Thursday, August 4, 2011

H-ROCK! Part 3 of 3: The Sermon


I want to butt into my own conversation (Josh will love that phrase) and remind you there is an overarching goal to our church search. 

The previous posts had a lot of very superficial commentary, and intentionally so. My goal is to note all the un-noted things; small and large, physical and spiritual, human and animal (wait what?). Church needs to suit me again, whatever church is. To make this happen, I am in the process of looking back through all the experiences that struck such loud notes with me, recent and long past, and tweaking the mixer. The high notes, the low notes, and the balance are all being adjusted. I want to make this whole church thing sound good again. 

And with that, unpause: 

The H-ROCK announcements finally came. 

The pastor's son sauntered up to the Sugar Ray spotlight. This guy put on the casual thing, and put it on thick. He was my age (late 20’s/early 30’s), Asian, and good looking. I can’t confirm, but I think I remember seeing slippers. The way he spoke reminded me of so many youth pastors, struggling to really, really convince you they are down. He used subtle “you guys” and “ya know”s. He was good at it. He gave off a very strong “my dad owns the place” vibe, though his words were nothing but humble- written on an index card, and humble. He wasn’t up there long enough to get to me, but I’m glad I’m not in his college group. 
The pastor, who we'll call Charlie - seeing as since I've started this blog, more people than I ever thought possible know personally someone close to this church's upper management- and Charlie's wife had been on-stage clapping and generally getting into it for the last quarter hour, so it was natural for Charlie to just go into his sermon when the music was (finally) done. 

Pastor Charlie didn’t exactly break the mold for me, but he certainly gave it a few stress fractures. He was wearing an awful, sparkly, embroidered shirt and expensive jeans. His watch was deflecting the pin-spots into the mezzanine and rafters like a wrist-mounted light saber. I imagine that when he looks back on the video of the sermon, it may remind him of the sword of the spirit mixed with a little Peter Parker. I can't ever remember being offended by a pastor's garb. This outfit was loud and I was forced to ask myself, "What kind of pastor is comfortable putting that on?" 
Pastor Charlie seemed very cool. Like, just real enough, yet just crazy enough for me to want to have a one-on-one conversation with him. He is probably smart. He is probably a lot like this off-stage, too. This was comfortable. You were getting the real Charlie. Unfortunately, he eventually broke down the “hey it’s just you and me here, fella” thing with some common church rhetoric. He started a lot of sentences with, “my friends” and the old go-to, "brothers and sisters".. 
Charlie also did something else that I’ve only seen before in smaller churches, or in a small group or special Wednesday service. 

Charlie mentioned no less than three times that he used to be a “drug pusher”. It wasn’t only that, it was the fact that when he did, he would follow it up with “selling and pushing drugs on my own street corner”. It was a phrase. It wasn’t used as a sad and personal specific detail, to really bring home a point. It was part of his vernacular. My supposition is that this congregation tunes that little tidbit out after attending H-ROCK a few Sunday’s in a row. There were no gasps. 

I always wonder about the fine line between appropriate content and the size of the congregation. There were probably 400 people in that service, and in any other service that size, I can imagine a more watered down version of “drug pusher” would be used, if mentioned at all. Yeah, not mentioned at all. 
The sermon was based around customer service. He flowed into it. He knew how to talk to people. I got the feeling there was only 20 people in the room - that's a good thing for a newbie to feel. And being that he was yapping about customer service as the sermon's fulcrum, as a small business owner myself, I’m thinking I came on a pretty good Sunday. 
Pastor Charlie used the example of a trip to Alaska and his interaction with the customer service reps at the Nordstrom store in Anchorage when he needed to return something during a trip. It was a very simple story. The expected overtones of the Holy Spirit intervening into his retail episode were not present. 

He didn't dance through his words, he didn't push them up a hill. I would say that Charlie sort of pawed at them with two hands. He interrupted his own sentences about every minute - which was acceptable (as in, not super annoying). When he did this, it kept your attention. Charlie was into it. Charlie really, seriously, wanted to tell you about his thoughts on this Nordy thing and his returned merchandise. 

Charlie's point was that we, as Christians (which he didn't assume we all were [smart Charlie!]), should be like Nordstrom. 

Charlie used a lot of wikipedia-ish stats about the financial status of not only Nordstroms, but many other shops that you've heard of, in between, of course, references to himself as a former drug pusher, you know, selling and pushing drugs on his own street corner. 

Charlie's frank manner and open method of speaking to his shadowed congregation did two things for me: 

1) Made a simple point very clear that as Christians, we are to be servants to everyone, in every situation, and through that, the Lord will do His thing. This was a great point. It hit home. It was easy to swallow. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. It was easy to implement. Easy. I call that a good sermon, mostly because I still remember it.

2) It made me see what kind of guy this Pastor Charlie is, in the real world. I got an almost uncomfortably voyeuristic look at this person who runs what I would consider a huge church, in a normal situation that included his opinions on personal belongings, travel, ego, and money. He gave it all up, and I don't get the sense he knew it. The part that I am disappointed in myself a bit with, is that I didn’t really like Charlie after that. His sermon hit home, his sermon worked. But Charlie seemed without a doubt, full of himself, a bit ignorant, and absolutely obsessed with money. 
I believe that just as the love of money is the root of all evil, like I’ve been taught since childhood, I also believe that not Charlie, but the second affect that Charlie's sermon had on me, has something significant to do with what I'm missing in church. 

Next: Well I still haven't picked. Let me ask you. Which of the following should I post? 







  1. Damn youre a good writer. You have a good rhythm going here and content that keeps me coming back for more.

    For your next entry, I'd like you to briefly sum up where you are at in your search post hrock, and the entry after that take us somewhere else. Keep it comin.

    I most appreciate your special ability to balance out cynicism with honest kind words. You are authentic, and able to say what youre thinking and feeling (be it critical or not), and then get your own opinions out of the way enough to see what else might really be there. Its refreshing.

  2. Oo! Ooo! House of Gabriel next please!!

    i feel that i have been to h-rock. with the combination of your stellar descriptions and my countless suppressed memories, i'm pretty sure i was sitting in the seat next to you that day at h-rock.

  3. I'd like to read about all 4 of those topics, even though I am already living one of them. Your thoughts on pastor Charlie certainly hints at one of my many objections to the modern church. Understanding your religion in terms of commercialism, corporations, and consumerism is disingenuous and feels misrepresentative of Christianity in its early Biblical form. I can only speculate what kind of parallels pastor Charlie might draw between selling drugs, selling perfume and suits, and selling Jesus...