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It was surreal enough that a white-haired man would walk up to me at the crowded Michelle's—ice-cream lovers' cloud nine in Colorado Springs—get on one knee, look me in the eyes, and croon "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"

The Elvis impersonator was not a waiter desperate for a tip.

He was none other than Larry Crabb, the popular Christian counselor whose books have sold in the millions. The author of Finding God (Zondervan, 1993), which left me in tears of repentance. The evangelical mystic, who—in the words of one of his best friends, Trip Moore—has the gift "to remain miserable in the midst of blessings." The distinguished scholar in residence at Colorado Christian University.

As Crabb proceeded with his confident, testosterone-oozing, faithful Elvis impersonation—complete with swiveling hips—you'd think his personality just split. Later I learn that I'm one of his many victims: doing Elvis "to" people is a prank he plays on his colleagues, students, and even Christian cruise passengers.

Why would he do that? Brennan Manning, Catholic retreat director and author of The Wisdom of Tenderness (HarperCollins, 2002), who has been giving Crabb occasional spiritual direction for the last 14 years, offers a plausible reason: "Maybe he does it to disarm."

Crabb's interest in the "tragic artistry" of Elvis began in childhood. He'd stand for hours by the hi-fi and sing along with the King. "When I hear him, particularly in the spirituals, it feels like something wistful is coming out, something yearning, something longing," he says.

Crabb looks at everyone with this kind of wonder. Beneath behavior he sees wounds. Beneath wounds he sees depravity. Beneath depravity he sees the gloriously volatile imago dei.

When he was only 6, Crabb watched ...

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May 2003

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