Sunday, February 23, 2014

So I went to church today.....

I know. You're going to think I'm a hypocrite. Remember, I never said I was atheist, I just don't believe the bible is literal truth. I consider myself more agnostic. Please read on.

The hubs and I have been talking, and we thought that maybe finding a youth group for D1 somewhere that some of her friends from school went might be good for her. She's been having a hard time since the move back to Texas. We had tried the smaller church in town, but once the recorded phone calls started inundating our answering machine, we were pretty turned off. The one that sealed their fate was the recorded voice of the pastor talking about a new series they were doing on "how to get sexual intimacy back into your marriage". D1 was standing with the hubs when that little gem played out loud. THAT was fun.

There's one of those mega-churches not too far from here, which has never been my thing, but they have a great reputation for their kids' programs, and we just want D1 to be more social and make some friends.

I don't know, maybe I thought I was going to have some kind of epiphany while I was sitting there. It didn't happen. In fact, I left in tears at the hypocrisy of it all. There was a very small church we belonged to in MA, and although we went primarily for our kids, one of the things I liked best about it was that the pastor was accepting of all and fairly progressive for his profession. He supports equal rights and a woman's right to choose, and he will tell you that it's not his place to judge. The people were genuinely nice and caring, the kids' activities were great, and they were active in the community. Unfortunately, now I'm back in Texas, in the bible belt. Things are different here.

So I drop off the girls in their respective classrooms, which were more like theater productions. The number of people in this place was crazy. Growing up, I never liked those big churches, but I wanted to try this for the girls. D1 balked at going into the massive room that was to be her Sunday School, but she finally did. (The hubs would not come with me, and he warned me that I was going to come back angry.)

So I went into the "sanctuary". I was immediately disgusted. It wasn't church, it was a rock concert. The lead singer (a woman) had on leather tight pants and knee high spiked boots. People are jumping up and down and flinging their hands into the air while singing. The stage was huge and there were two jumbo screens on either side so everyone in the stadium style auditorium could see. Now before you get your knickers in a bunch, it's not the people in the audience I was disgusted with. I knew where I was and I knew the types of people who would be there. I am sure there were more than a few who are truly good Christians. The few people I interacted with were very nice and welcoming, but I really didn't talk much to anyone.

So the rock concert finally ends, and I am sitting thinking about all of that stage equipment, the lighting (oh yes, there were synchronized lights), the building itself, and also thinking about how this mega-church pays absolutely no taxes. And it gets better.

The pastor comes out and starts talking about giving. I actually liked what he had to say at first, because he was right. We need to give in our marriages, give in our communities, and give in society. He said he could sum up the bible into two words: "God gave."

Then he started talking about Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Leviticus basically lays out the laws, and Deuteronomy reiterates them. And he's right about that. Murder, stealing, lying, cheating, adultery.....all are wrong, and he says the laws in our country are created on the basis of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. And this is where he lost me. Why? Because all of these things are wrong and are agreed upon as wrong by humanity, not just Christianity.

His next comment was, "I cannot imagine why this country is turning away from these laws when they are very clearly based on lessons in the Bible."

Cue the thunderous applause.

And I am sitting there thinking, Which laws would those be? And have any of you actually read the United States Constitution?

He then goes on to say that freedom, fullness, and joy are all things that you find when you enter the House of God. I am sure that is true for some people. Good for them. Really. But then he went on to say that people who hadn't found God couldn't know these things.

Seriously? So people who don't believe in God can't know joy? Or freedom? Or fulfillment? What a complete and utter crock of you-know-what.

So then he gets on to the business of money. And this is where I started taking notes.

He starts with saying that he is interviewed all the time about giving, because his flock is just so wonderful at it. And he's not talking about money, he's talking about their time, their talents, etc. Okay, I'm okay with that.

"But today I'm going to talk to you about the importance of tithing." Yep, I knew it. Now I will say this again......I don't begrudge anyone their religion. I don't. The problem I have is when people use their religion to persecute others. The people who were there that tithe, do so of their own free will, and that's their business. I did wonder several times what good that amount of money would do in the community......for food banks, homeless shelters, feeding hungry children, but I digress.

So he says this: "When we give to the Lord, tithing gets us out from under the curse of the decrepit financial system of this country, and giving over and over strengthens the House of fact, [my wife] and I give well over the standard amount every month."

"How much can you give over and above your usual tithe?"

The emphasis was on what could they could do with the money - they could build more campuses, expand the buildings, add more projects - all had to do with expanding the church size, adding more people. Nothing was mentioned about helping people in the community, building house for the homeless, aiding local food banks, etc.

He tells a story about a man who wanted to give a field to God, and the priest told him he could still reap the rewards of that field, but 20% of the rewards had to go to God.

Here's a question: How exactly does God get the produce?

Then the pastor gets personal. He starts talking about how his family gives 20% every month, when the standard is 10%. I'm trying to figure out the algorithm in my head of how that money gets paid back to him since he's giving it to the church that's paying him, but let's move on. He said he lowered his tithing from 20% to 10% for several months, and "our finances spiraled out of control and started falling apart. I felt like God was punishing me."

But then God came to him and said, "I"m hurt because you don't want to give 20% anymore." The pastor said he was so guilt-ridden that he immediately started tithing 20% again.

And I'm thinking: Damn. God's good at reverse psychology.

Next guilt trip story? He said a member of the congregation, who is very well off, asked God what he should give, and the Lord told him $100,000. He asked his wife what she thought, and she said the Lord told her the same thing. He said after he gave that, it was the greatest year ever of their spiritual growth.

Hear that, people? Give an exorbitant amount of money, God loves you more.

So then he asks everyone to pull out their "commitment cards" (given to you as you walk in). He asks you to fill out what you think you can commit to. Be sure and talk to your spouse first. Don't spend beyond your means (even though he just told you that the more you give the more grace you get). And then this: "Better a small commitment than none at all!"

Oh and this: "Not prepared to give today? GIVE ONLINE!"

Then they pulled out these huge black bins to collect the offerings. People couldn't get to them fast enough.

I wanted to run as fast as I could and get my children and get out of the building.

But first, we had to go to the Chuck E. Cheese type toy counter, you know the one that has all the chintzy toys for a ridiculous amount of tickets? Yes, they had one in the church. D1 got tickets during Sunday School that she could go use to get prizes. So basically, you get a prize for coming to church. Then she got to use a special ticket to do one of those claw-type chance games. And of course she gets a prize. She's thinking this is the greatest place ever, and I am appalled that this is done in a church.

D2 comes out telling me how baby Jesus was sick and died and then woke up. I see the paper she has in her hand, and they had been talking about Lazarus. WHO TELLS A GROUP OF FOUR YEAR OLDS THE STORY OF LAZARUS? She's going to try to kill the dog and see if she comes back to life, for all I know. Because they said in church it can happen. Smack. My. Head.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned. We won't be going back.

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