Year of Sundays

Click on image to enlarge congregation.

So this last Sunday we went to Beaverton Foursquare Church? But when we got there? Cops were all over the road! I was like, OMG, it’s an episode of Beaverton 911, LOL! But, no, the popos were just directing everyone’s Priuses and SUVs into the overflow parking lot, because BF (as their spiffy “It’s a bird, no wait, it’s our initials!” logo says) is much more than a hunch. They’re the Christian bunch. The love of Jesus must be poured out all over this church because it has, like, the biggest mothaflippin’ church real estate in the county or whatever. They’re all, ‘hey bro, we’re a megachurch.’ But I wanted to raise my hand and go, “Nuh-uh. You’re a MegaChurch ExxtremeTM.”

When we got inside, the music was just starting, with its soft rock band, kick-ass sound system, Las Vegasy lights and three huge-ass  video screens feeding the 700 or so Foursquarers lyrics so they could sing along. Kind of like going to a Amy Grant concert, but with karaoke.

And, OMFG, what an amazing show! I mean, I was, like, Jesus doesn’t just love me, he likes me! He is soooo amazing! And when the first speaker, Beaverton Foursquare Communications Director Steve Mitchell, bounced up on stage in his wrinkle-free jeans and nubbly fleece BF logo jacket and led the congregation in a prayer that was actually more of a stream of consciousness spoken word kind of thing that started in on how Jesus was so great and we’re so lucky to be here and to feel his love and to have him wash us clean from our sins, I knew that if Jesus hearts me, I really oughta, you know, heart him back. Jesus is so awesomely cool. He’s like a Burger King Assistant Manager who comes in on his days off just to hang out.

But then the music started again and, I know I’m a sinner, and I might go straight to hell (or Beaverton) for saying this, but I gotta say something about the backup singer-keyboardist and the black argyle sweater that he stole from the set of Family Ties. When he threw his arms back in vocal harmony and twisted his face into a white-man’s grimace of carefully attenuated Holy Rollerish ecstasy? To be honest, I almost barfed. I turned to Amanda and was like, “I feel like I’m in a really bad Hallmark made-for-TV movie.” Well, bless his heart, anyway.

After “Amy Grant” finished her set, she mouthed a “thank you” to someone—I’m not sure, the audience? Jesus?—and then dropped her voice and broke out in prayer with a breathy-sexy-scratchy purr that could charm the ink off my Stryper poster. All I could say was day-um, girl! When this Foursquare gig runs out, you totally have a career taking 1-900 calls for Jesus!

But let’s change stations and flip on the Disney channel—another organization that knows how to make serious bank from emotionally manipulative, cheap entertainment. The Foursquare guys definitely took a lesson from old Uncle Walt. I could have been watching a Disney Kids music video, albeit one with lots of allusions to bath time, with lyrics that call on God to “wash me from sin” and “cleanse my heart” as I “pour out my praise.” The kids had all been hustled away into Sunday School, so it was mostly grownups lifting their wrists in praise and following along on the karaoke screens. Talk about a parent trap.

But the star of the show, all the way up from Southern California, was Rick Fry, looking totally rad for Jesus in his gelled-up Promise Keepers buzz cut, untucked J. Crew dress shirt and $200 stone-washed jeans. That’s how rock ‘n’ roll he is for Jesus. He told us this story about how when he was a teenager, he converted his closet into a prayer altar, fell to his knees and called Jesus “dude.” When Pastor Rick takes the stage you just know you’re in the presence of someone who has had mondo face time with Jesus. Because the warm, sitting-in-my-own-pee feeling I got while listening to him was due either to that, or to Argyle Sweater Man’s plinky Andrew Lloyd Weber-esque synthesizer music underscoring his prayer.

When Pastor Rick said that he wanted the Lord to “juice” him with the spirit, I knew he was a radical. But also because he said so, too. As in, “God is radically in love with you.” And, “God wants you to be radically in love with him.” And, “I want to call you to a radical life for Jesus.”

That is, like, so rad.

At one point he went on and on about some teen kids who were all “foaming and ravenous for Jesus” (his words, not mine) and how that was, you know, a good thing and that when people tell those kids they should grow up or whatever, he was like, uh-uh, we need more of that. Because the problem with America is that we aren’t hyperventilating for Jesus enough.

And then he brought up Jesus’ written-from-beyond-the-grave letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation. You see, they were all lukewarm in the Christ. And, boy, did those Laodiceans know all about that: their municipal water system was World Famously Tepid. So when Jesus threatened to ‘vomit them out of his mouth’ because of their lukewarmeness, they would have exchanged a knowing glance and laughed nervously at that backhanded comic touch.

So you’ve got your Mullet Jesus,  you’ve got your United Colors of Benetton Jesus and now you’ve got your Bulimic Jesus. Because, you know, if Jesus is going to get on with his job being everyone’s ransomer, he needs our help, and lukewarm ain’t gonna cut it. I can just hear him from heaven: “Come on, people, throw your Savior a bone! Heat me! Chill me! Help me cast out the evil scourge of liberal media!”

Evangelical churches like Foursquare have tended to preach a prosperity gospel (although, lately, they’ve gone lukewarm on the idea), which basically says: hand your money to Jesus and he’ll hand it right on back to you with interest. Problem is, the only party that has reliably prospered from that transaction has been the church and its nationwide chain of franchisees. And, from what I could tell of the little velvet Santa hat/collection bags that went by during the offering (and the coffee bar, and the beautifully lacquered gymnasium floor and the rock-concert-cum-church-service and the easy-to-use online giving opportunities), these guys are are raking in beau-coup bucks. Not surprising, considering that their founder would tell parishioners during the Depression, “No coins please” as the collection was being passed. So maybe that’s why Rick changed that prosperity tune a little, saying, “Lose the American culture dream and get a Kingdom dream in your heart.” It has a nice ring to it. Plus, if you have the Kingdom Dream in your heart you’re definitely going to give Jesus a taste of your paycheck.

Pastor Rick was so smart, he even knows all about demons and shit, which is way cool. So, at the end of the service, he got everyone to stand up and clap their hands, because “the demons hate it when we clap for Jesus.” That really brought the house down with a thunderous applause. Oh, snap, demons! Take that! I can totally see them gnashing their teeth because Rick Fry had whipped a roomful of Beavertonians into a slappy-clappy frenzy.

After all the clapping was done and Pastor Rick left the stage, nobody told them to sit down, so when Steve Mitchell stood up and praised everyone because they ended the service with a “standing O for God,” I was all, “um, excuse me, but everyone was standing because nobody told them to sit down.” No matter. Even when these Christian Men of God are wrong, they’re still right. If these church people can be told when to sit, when to stand, when to clap their hands and when to shout Amen, they’re probably all too glad to be told who to hate and who to love. Something tells me the contents of that black book resemble those in Glenn Beck’s.

I have to admit that we went into the Foursquare service ready for some good, Caucasian, Christian fun. Earlier, I’d told my friends that we expected to be paired off with another couple and handed a rubber playground ball. But, you know, I try to be open-minded. To a person unaccustomed to independent thought, this church has a lot to offer: well-rehearsed feel-good music, plenty of aerobic exercise and a healthy dollop of Jesus-talk. Otherwise, the Beaverton Foursquare Church is to Christianity what the Ice Capades is to live theater. On the other hand, if it turns out that Anthony Robbins is the Messiah, he’ll surely manifest himself in a Foursquare church.

I should probably let you know that I believe that the Foursquare leadership is sincere and and they are obviously passionate about their religion. (Even if their leadership team, business plan and tithing training programs for ministers do have a jarringly materialistic tang to them.) But sincerity and passion alone do not necessarily make a better person of someone. Jim Jones, Adolph Hitler and the people who killed Jesus were also passionate and sincere.

Newcomer schwag kit includes a New Testament (because the Old Testament is boring and will just confuse you anyway), a how-to-join booklet, a couple of sales brochures and a reply card. Regarding the sign above, in marketing, this is what we call the Assumptive Close.

After the show, I introduced myself and the blog to pastor Rick. Pulling out my notebook, I asked him a couple of questions about the church. “The body of Christ has failed miserably in this country,” he said, neatly blending nationalism and Christianity in one breath. We talked about megachurches with their bright lights and Vegas-style production values and he lamented that while megachurches are increasing in numbers, they are “shrinking in terms of impact,” because “we wanted to make God cool.” He wants to correct that spiritual ill. According to him, “the answer is Jesus in the heart of the people.” As my eyes scanned moodily-lit rows of pews, something told me that, at best, he’s fighting an uphill battle.

If Pastor Rick and other church representatives to whom we talked seemed a bit concerned, if not defensive, about how we might write about their service, it might be because they were feeling a little hungry. They’d just finished a 21-day prayer and fast. Its purpose?

“The kingdom of darkness has been launching an all-out assault upon the church. Never have we witnessed such demeaning threats and assaults against the global church. … [The idea is] to position ourselves as warriors during this season. We must contend with great courage and not shrink back from the threats of the evil one.”

Toward the end of our chat with Pastor Rick, I said, “You use the word ‘radical’ a lot in your speaking. What does that word mean to you?” Before I tell you what he said, let me say that I am fairly sure he doesn’t advocate violence as a means to restore Christianity in America–or, at least their brand of it. Nevertheless, smiling proudly, he replied with deep conviction, “If Islam can be radical, so can we.”

After that, Amanda and I munched on a sliver of unleavened bread and swigged a thimbleful of cranberry juice cocktail from the sacrament table. It seemed the temperature had dropped as we walked across the cold February stretch back to our car.

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