Thursday, July 28, 2011


We made our way successfully through the throng of outstretched hands and earth tone henley’s, which showed my wife and I, the H-ROCK rookies, a style of greet-efficiency that would have put any major stadium security or Ritz Carlton concierge to shame.  
When you enter H-ROCK, it feels special. 

You’re not at church. The ceiling disappears as you walk through the corridors and into an aisle. It sounds creepy, but there is darkness and holy music everywhere. A gentle sensory overload that just feels right. You’re enveloped in whatever H-ROCK is.

I instantly made sure my wife was still beside me and squinted to make out the aisle, ensuring we didn't trip on anything. Check and check. This aisle, by the way, is sloped so sharply that you can’t help feel that maybe when the resurrection comes, it isn’t going to pull us up. It may just pull us all down. You fall into H-ROCK, and with that kind of slant, your pace unintentionally speeds up. Every fresh attendee looks like they cannot wait to join the morning service. 
The shift in atmosphere is breathtaking, and it is natural to hastily remind yourself of the many normal things you already did this morning, to assure yourself you’re in the right place. You totally remembered to brush your teeth, you were listening to Car Talk on NPR five minutes ago, and you wore the thick socks that feel good with these shoes. Those all seem like they happened yesterday, now that you're in H-ROCK. 

The music that surrounds you is so well-mixed that you feel like someone slipped on an invisible pair of Bose headphones without you noticing. It was probably that last greeter. He was too happy. 
I was too overwhelmed to find us seats. My wife dibbed us spots, and I don’t remember that part. It wasn’t packed, there were plenty of empty spaces, it just takes a moment to believe you’re not in some freaky movie theater. No one was sitting yet, so there we stood, humming along to the music instinctively before we had opened our programs or spotted the lyrics on the projection screen. We did not know the particular tune, but there they were, and it was as if your mother sang you to sleep with them as a child. 
And it sinks in. You’re inside H-ROCK. You feel bad about calling it huhrock and balking at the gaudy banners. You hope no one knew you thought that in the first place. This is the real deal. The lighting matches the music. It’s spectacular. It moves and changes in what I can only call a heavenly display. You don’t consider the monetary cost of that until much later in the service. The contrast between the raised, fully lit stage and the smoky shadows of faceless wailers in the audience is surreal. You immediately reference the last big concert you attended. The National playing at The Wiltern, man. I was back there, drunk, except it was Sunday morning, and much more comfortable. The air was the perfect temperature. There wasn’t the sense of an A/C duct blowing anywhere near us, it was a breeze. I still don’t know how they pulled that off. 
The songs weep and moan with fervor. They’re familiar, yet I’ve never heard them before. All the fundamental instruments are present, though it took me a bit to take inventory of what was actually going on up there. 
The H-ROCK performers guiding our worship were larger than life, and they were all the right ones. 

In the middle was the leader. Think Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray. Not like him, him. Down to the hair (head, face, and chest), the fancy, ripped jeans, the untucked, worn, collared shirt with one less button buttoned, and a sweet acoustic guitar. Perfect. If God created man in His image, this guy would be anyone's casting pic for Adam in the movie. 

The leader was flanked on his left by a tall, gorgeous, black man. He was flanked on his right by what non-believers would refer to as a smokin’ hot Armenian girl. Both of them were dressed stylishly and conservatively. They all looked like they could be anywhere between 23 and 29, but with their facial and body structures combined with the lighting effects, I have no idea. Think Tyrese Gibson and the younger Kardashian sister. I’m serious, they were beautiful. They were placed far enough on the stage that you didn’t think they were sleeping together - Please, it was two uncommonly pretty people, you’d think the same thing. They were singing their hearts out to our God, in perfect harmony (Tyrese was handling the extra trailing runs towards the end of the verses, and he was damn good at it, pulling the mic away for the loudest parts and all). 
The backing band as a whole was even more picturesque. Two black-clad, slightly chubby Asian girls, possibly sisters, passionately played violin and keyboard with inhuman synchronicity, solemnly staring in each other’s faces at many points. The drummer was an older white guy with a propensity for big drum intros, and spot-on beats. He was kept at bay with that horrible plexiglass perimeter many churches use, though this one just seemed cleaner and clearer. The white, style-challenged bass player and lead guitarist were both on small raised columns towards the back, the effect of which was camoflauged by the clever lighting (no one wants a spot-lit rhythm section). They were easily forgotten, but if you chose to focus on them at any one moment, they were talented, rocking out, and loving it. 

As a centerpiece, there was also a grand piano (on wheels) in the middle of the stage. It went unused and seemed out of place, until a deep song transition when Sugar Ray swung his guitar around his back and calmly but confidently sat at the bench. Adjusting the tabletop mic to his mouth, resetting his shoulders and spreading his hands on the keys, he visually reminded the congregation that to really worship, you must use all the gifts He has given you - and oh look, brothers and sisters, here’s a piano. 
If you've ever been retail shopping in Pasadena, then you’d know that the worship band of H-ROCK is a remarkably accurate racial representation of our fair Crown City. 
The thing that surprised me the most about the H-ROCK worship, was that it was an hour long. With the main service beginning at 10:30am (an almost irreverently late start, in my opinion) we didn't meet the pastor until our legs were weak and our heels burned. After the emotionally weighted music, in unison with the lighting, on-stage beauty, between-song spiritual mumblings, and my own need to just partake in a nice worship session, I was drained. They could have told me they had proof Jesus piloted a UFO, Job was a little complainy bitch, and the pastor was stoned. I still would have left thinking that I should probably invite my friends to this church, somehow. 

Next up: The Sermon.

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