After just a few short days in Miami beach, it became clear to me that most of the hype surrounding the nightclubs and fancy restaurants is just that: hype. Mansion, BED, Cameo, Privé, Space, Trapeze – the names are just vague enough to keep us intrigued, and dark or curtained exteriors make us feel like something secret and awesome is going on inside.
Going to BED sounds exciting, not to mention reminiscent of Sex and the City as Kim mentioned, and with the whole beds-instead-of-tables thing, it's got a gimmick that makes you feel like you can't find It anywhere else. Once you get inside, however, and the thrill of the hype has passed (or once it gets knocked out of you by an aggressively unfriendly Bouncer Slash Manager), it becomes nauseatingly obvious how sleazy this place really is. A pair of older gentlemen stared unblinkingly at us from across the room as we tried to find a comfortable position, and our waitress literally crawled across a bed to take our order. As we put on the night vision goggles of sobriety among our bump'n grinding, photo-snapping, cocktail-guzzling peers, we imagined what the scene in front of us would look like if somebody only turned on the lights, and decided it was probably best that they remained off. I almost wished I could accept the glossed over version of my surroundings, but the devil was really in the details for this evening hot spot, and in this case, the devil seemed rather unsanitary.
We met a similar phenomenon as we walked past the other clubs in the area. We were handed VIP bracelets to Mansion by a beefy gelled up fellow, and told we could cut the line when we got there. Of course this made us feel picked out of the crowd at first, until we realized that almost every twenty-something walking alongside us was wearing the same neon bracelet, and the line we were cutting only led us to another that was almost just as long. We weren't VIPs, because there were no VIPs, yet the rest of the bracelet-wearers were holding onto the idea that this place was exclusive, and everyone else was just buying into the hype.
A lot of the megachurches we've visited practice this same kind of hype, with their gimmick being their size, and all the media and technology they use to reach a wider audience and hold their attention. Like the Miami Beach clubs, they make us feel like we can only get It there (whatever It may be), until we actually go to a few of them and realize that they are mostly the same.
The New Birth Baptist Church was an exception in some respects. Compared to places like Christ Fellowship, MBC, and New Spring, this one had the fewest gimmicks. There were two small screens to project the service for those in the back rows, but the stage itself was small, and there were none of the colorful lights or special effects that we had become accustomed to. Rather than trying to show us how great the church was, our guide was more excited to tell us about how God had blessed them in ways that allowed them to help people in the community, and about the ways God had spoken to her personally. She told us about how the pastor was trying to keep his services to a manageable length, but how they could run as long as three hours. This was especially interesting because aside from some songs from the choir and communion, the bulk of the service was the pastor's sermon, compared to the service at Christ Fellowship, which crammed as many different scenes as it could into one hour.
Our guide (who was a pastor herself) didn't seem to have anything against the larger, flashier churches we had been to; when we mentioned how this one seemed like it was easier to feel close to the pastor and the messages that were being shared, she said she didn't think size mattered, because if God wanted to get a message to you, he would do it no matter where you were. Perhaps some of the larger megachurches began like this one, and if so, perhaps this one was destined for the size and hype of those churches. Still, at New Birth it felt like no one was hiding behind the glamor of TV screens and lights and music. Unlike BED, where night vision goggles were necessary to distinguish the reality from the hype, here it felt like the lights were already on.