10/19/2005

On a recent trip back to Indiana to visit my peeps, I decided to check out the megachurch my mother’s begun to attend (though, thank God, she’s not become so zealous that she doesn't fink out nearly every other Sunday because she’s having a bad hair day, or something). It is a far cry from the little church that could in Speedway, Indiana we attended when I was a kid. The new place is a supersized structure more like a staging ground for Cirque' Du Soleil than a church in the traditional sense. There was a safe, anonymous feel to it, largely because of its enormity, but there was no warmth. And while people were friendly, they were Stepford-wife friendly. Get too personal and you could see they’d come at you like the pod people in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

What was particularly interesting to me was the program for the day. There was a lot of music in the program, and these being white folks, it was pretty much sheer torture sitting through it. My dad, a lapsed Catholic, refused to go to this church when my mother started, mainly because of the music, he told me, and now, finally, I could understand. They had four hymns in the ‘prelude’ alone. Funny thing was, they were all about power, none about mercy. They started with ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,’ and then it was ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,’ followed by ‘Majesty,’ and for a finale, ‘Above All.’ The offertory hymn was ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’; Communion hymn: ‘His Name Is Wonderful’; and the ‘Invitation’ (whatever to was not stated): ‘The Savior Is Waiting’ (tapping his foot impatiently, no doubt). The scripture meditation was from Colassians 1:15-20 (all about the supremacy of Christ):

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

And for something called ‘Prayertime,’ the following meditation was offered: ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.’ You are getting verrrrreeee sleeeeepeeeee…

I mean, it’s perfectly possible that the theme for the day was ’Jesus is Boss, and Don’t You Forget It!’ And that the following week was all about how you should be nice to your neighbors, about love, or mercy, forgiveness, or something, but somehow I think ‘My God Can Beat Up Your God’ is probably the theme pretty much every week. And a hymn or two about Jesus’ majesty (although I always preferred to look at it like ‘purple mountains majesty’—not in the sense of ‘your royal majesty’)—a hymn or two is understandable, but seven (there was actually an eighth I failed to mention, taken from Hebrews 1) is a little excessive—I mean, just because it’s monotheism doesn't mean it has to be monotonous, or worse: positively monomaniacal—there is a point at which you’re beating a dead horse.

Protestantism used to be about demolishing hierarchy--or maybe it was the particular hierarchy of the Catholic Church of Martin Luther's time, and not all hierarchy. But contemporary evangelical protestantism seems to be at least partly about putting the parishioner in his or her place, much like traditional Catholicism. I think this at least in part accounts for the affinity between evangelicalism and Catholicism we saw in phenomena like "The Passion of the Christ," which was a very Catholic film. The other part of the appeal of the film was, of course, the depiction of relentless victimization, which is, for some reason, a central facet of the modern middle class Midwestern personality. The problem is not that there's not grounds for gripes, the problem is: whatever their perceived torments, their tormentors are most assuredly not sodomites and abortionists.

At any rate, it's clear from the program what my mother's megachurch is all about. There's an undeniable appeal to subordinating yourself to a higher power in this way (there are, of course, plenty of other ways to acknowledge the enormity of the universe, and the unfathomable mystery of life that also allow for genuine curiosity, inquiry, and growth). Evangelicals consider themselves soldiers of Christ in the middle of a culture war, and every army has its hierarchy. But you choose your battles, and it seems to me that these evangelicals are fighting all the wrong ones for all the wrong reasons. But then, what the heck do I know? I'm just an infidel.

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