Says:

    Okay – I don’t remember that story, and you did have MANY!! We think we became friends early in the fall our freshman year, so how do I not remember? Oh…the mind…it’s so sad to see it go…..

  3. Richie Knight Says:

    David, his name was/is Max Lynch.

  4. Jeff G Says:

    Very sad news. I read his posts and he sure had his sense of humor till the end. I now feel badly about the light heckling I participated in. I recall a common phrase that students would yell as they walked by, rode by, or in some cases “skated by” and would say, “Hey Max, get a job!”
    Little did any of us know, but he was already doing it. The courage and conviction it must have taken to stand out there day after day and endure the ridicule.
    Rest in Peace Brother Max Lynch

  5. Scott G Says:

    5 stars, just for the comic relief you provided with this story! And two good takeaways to boot. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Gail K Says:

    Just a quick FYI from a fellow alum who spent many a spring day on the mall listening to Brother Max. The Max Lynch who posted the letter on the fraternity website and later passed away from cancer in Ohio is not our Brother Max.

    Our Max died on August 24, 2000 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Terre Haute. At any rate, reading your post brings back great memories of skipping class to listen to his ramblings. Not many people know this but he was a brilliant mind and gave up two careers for his religion.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Gail, thanks for straightening the record. As you hopefully can tell from my story, I look back with fondness and a smile at his confrontational evangelism style.

  7. John Says:

    I knew Max well as I lived close to him & talked with him often. He was one true to his convictions.

  8. Jim Kitterman Says:

    David<

    I remember Brother Max well as living at Phi Delt I would walk by the mall where he preached several times a day.

    I recall that his favorite word was "FORNICATORS!" and the crowd regualarly responding "YEP!"

    Oh well, thanks for the brief time machine ride

  9. Hao-Nhien Vu Says:

    I was googling for Brother Max and found this. Takes me back. Wonder if he’s still there on the mall…

  10. Jeff Casey Says:

    I know this is a very old post but I just found it after someone reminded me of Brother Max after many years. I went to Purdue from ’81 to ’82 (ok, engineering didn’t work out for me) and I remember sitting in the mall watching him.

    I was a photographer for the Fowler Hall yearbook and had a silhouette picture of him in that year’s book. I believe I had one of one of his cute acolytes too.

    I’m sorry to hear he’s gone.

  11. Andrew D. Says:

    I attended Purdue from 1984 to 1989. I spent many, many afternoons listening to Max. I remember he always referred to us as drunks and for-ni-ca-TORS (he always drew out each syllable really emphasizing the last) and would shout about us burning in the lake of FIIIIRRRRREEEEE-ER!

    Do you remember Brother Jim who used to preach with him? He was the young guy who had saw the light through the pot smoke at a Van Halen concert.

    If you are looking for a pic of Max most of the Debris yearbooks from the 80s contain at least one pic of him.

    http://earchives.lib.purdue.edu/cdm4/browse.php?CISOROOT=/debris&CISOSTART=1,101

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Andrew! and thanks for the links to the yearbooks. I didn’t know they were online!
      David G.

    • Andrew D. Says:

      David,

      I found a pic of Brother Max online…

      What a shame the current generation will not experience him. He was an original and a real treasure. Sorely missed, for sure. Our campus is such a magical place, I graduated in 1989 but I think about and miss it every day.

      Does anyone remember Arth Drugs and how they would give students a check cashing card?

      Or how about….

      Garcia’s Flying Tomato

      Veno’s Pizza

      Spiceland Gifts (jelly beans and snacks)

      Smitty’s Supermarkets

      Quincey’s bar

      The Beachhouse

      Mr. Bill’s (my first time getting served my freshman year in 1984 using a fake ID)

      Schooner Night at Sgt. Prestons

      Plasma Alliance (sell your blood for beer money)

      So many wonderful memories…no wonder we refer to WL as “God’s Country”.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

      Andy

  12. Ken Believes Says:

    Max was my father and I continue his ministry online, albeit with a more loving and less condemning slant.

  13. Jed Smock Says:

    This is a good story about Max Lynch; we started preaching together on campuses in Indiana and Illinois in 1974. The writer has his facts confused. May never wore a seersucker suit, bow tie and suspenders, that sounds more like a description of me. Also, Max did not wear glasses. He must have think glasses confused in his memory with the policeman like sun glasses which Max usually wore. Max engaged several students in arm wrestling; he never lost a match.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Brother Jed! Thanks for correcting the record. My memory may indeed be a little fuzzy on details, but I’ll never forget you and Max.


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