Monday, March 9, 2009

Blinded by the Light

When we first walked in to the second level of amphitheater seating in the McLean Bible Church, there was music already playing. The lead singer encouraged us to sing along, but there were many empty seats around us, and we felt awkward and too removed from the scene. So we stood respectfully in front of our seats and waited for the music to end and the service to begin.

But the singing continued, and the crowd around us grew. Since we had been too timid to find seats far from the entrance, we watched as people of many different ages and ethnicities trickled and eventually poured in through the door. Whether in groups, couples, or individuals, they all smiled at us and began to move their lips in song. In front of me, a woman whose nametag said “Here to Serve” bobbed her head and wiggled her hips modestly to the beat. Soon I could pick out individual voices coming from all sides, and the chorus enveloped me as the energy in the room reached a level I haven’t felt since Phillies fans filled the streets after the World Series last year. Glancing to my right, I saw Sarah mouthing the words she read on the screen. And when I knew my voice would be drowned out by the sound of overwhelming unison, I started to sing. It wasn’t that I felt guilty for staying silent; I actually wanted to join in. And when the songs were over and Pastor Lon Solomon asked us to say hello and shake hands with those around us, I greeted all the smiling faces and I was glad to do that too.

What I felt at the beginning of this service was a kind of building momentum, an implicit promise of community and acceptance if only you just join in. And in that moment of elevated energy, I bought it. Like all other human beings, I want to be accepted, to feel like part of something that is bigger than myself; it’s part of my nature, and the McLean Bible Church knows it. From the rest of the service, I could tell that this was not the only aspect of human nature that Lon Solomon was familiar with, and as I think back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I realized that he found a way to hone in on almost every one. Maslow says that after our physiological needs are met, we move on to the following emotional needs:
  • Safety (security of body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of family, of health, of property)
  • Love and Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy)
  • Esteem (self-esteem, confidance, achievement, respect of others, respect by others)
  • Self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts)

My lapse in control over my vocal chords is a clear example of the use of our need for belonging, and it didn't end there. Kim wrote about the girl who had accepted Jesus for the first time; she found people who accepted her “with open arms” when they didn't even know her, and my fellow churchgoers watched her televised face eagerly as it gave them proof of what this church can do. Meanwhile, every other screen alternated psalms that preached security for those who believe, such as:

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily
thou shalt be fed” (Psalms 37:3)

The church encourages involvement on all levels: jobs at the church (employment), participation in one of the many musical groups (creativity), or in any of the hundreds of community groups (belonging/friendship). And Lon used Martin Luther King Jr. to preach equality, while the acceptance of facts came with his proof of the existence of God, leading directly and somewhat unsettlingly to the idea that right and wrong are definitely black and white and sinners obviously go straight to hell.

Lon also spoke to our need for esteem throughout by praising the crowd's good prayers and their achievement in accepting Jesus into their hearts. This led into the ultimate promise of security, which was the forgiveness of sins. Being raised Catholic, I'm used to the idea that God forgives our sins, but we have to keep renewing this forgiveness by going to confession and doing some sort of penance or atonement that shows that we are sorry for each individual sin. But according to Lon Solomon, all you have to do is accept Jesus (the way they tell you to), and you pretty much have a Get Out of Jail Free card for the rest of your life. Who wouldn't want that kind of guarantee?

Yet all of these promises still leave me wondering. Are McLean churchgoers' emotional needs fulfilled or do they only feel like they are? They are told to be like MLK Jr., with a lack of prejudice against others, yet anyone who doesn't believe what they do will not join them in heaven. Creativity is encouraged, but within the confines of Christian values and a modest dress code. And between passionate and suggestive lyrics and the facial expressions that went with them, the repressed sexual energy between our favorite 20something male-female singing duo was almost laughably obvious. It seems that to believe we are being completely fulfilled, we have to be able to get swept up in the crowd and let our lips move on their own.


  1. I attend MBC, and I'm interested by your spring break project. I find it encouraging that you were welcomed with smiles and that MBC became a comfortable place for you to be. I'm also encouraged that the experience represented a holistic approach to our needs as humans as you described through Maslow’s definition.

    There are a couple of things I would love to address from your blog.

    “according to Lon Solomon, all you have to do is accept Jesus (the way they tell you to)”

    You're right that Lon described the way to get to heaven is through accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It should be noted though that while you said it was "the way they tell you to," more poignantly it's the way the Bible tells us to. The act of accepting Christ is not one of words but an act of the heart. It's saying to God that you're a sinner and that the only way to have a relationship with God is through His Son, Christ who sacrificed Himself for your sins. I'm happy to keep going but for now I'll move on.

    My second comment has to do with your perspective on the worship leaders. Honestly I find it encouraging that what you saw was passion in their eyes. It was passion, and I can see how you would describe it as sexual tension, since that’s the most lovingly passionate display of human-to-human emotion and affection. But their passion goes deeper as it’s with an eternal, everlasting, all-loving God. It’s an incredible passion – albeit not a sexual one! : ) – of experiencing God in a real and personal way.

    Lastly your comment, "They are told to be like MLK Jr., with a lack of prejudice against others, yet anyone who doesn't believe what they do will not join them in heaven."

    I can see how these thoughts would seem at odds with one another. In reality not having prejudice against others is exactly why we share Christ with everyone! It’s not that we’re prejudice sitting at the gates of heaven kicking people out who don’t believe as we do. It’s that Christ who controls the gates of heaven says this is how you get in. Christ makes the rules, and His only prejudice is against sin – which is why He came to conquer it.

    Here’s an example: If you were stuck on an island in the middle of the Atlantic in desperate need to get off in order to survive and you came across a bridge that would take you to safety, would you say, "Surely this isn't the only way across," or, "Maybe I'll just swim"? no! You'd start making your way across that bridge as fast as you could. It's not that we're so stuck on ourselves that we think our way is the only way. It's that God says this IS the only way, and we've made it to the other side. We want you on the other side so you can experience God's mercy and love.

  2. Dave,
    The problem with what you’re saying is that everyone has to believe YOUR concept of God or they don’t achieve salvation. That is a very discriminatory way to think, even though you preach tolerance and acceptance. It’s tolerance and acceptance within the narrow way you define it. YOU say God has said this. That’s your interpretation. There are many who believe in God and heaven and have their own holy scriptures that are just as valid as yours, although they are different. And, dare I say, there are many who live ethically and caringly and have no scripture at all, but should be eligible for salvation through their actions and deeds.

  3. Thank you both for your input! We appreciate your perspective and thoughtful feedback, and welcome your ideas.

  4. NYCreader, thanks for your response.

    The hard thing for our generation to understand is that God and His truths are not relative. We like things to fit into our box and when they don’t we adjust them so that we’re comfortable. Unfortunately just because we adjust them doesn’t mean that the truths don’t exist. For instance let’s say you reject the notion that gravity is real. In the end if you jump off a building gravity is going to prove that it’s real. God’s Word and realities are not defined by us but by God. The truth that Christ is the only way to Heaven is just as true as you hitting the ground after jumping off a building.

    There has to be truth, to say that there is not truth can’t be true. So what is true? Is it a different scripture, is that you need Jesus to get to heaven, is it that being good can get you to heaven? If there are other ways to heaven why would Jesus have died on the cross?

    You mentioned that these are my interpretations I’d be interested in what your interpretation of these verses is.

    John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.

    Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

    Ephesians 2:9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

    James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

    I look forward to seeing your thoughts.

  5. What subjects to undertake! Religion, politics, and even Disney World!

    I really enjoyed your use of Maslow's pyramid of needs to paint a picture for us. I suppose it could serve as a framework for so many things, but I found it facinating how well you tied it into your experience and observations at MBC.

    I'd like to jump in on Dave and NYCreader, but I'm not sure it's keeping with what this adventure is about. On the other hand, getting a glimpse into the passion that religion ignites is certainly relevant. Also, it's an interesting to think about how God, who I assume Dave and all Christians, believe created absolutely everything, and who loves everything and everyone, would judge one group over another, based on their desire to try understand and interpret 'Him/Her' in the best way they know. (even if they don't try) I mean, Dave, come on, how do you reconcile that Christians only make up 33% of the world's population? Are all the other good people of the world that God created out of luck... even if they are caring, wonderful people... because they were born and raised somewhere else?

    I think Jesus said, love one another...let's.

  6. hannah,
    I'm impressed by all the discussion you've inspired with your blog entries. I also love the pictures from the Jesus-themed amusement park on facebook, hilarious!

  7. brirumba said... “I mean, Dave, come on, how do you reconcile that Christians only make up 33% of the world's population? Are all the other good people of the world that God created out of luck.

    That’s an interesting observation – I’m glad you agree with God : )
    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

    To continue in an analogy that I’ve already shared, if 70% of the people in this world didn’t believe that gravity was a fact of life would it be any less real? No.
    Here’s a real life example. It used to be that the minority thought the earth was round and the majority thought the earth was flat.  That didn’t make the minority wrong did it?
    And no, no one is out of luck.  The opportunity is there for everyone.
    “God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Tim 2:3b-4)
    On topic with the blog…

    Theme park – momentary pleasure
    Church and a relationship with Christ – joy for all eternity