Sunday, May 11, 2014

Genesis: A Familiar Project

Today was the day I decided to check out The Genesis Project. Was it what I was expecting? Sort of.


I will give them this, they did atmosphere exceptionally well. The building is located in the heart of a restaurant row on 12th Street in Ogden. To blend in with the restaurants nearby, they've added a coffee shop. The exterior is actually pretty inviting with a huge billboard advertising the church and a cool setup.

I went into the coffee shop first, which I have to admit impressed me quite a bit. I was expecting minimal atmosphere and a lot of Christian imagery. To my surprise, it was like a hip independent coffee house with an extensive menu, lots of yummy looking pastries, and best of all, the coffee was pretty damn good.

I then went to the foyer of the church which was very industrial feeling with concrete floors, modern color blocking, and strange enough, Christian themed pop art, such as this:

I always love blue eyed, Caucasian Jesus. That's a topic for another day. I actually do like this painting. It's huge, too, about 5 or 6 feet tall.

They call their chapel an auditorium, much like Alpine Church, and that's not a misnomer. the hallway leading into it was like a movie theater hallway, which was kind of cool. I got inside the auditorium, which was dark, had only the stage lit up with multi-colored lights, chairs lined up to sit in, etc. It reminded me a lot of Alpine Church, the decoration was even similar, except the room was darker and the atmosphere was a little more like a concert than a church.

There was a television monitor near the entrance which had announcements for various things, some that stuck out were the stand-up comedy night every week, C.S. Lewis quotes, and a "Happy Mother's Day" message. There was also a very cool cross in the back of the auditorium. It was a rough looking one with a crown of thorns around it and lit with a light that alternated colors.

Overall, the atmosphere was amazing. And in a different life, this really would have appealed to me. It was modern, seemed really in tune with pop culture, and was well crafted.

The People:

There were a lot of people at the service of various ages, dressed in everything from blouses and slacks to a jumper a mechanic would wear. Nobody came and introduced themselves to us, but I didn't get any indication anyone didn't want us there, or that they felt high and mighty about us being there.

The people at the coffee shop were very nice to us and seemed to go for the personal touch with their customer service skills.

Overall, the people seemed nice and varied. There was even an Elvis impersonator in the crowd I saw as we left. It was certainly not a boring group of church goers.

The Service:

The service was not what I was expecting. It was described to me as a Christian rock concert or even a Christian rave by some people. But there wasn't the energy or what not that the website kind of promised. It was just a live band playing contemporary Christian songs with colored lights. There was no light show, no fog machines, or anything that the pictures on the website led me to believe there would be.

The service was very typical for an Evangelical service. It began with a few hymns, again in the Christian rock genre, people raising their hands and swaying to the music. Then they bowed their heads and said a prayer before they began a sermon which pretty much took up the rest of the time.

Overall, it felt like deja vu with a lot of other churches I'd been to, and wasn't what I was hoping for. I wanted kind of a different experience, but instead got more of the same.

The Message:

The message was the bulk of this service. The message was given by a man who lost both of his legs and one of his arms. He goes around now, basically doing motivational speaking. He started by coming onto the stage and joking around a bit, before putting on a hat that said the word "handy" on it. He then said that it was his handy cap and that was the only handicap he had. He then talked about how the only handy caps we have are the ones we put on ourselves.

The message then turned to Jesus for a moment, then he started talking about riding marathons he does, in which he pushes himself to the limits to ride over mountains, all with one arm. I liked the metaphor, and he basically said that there would always be other mountains, but after you transverse one, the others don't seem so scary.

All that was well and good, but there were some parts of the message I really didn't like. First of all, he talked about how he basically got into an accident after a night of drinking and partying. He said he hit a power pole and the car slid into a ditch, and he got out without a scratch on him, and he and the friend he was with walked away laughing that they had cheated death. Then he said he touched a felled power line and the shock went through his body and blew out his knees. He recovered in a hospital for 6 months having both legs amputated, then after trying to save his arm, had to amputate it as well.

Now, this story sounds a bit suspicious to me. First of all, I've seen some serious accidents and the aftermath in my time. I have never once in my life seen anybody walking away from an accident laughing. Most people I've seen after an accident are in shock, convulsing, crying, glazed look in their paralyzed faces, confusion, lying on the ground because they're dizzy, etc. So, that had me a bit suspicious. But also, he said that he walked away and then touched the power line with his hand and it blew out his knees. Electricity is fast moving, much faster moving than human reaction time. Having not been there, but just hearing about his injuries, what I can gather probably happened was he crashed into the power pole, crawled out of the car, and as he was crawling, his hand touched the felled power line and the current followed the path of least resistance, his arm, down through his torso, and out his knees.

I feel very bad for him, and I couldn't imagine going through anything so traumatic. He then said that he got out of the hospital, and went right back to the behavior that led him there, partying, drinking too much, drugs, etc. I've known a lot of people who have spiraled out of control, and it's always very sad to watch. I hope I'm never in that sort of hell. Then he talked about how he went to church with a girl, who later ended up being his wife, and how he made the most courageous decision of his life, getting saved.

Here's where I call bullshit. I'm sorry, that decision may have had a huge impact on your recovery from a toxic lifestyle, but I refuse to believe you didn't have moments in your recovery where you gave up your will to live, the decision to have limbs amputated, and other big decisions weren't more courageous. I'm sure his religious experience was life changing, but I think it takes away from his own significant accomplishments. He made it through a trauma that could have swallowed many people whole, yet takes no credit for it.

Tying into that, he also said in his sermon that God knows we're weak and need to be toughened up, and that we're nothing without God. This is probably the part of the modern Christian message that bothers me most. It's this message that you're damaged, that there is nothing good about you, and you need fixing. Yes, human beings are flawed, but that's part of the beauty of humanity. Humanity is capable of horrible things, and often really sinks to evil levels. We have war, poverty, genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc. We steal, we rape, we murder, we exploit. But, I don't think most people actively seek to do these things. Yes, a few do, but I think most people only resort to these things out of desperation or situations spiraling out of control. Most people, in my experience, try to be good people, try to do decent things, but the world is a harsh place and pushes us down dark avenues which makes us do things we didn't think we would do.

But to hear how Christianity, in general, talks about human beings, it makes us sound like we're nothing but monsters roaming the earth hellbent on destroying everybody, and I take issue with that. Not all branches teach this. Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, says that mankind is made in the image of God and is good because of this. For them, Adam's sin causes us to have a nature inclined towards sin, but we're not in and of ourselves totally sinful monsters.

Then it offers an antidote, accept Jesus, live by his teachings, and life will get better. And for many people, that is the case, but for a lot of people, it also leads to them feeling depressed that they're not living up to expectations, that they will never be good enough, etc. I understand that the Christian message of grace is supposed to eliminate feelings like that, but it often only exacerbates them. You tell a person that's down on their luck that they're a worm and nothing they could ever do would be good enough, but don't worry, do what we say and it will make everything better, they try it, and everything isn't better, it only makes a lot of people feel worse. It worked for all of these people, why didn't it work for me? There must be a defect with me. This is what many people start thinking.

Now, I'm not saying that all Christianity does this, nor am I saying that this is how all Christians feel, nor that there's a system inherently exploitative within Christianity, but it can be used to spiritually abuse people. Spiritual abuse is a very real phenomenon, and one I am writing a blog about for the middle of this week. Spiritual abuse is found in all spiritual systems and unacceptable in all cases. But there are also good examples in a lot of systems as well.

Another thing that I found interesting was that he would tell stories from the Bible, but he would add to and embellish the stories. It really shouldn't bother me, people see their own experiences in these stories. But it does remind me of hearing and absorbing all of these Bible stories as a child, then being scandalized as an adult when I read these stories and realized they had been served to me heavily edited and that they often weren't what I thought they were.

In short, I am happy he got out of a lifestyle that was spiraling downwards, I'm happy he has meaning in his life, I'm happy he seems to be optimistic, but I do take issue with a number of things he said.

Overall Experience:

Overall, it wasn't at all what I was expecting. I really did enjoy the coffee shop, atmosphere, and the music wasn't half bad. But the message and service just felt all too familiar from what I was expecting. I think it would have been better if I had been expecting something else. It wasn't a terrible experience by any means, just sort of a let down.

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