Can I Get an Amen?

May 17, 2011

10 a.m. t0 12:30 p.m.

Abyssinian Christian Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

Chosen because…ethnic diversity touted on website.

I grew up in what’s fondly referred to as Vanilla Village. White, middle class America. When I was a kid, if we saw a black person it was like encountering a rare bird. “Oh my God look, it’s a black person! Where do you suppose he lives? What’s he doing in Ft. Collins? Where do you think he works?”

Our fascination wasn’t malicious. We weren’t trying to find his workplace to torment him, we were just curious. Ft. Collins is more diverse than it used to be, but it’s still really, really white.

So imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I walked into the Fort Collins Abyssinian Christian Church and found myself in the minority. It was fantastic.

Culture Shock

This church is in the middle of a neighborhood, which is how church should be — an extension of community. It’s very plain. Blonde brick. Basic A-frame. Old office chairs stand in as pews, each one with what appears to be a handmade pocket on the back. The pockets don’t hold Bibles as everyone brings their own and, when they pray, they hold them up to heaven. This is new.

A woman greets me at the entrance, hands me a handful of peppermints. Confusing. Later, during a pause in worship, a woman sitting near me offers me a peppermint from her stash. Is this some sort of new age icebreaker?

Several men stand to the side of the cramped aisles. They’re well dressed and big. They look like bodyguards and do not leave their posts during service. I’m intimidated. Not by them, but the situation.

I’m not the only white person in the congregation, but I stick out because I look like a bum and everyone else seems to adhere to old-fashioned church values of dress up. The dreadlocked hippie in the choir provides some comfort.

Get Your Shout Out

The choir and keyboardist are active and unbelievable, providing accompaniment I actually want to listen to. This is the first time I’ve heard a church choir sing. Usually they mumble, occasionally harmonizing words. This choir does its thing throughout the service, including when the preacher speaks.

The preacher greets us. “I hope you woke up with prayer.”

We all did. Even me. My prayer was, “Dear God, please shoot me.”

I can’t imagine anyone else in the congregation greeted the day this way because they’re moving about singing, talking, dancing, smiling — they’re thrilled to be in God’s house.  This is an anomaly. I’ve never ever seen such enthusiasm for God. Ever.

As per usual, the greet your neighbor bit sends me into a panic. A very large hatted woman to my left gives me a huge bear hug. I sit, terrified that the man jumping over a chair is headed toward me. He isn’t, kisses the kid in front of me instead.

The preacher encourages us to “get our shout out,” which means clap, yell, sing and dance the devil away. Terrified and amused, I sit, watching. Eventually a smile dents my crabby face. Though I’m not shouting, the shout out is working.

I’m fascinated by a woman in the front who looks like she’s leading a Jazzercise class. She disappears. She either had to suddenly tie her shoe or she’s fallen to the ground. When she pops back up, she sits in a chair fanning herself so I think she was probably writhing.

The preacher says religion is “not a spectator sport,” but I cannot will myself out of my chair. I don’t feel judged by anyone other than myself. Personal problem.

The preacher’s messages are simple. Be grateful for the day. Put your faith in the Lord. I like what he has to say because he speaks like a human – not a theologian – and says things like, “Can I get a witness?,” prompting the congregation to follow with“Amen” and “yes sir.” I freaking love it especially when the older woman behind me starts croaking out “that’s right.”

I don’t care about this church’s message. The congregants are so excited about God that it really doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm for anything is half the battle. Why is this the first time I’ve seen people get excited about church?

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Scotty O’Brian’s, Loveland, Colo.

12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Notable Matter: Sponsored bar seats, each with an embroidered logo/namesake representing the donor.

I’m in la-di-da land and am therefore losing patience with Colorado dive bars. Dive bars should not include microbrews on tap. They should lack decor, serve characters and stick to bottles and cans like the Long Branch Bar in Laporte, Colo. But most of the Colorado dives have microbrews. I need to go back to the Midwest where there’s an abundance of good old fashioned dive bars, places where people go to get drunk off of $1 canned PBR beer. I yearn for blue-collar America.

I don’t believe the middle class is disappearing, it’s just become invisible. I’ve thought of this well before the whole national union uprising. I have my own opinions about that but I’ll keep them to myself.

America’s Struggling Middle Class

I love the middle class — blue-collar workers — which is why I love neighborhood bars, dive bars. But do I have to go to the Rustbelt, a region continually blamed for the nation’s economic meltdown, to find it? Until I head back to Michigan in May, I’ll keep trudging along to these Colorado “dives.” Colorado natives can’t even point me to dives because they don’t know what they are.

That being said, Scotty O’Brian’s is as divey as I’ve seen in a few weeks. Wooden façade, one window, long bar, narrow structure. It’s dark, six people watching basketball on two TVs. I’m relieved to see a race car event on one of the TVs, very middle America.

I walk in pissed off by my experience with the money mongering Redeemer Lutheran Church. (I invited Redeemer to respond to my scalding review of the church, but haven’t received a response.)

I’m a little testy with the young bartender. I’m not offended by his request for ID, but his delivery is off putting.

“You got your little thingy on you?” He makes a motion with his wrist indicating that by “thingy,” he means the little plastic card in my wallet. He justifies himself. “I have to ask. Otherwise my boss will get me in trouble.”

Me: “Or you could just say I look young.” My four second tutorial on women.

“You do look young.” He’s nervous.

I loosen up. Smile in the mirror at an older man in a blue work jacket and mesh hat. He’s drinking a beer and a shot, orders them together. He sees me and looks away.

The experience is dull until a younger man and woman walk in. They sit next to me. They’re new to the area and interesting, which is a fabulous find. I enjoy our conversation, it’s refreshing to speak with people that have imagination, passion, interesting things to say.

As much as I enjoy their company and hope to see them again, they are not blue collar workers, Middle America. Where do I find this in northern Colorado? What am I missing?

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

11 a.m. to ?

Chosen because…late service

Biggest church I’ve been to.  It sits in a giant field surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods. Not only does it have a welcome center, which gives makes me feel like I’m walking through an airport rather than a church, it also has a worship center, life/center gym, preschool, student center, etc.

I’m grateful for the coffee/donut room. Guilt kicks in so I donate $1 to the coffee collection. This is the only donation I’ve made to a church thus far. After service I feel duped, used and wish I could take my money back.

Love Money, Then Jesus

Remember this scene from Jerry Maguire? This is Redeemer Lutheran Church.

JERRY MAGUIRE SHOW ME THE MONEY


The preachers or whatever are dressed in white, red sashes resting on either side of their chests. Huge choir. Massive movie screen. Many people wearing buttons purporting their love for Jesus. At least I think that’s what they’re for.

It’s “commitment weekend,” a time for parishioners to place donation envelopes they received via mail in Pottery Barn-like donation baskets. Before they do, the preacher fills them with artificial love, hiding the church’s need for greed behind Bible passages such as “whoever does not love God does not know love.”

When the preacher quiets, this message is conveyed, falsely — though song — and soundtrack as people in the sound booth add thunder and other such nonsense to the melody.

After guilt by love, the preacher gets down to business. This whole love B.S. will continue for 36 months because the church is on a mission to a) Raise up stewards b) Pay down debt c) Further the mission.

So learn about God, pay down the Redeemer Lutheran‘s $2 million debt during the next 36 months and then spread God’s word through costly missions. Appalling.

Need for Greed

He uses the following mantras to encouraging giving…and love.

“Love is not really love until it’s given away.”

“I hope you get to learn during this season we get to give love away.”

“We don’t want to whore the message of God.”

Then we watch a clip from Schindler’s List. It’s at the end when Schindler realizes the money he spent on material excess could have saved thousands of Jews.

People sniffle. It’s an emotional scene and a cleaver way for the preacher to beg for money. After the clip, he invites everyone to bring up envelopes of money, encouraging them to “woo hoo” when they dump it in Pottery Barn-like baskets.

I’m sick to my stomach. This place of worship is an infomercial, not a church. I leave and head to a dive bar in Loveland of all places, to cleanse my soul.

The leaders of this church should be ashamed of themselves for their unabashed call to greed. Redeemer Lutheran Church is antithetical to Jesus’ message. It’s disgusting.

St. Joseph’s Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Chosen because…good Catholic friend in town

I will never go back to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, not because I tainted the holy water in elementary school, but because it’s the most judgmental church I’ve visited. Nothing about St. Joe’s embodies peace, love or understanding.

Before I delve into my own judgments, let me say I know it’s contradictory to condemn judgment and then judge but processing experience necessarily requires judgment. Also, this opinion is based on the 1.5 hours I spent in one church. By no means do I think all Catholics adhere to these values or lack there of.

Choice, Freewill, Abortion

From the street, St. Joe’s is beautiful. From the street, you can’t see the picture of a fetus (it isn’t graphic) framed by words urging congregants to pray to end abortion.  I don’t care what people think about abortion. Life, choice, whatever. I also don’t care about political views. Democrat, Republican, anarchist, whatever. What irritates the living hell out of me is listening to a priest tell a hundred people or so how they should feel about abortion or politics.

Unfortunately for the congregation and the advancement of peace and understanding through Christ, this priest focused on condemning those who make poor choices, such as abortion. Well, that and contradicting himself.

One of the day’s teachings included the following:

“…we should not be passing judgments on others, for this is the Lord’s right. Rather, we should joyfully await his return, when all shall be brought to light.”

Sometimes I’m a little slow, but the Bible led me to believe that there’s only one God. Google’s helped me understand that there’s billions of people on this earth so, if the relatively small St. Joe congregation judges those who abort, doesn’t that mean that more than 100 people in tiny little Ft. Collins are playing God?

Good Old Catholic Spanking

My dad was raised Catholic. He’s got some great stories about naked swimming and nun brutality. While I can’t speak to his experiences, heavy-handed Catholics continue whacking from the pews.

The woman in front of me had three kids. The husband immediately left with the little one. The poor thing was terribly sick but I would have preferred her fever and hacking cough to time with mom who, between praying and singing, occupied her time by whacking her sons on the head, pinching their arms, yanking their wrists, flicking them in the middle of the cranium with her thumb and pointer finger and threatening spankings.

Doesn’t Catholicism sound fun?

The Punisher didn’t smile, but neither did anyone else. I saw a lot of kids and a lot of young parents — good honest Catholics using the ‘ol rhythm method, holding tight to their anti-abortion stance — but I didn’t see many smiles and I certainly didn’t feel like I was part of a community. In fact, not one person returning from communion reception looked happy or even content even. Either something’s askew in the church or Christ tastes like garbage.

Not that they’d want me, but I’m passing on Catholicism.

NOTE: Once again I blew it with the pics. I took plenty, but I’m out-of-town and forgot the adapter. I’ll add them when I return.

Might be a Mennonite

February 21, 2011

Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, Fort Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to noonish

Chosen because…I’m fascinated with buggies and bonnets

I love Mennonites. At least the ones I met at the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. They’re friendly and as far as I can tell, they view Jesus as a symbol of peace, not a vehicle for judgement.

Now, on the judgment front…

I saw my first Mennonites at a Taco Bell in Fort Collins. The girls were darling in bonnets and homemade dresses. I assumed the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship parking lot would be full of buggies, men in cute hats and suspenders helping bonneted women to the street. Giddy, I thought, “Try not to make an ass of yourself by immediately asking about the buggies and bonnets.”

I’m not sure why these Mennonites are singing in a subway, but this is what I thought my Sunday would be like.

Mennonites Singing on a Subway

In a group of less than 30, I found one bonnet. I should have known. The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship site addresses bonnets, notes they’re not the norm. Another newbie asked about bonnets and horses. The people he asked politely chuckled and explained.

So who attends the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship? Very chill people. Very Colorado looking people — jeans, Merrells, outdoor wear. I felt like I was at a peace rally. A bell kicked off service. Two girls — one barefoot — lit a candle with this long thing, the one without shoes nearly clipped the other’s face with the flame. Then some acoustic guitar, a bit about Haiti, sermon or talk, bell, discussion, refreshments.

Mennonites Hit No. 1 on Church Billboard Chart

The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is No. 1 on the ThumpMe billboard chart because they do peace and acceptance. They’re open-minded. In fact, I found them by going to www.gaychurch.org, curious as to which churches are cool with homosexuals.

While homosexuality wasn’t discussed (I believe David was gay), the Sermon on the Mount was. Mennonites believe Jesus’ word trumps all others, including angry God and confused prophets. The speaker talked about going beyond religious laws to uncover deeper meaning. Does it really make sense to take in all the wretched souls and then condemn them for committing adultery simply because they looked at another woman? No it doesn’t and that’s why I love the Mennonites. They are what I think people who proclaim to follow Christ should be — emissaries of peace and understanding.

The speaker asks, “If your religion does not go beyond, what is it?”

Nothing.

Observations

The bulletin said “we are all ministers in the fellowship” and included quotes from Buddha, which is confusing, all inclusive and quite a bit different than my southern Baptists. Two individuals knitted during service, one worked on a laptop, one read a book. Very laid back.

After the sermon/lesson, they opened the floor to discussion. Discussion! I couldn’t believe it. No one said much, but encouraging opposition nearly knocked me out of my chair.

At the end, we held hands and said a prayer which was way uncomfortable for me but whatever. I think I heard a bongo or some other instrument I associate with freedom, but can’t remember.

NOTE: I don’t have a photo of this church. I once again left a piece of clothing in a public place — my jacket, restaurant  — and was without a camera.

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