Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Serving Mammon

So I suppose in a perfect world I should be writing the second installment of my guide to idenfying and dealing with North American Evangelists in the wild. Or, really, I should be trying to pretend like I've been working on those two stories I'm auditioning tonight. The Fox Valley Folk Festival is next month, after all... But I'm kind of in a reflective mood. See, on Sunday my old church moved in to its new digs. They'd been hyping the thing for, like, five years and running a capital campaign and all that fun stuff that you're supposed to do when you build a church. From pretty much the moment the idea came up I knew that I wouldn't be attending services in the new building. I was expecting it to be for completely different reasons, but I just knew. The whole thing bugged me for reasons I couldn't articulate at the time and that I'm sure some time spent away have colored with the views of the insider-turned-outsider. Still, it all kind of crystallized when I read in the Sunday newspaper that, among the amenities in the new building is a youth center with built-in Nintendo Wiis hooked up to flat screen TVs or projectors or something. I was flabbergasted. See, I grew up in the youth program at that church. I spent four and a half years working as a youth leader in that church. I know the people who were behind the decision to add those Nintendo Wiis to the new youth center personally. They were my pastors, my co-workers, my friends. And I cannot believe that they would have made a decision like that. I still don't want to believe it. Not to get all codger-y on anybody, but back in my day we didn't need Nintendo Wiis to do youth ministry. We also had 25 cent gasoline and candy cost a nickel. Okay, that part's not true. But we definitely didn't have Nintendo Wiis. We didn't have Nintendo 64s or Super Nintendos, either. We did have this totally random arcade game setup thing that never actually worked, a pool table, an air hockey table, and a foosball table, but we didn't have Wiis. And, yeah, I'm working my way around to a point here. There was no actual youth ministry space in my first year as a junior high youth group attendee. We did just fine with what we had. But the church had bought a building across the street, so that became the youth ministry space. It was necessary, you see, to do ministry stuff. So we filled it with random crap and painted the place and it became our home. I'm pretty sure the various gaming tables were donated over the course of years and were never in particularly good shape. It contributed to that general worn shabbiness that makes a youth space great. I kinda wonder what happened to that old pool table. Is it sitting next to the Wiis while people watch their shots fall off to one side after hitting the cue ball with the only cue that still has a felt tip? Or did they just leave it behind for the Lutheran church that's taking over the space? Either way, I think that on some deep level that I couldn't access until now, 22- or 23-year-old me knew what was going to happen when the church moved. I think I knew that everything would become a big spectacle and in the millions of dollars spent on things that I admitted then and now were useful and, probably, necessary (larger auditorium and more office space, primarily. That building was cramped and some of the offices were moved offsite to a house the church had formerly used to house missionaries on furlough), there would be a whole lot of pointless shit tacked on to the top. "It's necessary," the justification would go, "To reach people with the message." We got by just fine without Nintendo Wiis and two-story childrens' playplaces. I'm not entirely sure what the hell a multi-story "prayer tower" is, but I'm pretty sure that it's not particularly necessary. In fact, it reminds me of the gothic cathedrals that dominate the landscape of Europe, when for a couple of centuries towns and monasteries competed to have the highest church tower in the land. "For the glory of god," they said. Bullshit. (Update: I drove past the church tonight. The "prayer tower" is this big tower with a backlit glass pyramid on top. At night you can see it for a couple miles. I'm sure they were going for some sort of "light for the nations" thing, but I just see a bunch of pretentious B.S.) Now, believe you me, my old church was, and probably is, a decent enough place. They tried to keep a focus on ministry as an act of giving and sacrifice and are involved in global and local missions work, not just of the "convert the heathen" variety, but of the, "feed the hungry" and "shoe the shoeless" variety. This is a good thing and they do a lot of it over there. Really. But I wonder how much food they could buy with the money it takes to buy a couple Wiis, some games, and a TV to play them on. I wonder how many people could be saved from hunger with the amount it takes to put up a back-lit prayer tower instead of a plain ol' spire. I wonder if they'd have been able to come up with the millions of dollars raised in the capital campaign if they'd have said it was for hunger relief instead. If they'd have said, "Feeding the hungry is necessary to reach people with the message," instead of, "Building this big ass facility is necessary to reach people," would it have made a difference? Anyway, for whatever it's worth, they aren't going to reach me with any messages. If I didn't have to be the best man in a wedding over there next month I'd never set foot in that building. Even so, I do it because I have to, not because I want to...


Fiat Lex said...

If I may respond with a renowned Simpsons quote:

"It's the same basic message, Lisa; we've just dressed it up a little bit."
"Like the whore of Babylon?"
That is a false analogy!"
"No, it's not! It's apt. APT!!!"

This is a personal account of your own experience, but it becomes universal in the way you tell it. More good writing. Everyone always tells kids to write from the heart, which is usually bad advice until a person has a achieved skill and some semblance of a writing style. YOU, however, should most definitely write from the heart. Your writing style is not a semblance, it's the real McCoy.

Maybe FGtNAE can be a book. I bet it would be more fun to read than most others on the subject.

suzy-q said...

25 cent gas. Ha! I kind of want to go see the new WBC mostly so I can rant and rave about how much food and housing they could have provided for people instead of the garbage they put in there. But I may catch on fire upon entering the building. Hey, I bailed when they spent $30,000 on a Halloween party for spoiled Wheaton kids to keep them from the devil.

So Willowcreek is the current 6 Flags Over Jesus. Calvary down here is 5 Flags. I kinda wanna see if Wheaton takes over one of them or if it's 4 Flags Over Jesus. But that would require comparisons and I can't be bothered with mega churches.

Are they still offering tours? I'm in the mood for righteous indignation.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, you had a pool table?!? My old church would have considered that a wee bit too much. They have pool tables in bars, you see, and people bet money on them.

We still had foosball, though.

Geds said...

Maybe FGtNAE can be a book. I bet it would be more fun to read than most others on the subject.

It would be a real short book. I think I've got, like, 20 pages worth of material.

I bailed when they spent $30,000 on a Halloween party for spoiled Wheaton kids to keep them from the devil.

You always were ahead of me on the "figuring out that church was full of crap" curve...

I kinda wanna see if Wheaton takes over one of them or if it's 4 Flags Over Jesus.

It's probably going to be 4 Flags. Willowcreek is just too damn big and I'm pretty sure that Calvary place is closer to Willow than Wheaton. Plus there's Harvest Bible Chapel to consider, which has the huge Arlington Heights campus and all the satellite facilities everywhere in Chicagoland.

They have pool tables in bars, you see, and people bet money on them.

So, um, did they not let parishioners buy TVs, then? I mean, people use those to watch porn and all kinds of other evil things.

suzy-q said...

When I was in Herd and Stupid Body (We're Gay! - was that still around from Herd!?!) we didn't have foosball or pool tables or anything. We just had B. Johnson talking about his wedding night and telling kids of all ages they were going to hell if they didn't cry every time they heard the Christmas story. I think that was way more entertaining in a disturbing, freaky way.

Jessica said...

I had pretty much the same reaction when I read that same detail about the new WBC, how much food could be bought with the Wii money.