The New Church in Town

The New Church in Town

(Based on a true story)

“You should come and try it.  You might like it,” Karl said – with the same persuasive sweetness that had once convinced Michael to join the army with his high school friend.

Home now after a long deployment overseas, Michael was having a hard time adjusting to home life.  Old family relationships were a bit strained – and the church he used to find solace in was feeling empty.

“I guess you’re right – it’s not like I’m getting a whole lot out of my church anymore.  I sit there and just feel nothing.  Sometimes I even feel worse when I’m surrounded by all those people saying how happy they are. And I’m really just not.  I’m not getting a lot of help from this religion right now.”

“So it’s settled,” Karl said:  “you come try out my church tomorrow. I really think you’re going to dig this…it’s nothing like anything you’re used to.”

“Can you tell me a little more about it?” Michael asked.

“You really have to experience it for yourself.  But for starters- you know all that talk about Almighty God and how people need to fear him and keep in line or He’ll be after them?  Well that’s definitely not the God we believe in…”

“In fact, the God we worship wants people to be happy.  And I mean really happy.”

“Well that’s not that different than what people say in my church as well, Karl – so what’s the big difference?”

“Yeah – I know.  I know they talk and talk about the happiness you can have one day – a pie in the sky that’s supposedly “worth waiting for.”  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about being happy now.  In this very moment.  Ever thought of that?”

“All right…” Michael said, “so tell me more.  I’m interested.  It’s true that I get tired of hearing everyone talking about being happy one day, when today really does feel so awful.”

“That’s right.  So here’s the thing, Michael.  One reason that people in your religion struggle to be happy is they’re always beating themselves down about the body:  ‘you can’t eat this’ or ‘you can’t feel this’ or ‘you can’t experience this’ or ‘you can’t wear this.’ You know what I’m talking about…”

“That’s where our church really gets good.  We throw all that out the door.”  Karl continued, “For us, if God wants people to be happy, wouldn’t that be crazy to close off all the ways our bodies can feel pleasure? I mean – if you really think about it.  That’s true craziness.”

“So go on.  What do you mean?”

“We’re all about having a good time.  Using our bodies, our emotions and other people around us – to feel good. Does that sound ‘evil’ or anything?  Of course not.”

“It’s actually beautiful,” Carlos offered without skipping a beat, starting to become lost in a reverie as he painted the picture:  “Imagine a church where people aren’t scared of what they do with their bodies anymore, Michael.  A church where we can appreciate the body – in all its exquisite richness beauty.  And where we can do it together.”

“That’s what we’re about – and why I’m excited to have you try out our services.”

“Wow.  That sounds…um…different than what I’m used to.”

“What do I have to wear?”

“Nothing special.  In fact – and here’s the crazy thing.  You don’t even have to leave your home.  The Founders have figured out a way to broadcast services right through your internet.  Anywhere you’d like.”

“All you have to have is high speed internet or cable.”

“Perfect.  We had our installed last week.”

“All right.  Awesome.  Then we’re in business.”

“One thing I didn’t tell you.  It’s free at first, but if you want to continue the Founders ask for a…a contribution.  It will cost you.”

“Oh, that’s no biggie.  My church does the same thing.  I’ll bet my family forked out a fortune in the tithing and collection dollars we gave up.”

“Good.  All right.”

“So let’s go to the website.  It’s time to get you going.  You know all the mumbo jumbo about passion through the holy spirit?”

“Yeah – well I still kind of believe in the Spirit.”

“That’s fine.  But buckle up, because you’re in for the ecstasy and spirit of your life.  Type in the search engine XXX…”

****************

Sound wacky?  Out-of-this-world?

The mammoth media culture loves to poke fun at organized religion for how it invariably invites people to love something, to trust something and to become committed to something.

Supposedly, these are silly things to ask of people.  And supposedly no one else but organized religion does that nowadays, right?

As explored earlier, Americans are clearly being invited on every side to love, adore and commit themselves to other things – many other things.  But especially one thing.

In ancient times, pagan religion competed with the Christian faith by inviting people to come to groves.  At these groves, they would uncover people who showed their bodies and had sex together.

The “lift” from these experiences was enough to become a real draw – leading many away from their own faith, to literally worship at the altar of sex.

But of course, this religion no longer exists in our day, right?

While literally no one would talk about pornography this way, think about it for a second:  The rapture.  The ritual.  The reverence.  The imagery.  The time and money commitment.  The heart and mind and soul required.

And the brilliance!  No groves or physical  gathering needed.  In proxy, people can witness and experience the rush of sex as if witnessing it in person….and almost as if doing it themselves.

“Feeling pain?  No need to feel it!  You can get out of it anytime.  Anywhere.  Just tune in.  Find a screen.  We’ll make you feel better.

SO glad you’re here. How wonderful to have a chance to come together and celebrate our redemption.  Relief.  Freedom from this bondage.  

We warn you:  THEY are going to try and convince you to feel bad about this, to see it as ‘unnatural’ and guilt you into stopping…Some have walked away from the joy we offer – persuaded to follow a path of misery that they promise will one day ‘pay off.’  

You know the truth.  As you’ve found for yourself, the truth is that redemption is available NOW.  Just a click away.  And you can feel less.  Feel more.  Or nothing at all. 

No more in pain.  ‘All tears wiped away.’  Gone. No more.  

Can you say redemption?

And it gets even better:  The ecstasy of your own body and hormones – the feeling that comes over the brain.  Rush.  Overwhelm.  Escape.  

What elation.  What transcendence!”

Freed from the chains of the surrounding culture, throwing off the shackles of all the should’s and ought’s. Free!  To be yourself!  To go and do what you want.  To feel what you want.  To enjoy what you want – anything you want.”  

In all these ways, people are being offered in these Virtual Groves a kind of quasi salvation (see Satan’s Plan of Salvation).  How about seeing this church for what it is?

And for those who are tired of the sheer emptiness and utter depletion of paying devotion to this Great and Abominable Church – maybe seeing it for what it is will help us LEAVE.  And do it for GOOD.

Satan’s Plan of Salvation

One of the unique teachings of the Church of Jesus Chris is the notion of a meaningful existence that took place before we came to this earth – a time of growth, a time of learning…and a time of war.

The “war in heaven” described in the Book of Revelation (12:7) was ultimately a clash of ideas.  The children of God had “grown up” as much as they could living with their Heavenly Parents – and like the 20-something playing video games in the basement, it was time to learn what could only be learned after “moving out” and leaving home.

As we did so, we surely anticipated this life would be challenging – and not as comfortable as “Home.”   I believe that we foresaw some of the agony and despair we would have to face – especially in our own crushing falls and personal bondages. The dangers we would be facing were real – and we knew it.

John describes a pre-mortal vision of a search conducted throughout heaven for someone capable of intervening to open the way for God’s children (metaphorically described as “loosing” a sealed book). During a moment when no one had yet been found, John describes himself weeping “much.”  The prospect of moving forward without help was too much.

God, however, was not worried – all along working to ensure that a Savior would be provided – a literal Super-hero of sorts to help us endure and overcome in this life- so as to return Home.  To fill that role, Father had someone in mind.

Someone else also had that role in mind – proposing himself as the much-anticipated Savior.  In the way we often tell the story, however, Lucifer stepped up in the grand Council of God’s children and proposed another plan – an alternative scheme that would (a) take away human agency and enslave the children of God and (b) ultimately bring him all the glory and power.

Sometimes I’ve wondered, “if that’s how Satan’s plan was described, how in the world did he convince a ‘third of the hosts of heaven‘ to follow him?”:  “Hey – come join the cause!  Lose your freedom – enter slavery and give all your power to Lucifer!”

It doesn’t make sense. And, of course, that’s not how Lucifer described his ideas – since that wouldn’t have swayed anyone. So how exactly did this pre-mortal politician make his proposal?  What exactly did he say to convince so many to follow him?

I obviously do not know the answer to this question – but I can’t resist my own studied guess.  My wife and I just finished an impressive, fictionalized account of the premortal life called “the Brothers,” written by author Chris Stewart.  The most striking scene of the book for me is a grand political rally Satan holds to animate and unite his followers. With music blaring and flags flying, Lucifer stirs up the crowd into a fever-pitched excitement – condemning the “power-hungry” status quo leaders and offering a very different kind of path to “salvation.”

Borrowing that back-drop, please indulge my own rendition of his “stump speech”:

“Brothers and Sisters…I salute you. I’m so touched.  I really am.  Look at you!  The beauty.  The love.  The sweetness.  It means so much to me…it really does.

None of us want to be here today – standing where we are.  None of us would have wanted things to happen the way they have – given how much we loved Father and all our family.

No – this is a dark day.  A sad day.  But it’s also a hopeful day – one full of new possibilities.

Throwing off the chains that bind the minds and hearts of the rest of our brothers and sisters, we stand here today to embark on a new path, as a new people.  This takes guts.  And bravery – indeed, true courage.

You saw how it happened.  You saw how carefully and lovingly I presented these ideas to the Council – a path of salvation with much less pain and so much more help.  A pathway of salvation for EVERYONE – rather than just for those select few who God happens to love. For all of your souls, you saw how I plead and even offered my own life as a show of my passion for the truth.

And yet how did they respond? Not only did they reject  us – they tried to shut down the discussion and threatened to kick us out!! Can you say, “power-trip?” [Shouts, laughter]

Since then, what has happened, dear brothers and sisters?  Intimidation. Attempts to silence us.  Smear campaigns.  Chipping away our freedom of speech – and putting into question the preservation of the very life we love so much.

And so we stand here today for a reason, Brothers and Sisters.  A solemn and awful reality draws us together – with hearts pained at what we MUST do.

When people are pushed too far, there is only one recourse:  rebellion.

They will regret their rejection.  They will regret not joining us – as we move forward in a Plan for All.  In one way or another, I tell you we WILL HAVE our mortal bodies and the freedoms we deserve. And best of all, I can still redeem you.

As long as you believe in me and keep my commandments, I can save you all.  You need to trust me in that.  You’ve followed me this far – and I need you to keep the faith.

“But wait,” some have asked – “the Enemy claims he will save people as well.”  Do you know what that means, my people?  It means people will have to feel pain and suffer.  It means they will be asked to face awful, excruciating  experiences – and then somehow, the thinking goes – through this suffering, ‘one day, eventually – after they’ve learned things and made choices’ yada, yada – Jehovah will step in and save the day.  Sound good to you?  “Sit there and suffer for awhile and then I’ll give you relief.” How brutish – and how uncaring…

I on the other hand – the rightful and true Savior – promise to provide immediate relief.  While Jehovah sits by the side yawning, I’ll be right there showing you and telling you what to do.  I won’t let you wonder or be uncertain or have to think for yourselves. And as soon as you feel any pain or discomfort, I will give you relief – in a thousand flavors.  Drink something.  Eat something.  Watch something.  Make your body do something.  In ALL the glorious ways your bodies are able, I will give you sweet relief and freedom from the pain you will face.

How does this sound?  Let me say again:  I am the one willing to save you – from incredible pain! Who wants to suffer??  [No!!]

Me too.  I’m the one who actually CARES about you – and how much you would be hurting. And it doesn’t stop there.  Who wants to avoid all the things that bring pleasure?  [No!!]

I’m going to MAXIMIZE your pleasure – in ways that are beyond your wildest fantasies. In every way you can imagine.  While Father worries and frets about keeping you away from the many pleasures of life…not me.  All your wildest dreams will come true. How does that sound? [Huge crazy cheering].

Yes – I thought you’d feel that way.  Me too.  More pain.  Less pleasure.  More help. Need I say more?”

That probably does the trick.  In fact, whatever was exactly said, it apparently did the trick for millions and millions of God’s children who chose to ultimately turn away from God’s plan (and embrace another).  Rather than seduced by “slavery” and “losing agency,” my point here is that surely they were duped by something else – another kind of “salvation” from pain and another plausible gateway towards pleasure, power and “freedom.”

And with the same seductive campaign, Satan continues to broadcast his grand “plan of salvation” to our hearts today:  “Feel some pain?  NO NEED.  I’ve got something that will make that go away NOW.  No need to even think about it – or feel it.  Just do this.  Or take this.  Or experience this.  And you will feel relief.”

And we buy it!  Obsessed with whatever we can do to feel good now or to avoid pain now – we are duped to pour all our energy into that which can give us immediate, current pleasure – or at least, temporary numbing of our pain.  Then and now, this offer of  “salvation” from our pain is so hard to turn down.

What Satan didn’t (and doesn’t) tell us, of course, is the full list of side-effects…especially long-term.  As it turns out, the plan presented as “maximizing our pleasure” – doesn’t feel all that good later on. [It’s especially interesting, in this context, that two of the main “causes of suffering” the Buddha taught were avoiding/pushing away what we don’t want – and grasping/craving what we don’t have…two practices forming the HEART of what I’m calling here, “Satan’s plan of salvation”].

And what about that “other plan” – the one that asks us to (mindfully) accept a need for painful experiences and going through struggles – as well as focusing on something besides maximizing our pain?

Well, it turns out that this plan brings MORE pleasure than we can imagine (yes, eventually) – and more immediately, an underlying peace of life for those who embrace it fully.  Like eating our vegetables and exercising, practices that can feel challenging, “boring” and even unpleasant in the moment (such as prayer, worship, service) – ultimately lead us to feel pretty good over time.  As we yield our hearts completely to Them, Christ and the Father work in us to bring to pass a kind of joy and peace indescribable:  a different kind of payoff – and one that cannot be matched.

Bottom line:  While the fight between “slavery and freedom” is real, at least rhetorically speaking, what we’re looking at (now and then) are competing plans of salvation – two ways of finding relief, two ways of attempting to escape the heartbreak of the world and two pathways towards “our wildest dreams.”  Behind these pathways, are two different individuals still offering to be our Savior.  And like the Father Himself, we face the same question in our lives today:  Who will we choose?