Sunday, February 2, 2014

Where the Spirit lives (inside us) and where my demons hide (Cuba apparently)

This week, I checked out Hope Resurrected Church here in Ogden. Hope Resurrected is a member of the Pentecostal Church of God. I realized in my last blog, I didn't really share much of what Pentecostals were nor did I explain what they believe. Sorry about that. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Pentecostals are Trinitarian and Evangelical Protestants. This means that they believe in the Trinity (one God in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that they believe that salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Salvation is a gift from God given freely by the Grace of God to man through faith alone.
  • But what really separates them apart from other Evangelical Christians is their heavy focus on Baptism in the Spirit. They believe that the Holy Spirit washes over them and they become endowed with various spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues (incoherent babbling they believe is a manifestation of God through them), prophecy, spiritual and physical healing, etc.
Now with that out of the way, lets begin. Was my time at Hope Resurrected an experience that filled me with the life giving Spirit of God?


For some reason, I didn't expect the service to be held in a corner meeting room for a Christian architecture firm, but that's exactly what I found. The exterior of the building gave no clues that this might be the case. I thought that they would be meeting in a larger, more permanent facility as the sign outside makes it seem as though it's the most prominent establishment in this complex:

But, as the sermon I heard last week at St. Joseph's said, sometimes we find great things in the most unexpected places. The outside of the complex has a certain Bauhaus simplicity to it. Again, the exterior gave me no clue as to how the inside would be.

As we entered the building, the sign posted over the entry made me realize we were entering the architecture firm and not a business suite as I had thought.

After a bit of confusion over where we were supposed to go, we finally found the corner conference room that they use and went in. the room had a cross that they could wheel into the room up at the front, a projector to project the words of the songs to sing along, a bunch of chairs lined up, and a bench to be used for the altar call later on.

I snapped a picture as best I could of the room, but it was hard with the cramped space and all the people inside.

I have to say though, my favorite part of the atmosphere was the two red solo cups on the ceiling. It was quite a surreal thing to see, so I asked one of the members what they were for. I guess they're keeping the motion detectors in the conference room from going off or something like that. In any case, entertaining as hell to me.

Overall, the atmosphere was very ghetto to me, but I'm not one to judge a church based on where they meet. It's the service itself, the message, and the culture of the faith that gives it its meaning, not the place of worship. I've been to moving Catholic Masses in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and under a gazebo in an amusement park. In the end atmosphere can be completely looked over.

 The People:

The people were very warm and welcoming to us. One of the pastors came over and personally greeted us. He was very warm, put his hand on my shoulder and just chatted with us. I asked him a question about his necklace. It's a love poem from the bible which was fractured by the jeweler and one piece went to him and one to his wife on their 55th wedding anniversary. I thought that was a cute little sentiment. He later presented us with goody bags. Others came over and introduced themselves to us. One man talked to us for a few minutes about the church and how Jesus had given him meaning in his life.

I got the distinct impression from a number of people there that there was a large part of the congregation that many were down on their luck. Many seemed like they were recovering from drugs or ex-convicts for whom their faith in Jesus had given them strength and meaning. To all that, I say, good for them. This was especially true of a man who gave his testimony at the service. He had a strong speech impediment, was missing a lot of teeth, and just had the classic look of someone who had lived very hard with drugs. He kept alluding to his past and how he had changed so much. I'm glad to see when people find meaning in their lives and it helps them live happier and better quality lives.

Before the service, I heard the man who had come over and talked to us about the church and his relationship to Jesus explaining to other members why there was strange weather lately. He said that because there were a couple big earth quakes in the past few years, it caused the Earth's tilt to change and the Earth to spin faster. So that's why there was a polar front that came down into the Midwest and why the weather has been off. A lot of the people listening to him said, "Really? That's very interesting," and sucked it all right in. Now, I am not a meteorologist, I don't pretend to be an expert in any scientific field. But I have had several university level science classes including a physics class and a meteorology class, the latter of which I got an "A-" in and did some tutoring for. Therefore, I can say with a fairly reasonable level of confidence that that entire line of thought is complete horse shit. I really don't know how this even sounded remotely right to them, and it was an indication to me of how scientifically illiterate of a group I was dealing with.

The Service:

Let me just start with the obvious question all of you have. Nobody spoke in tongues. There was a woman up in the front at the very beginning of the service who may have been speaking in tongues, but her utterings weren't loud enough for me to determine if they were English or not.

There was a woman who began the service by welcoming everybody and then giving a special welcome to the Holy Spirit. She then got the crowd fired up with talking about the Spirit eliciting amens and hallelujahs from the congregation.

They then began playing audio recordings of Christian rock songs while they projected the words on screen. 3 young women led the congregation in song. These young women really got into it. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that these people love Jesus. Almost on a disturbing level. These girls between songs and verses were closing their eyes and raising their hands up to the Lord shouting, "Jesus. Lord Jesus we love you. We are in your hands." They looked to be nearly to a state of orgasm with their level of worship. These people would do anything for Jesus.

They sang a lot of songs in a row. Not nearly as many as Berean Baptist did, but still a lot of them right in a row with no breathing room in between. It did get a little monotonous after a bit and I was just wanting to sit down because they had us standing the whole time.

While the singing was going on, people were all doing their own thing. Some people were in tears crying, many had their hands raised up to or pointing to Heaven. Some were holding their chests and rocking back and forth muttering things to themselves. Nobody seemed to care what others were doing. It all seemed like personal time with Jesus to them.

Overall, other than the monotony of it, I enjoyed the singing portion of this service. The music was very pretty and contemporary.

After the singing, there were announcements and a sermon which I will get to in the next section, then afterward they did the altar call. Basically they invite people to come up and accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior. A couple young women went and a few members gathered around them putting their hands on them, some muttering things like, "Minister to them, oh Lord. Minister. Minister!" At the same time, a young man with some problems with his leg came up and knelt before the bench (altar). The pastor and several other members gathered around him and poured oil on his head and began spontaneous prayers for healing and praises to God.

The Message:

The announcements and sermon portion of the service began with a few common announcements about activities, and then an announcement that they were raising money for the pastor to go to Cuba on a mission. I was not terribly surprised by this, as Evangelical Christians are often engaged in missionary work. But then they explained the purpose of this mission. They explained that it was to go and fight the demonic dominion in Cuba. Now, I thought to myself, surely they mean this as a metaphor for the oppressive regime of Cuba and the living conditions of many of their citizens. Nope. They meant real honest to God demons. They told stories of demons manifesting themselves to the people of Cuba as dolls or in visions in water. They talked about demons actually terrorizing the locals with supernatural powers keeping them from sleeping and that the demons and witchcraft there was fighting against the Church of God. So, they are raising 2,000 dollars to have their pastor go and fight these demons in Cuba. I wish I were making that up. I don't think I could make that up if I tried. It's like Pastor Van Helsing. In the Post-Modern, post-industrial United States of America in the year 2014, this church is waging a literal, medieval battle on demons.

The sermon made absolutely no sense. The pastor who had talked to us and given the goody bags gave it. He gave everybody a lot of scripture verses to look over, he didn't really explain why he was using any of these verses, there was no real theme to speak of, a lot of the time he seemed confused and lost. He would bounce from one topic to another. I honestly wondered if he was exhibiting the early symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's, and I don't mean that as a joke. Some of the things he talked about, in no particular order were, getting saved, the ascension of Jesus, going to Heaven, Noah's arc (presented as a real and literal story with archaeological evidence), the cross of Jesus, the Jews conspiring to kill Jesus, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., sewing seeds of faith, the day he got saved, an old Pentecostal song about the glory of Jesus, the Jews still being the apple of the eye of God and anyone who messes with them brings God's wrath upon themselves, etc. This incoherent sermon went on for an hour and fifteen minutes and only ended when members reminded him of what time it was. He said he hadn't finished his message and would have to another day. I was very confused about everything at the end of it all.

In the end, I don't even know what I can say about the message because there was no message to speak of.

Overall Experience:

I will say this church was a learning experience for me. I have heard of churches filled with people who believe in just bizarre things like demonic attacks and how scientifically illiterate our populous is. I never expected to see it so clearly as I have. There are a lot of people walking around who are this uneducated in science and do fill the gap with superstition and strange explanations for things. I just don't understand it.

The community of people seemed very nice, but in the end, I just couldn't believe this church experience was real and I did not enjoy myself. In less than a month, I've heard Christians glorifying slavery at one church and another talking about sending their pastor to Cuba to fight literal demons in a spiritual war. I don't know what to think of this! This disturbs me, I won't lie.

Additional Comments:

This next week is going to be a special week. I will be attending two separate services. On Thursday I will be visiting the Jehovah's Witnesses' Kingdom Hall in Roy, Utah, and on Sunday I will be attending Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Ogden. Look for two separate pre-service blog entries and two separate blog entries on each church visit.

Also, I may post a video blog tomorrow just summarizing my journey up to this point and highlighting some things that didn't make it into my blogs.

Until my next entry, peace be with you.

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