Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunglasses and Chemical Peels: Dealing with the Gospel of Self in Mega Church America

I became a sun worshiper pretty early in life, as soon as I was old enough to understand that tan is more attractive than pasty white. I am a die-hard believer that if you can't tone a jiggle, you sure as hell can tan it into being less visually offensive.   But this love of the sun has definitely taken its toll on my face.  Sometimes I think I should just have a chemical peel and let the old damaged skin shed, so the new, regenerated skin can show its flawless self once again.    While the idea of having smooth, blemish free skin sounds like a fantastic idea, the thought of having a chemical solution applied to my face that is potent enough to cause it to blister and eventually peel, is slightly intimidating.    And until I change my lifestyle, and actively protect my face from the source of the damage, the painful process would have to be repeated over time.   The long-term solution is to limit exposure, and employ the regular use of sunglasses and sunblock.

Not that I am against the idea of wearing sunglasses indoors. I mean really, I love that Capote's iconic creation, Holly Golightly wore her fabulous tinted specs indoors as much as the next person.  Any fashionable woman can appreciate having to protect their eyes from the glare of diamonds at Tiffany & Co. (as well as the elusive and mysterious “I’m hiding from the paparazzi” message it sends).   This is not a hard concept to sell. However, it is tough to buy off on the idea of having to protect my precious retinas from the glare of the blinding light show at the neighborhood mega church.  Have you been to one of these before? Do you know what I’m talking about? The high dollar lights they are so proud of seem more likely to induce an epileptic seizure than an actual worship experience.   And let me tell you honey, no chemical peel is going to undo the damage of having this type of church experience shape your worldview.   Umm, would you mind turning the lights down, I couldn’t see the train of God's robe filling the temple with glory?

One of my guilty pleasures goes by the name Sterling Archer.   Archer is an animated television series created by Adam Reed for the FX network.  Sterling Archer is an international secret agent, and despite his stealth abilities, he is less interested in being a spy than he is in using his position to enjoy a lifestyle full of world-travel, sex, alcohol, weapons, cars & gadgets, and getting into skirts of beautiful woman.   Archer is completely self-serving, has a tremendous ego, demeans everyone, and lacks even the slightest concern or empathy for anyone other than himself.    While Archer is highly skilled, he isn’t very bright.   His assignments and missions may be a success by definition, but the innocent casualties and aftermath from his undertakings are usually far greater than what was accomplished.  To me, Archer is an unfunny satire of Christianity in the American mega church.  The characters and the synopsis of the two entities are strikingly parallel. How many more casualties must we see before we realize something has gone wrong?

When there is no biblical model for a supersized mega church corporation, you have to wonder if the leaders of said church are less interested in putting feet to their faith, than they are in a fatty six-figured salary and having a huge following.     When the message from the pulpit is not lived out by leadership, what’s the point of the production?
Now, don’t get me wrong; I admire a perfectly executed and flawless show or performance (hello, Cirque du Soleil is fabulous)- but can’t that be left to Vegas?    What ever happened to a humble carpenter and his friends, the fisherman, tax collector, leper, and the whore?   “Dear Poor, Lost, and Hurting neighbors, I’m sorry you were never fed, clothed, loved or saw the Bible lived out… but holy-hell isn’t our multi-million dollar building, recording studio, and polished production flipping-fantastic?   P.S. In the future, please don’t bring your real life struggles here; this is not the place for your humanity. We find it messy, inconvenient, and unattractive.” - Mega Church, Inc.
Perhaps, when your production is bigger than your purpose, and/or your members need protective eyewear, it’s time to revaluate.

Having an ego like a parasite that possesses an unquenchable appetite can make you extremely successful in the business world or as an international spy.   However, it doesn’t seem like an appropriate way for a non-profit or a faith-based organization to be run.   Where accountability is non-existent, where there are no consequences for bad behavior, where people are not valued, and where nothing other than “self” and money matters- what is the difference?   At least publicly traded companies have audits, and active oversight by those who invest (and why is that… can you say Enron?).   Some mega churches pay professional marketing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to drum up revenue and business.   All the while there are people in their own community that literally do not have enough to eat.  When your marketing budget is larger than your mission’s budget, you need to check your heart.

Perhaps if Archer’s spy plane flew over the crossroads of Ego & Power Trip, and crop-dusted the hearts of mega church leaders with a chemical peel… we would see a pure, regenerated approach to ministry.   In the mean time, I think I’ll “pass” on the damage to my heart and to my eyes by passing by the mega church.  Come to think of it, I know where I’ll go instead. I’ll start my Sundays by having breakfast at Tiffany’s… at least the eyewear makes more sense there.
Crossroads Community Church, Vancouver, WA

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

In recent years, I have put aside almost all of my fear regarding going to bed alone.  Not as in a, “Oh my God I need someone to love me,” emotionally alone manner; but rather the, “Who is going to stab the serial killer to death with a kitchen knife when he inevitably trespasses in the middle of the night?” physically alone sense.  This was a very stressful question for me until my early twenties.    But after enough ass kicking and name taking, I am  now confident that I wouldn’t let an intruder previal without at fight.

So last night when something stirred me from my peaceful slumber, I wasn’t freaked out immediately.  I slowly arrived back to a state of functioning consciousness and laid there in the darkness for a moment, wondering what had disturbed my time Somewhere Over the Rainbow.   Before I could compute what noise I was hearing, or where exactly it was coming from, I realized my 85-pound guard dog was not sleeping at my feet.  Riley usually always sleeps at my feet, and when he doesn’t, he is sleeping on his bed which is on the floor next to me (ok, ok, sometimes we share a pillow, and I spoon him all night long).  But regardless he is ALWAYS in the room.   So the fact that he wasn’t present unnerved me just a bit. 

I could hear noises coming from the other side of the house, something heavy was moving around on the wood floors and maybe the deck.  The noise was traveling and I was having a hard time isolating the source.   This was not a sound that I could ignore, there was definitely activity happening in my house, and I had not been invited to the party.   It was now high time for action! My heart was racing, and I was not about to terrorized in my own home.   Shoot, I know how to fire a weapon and I’ve got enough crazy in me to potentially scare someone right back out the way they came - I totally had this!   No thug was going to mess with my house without some sort of showdown.    Game On!!   I grabbed my cell phone and the golf club my brother forgot last time he was in town.   Even though I was a twinge scared, my adrenalin had kicked in and I was already excited to read the headlines the next morning: “Local Woman Bludgeons Intruder to Death with a Golf Club”.    

I ever-so-quietly walked towards the open bedroom door.  I stood motionless in the doorway and listened, there was no doubt, there was definitely some sort of commotion in the dining room area.   I had 911 cued up in my phone, so all I would need to do is hit “call” when the impending struggle ensued.  Barefoot, I tip-toed down the hall and around the corner.   I could see into the living room from my view at Coward’s Corner, and nothing appeared to be out of sorts.  However, once I was around the corner I instantly felt a very noticeable cold draft coming from the back of the house.    I slowly poked my chicken-neck around the second corner and saw that the sliding glass door was wide open.  It was like the scene from a thriller movie, the tab-panel curtains were blowing in the wind, into the house.    Nothing looked out of place other than the door being open, so clearly I had not been robbed.  Instantly my mind went to the most logical conclusion… whoever was in my home was there to harm me, not steal from me.   In the darkness I made my way into the kitchen. I walked behind the island just in case I needed to use it as a shield from gun fire (Picturing myself diving behind it for cover as bullets sprayed the kitchen). I crouched down low, and made my way to the far side of the island, and could now see out onto the deck.  

As I peered around the island, I noticed an array of dog toys trailing from the dining room all the way out to the deck.   And then, the loud noises started back up.  Almost as if it was scripted, Riley came trotting through the curtain, dragging his rope toy with a giant rubber tire behind him.   The dog was completely oblivious and seemed to be having the time of his life towing his toys in and out of the opened door.
A huge sense of relief washed over me- the midnight thief had been caught and identified, and was actually quite happy with himself, seemingly entirely unaware of the five minutes of terror I had just experienced (man’s best friend my ass).   I started to think that I must have opened the sliding glass door to let the dog go to the bathroom one last time before I went to bed, then got distracted and never went back to shut and lock it before crashing for the night.    

Peace was being restored to my world as I stood up, now feeling a little silly about hiding behind the island in the first place, and having 911 dialed on my phone.   Then, while I was making my way to the door, out of nowhere there was a loud crash, and the sound of shattering glass filled the room!!   It was still dark, yet I could feel pieces of broken glass hitting my bare legs...

Apparently, in my haste to get to the door, I had inadvertently hit the four wine glasses that had been sitting on my counter with the top of my makeshift weapon (aka golf club).  

While sweeping up the broken glass I couldn’t help but wonder how I manged to forget to shut the door in the first place, then again, perhaps the answer to that question lay in the contents of my dustpan.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crack whores, crooked cops, and deep-fried everything

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the Southeast this week.   The whirlwind started in Orlando, then went to Atlanta, Augusta, Columbia and even all the way to Charleston’s shore.    (I’m not entirely geographically challenged; I know Orlando is not a close neighbor of Charleston, but when you’re coming from the west coast, the miles seem relative).  After my flight from Orlando to Atlanta, I traded my wings for an “economy” car.    My first mistake was not bringing a car charger… As awesome as a smartphone may be, if you enjoy its awesomeness too long, your battery will be toast tragically premature.   My second mistake was landing at 9:30pm in a city not known for its hospitality or low crime rate.   I asked the bright-eyed boy assisting me at Enterprise rental car where I might possibly stop for a cup-o-Joe before embarking on my two and a half hour drive to Augusta. His you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up reply was, “Uuummm, I wouldn’t really suggesting stopping around here, it’s not a good area. Maybe drive a ways before you stop.  Then, make sure before you exit you can actually see the restaurants from the freeway.”   Ooookay I thought, good to know.   And off I went. Because my phone battery was about to go tits-up, I decided I would forego the online navigation/maps to conserve the precious remaining juice.  Clearly I was entering “the hood” and might need the remaining 13% battery life to find a Kevlar vest retailer or to call 911.    Luckily, I seem to have been born with a flawless sense of direction, and after one look at a paper map (primitive, I know), I had my course mentally charted.  A few hours later I arrived in the beautiful town of Augusta, Georgia with no complications other than the heartburn I got from the drive-thru fried chicken I consumed along the way (when in Rome…).

Two days later, I found myself stopping in the town of Columbia, South Carolina to mail a gift to a friend in San Diego.  Siri claimed there was a UPS Store very close to me, so I followed her dubious directions through town.     After a one-way street debacle, and a parking lot I couldn’t access, I was somehow stuck on a road that was about to force me onto a freeway, one that would no doubt send me to Hicksville. Thinking quickly, I took the first (and last) turn to avoid entering the freeway to Nowhere.   I wasn’t too concerned, the town looked normal at this point, and I was turning onto a road that appeared to be the main driveway to a respectable looking hotel.   I assumed I could drive around the back of the hotel, and get back onto the street heading in the correct direction.   However that was not the case.  My options were going straight into a dead end, turning right into the hotel, turning left onto an unmarked street, or making an illegal U-turn.    I was in no real hurry, so I turned left, and ventured down the unmarked street.    The street was completely overgrown- with long driveways leading to houses set far back off the street, and an overall increasingly rural feel. I soon realized that this street was also a dead-end (even though it was not marked as such).  It had been deceiving in another way as well, what earlier looked to be a turn to the left, was in fact just another driveway to a house not visible from the street.   I decided I would reverse to the nearest driveway where I would turn my gutless rental car around. 

As I threw my cheap-o rental car in reverse, I did the customary “mirror check” (not sure why, there had been no signs of life since I entered this post-apocalyptic street), and that’s when I noticed the flashing lights behind me.  Crap. Knowing full well I was an upstanding citizen, and that I had done nothing wrong, I was rather disturbed to notice Officer Pugsley approaching my car with his hand on his weapon.   He stopped at my trunk/hatch and started to push on it and fiddle around.  I decided that getting out of the car was a bad idea (the bagel brigade NEVER likes that), so I stuck my head out my window and said, “I’m pretty sure this car is made of plastic, you might not want to push so hard.”    Not amused, he slowly walked up to my window, hand firmly gripping his now unholstered gun.   He asked me, “Would you mind telling me what you are doing?”  Being somewhat annoyed with his dramatic arrival to my window, and knowing I had done nothing wrong, I didn’t feel like being jerked around by the redneck pig-circus (this is not a police = pig reference, more of a backwoods justice = corruptions reference… think Bob Dylan’s Hurricane).  I replied with a snicker, “In life? In South Carolina? On this street?  Please be more clear, what do you mean?  Are you wanting big picture, future life plan, or something more specific?”   Not seeming to appreciate the genius of my humor, he asked for my license and registration.   I explained that he would have to settle for my license and rental car agreement.   I handed him the documents and he told me not to go anywhere and returned to his car.  Ummm hello… I’m on a dead-end street and you are blocking the only exit… where do you think I’m going to go?   As I waited for Officer Power-Trip to return, I contemplated giving Siri a peace of my mind.  After all, she is the one who suggested the UPS store that got me into this mess in the first place.   But before I could give Siri the verbal lashing she had coming, I got distracted taking artistic pictures of Columbia’s finest in my rear view mirror (nicely done, right?).   As the minutes ticked by, I was pretty sure Deputy Dip-$#!% was really playing Words With Friends, or updating his Facebook status, because I know there was nothing interesting to see as he checked my out of state driver's license.

An episode of Cops later, he returned and ask me again what I what I was doing.  I then went into a rambling monologue about Siri misguiding me to the UPS store (even showing him the map Siri had coughed up), and almost being forced on the freeway, and how I thought this was going to let me loop back around… blah blah blah.    A little annoyed that I had now been cooking in the 81 degree weather for close to 15 minutes, I asked him, “Would you mind telling me why you pulled me over?”  His response was, “You looked out of place.”   Now I was ticked!  Thank you dear Jesus that I look out of place. That at least was reassuring. But still I had to ask, “Do you make it a habit to just randomly pull people over based on their appearance?”  He responded, “I do.  I always make it a habit to pull anyone over who is driving through a known crack area...  And I want to know what or who you were looking for when you stopped up there.”   Clearly he didn’t know who Siri was, or he would have been directing his questions to my phone.  “I wasn’t looking at anything… I was just looking! As in I don’t make it a practice to drive with my head down.”  Sargent Suck-@$$ then said, “No, you stopped and were looking at something.” Ummmm okay.  “Maybe I’m just curious, or maybe I reached an unexpected dead-end and was contemplating how to turn around… I was just looking.”  I was not appreciating his rationale.  He repeated himself and said that I stopped my car, and leaned forward and looked at something.   “Well please don’t confuse my alert and confident posture as looking for trouble,” I said with a tight-lipped smirk.  He replied, “Did you know that driveway leads to a known crack house?”   So I responded, “Sir, as you can probably surmise by my rental car agreement and out of state license, I’ve been in your fabulous state for about 10 seconds. Besides I only have $3.72 in my wallet, so unless the local crack-heads take Visa, I don’t think I’m going to be buying crack today.

Eventually, he returned my items, confirmed I knew how to get to the UPS store, and sent me on my way.    I turned around, in the crack house driveway for good measure, then scolded Siri for her epic failure and departed.      Oh the freaking South!    If this is the brilliant way in which they solve problems or fight crime, there should be no question why they lost the war.

Not all was lost in my Deep South adventure, the questionable behavior of the Columbia police didn’t take away all of the Southern charm I had heard so much about.   I tried fried green tomatoes, got a glimpse of the Master’s Golf Course, and discovered the Piggly Wiggly is a real store (and not just something Reese Witherspoon references in Sweet Home Alabama). I also enjoyed exploring historic Charleston for the first time in my life, and was called honey, darling, and sweetie more times than I could count by perfect strangers.   Thank goodness that the majority of the restaurants we patroned served predominately West Coast wines…  Even though it seemed at times as if I was visiting a foreign country, I took this to be a good reminder that I was at least still in my homeland. 

Here are some pics of my non run-in-with-the-law Southern moments…