Monday, 8 June 2009

Church Part 1

I've struggled a little with this entry, which is why I have taken such a long time in my revision process before posting it.  I have a tendency to be very sarcastic in my writing style, so I have a lot of difficulty trying to express sincerity in the things I say.  This is not because I am an inherently insincere person, but rather I don't think people believe there isn't an underlying sarcastic agenda when I write something honest.  This entry (as some of my more intelligent readers may surmise from the title) is about Church - or, more specifically, my recent visits to services held therein.

As I have stated in previous entries, I was (and still am) very open to the idea of finding a spiritual code by which to live, and have been leaning towards the ideals brought forth in the Bible.  Although some of you who know me well may find it difficult to believe, I have given Christianity a real chance, opened my mind to many things at which I used to scoff, and embraced with self-surprising enthusiasm the speakings of these local Christian leaders who, not too long ago, would have received only my derision.  However, as the opening paragraph would suggest, my response to many of the things I've seen and heard so far may appear sarcastic overall, so this is something of a disclaimer to say that this entry is in absolutely no way attacking Christianity or the Bible; While I will never again refer to myself as an atheist, the life of a Church-goer is seemingly not for me.

Daniel Goes to Church
Notes and reactions from my time attending Sunday services and youth sermons

I toyed with the idea of ripping off Bill Simmons' running-diary format for my church entries, but as these notes were taken over the course of multiple visits, I would have had to do one unique entry per running-diary which would have been tedious and boring to read (even more so than this entry may end up being).  So, without any more stalling, I'll start transcribing my scribbled notes here!

At the beginning of April, I was invited by the youth pastors to come out and listen to a sermon by a Texas preacher who was touring Canada talking to youth groups.  Apparently he is rather famous in the Christian youth community so I will withhold his name, and he will hitherto be referred to as ###.

Before ### spoke, the youth band that had formed within the group in the months before I started attending played a set of Christian rock covers.  There are a couple of talented singers in the band, one of whom - the piano player - is also a talented songwriter who played some of his solo stuff once.

### stood the entire time the band played with his hands in the air and his eyes closed tightly.  Over and over again he would say the words "yes Jesus, yes" in a loud, Texan stage whisper which I could clearly hear over the 6-piece rock band playing on stage.  He was clearly out-Christianing the rest of us with all that yesJesus-ing.

Onces the band finished playing, ### took the podium, every inch of him looking like a stereotype of an image-obsessed man making a lot of money from his faith.  His hair was greasy and slicked back, and he wore a baggy dress shirt, the size of which, however, was not enough to hide his large belly.  His face was leathery and overly tanned, whether from a tanning bed or the Texas sun, I know not.  Chest hair poked out the top of his shirt, a gold chain lost within it, and he wore a large gold wristwatch on his left wrist, twinkling in the spotlight with diamondlike gemstones.  As you might imagine, my immediate - entirely superficial - impression of this man was not favourable.

He launched into a story about how, in Texas, there are many tornadoes, and the only way to protect oneself and one's family from them was through an early warning system, which manifests itself as a tornado warning siren in his Texas town.  He kept calling wind-felled trees "whacked off trees", but not ONE of the many teenage Christians giggled at the repetition of "whacked off".  Heck, even I cracked a smile after the seventh or eighth time he said it... those kids are creepy little robots sometimes.  My juvenile sense of humour aside, the point of his warning system story was the inform us that our society is in dire, dire danger!

Whereas, in his town, government officials warn their constituents that a deadly wind-storm is approaching through a series of sirens, ### told us that God is warning us that our culture is going to land us all in hell.  But, as God doesn't have a siren system, he warns us with things like terrorist attacks and hurricane Katrina. (I wonder if they had hurricane sirens in New Orleans?)

### told us that we were in the beginning stages of an all-out war between Christians and non-Christians, that would culminate in the rapture at some point during our lifetimes.  He told us of Shamma the hero, a character from the Old Testament.  The story of Shamma is easily googled if you want an in-depth look at all the details, but I'll just paraphrase ### here for our purposes.  We were told that Shamma stood against a heathen army, defending his bean field in the name of the one true God, and that because he was a true-believer, God reached down and vanquished Shamma's foes.  He told us that our generation's "bean field" (which we must defend against the heathen hordes) is all of society, and that we are all warriors-in-training for God's holy army. Normally, sitting in a room while someone informs a group of youths that they are about to fight a holy war would make me feel very uncomfortable, and likely give me the same creeped-out tingling down my spine I got while watching Jesus Camp, or like when a sleep-walker talks to me while looking straight through me.  However, I would be remiss if I did not say that this greasy Texas preacher spoke in a very easy-going, likable way that made his heavy ideas much easier to digest.

Having said that, no matter how smooth a talker ### was, and no matter how wide I opened my mind, there was no way I was going to be capable of digesting the next round of ideas he tried to feed us.  From the Shamma story, he segued into a story of how he, himself, was a hero for a young couple in his congregation.  Apparently this couple (her 17, him 18, both bound for UTexas in the following fall) had gotten pregnant and come to ### for advice.  You see, neither one of them wanted to tell their ultra-Christian families about the pregnancy, so for 6 months they kept it to themselves, the girl hiding it with baggy clothing.  They had decided together they were going to secretly have the baby and put it up for adoption, and wanted ###'s confidential advice on the matter.  ### told them that they would regret it forever if they "gave away" the baby, that he "wouldn't wish adoption on anyone", and their parents would never forgive them if they found out down the line what had transpired.

Well, you can imagine what happened.  The preacher took the kids to their parents and told them about the pregnancy, and everyone was ecstatic about the news!  Rather than attending university in the fall, the pair were married in the fall and got jobs to support their child.  "I had the opportunity to be their hero," he said.  "If not for me, their lives would have been shattered."  I am not even going to make a snarky reactionary comment to the last two paragraphs.  I really think it speaks for itself.  Instead,  allow me to launch into a point form list of a few more of ###'s highlights:

  • We should not allow ourselves to have emotional ups-and-downs, instead we should strive to be like Jesus (or as he pronounced it "Jayeezuhss").  Basically, experiencing anger is a sin, but so is experiencing depression, and the only euphoria we should be allowed to feel should be euphoria brought forth through a relationship with God.  Yes, although the shortest sentence in the Bible ("Jesus wept" [John 11:35]) expressly states that Jesus cried after the death of his friend Lazarus, ### says that "Jesus only cried because he was so intense, not because he was sad."
  • He once attended a huge religious youth rally in Australia, which was being attended by"all numbers of witches, warlocks, and druggies."  Seriously.  That's an exact quote.  I wrote it down verbatim.  Anyway, ###, was overcome by the power of God that night and lost control of himself, and began to "cast devils out of kids", some of whom then began "running outside and howling at the moon."  He then proclaimed that "the spiritual atmosphere in Australia changed 'cause of me."  Just another example of how much of a hero in God's army ### is.
  • The preacher told everyone there to "look around your room and remove everything that isn't Christian" once they returned home that evening.  He also said "don't listen to non-Christian music," and "don't look at bad websites."
  • The final message he had for everyone in his sermon was a callback to his message about striving to avoid emotional ups-and-downs.  ### closed by saying that "the cure for depression is to say NO to it."  To say: "I am going to live in love, joy, and peace, because depression is a tool of the devil!"

He then lined us all up (myself included), and one-by-one placed his hands on our heads, screeching prayers over us, asking God to enter into our hearts and guide us through our upcoming holy war.  He prayed over me last of all, and as he did I felt his hands hot on my head.... and then I felt a hand on my left shoulder blade.... and then one on my right biceps.... and another in the middle of my back.  Were these angels reaching down from the heavens to change my life?  Was the hand of God coming down to fill me with his love?
I peeked left.

I peeked right.

end of part one

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