We went to a mega-church this Christmas Eve. I wanted to hate it, but we might go back. It’s a Christmas miracle, if you ask me.
Walking into the place, one could tell we were within a stone’s skip of Hollywood. This church consisted mostly of a sparkly sound stage, dominated by an enormous hanging sculpture that resembled a graphic designer’s depiction of Big Bang. It was simultaneously seductive and pop science-y, and there was no altar to be seen.
There were about 80 rows of wraparound stadium seating in the auditorium, and at least two TV cameras nestled within the studio audience. Most entertainingly of all, the pastor looked like the guy who played Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park, and he opened the sermon by likening himself to Oprah and throwing stuff out into the audience à la O’s Favorite Things. And the music. It was like Guster with all its new-agey percussion and harmony, and then sang a woman who could have been a Celine Dion sound-alike. The crowning glory was in the bass guitar player’s exquisite and technically improbable rendition of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.
Maybe all of this contributed to why I began to let Dr. Malcolm into my narrow, uncharitable little mind. Based on his looks and likeness alone (and glasses—oh, the Geek Glasses, they get me listening every time!), I expected academics. Khan Academy, even (if Sal Khan wore geek glasses). Surely this man was about to start talking about chaos theory or superstrings, or the hallowed principles of evolution, or anything at all besides Jesus. And then, before I could fully shuck my biases, the musicgasm swept in, followed shortly by these amazing little self-contained communion cups (wine and crackers together in a teensy cup). Hallelujah.
It took me by surprise, this swift and sudden acquiescence to Jesus, the rising and flowing of the J-tide, and the ebbing of the science one. And ironically I expected the whole process to involve more science. The beginnings of the sermon, in fact, were predictably wholesome, anecdotal, and precipitated by God-themed video clips viewable on one of two jumbotron screens. So, what happened?
I suppose there was one nod to the empirical in one of these video clips. At one point we virtually “roller-coasted” down, opening-movie-credits style, upon an unwound strand of a DNA double-helix. This was amidst narration about us allllll having parts of God’s DNA. Wowsa! That’s kind of a compelling idea, there, Ian Malcolm: if we are all related on a molecular level, and some of us here in the studio audience or on stage are at one with God, we have logical proof (of my own personal association with God, that is) by deduction. And so I started floating on this proof and was buoyed up by it, as if going along by inner tube. Irrefutable, lazy river faith.
In the end, I was really moved, though. Maybe it was due to the holy music of Christmas, which is the reason we sought out Church-with-a-Capital-C that night rather than the scrappy, lovable UU church with its honest budget and feebler singing. Likely it was my feelings of loss for a particular few folks these last few years—my folks, who, while they are technically still alive, have turned out to be weak excuses for grown-ups. Probably it was the pastor’s insistence that we are all allowed, nay, invited to feel joy at the birth of a stranger’s child.
Mostly, it was this idea: We are welcome; I am welcome to feel joy about God.
I cried off all my mascara and Tammy Faye eyeliner—had to bring my A-game to a real-life Hollywood venue, you know—and decided to come back.
It won’t be easy. There is so much resistance from the kids these days when we try to go anywhere or do anything. They are a little overscheduled and would spend the entire day on the Wii if allowed. Fortunately, one of the premises of this church is accessibility to the unshowered masses; it’s available online as a live stream. Now I can cry about the beauty of the birth of Christ in the privacy of my own home, and this time I will skip the mascera.