Inspired by Hemant Mehta‘s book, I Sold My Soul on Ebay, I decided to visit a local church this morning. Resurrection Life Church is an evangelical, charismatic megachurch in Grandville, Michigan. I chose this church to visit first mainly because a friend mentioned that they’re into the whole speaking in tongues thing. I’ve really wanted to see firsthand what could possibly induce such trance-like states in white middle class suburbia.
Although I didn’t witness any speaking in tongues this morning, it was an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget. It has reaffirmed and strengthened my belief that all religions are man-made and filled with superstitious absurdities. Granted, this probably isn’t the message they’re trying to get across, but the point couldn’t have been made any more plainly.
The pictures below were taken with my cellphone after the main service. Sorry for the graininess in the photos, it’s just a cellphone and I was trying to be discreet so Jesus, or one of his followers, wouldn’t smite me.
This is no ordinary church. It’s interior can best be described as a hybrid of a mall and airport terminal. I was immediately overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the entryway and walkways. Maybe grandiose isn’t the word. How about unabashedly commercialized? Either way, the effect disposes of any notion of a place of worship in favor of a fun place to hang out with like-minded people.
I’ve read the story in the Bible about Jesus throwing out the moneychangers in the temple courtyard, but apparently ResLife never got to that chapter. Around every corner, they’re selling something, either at one of many coffee shops or a bookstore to rival any Waldenbooks.
Seriously, I felt exactly as I do when walking through an airport terminal. They even have the same kind of signs hanging from the ceiling indicating where certain things are located so you don’t get lost. It’s a good thing too, because I may not have otherwise located the massive auditorium.
Did I mention the five thousand wide-screen plasma TVs they had all over the place? And when I say all over the place, I mean all over the place. I think they’re adopting a policy of not leaving any wall-stud bare of a high def TV. Each and every one was turned on and showing… showing… hell, I don’t know. But I imagine that whatever it is must justify the spending of tens of thousands of parishner’s hard-earned dollars. Ol’ Satan must be shaking in his spiky boots at the lengths these people will go to in order to flex their collective biceps in his direction.
The Game Hall
Luckily, if you get lost in baggage claim and don’t make it to the worship service to flail your arms around, there’s another section of the building I’ll just call the game hall. In itself, it’s larger than most churches I’ve been to and houses at least fifteen awesome pool tables. And not second-hand scratched up tables either. These were very nice and obviously expensive billiards tables. While I’m no good at playing pool, I occasionally go to a local pool hall and shoot some nine ball with friends. This church far outdoes my local pool hall in number and classiness of pool tables. And it appears to be free and I’m guessing there’s no smoking allowed. I think I may have found myself a new place to shoot pool. The only thing missing is a bar…
Or maybe not; could that be? Yes, apparently they also have a bar (of sorts) within this massive game hall. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re gonna serve any alcohol besides maybe a little communion wine. Next time, I’m totally ordering a Blood-of-the-Savior Smoothie. I hear it comes with a tall rusty nail right in the glass!
Besides the approximate six hundred plasma TVs in the game hall alone, there were a few huge projection screens in the far corner of the game hall. Several rows of chairs were laid out in the hopes that the pool-playing youth would stop long enough to watch the pastor ask for more money before returning to their game of eight-ball.
My Church can Beat up Your Church
I managed to follow the river of righteousness to the main worship hall. This room was just as I expected: Stadium seating but with the sanctity of pews; huge enormo-screen monitors above the podium; a section for the band and an elevated stairset for the choir. Initially I found myself up on the balcony, but I couldn’t stand being in the nosebleed section so I moved to the floor level about ten rows back. I wanted an up-close view of the action.
And video cameras, oh my! To the right side of the stage was a man operating a thirty foot contraption with an attached camera that allowed for those fancy flyby zoom shots on film. I think I watched that guy more than the actual service, sadistically waiting for him to slip and skim across the heads of the first ten rows of Christians. He never stopped moving!
The left side of the stage had a shorter camera arm that zoomed in and out on the band, giving you those close-up shots of the musicians that make you feel like you’re watching Jay Leno during a commercial break. During the worship service, there were several other cameramen walking through the aisles getting nice up-close shots of people at their most holy. All that was missing was a program that automatically photoshops a glowing aura around the heads of the faithful. You’d think that kind of thing would show up naturally on film, but I didn’t see any. Must be the cameras.
Understanding Ted Haggard’s Sin
The monitors all had a professionally designed graphical countdown to worship. When the clock struck zero, the band and choir were all in place and in walked the worship leader. All cameras focussed in on this guy, who had more charisma, and let’s face it, studliness, than any pop star I’ve seen. With his wavy blond hair and rugged five o’clock shadow (at 9:30 AM) and dashing, caring smile, I now understand the fall of Ted Haggard. If the founder of New Life Church had this guy leading worship, I could totally understand how he’d feel the need to experiment. Hell, I’m straight but now I think I’m gay for this guy. At least I know Ted Haggard has found a cure for homosexuality, in case I ever feel the need to bat for the other team for a while.
A typical song-singing service ensued for the next twenty minutes. This had the expected it’s-great-to-be-loved feeling – the only difference being the greater amount of people swaying around and waving their arms about. I watched with eager anticipation, but never saw anyone go nuts and start spewing off gibberish or speaking in tongues. Pity.
I couldn’t bear the thought of singing something I didn’t believe and observed the phenomenon instead. I wondered if people really considered the words they were actually singing. All that Jesusy stuff just seems so far fetched and archaic that I found it amusing. And as much as I willed it, the long arm of the camera on stage right would come straight towards the congregation, only to swoop dramatically upwards just before knocking a few out cold. Damn! So close that time!
After the singing came to an end with a forced feeling of guilt and redemption, a pastor came on stage with a large box full of prayer requests and fasting requests (fasting requests? oooook?). He rambled on for a moment about the importance of everyone praying to God regarding the contents of that box. He was going to have the congregation all pray towards the pile of requests, assuming God already knew each one of them individually. But really, if all it takes is a “God, help all those that wrote shit down,” and not individual prayers, can’t we just go ahead and get it all over with “God, help everybody everywhere” and be done with it?
And here’s where I had my first brief moment of horror inside a church. The pastor said “Now stretch out your hands towards these requests and pray with me.” I kid you not – Everyone in the congregation immediately did the Heil Hitler sign with outstretched arm, palm down. It caught me entirely off guard. At first I chuckled inside but then had a moment of absolute horror as I imagined what kind of influence these people were under, and that I was in the minority. That momentary fear faded into an uneasiness, realizing that it wasn’t quite the same, but still. It. Freaked. Me. Out.
With the knowledge that most of these people would welcome and encourage anything that they thought hinted at Armageddon, I think my initial fear was more justified. Jesus Camp, anybody?
The Ten Thousand TV Drive
The first part of the sermon was a call for alms. A good five minutes were spent on the benefits of giving to the church. Plastic buckets were then handed through each of the aisles so we could all empty our pockets (which I fervently passed on).
I could hardly contain my disdain at the audacity of this preacher to get up and ask for more money. Are you kidding me? The amount you guys spent on plasma TVs alone could feed an entire third world country for a decade. The freakin church itself was big enough to house a third world country of its own.
This place was nothing more than a glorified social club with a crackpot worldview, perpetuating an arcane religion and misleading hundreds for its own glorification. If it sold itself as a social club, I’d have no problem with people giving their own money to aid in its plasma TV drive. But it doesn’t. It guilts people into giving their hard earned money for its own benefit, all the while preaching the benefits of helping others. How contemptible.
The stage then went dark as they moved things and brought out a stand for the pastor. During this time, the jumbotrons showed a couple thirty second announcements of upcoming events. It was a cute girl who must have aspirations of being a news anchor, but it ensured that there was not a dull moment in the service. They must think we have the attention span of a bumblebee.
The pastor then went on with his preaching. Summed up, it hit on the following points:
- Your body is holy
- Treat your body with respect in life and in death
- Burial is the way to go out. Cremation is for pagans and should stay that way.
- Tattoos are bad
- Cremation is really bad and Christians shouldn’t do it. I mean, God can still resurrect you, but you gotta make it easy on him. Don’t cremate yourself.
- Homosexuality is bad
- Pagans are bad
- Did I mention cremation yet? Because it’s bad. In fact, the polls show that more and more people are getting cremated, and this is just evidence that they are leaving Christianity and becoming pagans.
- I’m hoping the rapture is right around the corner, but you shouldn’t live like that. prepare yourself to die rather than be raptured
- And by the way, if you come back tonight at five o’clock, I’ll give you my top ten reasons why cremation is bad
This guy seriously went on and on about the evils of cremation, I couldn’t believe my ears. I came here for the speaking in tongues and all I got was a guilty feeling for wanting to donate my organs on death and have my body turned to ash. His reasoning for the anti-cremation rant was a tendancy towards superstition; that although God can still resurrect a cremated body, you should have yourself buried to show that you believe you’ll be resurrected. I’d say it’s laughable if it wasn’t such a blatant disregard for the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation.
And boy did he mention pagans a lot. I didn’t know paganism was such a prevalent force these days. You’d think he’d focus on more dangerous religions, like fundamental Muslims or *cough* evangelical Christians.
Edit: Nothing was mentioned in the sermon about organ donation. That was on my mind because last night I just renewed my license and organ donation registration.
I assume since they’re against the destruction caused by cremation, that they would feel equally as queasy about donating parts of said body. It seemed implied from the sermon that any destruction of the body God gave you is heretical. It’s sad to think that such a viewpoint is probably held by those four thousand or so people in attendance.
Resurrection Life Church, or as they like to call it, ResLife, is the first evangelical and charismatic church I’ve visited, so maybe it’s just as absurd as all the others.
It lies just a few miles away from Grandville’s other megachurch: Rob Bell’s Mars Hill. I now have a much greater appreciation for the direction that Rob Bell is taking his church. Mars Hill is a very low-profile megachurch that is much more liberal in its beliefs. More importantly, they are honest and virtuous in what they do with their money and have some very specific ministries that are supported, whose goals are to help people while here on earth, rather than trying to convert them through pressure.
I’m definitely going back to this church. It’s like a freakin circus in there, and I have to bring a few of my friends so we can all laugh. Or cry.