Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guitar God (Updated)

A caveat for you, Mom: one glaring lesson has surfaced already in my pilgrimage, and that is the effect that circumstance can have on an institution. Though I can safely say that the majority of Catholic masses I have attended in my lifetime have been the same, I am sure the Vatican or a small chapel in the rural Phillipines would surprise me endlessly. These accounts are by no means endemic of the general state of a particular denomination. They are merely my observations at one time in one place.

That said, does--or should--any church need security guards? If I was in war torn El Salvador at the heyday of Liberation Theology, I might say possibly. But in Seattle, these days? As spiritually hostile as the world may be, this city poses no threat. But if your service is a rock concert, I guess it makes sense.

Security is one theme that I found running deeply through Mars Hill. Here were doors wide open, with hundreds of people filling the seats, and yet the (admittedly thrilling) risk of the crowd was not present there. I could tell that these people, these fans of God, felt safe within those walls.

Safe from a world that they seem to pit themselves against. It seemed to me that "us and them" was also a thread woven through much of their teaching and literature. It was hard not to feel the alienation in the pastor's joke during the offering "if you're a visitor or a non-believer, we don't want your money", tongue in cheek or not. That's the strange thing I was experiencing--I was reminded of huge lectures at Berkeley and nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco, not my childhood church-going. Intentional? Odd if it was; I have always eaten up the anonymity of those events, in stark contrast to any desires for community.

I didn't talk to anyone, except for hushed thank-yous as I moved to allow people to file out of their seats at communion (didn't expect that to happen--it was minus the transubstantiation, of course). No one talked to me, either. The audience didn't seem to have come to commune, but to listen. These were not the smiling elders of my previous visits but peers, dressed for the show and secure in their belonging. This was the denotation of congregation: a flocking together. I guess as an outsider, without the benefit of outside community meetings (discussion sections?) and not drawn in by the pastor's confident eloquence (though it was potent enough to almost creep through my mind) I couldn't take part. And since, at least at the start, I'm seeking something other than spiritual guidance, I was disappointed.

Seeking is not the way of believers, however. At least that was part of the message during the bulk of the service. God comes for people, in their sin. And then, apparently, hungry for more God they come to rock out. If it wasn't for the lyrics projected on the same screen that later showed the pastor's face (though I could see him clearly up at the stage), I could have mistaken Mars Hill for Neumos. On a good night, because the place was packed. Lord, they were rapt. Might not have seen me if I stepped out. Just another face. They won't miss me next week--I'm sure someone else will fill my seat.


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