Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays


If You’re Christian and You Know It, Clap Your hands!

posted by Joel Gunz

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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CJo

posted March 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm


I liked Matt’s comment. My husband and I tithe pretty consistently, but we do it anonymously (i.e. in cash – we don’t care about getting a receipt so we can claim it on our taxes) and not because we think we need to buy our way into heaven. We do it because we strongly support the work our church is doing in our lives, in our community, and around the world, and we accept the Bible teaching that we should give some of what we have to further this work – to us it feels like the least we can do, considering how much we have benefited.



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Heidi

posted March 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm


The first church I went to after leaving the dubs, purely as aversion therapy, was a church JUST LIKE THIS. I had a panic attack. I remember being frozen in my pew, wanting desperately to leave but physically unable to move. I can laugh now reading your review because its all so true, but I was traumatized for months afterward. Creepy, creepy, creepy places. The Wonder Bread of Christianity, which is already pretty damn white bread and bland to begin with! I am LOVING these reviews, gotta say.



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ariel

posted March 9, 2011 at 1:21 am


Wow, I’m totally sexist when it comes to how I like my blog writers, but your writing might make me a convert to the masculine persuasion!

That said, that church looks intense and scary. I’m also not entirely sure we have that many people in the entire town I live in. Serious kudos for coming from such a strict religious background and being able to spread the word of the intense religious diversity this country has to offer.



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Nick

posted March 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm


Wait so u pissed Ur pants in public!?! Wow



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Mollye

posted March 6, 2011 at 10:35 pm


“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.”

Laughed out loud at this one…even emitted a snort. Funny stuff.



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B

posted March 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm


Please? Someone is trying to talk about mega-churches and failed to mention Texas?!? Here in Houston, the average church size is about 3,000. Joel Osteen took over the Reliant Center to hold his services. I think the average service there has about 16,000 faithful. One of the first questions people ask someone if they are new to the area is, “Have you joined a church yet?” Tell Amanda that I can almost guarantee that the UU church in Houston probably isn’t anti-gun.



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Joel Gunz

posted March 4, 2011 at 11:29 am


Only if that pastor can be you, Dan!



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matt

posted March 3, 2011 at 9:48 am


As a committed Christian for nearly two decades, I tend to shy away from sensationalism myself. For the better part of those two decades I was in numerous bands and vocal groups that toured regionally and nationally to various churches, schools, and civic organizations and I’ve literally been in almost every kind of church (over 500) and seen almost everything. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced one of those snake-handling Baptist services in West Virginia; but it would be interesting to witness just once…just for the entertainment factor – ’cause I really don’t think I’d get anything spiritual out of it.

Furthermore; I’m not the kind to clap my hands at church. In fact, I don’t even raise my hands. There might even be times when people are “spontaneously” standing that I just don’t feel moved to stand – so I sit. I’m a horrible “tither”. Horrible. Honestly, I’ve rarely given a tithe (10%) of my income. Usually, my giving is either toward a worthy cause and more along the lines of 2-5% if anything. My salvation and relationship with my God is not tied to my finances. God isn’t going to make me rich or poor. There’s vast stretches of time that I go without praying or reading the Bible – although I’ve done well over the last year. And, I’m far from “righteous”. I screw up. Often.

And you know what? I harbor no guilt. I can pass the offering plate without dropping anything in, without worry of what the usher or the person next to me is thinking. I don’t subscribe to the “religion” of the church. I’ve taken communion maybe 20 times in my life – if that. There’s very little spiritual fulfillment in the habits and practices of modern religion to me. And the thought that I must adhere to a list of rules; “can’ts” and “don’ts”, is counter to the idea of forgiveness in my mind. My lifestyle is shaped by the fact that while I still do things that I “shouldn’t”, it doesn’t affect the fact that I am forgiven. And more often – I feel more compelled to live in a good and right manner; respecting God, respecting others, and respecting myself. Substance. Tactile experiences. Meat-and-potato Christianity. That is my pursuit and my goal.

Jesus is more than just a “feeling” to me. There are times in my life that – either in real-time or hind sight – the only explanation for the happenings are Supernatural intervention; in spite of my humanity and imperfection.

I *am* loved by God. I know it. I have questioned it. I have been places that made me doubt it. And I don’t have to be sensational about it.

Finally, let me say that while there were things about Rick’s speaking that I really enjoyed – he was a guest speaker. I’d invite both of you to visit again when Randy is speaking. Randy’s real, down-to-earth, substance before sensationalism speaking is the reason I attend Beaverton.

I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. An interesting look at the church in America and Portland in particular. Seriously – after you’ve finished Portland, broaden your circle. Orlando First Baptist: 8500 seat auditorium – THAT is a mega-church. I’d love to hear more about your experiences. I’ll be checking in here from time to time. Thanks.



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Dan

posted March 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm


need a pastor?



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm


Oh. My. Heck. It’s Jeeeeeesus!



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Mrs Marcos

posted March 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm


“Jesus is so awesomely cool. He’s like a Burger King Assistant Manager who comes in on his days off just to hang out.”

Uh, if I can take the liberty of combining a little of Amanda’s write up with yours, I’m guessing Jesus is more like “Creepy King.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creepy_King



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Jules

posted March 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm


I don’t know-I haven’t taken a poll . . . . .I’m pretty sure I’ve made it through at least a few services without a single sexual thought. Then again-don’t males on average think about sex a lot more than women? I think I’ve seen statistics on how many sexual thoughts an hour a man has . . . .of course, I can’t remember what it was.

Jesus and Coffee-I think that would make a great coffeeshop! I’d have to locate it near a megachurch though . . .maybe biblical verses on the cups? A tithe jar instead of a tip jar?



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm


Maybe we should have smoked a little in the parking lot first! ;)



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Kris

posted March 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm


For some reason I can’t get the jingle “CLAP ON… CLAP OFF… THE CLAPPER” out of my head after reading this. There is one of these churches in my area (they have VALET parking!!) and a TV broadcast for those folks at home with a convenient “TELE-TITHE” number. I went once, due to circumstances beyond my control, only to find that they after the “service” and light show, they also had a nifty gift shop with “Go Team Jesus” shirts as well as their cool church graphic T’s. After it was over, I felt like I was coming out of a Def Leppard concert in the 80′s without the buzz.

Another great installment!!



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 11:28 am


Heh, thanks, Nell!



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 11:27 am


Hi Diana – thanks for your note! I myself came out of a religion that had convinced its members that Armageddon was coming in 1975 and that they should sell their houses and devote all resources to growing the membership. Ugh.



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 11:25 am


Crunched for time, we dashed into the auditorium, so I don’t know if beverages are allowed! (And I left my flask at the office.)

BTW, doesn’t everybody have at least one sexual thought while at church? ;)



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 11:21 am


Let’s do it! I’ll be the marketing director, you be the lead singer!



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Joel Gunz

posted March 2, 2011 at 11:20 am


LOL! I tried to work your “happy clappy’ phrase into the piece, but couldn’t make it fit.



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Nell

posted March 2, 2011 at 10:25 am


“To a person unaccustomed to independent thought …”
This made me laugh! Your writing is superb and where I don’t agree with all of your opinions I still love to read. I love the challenge you and Amanda are posing with this blog! Keep it up – also – love love love the comment section! People and their righteous indignation!



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d.g.

posted March 2, 2011 at 10:17 am


There is NO WAY I could have held a straight face during this service. I, too, believe that the pastors are probably sincere and all, but this sort of service, in this sort of church, is exactly why I distrust the majority of organized religions. Too much fancy-shmancy stuff in the churches to distract the worshippers, too much JESUS all up in your face, and then there’s tithing… /shudder. I had a great-aunt who gave so much money to her church that my grandparents had to buy her food so she wouldn’t starve. The church had her convinced that if she didn’t give so much, she wouldn’t get into heaven. How unfair to a poor old woman!

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on the site. Great reviews, you guys!



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Jules

posted March 2, 2011 at 10:11 am


Wait-there’s a coffee bar? Definitely a plus for the megachurches.

Being Catholic-megachurches just generally make me feel uncomfortable. Catholics as a whole aren’t good evangelizers (sp?) although we’ve been encouraged as of late to be more vocal about our faith. I’m used to quiet prayer and certainly smaller congregations so that you can actually get to know a lot of your fellow worshipers. Your pic above is unbelievable-what a HUGE church! And they fill it up 3 times a Sunday? Wow. I thought the Cathedral was big!

I agree with you that the pastor is most likely sincere. They are trying to appeal to the masses with the technology and slick style and it’s obviously working. Like I said on Amanda’s post-as long as the faithful are becoming better people and Christians because of this type of worship-I’m sure it’s all good in God’s eyes. Is it necessary to have all the hype? Of course not-but it obviously speaks to a lot of people.

It never fails to amuse me at how the two of you can’t go to a service without finding something sexual in it.

And i’m still stuck on the coffee bar . . . . mmmm. . .Can you take it into the service?



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Kay

posted March 2, 2011 at 9:47 am


Great writing, Joel. I was laughing my ass off. Maybe we should buy a franchise and rake in some cash!



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Shannon

posted March 2, 2011 at 9:38 am


“the demons hate it when we clap for Jesus.” – I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.



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