Monday, March 9, 2009

A Shot at Christ Love with Pastor Lon

Day one was spent driving to Vienna, where we dropped our stuff off and went back to hang out in D.C. with our buddy Adam Hartheimer. He showed us a helluva good time! On the drive, what I noticed most were the bundles of straw growths coming up from the side of the highway, things that looked like Pomeranian tails or Brett Michaels' wormy hair extensions.

Before we settled back into our room, we took a dip in the hotel's tepid, three-feet-deep pool. Miraculously, Hannah and I discovered how to use the “spa” feature five minutes prior to suffering perma-prune. We were lulled to sleep by loud bangs and cries coming from the room next door. I was terrified until I realized it was a pillow fight.

On the drive to Savannah after a morning at the McLean Bible Church, I thought about some things that Robert Coover told our Fellows class when he visited the Writers House. He said, in order to unmake myth, it is necessary to get inside of it. The day that he was in class, I asked him what it means to get inside of a myth. I feel closer to understanding that now, because in some way, the megachurch story has opened up...

The drive from our Tyson's Corner Hilton to the church was littered with Starbucks, DSW, Ethan Allen, Olive Garden, and a stretch of car dealerships. Nissan, Infiniti, Mercedes, Lincoln, Honda and Mitsubishi felt like breadcrumbs leading us to church. We passed gated communities and smaller churches, like the Providence Church and St. Thomas Espiscopal, before seeing the big ol' McLean billboard.

The main amphitheater at McLean had four huge monitors capturing close-up video of the pastors and musicians, and four more monitors for the words of the songs or quotations from the Bible. The musical accompaniment to the service was orchestral, as the ensemble included 2 guitarists, a bassist, a piano player, 2 drummers, a xylophonist, and a horn section that would bring tears of jealous rage to the eyes of any ska band, ever. There were 18 sax/trumpet/horn players facing the audience, and two groups of 9 facing each other on either side of the stage. In front of this impressive aural imperative, seven different pastors arrived to commence a celebration of Jesus Christ.

Singing along was a mandate, albeit a pleasant one. The words on the huge screens made the experience feel like Monday night karaoke. The room was saturated to drunkenness with the harmony and force of the music. At the conclusion of each song, the copyright and legal information for reprinting the words appeared in fine print.

The video editing and direction cuts were reminiscent of shots of the band on David Letterman (or any late-night talk show, for that matter). When the horns came in, the percussion picked up, and the bass line dropped, it was hard not to be moved and weird to not be singing along. The concept of “Rock God” was taken to a whole new dimension as I watched older and younger men and women extend their arms and shake their palms upwards in the direction of center stage. The pastors repeated, “No worry, no fear, God commands our destiny.”

On May 2nd the church is offering a Men's Breakfast, and all men are encouraged to bring their sons. On October 19-27 the church is offering a Best of the Holy Land 9-day “deluxe tour of Israel that focuses on the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The parking lot and layout of the church make it feel like an ugly mall. There is a full coffee bar inside that is just like the William's cafe, and a swanky youth hang-out stop with multicolored lighting, video & arcade games, air hockey, movie screens, and rainbow folding chairs.

Last week the congregation was asked to pray for high school students on a trip funded by the church. Pastor Lon Solomon cried that as a result of these prayers, over 60% of the kids on the retreat “made a decision for the Lord Jesus Christ.” A slide appeared on the overhanging screens that highlighted the retreat's success. It said at the Senior High Winter Camp, 190 attended, 19 prayed to receive Christ (11 of whom were new to The Rock!), 97 recommitted their life to Christ. The Rock is the youth movement within the church, the ministry that caters to the younger generation (see pictures of the Rock headquarters at McLean).

A montage featured Jamie McIntyre, a 12 year old girl who spoke about her experience during the retreat. She had recently lost her brother and enjoyed the retreat because “people are nice because they want to be nice.” She informed the cameraman, “I smile more, walk with joy,” and, “I feel whole, I've never felt this way before” because she has now fully incorporated Christ love into her life.

Lon says, “Now pray. Turn this money we're about to give into transformations in the lives of our children in the name of Christ. Pray for all students to make decisions for Christ this week.” A collection plate gets passed around, and we all pass on donations. Then, a recently married couple played an original erotic monogamous love song for God. One of the lyrics was, “I want to yearn for you. I want to burn with passion over you.” Throughout the service, I was constantly entertained, as there was no opportunity for personal reflection. Something was always being explained, given freely, widely. The video screens made where we were sitting feel like the nosebleed seats at Madison Square Garden, but also provided a constant stream of information and stimuli. Nobody needed to imagine anything, there was so much right in front of us. Quotations were printed on a parchment-like graphic, as were the definitions of Greek words that would not be understood readily by most of the attendees. The definition of perfect tense was also expounded on extensively, as Pastor Lon said, “This is how you can picture it. Imagine a point, right here, and then an arrow going all the way to the right, on and on, forever and ever. That is how Jesus gives absolute, total, permanent dismissal of sin.”

Lon's sermon began with pictures of MLK, Mother Theresa, and Gandhi. He said that it was clear to determine all of their messages during their lives: equality, concern for the poor, and non-violence respectively. The message of Christ is less clear, but Lon clarified. The message of Christ is his authority to forgive sins. Only Christ can do this. Lon said, “God puts all of our sins in the sea and puts a buoy on top that says, 'No Fishing'.”

Lucifer's problem was that he wanted to be is own god. He wanted to be the “Lord of his own life”. God created hell to be the final resting place for Lucifer and for everyone else who might choose to follow him in his (here the screens revealed a John Milton quote) “foul revolt”. Well, let's say Jesus is the only one who can forgive sin. Lon informed us that this was time to ask the most important question that he proliferates, so everyone shouted, “So what?!” This “so what” question is asked so the answer can satisfy, not so discussion can ensue. Sermons are an entirely one-way education. Lon started to answer this so-what-that-Jesus-has-the-authority-to-forgive-sin question with, lo and behold, a criticism of Richard Dawkins.

The Atheist Bus Campaign has been plaguing London. The British Humanist Society has printed, “There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” on buses that drive all around the city. If there was no god, there would be no absolute right or wrong. There would be no sin. There would be no accountability for sin. Finally, hell would be a myth. Sounds terrible...

Lon said these atheist principles were grounded on falsehoods. He said the heavens declare the glory of god and the skies declare the nature of god. To know god is real, one must only look at the sky or the complexity of the human body. Lon said, “There is a god. The bible makes that clear.” The words “factual” and “biblical” were used interchangeably, repeatedly throughout the service.

He spoke personally and relayed anecdotes. He asked his daughter's godless doctor how he couldn't believe in god when he deals daily with the astonishing intricacy of the human body. How could the body have evolved in such a wondrous way without there having been a divine creator? Lon posed this question to his doctor, who responded by saying, “I never thought of it that way.” The success of modern medicine means we understand enough about the human body to treat it secularly. Prayer doesn't suffice when the people we love are ailing. You don't ask god to teach you about human physiology, you consult a specialist with a PhD.

Lon says, “think about it now,” but then follows not with Q & A, but with more point-proving. In our post-structuralist, postmodern world, where we pray to the altar of the subjective experience and cultural relativism pulls the vocal chords of elite liberal politics, we are situated in a time of unprecedented exposure. It's sort of like how during the Vietnam war the public couldn't ignore the number of bodies coming home because they could see them on TV, only it happens multiple times a day and the content is always new. In this age of information, we can feel connected to people we've never met, cultures in which we've never been physically located, because we see them. The technologies employed in this perceptive field become better every minute. These same technologies are employed by the McLean Bible Church to go backwards-- to go to a place where everyone must think the same way, must connect through the same mentality, in order to be saved. The way that certain information enables a better understanding and appreciation for different cultures, it can also propagate the supremacy of one mode of thought, however archaic that mode may be.

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  1. "swanky youth hang-out stop with multicolored lighting"?! I know what I'm doing this friday.

    This is great writing and also a great way to procrastinate some not-so-great writing I need to do for a final essay...

  2. Coover was right about getting inside the myth! It does tend to cast doubt on the value of sitting in a classroom doing such re-narrating, doesn't it? Yet, yet, sure to come back!