“I went to Catholic church growing up and it was, like, the same thing every week,” the trim woman in the workout clothes said.
“Right,” her friend continued.
The night had fallen over a delightful outdoor patio in Lincoln Square, where I was enjoying my post workout beer and burger. Because I’m a health nut.
The first woman had also come from fitness. She was trim, blonde and had ordered water and a BLT without the bacon. Her friend was thicker, not to be mean but to tell them apart. She was drinking a Diet Coke and eating some salady thing. She had a tiny little poodle-dog the waiter kept cooing over.
“The only thing different was, like, 20 minutes of the priest’s sermon,” the first woman said. “Everything else was the same. Same songs, same prayers. Week after week. Then I went to my aunt’s church and it was like, whoa, a rock concert.”
“Willow Creek?” her friend asked.
“Yeah,” the first woman answered. “I mean, everything was so fun and new and exciting — it was like a rock concert.”
“Yeah, I love music,” her friend said.
“Yeah, music’s, like, really important,” the first woman said.
I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination, a phrase which also nicely sums up my opinion of religion. But I think if you do believe in a deity who will offer you an Aleph null of pure ecstasy and spiritual enlightenment in an eternity where a moment is an aeon and an aeon the briefest sliver of a attosecond, I think being slightly bored one hour of one day a week is sort of a bargain.
But that wasn’t enough for these two true believers of the Cross. They loved them some Jesus, but they wanted him to have some razzmatazz.
“I think Jesus is, like, a friend,” the first woman said. “But he’s like the ultimate friend.”
In medieval times, churches and cathedrals were modeled after castles, the seats of power of the time. In early America, the small, one-room churches grew to resemble the democratic Colonial meeting houses reflective of the community’s position as the new seat of power.
The new megachurches like the “rock concert” Willow Creek described look like malls.
I’ve been to Willow Creek, incidentally. It was for a book proposal I later abandoned. The research took me to the 24,000-member Willow Creek in the Chicago suburbs, the 5,500 Heartland Community Church in my hometown (literally located in a converted shopping mall) and, while I was living in Asia, the granddaddy of them all. The world’s largest megachurch, the 100,000-member Yoido Full Gospel Church, located on an island in the middle of Seoul, South Korea.
My verdict for all: very scary, very fun, everything was for sale.
At Willow Creek, I bought two Christian graphic novels, a cappuccino, a really excellent muffin and the DVD of the sermon I just watched. They already had DVDs ready as you walked out, with people running back to get more. I hope it was the previous day’s version.
And here I was in an outdoor patio on the North Side of Chicago, devouring my health-burger and health-beer, listening to two women talking about their deep faith that can’t tolerate being anything less than constantly entertained.
To clarify, if you have a spiritual itch only Willow Creek’s teachings can scratch, knock yourself out. But these two individual women I am writing about drew no distinction between the rock concert megachurch with a five-figure attendance and production value of a Loverboy reunion tour and the corner St. Felix of Nola’s with… occasional pancake breakfasts.
One just bored them. Their faith had no more definition than a general warm/fuzzy for J.C.
There was a moment at the Willow Creek sermon where the band’s lead singer stopped to speak to the crowd. I was on the second-story balcony, but could see the sweat bead off the man’s head on all of the Jumbotron screens.
“Oh Lord,” the singer said, his eyes closed as he quavered with faith. “Oh Lord, you are so worthy of our praise.”
It reminded me of my childhood St. James, where Father Kagan, a contender for the world’s most boring priest, would every week mumble to the crowd “ohlordIamnotworthytoreceiveyou.” We would mumble back “butonlysaythewordandIshallbehealed.”
One’s dull, but the other’s philosophically horrifying. Willow Creek, when did God have to become worthy of us?