Chaos Attraction

A Tale Of Two Churches

2007-03-05, 2:52 p.m.

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Mom's not too thrilled with my religious choices of late, and I can't say I'm too thrilled with hers either.

Continuing on the previous entry's theme.... I went back into the Bay Area this weekend because there was a play I wanted to see (Harvey- I love this play), being performed at Mom's usual church. Which is to say, the one she's gone to all my life, the one we went to at Christmas, the one we had the memorial service at. I am not normally someone who likes church too much, but I've always found the people at this one to be pretty mellow. Which I like.

But. She has also started going to another church, the one her born-again counselor, and her friend Tom, and my cousin-in-law, and apparently half the hometown, goes to. This one has services on Saturday nights at six. And she wanted to go to church before...uh, going to church.

Okay, fine. I figure it'll be boring, because I am generally bored in church, but I can practice my meditation breathing or something. (I am taking a meditation class. Really not my thing at all, but given the Wiccan stuff of late I kind of feel like I should. Plus, my old shrink is teaching it.) Well, that wasn't the case.

This church is a MEGAchurch. As in, what's the FIRST thing I saw when I walked in? $TARBUCK$. Yes, there's a freaking STARBUCKS IN A CHURCH. That's just WRONG. Okay, nice if you want coffee (though they had no food, which ticked me off because Mom had wanted to go to Target instead of getting dinner before churches), but still! A freaking store! Starbucks! In Church! SHEESH does not even begin to cover that. Scary-ass wrong commercialism = -1.

There's a big hallway. There's an enormous area for the services, there's some stadium seating, there's a big ol' stage. They've got tons of rooms. They've got radio and video going to broadcast sermons and offer recordings of them right after the service. Useful souvenirs and accessibility = +2. (At one point during the sermon, the pastor mentioned talking to a bank about starting another branch of it and how the bank was falling over themselves to give them money because they have tons of it and still donated a million to charity. Then he made fun of himself for being "pastor and CEO" and being full of himself.) Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. I'd been told by Mom's counselor that Sundays are insanely full there, so I was glad Saturday was a half-packed house. I found myself missing the quiet and smallness of the other church. Size = -1.

Weird thing: people don't dress up to go to this church. I got brought up to do that, but here I was in a dress and Mom and Laurie (plus Mom's friend Linda, who was also there in our group) are all in pants. Huh? Even the pastor showed up in a denim shirt. I'm used to Pastor Chuck wearing formal robes- he's got some fancy draperies people have given him. So, wardrobe = -1.

I also thought it was weird that they handed me a program when I went in, but the program didn't actually say what was going on during the service. I'm used to the small church having a list of what songs are going to be sung, what Bible passages are going to be covered, when they're doing the offering, etc. Turns out they didn't really uh, need it. Because the first half hour of the service was pretty much a Christian music concert. Complete with Christian rock band, with the drummer in a cage.

I am not into Christian music (how many different ways can you say the same thing, if you don't plan on veering into country music territory?), but I did have to say that the music was a hell of a lot better than hymns. So, music = +1. Even if I was kind of creeped out by the people who'd just hold a random hand out in the air, like it was a lighter or something.

They were introduced by a woman who kind of set my teeth on edge, because she was one of those Perky Jesus People. By which I mean, someone who drops the J-bomb often. Here's about how she talked: she talks about some basketball game or other that's going to go on, then said, "Your secular friends will think, hey, it's basketball, that should be okay. Then we drop the Jesus on them and break out the pastor! Tee hee hee!"

Um, yeah. -2 for creeping me out.

In my head, I have two classifications of Christians:
(a) "Christians", as in the nice, normal, sane people who don't preach at you to convert, don't go around hating others. I am actually friends with these people.
(b) "CHRISTIANS", as in the born-again wackos who can't say a sentence without Jesus in it and tend to use the Bible as a license to hate. (John Scalzi calls them Leviticans, which is also a good name, but has never stuck in my head for daily usage.) It has been my experience before this church that anyone who goes around mentioning at every turn that they're a Christian is usually one of these people. (Hence why there's a thread like this on the Internet, I suppose, because those people like to publicize their love of Jesus everywhere. They probably have Jesus fish on the toilet paper.) I can't help but think that Jesus would be really annoyed with these people.

After hearing this chick, I started thinking, "Maybe I need to have some third level of classification, somewhere between the normal mellow people and the haters for God. The people who can't say a sentence without Jesus in it and get on my nerves, but at least aren't preaching hate, I suppose."

Anyway, after a half hour of the concert, the pastor came on with no fanfare. (I was expecting trumpets and a loudspeaker after that concert, honestly.)

Here's the thing: he was actually good. (+3 for not boring me.) He went on for most of an hour and I didn't even mind. I didn't even necessarily agree with him, but he was good. Funny, even, and admitted that the giving-up-stuff-for-Lent thing just wasn't working for him At All. (Heh.) He also did some snarking on reality television while admitting that he liked some shows. +2 for relating to average people who cheat and watch crap.

Most of his sermon related to him going to India and watching faith healings. It boiled down to, "There they have more faith than us, so miracles happen there that don't here. How can we change that? Um, I'm not too sure how." Now, I can't say I agree with that stuff at all. When I hear these stories of faith healings, I tend to think squirrely questions like, "Uh, how long were they sick? With what? How obviously visual was what they were sick with? How long did this 'healing' last? Did anyone check with a doctor after the fact?" I'm not going to say that prayer has no effect for sure, but I think that short of landing on Craphole Island, there's only so much faith can do to make your legs work/make your sperm work/unprovenly cure your cancer again. There's faith, and then there's physics, and there's not THAT much overlap between the two, I think. And let's face it, it's not gonna work for everybody. Hell, even the pastor said he'd gone to India with an injured foot and people prayed for his foot to heal...and it only healed for about a day before going back to hurting again. So. +1 for honesty, -2 for maybe not thinking this whole faith healing thing out entirely.

Mom, of course, then felt guilty for not praying for Dad to be healed, but she just didn't think God was going to heal him. (Well, duh there.) I felt annoyed that saying something like that was only going to lead her down the guilt spiral again, and it did. Guh.

So, it was a relief to go back over to the quiet little church, with the mellow chatty people, and relax and laugh at the play and get some homemade brownies as snacks.

In the end, I somehow don't think MEGAchurch was ah, quite for me. I don't really like group worship experiences in general (even in rituals I've been a little bit weirded out, though less so than I usually am), but this was fairly weirding out for me. I kind of suspect that if those God-fearing Christians knew what I was really like (even if we didn't mention the investigating-Wicca thing), they'd want to stone me. I always have a bit of that feeling in a church, even the nice church, but I really had it here. I'm just too weird to fit into conventional Christian society, especially when the "doesn't make a good wife" and "doesn't want precious babies" stuff comes out. Yes, I'm aware that many an ex-druggie fits into church well, but that's because they're embracing conventionality. Meanwhile, I'm stone cold sober for 98% of my life, am educated and well behaved and don't go around screwing others over, and I'm still too weird to fit in.

And nowadays, there's the whole "YOU WORSHIP SATAN!!!111!!!" thing in there too. I fear the more Christian Mom gets, the more she's going to start hating on me and going on about how I'm going to hell. I told my shrink this and she told me to have a conversation with Mom about it. I attempted to (several times)...and it didn't go well. Plus I found out that she frigging TOLD LAURIE about me taking a Wicca class and "Laurie was freaked out." Greeeaaaaat, way to squeal on me, why don't you? I cannot believe she was stupid enough to tell that to a relative. HELL no. Not okay. Okay, so I'd never told her, "You can't tell anyone this," but I never thought she'd think to blab! Dammit.

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