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Nov 27, 2016

I went to church today. It’s Sunday, three days after Thanksgiving and Advent is now officially underway.

This Sunday’s event was a family event, what I initially understood was to be the sacred Baptism of our newest grandson. Baptism customarily involves water and prayers and affirmation by the parents, Godparents, and congregation. For we Christians, a baptism is a solemn event not to be taken lightly, and certainly not to be missed by proud grandparents. We have traveled thousands of miles across this nation over the years for this very purpose, the witnessing of this Christian sacrament, so driving to Castle Rock from Estes Park to attend this “new age” church did not seem much of a sacrifice.

Our directions were to turn left at the Medved car dealership, wind through the display lines of GMC trucks past the used car lot and service bays, the barrels of used crankcase oil where we would see the church parking lot.

When I approached this particular new-age, contemporary church, I was feeling very righteous and sanctimonious, indeed. After all, what could possibly go wrong among dedicated, like-minded Christians, right?

It appeared the church parking lot was filling up quickly, but I could not discern where the church parking started and the Medved used car lot ended. I feared if I parked in the wrong place, my car would be sold while I was at worship. Thanks to Colorado’s antiquated “Blue Law” my car was not sold.

Now, I am used to traditional, staid churches located in traditional, staid neighborhoods, where elms line the streets and swallows perch in the belfry. In fact, I like my churches to look, well, like churches. I was not prepared for this initiation into new-age neo-worship Christianity...the modern-day transformation from Oral Roberts tent revival to gymnasium-style rock and roll concert.

The structure was stunning…not necessarily in a good way; more like stunning as in electrocution is stunning. No classical gargoyles perched on the commercial-grade cement block walls, no flying buttresses insight, no massive carved wooden doors with brass hardware.

While the physical structure was not of the traditional church variety (given the absence of a steeple and the presence of multiple garage doors), I was heartened by the neon sign flashing in pious purple over the entrance proclaiming this is, in fact, a “CHURCH”.

I am now approaching my 74th birthday, so life’s “firsts” are becoming less and less frequent, meaning I may indeed have seen, if not everything, nearly everything.

That said, I can honestly report I’ve never before entered a bona fide house of worship through aluminum garage doors. I’m talking shiny, brand new, articulated aluminum and glass garage doors such as one might find at a Ford service garage or car wash or a Mexican restaurant converted from an old corner gas station.

As I entered the lobby/retail sales floor (conventionally known as the narthex) I was greeted by shelves of “Jesus” tee-shirts, sweatshirts, DVD’s, flip-flops, Jesus glow-in-the-dark beer-can neoprene insulators, and “Jesus Saves” golf towels. I admit I did look twice at the golf towel understanding full-well my game could use that level of celestial intervention. There were crosses of every size, material, color, texture known to mankind I thought to myself. There were postcards and greeting cards, flip-flops and beach towels all emblazoned with Jesus images and quotes. What more could a devoted Christian possibly desire? What, indeed. I was about to be educated.

I walked through the retail outlet and into the lobby. I thought perhaps I had made a wrong turn and had been tele-transported into the lobby of a Cinemax. To the left, a giant screen TV advertised the anticipated new addition to the “church”, elevations and floor plans included, and cinematic suggestion donations and pledges were encouraged...high-grade glass and quality aluminum garage doors being very expensive. The architectural talent in blending the existing and proposed cement blocks was evident.

Yet another giant-screen TV encouraged digitalized, on-line child adoption, displaying available adoption prospects from around the world, reminiscent of the SPCA commercials that invariably bring tears to my eyes. Another giant screen Samsung touted the benefits of clean water in Third World countries, a laudable mission to be sure.

Down the hallway, signs said, “Purple,”, “Blue,”, “Green,”, “Mauve,” and “Fuchsia” designating the cybernetic color of your baby or toddler and matching colored, bar-coded name tags for parent and child so as not to confuse whose child was whose, and also to discourage child theft by parents who like some else’s imp more than their own urchin. And, in case parents could not recall exactly which child was indeed theirs simply by looking, the name tags were barcoded corresponding to the parents’ name tag barcode. Comforting and reassuring, indeed.

This “church” is a bastion of modern digital functionality and efficiency, clearly an effort to appeal to even the most discerning, devoted digital-Christian Jesus neo-devotee; imagine how many more disciples Jesus could have recruited with barcodes and a hand scanner. Imagine how much simpler it would have been to feed the multitudes had they all been barcoded. Who of Christian leaning could possibly feel less than deeply devout in such surroundings brimming with dozens of spinning and pulsating screen graphics in 4K QLED ultra-HD mounted in the steel roof beams?

Entering the “sanctuary” through a plethora of steel double fire doors, the sense of reverence was overwhelming. After all, who isn’t overcome with religious emotion when confronted by hundreds of upholstered folding chairs, an expansive, empty, flat-black stage displaying racks of Fender Stratocaster electric guitars, a high-end Roland electronic keyboard and a Plexiglas-enclosed Pearl full drum set including cymbals, no less than six mic stands, and multicolored laser beams casting geometric designs dancing across the black backdrop. Curiously, a bucket full of foam earplugs was being rapidly emptied by other parishioners as they entered the mosh-pit venue. I took some in anticipation of using them for future trap shooting. I did not yet understand why such items were necessary in church, although admittedly I would have appreciated them during a few sermons over the years.

Conspicuously absent, however, was anything resembling an Altar unless, of course, you consider the centrally-placed Roland JDXA Analog Digital Crossover Keyboard Synthesizer

an altar; granted, Gene Simons of KISS or Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne might.

In fact, no Cross was apparent, no Holy Bible in sight, no Baptismal fount, no holy water, not a votive candle, nothing suggesting this is a place of worship. In place of those eternal symbols of Christianity, there were two giant karaoke-ready flat screens suspended above the stage, and in the rear one very large flat-screen hung conveniently above the banquet chairs and displaying guitar chords and lyrics so the “Jesus Rocks Rock and Roll Band” won’t risk missing a chorus lyric, complex guitar lick or hybrid chord.

On the big screens a red digital clock (not unlike the one at NASA launch control) was ticking down the minutes and seconds until our sanctimonious “lift off”.

We took seats second row, front and center, clearly over-dressed and over-groomed for a worship service where the influx of “worshipers” looked more like fans in the cheap seats at a demolition derby.

The NASA clock ticked the final seconds off…5…4…3…2...1…0. SHOW TIME!

From the speakers blared the hard-rock rhythm version of “Come to Worship”. On came the multi-gel klieg lights flooding the stage aka “altar” in brilliance; one could feel the heat. Onto the stage strolled a motley crew, fist-pumping to the rhythm, dressed like the “guests” in the booking room at the Denver Colfax Avenue Police Substation.

The auditorium had filled to capacity, every folding chair claimed by a standing, cheering, arm-waving, hooting inhabitant. I was the only person wearing a tie; I fully expected an “usher” sans giant, circus clown scissors to rush up and cut it off and nailed to the wall a la the Big Texas Steakhouse.

The band members skipped and rotated to their respective places. The foot-pedal bass drum pounded out the rhythm as the subtle background music crescendoed to a chest-throbbing cacophony, and the “Jesus Loves You Rock and Roll Band” suddenly blasted its intro C-chord, mosh-pit version of “How Great Thou Art” screaming through the 1000-watt Marshall speakers at maximum volume, my mouth hanging open and desiccating, thus ensued the most raucous religious spectacle I have ever witnessed.

I stuffed the graciously provided foam earplugs into place just as the 200 decibel initial wave hit me. The “congregation” of arm-waving, hallelujah-shouting, undulating, tee-shirt, Air Jordan wearing, ripped and faded jeans adorned worshipers followed the karaoke screen’s scrolling words, humping and grinding to the beat of the Pearl snare drums and grinding guitars.

A bevy of ten-foot-high speakers assaulted the collective tympanic membranes of hundreds of animated worshipers, threatening to cause simultaneous tympanic hemorrhage. I can assure those who failed to take advantage of the prophetic free ear plugs offered at the “sanctuary” doors, the tinnitus will likely subside in a few days. For those with $5,000 hearing aids, I can tell you, unfortunately your warranty is henceforth voided.

There was no pastor, padre, preacher, priest, matre ‘d or toastmaster in sight. The “service” began as The Jesus Loves You Band played one 10-minute rendition of their title song (you guessed it) “Jesus Loves You” followed by one song after another, each sounding exactly like the previous song albeit with different titles and lyrics displayed on the giant-screen TVs.

At this point I concluded this was not going to be your typical, traditional Christian liturgy. This was a decibels unlimited rock concert briefly interrupted by a speech from a female “pastor” wearing designer jeans and custom cowboy boots emblazoned with white crosses and crowns of thorns. Another “pastor”, a male as best I could tell, was in similar pastoral vestments, namely an untucked K-Mart-quality, partially snapped, plaid cowboy shirt, faded, dirty jeans and scuffed, manure-encrusted cowboy boots, eventually appeared on stage.

Where (or even if) these self-declared “pastors” went to a seminary and were rightly ordained is not clear, but a dot-com, self-administered Bible Quiz, on-line pseudo-investiture process does not seem outside the realm of possibility. Sort of a “<Click Here> to print your personalized, tax-free Reverend certificate” investiture from the E-mail West LA Bible College and Lube.

Suddenly, along comes a very Home Depot-style, very large, very empty, very black, very plastic bucket. This, I quickly surmised, was their version of the more conventional brass collection plate. Apparently, by pastoral decree, Jesus expects the black plastic bucket to be full of currency at the conclusion of its journey amongst the reverent mosh-pit devotees, or so you were encouraged to believe. A bucket of money appeared to be the true mission for this garage-door “church”, currency-green looks so pious against the bucket’s black plastic. After all, garage doors are expensive. And, to encourage generosity the rock band played even louder as the overflowing black plastic buckets furtively disappeared out a steel fire door that looked very much like a bank vault. I did, on my way to the Men’s Room, pass a digitally locked steel door from behind which I heard a muffled voice repeating “one for you, one for me, one for Jesus”.

Now came time for the event that inspired our attendance…the child “dedication.” You heard me… the “dedication”, not the “Baptism”. Apparently, there is no water involved as water does not mix well with electric guitars.

In the midst of this rock concert, a number of families were unceremoniously escorted to the rock stage/altar, where they were maneuvered into position like participants in a police line-up, confused and squinting into the blinding klieg lights, with their ceremonial babes in arms.

The grimy-jeaned pastor expounded for no less than 30 minutes on the meaning of the“dedication” event. At his conclusion, each family was handed a bouquet consisting of three or four King Sooper flowers, a yellow paperback book, and an unframed, “Certificate of Dedication” printed by a HP All-In-One Inkjet on Office Depot generic certificates. They did not, however, receive their very own, personal large plastic black bucket.

Curiously, while the grimy-jeaned pastor resumed his marathon bloviation, the families and their tiny dedicatees stood in befuddlement, apparently not knowing what to expect or do next. What they probably did not expect, however, was that this mass-dedication ceremony would never include an introduction by name of any dedicatee. One can presume God and Jesus already know the names of those being “dedicated”, but I pretty certain the majority of the mosh-pit membership had no clue.

However, the grimy-jeaned pastor, did not hesitate to proudly announced his own name, the name of his fellow pastor and every member of the band. Incidentally, no mention was made as to whether or not this “church” eventually baptizes souls in true Christian tradition.

Certainly, no baptismal font or Holy water was to be seen, although there was free bottled water available in the lobby, near the retail store and a donation box (never miss an opportunity). Curiously and encouragingly, there was a garden hose in a corner of the auditorium/gymnasium, so access to holy water was not out of the question.

It was never entirely clear why this “Bring Your Own Basketball Church of the Chevy Showroom” even had banquet chairs as the vast majority of the audience remained standing throughout the two hour event, arms raised, swaying, juking and jiving to the endless 10-plus minute long Rock-a-Jesus songs, one after another, all with the same repetitive theme.

After the thirty-fifth musical repetition of “He Loves You, He loves you, He loves you…” I pretty much got the lyrical gist, and joined in the lyrics only to have them change suddenly to “He REALLY, REALLY loves you, which then transformed a third time into “He REALLY, REALLY, REALLY love you”. I finally sat down when it became apparent thirty minutes into the performance that there was not going to be a rest period; people glowered unapprovingly at my audacity. I concluded that if Jesus did REALLY, REALLY, REALLY loves me, He would not mind if I sat as my feet were killing me and I was not competent to maintain the mass rhythm (or rhythm of the Mass, as it were).

Then, midst the raucousness, a snack-break suddenly ensued. A tray full of tiny plastic cups half-filled with Welch’s Grape Juice (apparently pre-sanctified by a Costco cashier), and a 4 x 4 millimeter lozenge of very dry, day-old Wonder Bread were passed down the rows of holy rock and roll fans with the suggestion from Ms. Designer-cowboy-boot Pastor we should feel free to partake at our leisure or take these refreshments home for later consumption. Seriously…grab a handful for tomorrow’s breakfast.

The Jesus Rock Band played yet another song that sounded just like the previous 30 songs, but was, according to the HDTV screens, entitled “Amazing Grace.” It started out sounding familiar, but within ten seconds evolved into nothing remotely resembling “Amazing Grace,” departed from the original lyrics of “Amazing Grace”, and thereafter sounded like every other song the Rock for Salvation Band had played in the last 45 minutes. Their rendition of “Amazing Grace” lasted 15 minutes...much lnger than John Newton intended.

This was Rock and Roll Communion, a sort of “chow down on Jesus”, “picnic on your Redeemer” parody of the most sacred ritual in Christianity. Somehow, this implied transforming Welch’s Grape Juice and week-old Wonder Bread into the sanctified body and blood of Jesus Christ just wasn’t working for me. And the rock and roll, electric guitar version of Amazing Grace wasn’t really adding to the ambiance of this pseudo-Eucharist.

Curiously missing, were the elderly and crippled often seen in abundance at most conventional churches. Perhaps to discourage the presence of such curmudgeonly old, mosh-deficient specimens, there were no apparent or easily accessible handicapped ramps allowing access down intimidating steps and into the auditorium. In fact, why taint the crowd with such geriatric riff raff who likely have no cash to spare for the black plastic bucket, anyway? Besides, old and crippled people tend to smell funny, sing funny, and impede the exiting traffic flow, thus delaying the next scheduled service.

The show ended as quickly as it started, with a final guitar chord and rim shot on the Pearls, the Jesus Wants Your Soul Rock Band leader bidding a quick “farewell and drive safe” dismissal, and the considerable crowd filed through the fire doors with a collective mix of salvation and finger-snapping rhythm and no recall of the “sermon” whatsoever. All that is except the miniature “dedicatees” and their families who were having their photo taken in front of the aluminum garage door background.

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