Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reality LA

I have witnessed the future, and it is located in a high school auditorium with no air conditioning.

Do you remember those churches with bell towers, alters, and crosses? Those quaint relics from the days of yore? Those ornate structures that recall an era long gone?

I try to remind myself that intent matters, and if the chosen form of worship can basically be likened to a folk-rock concert circa 1983 (and it can), people have every right to express themselves and their faith in that way. After all, they are taking time out of their lives to pause and reflect on God, so it shouldn't concern me if half the congregants brought Starbucks cups into church with them (maybe the Lord liketh lattes). I guess I really need to get with the times and embrace the shape of things to come.
The church known as "Reality LA" has certainly taken steps to distance itself from traditional churches (note the complete lack of "First Church of..." in the title), and by every modern standard they are succeeding. They do not solicit verbal prayer requests, nor do they have those little cards and golf pencils in the pews for people to write their needs or concerns. In these modern times, they project a PowerPoint slide containing a number those in attendance could use to text their prayers to the Lord. But so we don't feel overly modern, the AC wasn't working. On a related note, my heartfelt thanks to the woman in the animal print skirt in front of me who not only removed layers of clothing during the service, but actually took the time to toss one of the articles of clothing back to me. I don't know if it was due to the intense heat in the room or if you were just trying to make me feel welcome, but I applaud the effort.

I'd guess there were roughly 800 in attendance at the noon service today (no kidding, much like the Hollywood Bowl or the Greek Theater, this church had stacked parking). The congregation was comprised of the sort of crowd that network TV executives would kill for. I mean, this was a Stepford congregation, filled with the young and the pretty... and me. I doubt anybody seated within my direct line of sight was over 23-years-old, and nobody I could see had an ounce of body fat.

The show opened with a praise band, and I won't put you through another retelling of my dislike of praise bands. Instead, on the off chance the sound board operator from Reality LA might read this, if you have a female lead singing with a clipped, high-pitched, nasal voice, might I suggest lowering the high frequencies a bit, boosting the low end, and possibly adding a little reverb? I don't think the lead singer was necessarily bad, but she was poorly mixed. This is Hollywood -- you should know better.

A typical worship service runs about an hour, but Reality LA is a two-hour commitment. Several songs led us into worship. I occasionally see someone in a given congregation with their arms outstretched in much the same way a suspect might stand whilst being frisked by the police. It is not my intent to mock these people; if anything I am jealous of those so consumed by the Holy Spirit that they are literally compelled to lift up their arms and sway side-to-side. I can't picture myself that wrapped up in any music, except maybe at a Beatles concert featuring all four members of the band.

I won't harp on about the use of modern songs in worship, but one thing that made me feel good this afternoon was when the praise band covered two very traditional hymns: "Amazing Grace" and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." It made me feel good because although there was a smattering of singing coming from the congregation during the modern songs, during the traditional hymns the crowd blew the roof off the place. Even in this most modern of church settings, the classics never go out of style.   

Another modern trend in worship is the unannounced prayer, and -- because it is modern -- you know I won't like it. Traditionally, before prayer begins a pastor or minister would exclaim, "Let us pray" or words to that effect. But now a prayer can strike at any moment without warning. Today, the lead singer said something along the lines of, "Hey everybody thanks for coming and it is great to see all of you here today Lord we love you and need you and we are grateful for this day and Bob will be up in a minute with some church announcements but God You are wonderful and awesome and please remember to set your cell phones to vibrate." Paraphrasing, but I'd like a little notice before we collectively talk to God.

Finally it was time for the words of Pastor Tim. If you picture in your mind's eye someone who wants to be called simply "Pastor Tim," you are probably spot on. Pastor Tim started Reality LA six years ago, and six years before that he was a drugged up sex fiend who found the Lord. I know this not only because he mentioned it a few times during his sermon, but it is included in his bio on the official church website. I am of mixed emotions when it comes to the "born again" as leaders -- I am glad they found faith, but I think I'd prefer a church leader who had faith from birth. From the nodding heads in the congregation (frankly looked at times like a convention of life-sized bobble-head figurines), people are able to relate to Pastor Tim's path to faith. It is like those who elected George Bush because he seemed a likeable guy that they might be able to grab a beer or watch a ballgame with.

Growing up, we referred to our church pastor by his last name. Perhaps it was to show reverence and respect. Perhaps it was a gesture of formality to remind us of the divinity of those called to serve the Lord. Perhaps it was because his first name was Maynard. Whatever the reason, we differentiated between the preacher and the congregation. Not only do I believe there is no such differentiation at Reality LA, I believe Pastor Tim would take offense if we tried. However, while I don't take offense at a minister wanting me to see him as a "regular guy," I am somewhat irregular and don't really see myself relating to a man-of-the-cloth.

Pastor Tim's focus today was on prayer itself. He spoke at length about the importance of prayer to God the Father, and that was really how we were supposed to see Him -- as a father figure. I'll confess to an emotional disconnect in this area, since my father was not someone I ever felt I could go to for help, encouragement, or advice. Pastor Tim talked about Christian prayer versus spiritual prayer, and he used the word "spiritual" as if it was a bad word. Spiritual prayers, he concluded, are all about the "God who lives within us," and these are bad prayers. Instead, Pastor Tim would prefer that we pray to our Father in the sky. He said the spiritual prayers were "Pilates prayers" that might be good for the body but not the soul. And -- for the life of me -- I had no freakin' clue what he was talking about.

Pray however you want to pray. Get down on your knees and lower your head in supplication, or lift your head up high into the heavens. Whether you think God is a bearded old man in a bathrobe or an amorphic, indefinable entity that passes through us all simultaneously -- it is no concern of mine. My personal belief is that God is a non-localized phenomena -- that He is inside us as well as in every other thing. However, I don't begrudge those who view Him differently; I actually embrace the differences.

The other issue I had with Pastor Tim's sermon on prayer is a common issue I have when the topic comes up: He didn't address unanswered prayer. The concept of "God answers all of our prayers; He just doesn't do it in a way we expect Him to" is a crutch -- a fallback when there is no clear answer to questions like, "Why didn't God prevent the hurricane?" or "Why did God allow that little girl to be killed?" A lot of good people prayed... a lot of bargains were struck with the Lord... but the prayers didn't get answered. It happens... often... and Pastor Tim failed to address it seriously, and it is a serious issue for a lot of people.

I credit Pastor Tim for standing in Hollywood and encouraging people to express humility. There is a courage in appearing before people who all want money or fame or a supermodel and reminding us all that we are basically weak, pathetic sinners. But his only tie-in to prayer was this notion of thinking of appealing to God the Father, and I can't have been the only one in attendance for whom the word "father" is not synonymous with "almighty." 

I must confess that my head was not entirely in today's church visit. But one positive note about the venue was that during communion the audience lights dimmed and it allowed me the opportunity for my own silent prayer and meditation. I did bring my troubles to God and asked His help. He knows that I know exactly how weak and pathetic I am, but I told Him again anyway. And I feel those moments in the dark were much more beneficial to me -- to my soul -- than the rest of the two hours I spent at Reality LA.

And maybe that is the future of church-going: Those who need the lights, music, PowerPoint, texting, etc. will have that option -- the rest of us will always be able to commune with God in any dark, silent room. At least I hope so, because no high school auditorium is going to save a wretch like me.



Sunday Scorecard

This will be a regular part of my weekly reviews, a series of short-answer questions about the day's experience.

What is the contact info for the church?

Reality LA
1309 N. Wilton Pl.
Hollywood, CA 90028


What was the denomination?

None, and the pastor went so far as to be critical of "religion"

What Bible verses were referenced?

Daniel 9:20-23, Luke 18:9-14, and Matthew 7:7-11

What are the demographics of the congregation?

It would be hyperbole to state the congregation was the brightest shade of white on the surface of the planet, but if it is an exaggeration it is -- at most -- a mild one.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

I wore khaki pants and a collared shirt that was tucked in, and that made me exceedingly overdressed

What was the music like?

Praise band consisted of two guitars, drum, bass guitar, and keyboard.

How was the use of PowerPoint?

Excessive and extensive, front and center, in lieu of a cross, as if we must all bow down to the great god of Microsoft

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Possibly the entire cast of "Pretty Little Liars," but due to the disparity in age I honestly couldn't say with any degree of certainty


  1. So whats the number to text God?

  2. I didn't jot it down, sorry. Perhaps if you called 411 and asked for God's number, they'd connect you -- for a fee of course.

  3. great post. think this is a great idea for a blog...keep it up.

  4. Pretty Good review of the church. I too love the meditative praise and worship of Reality LA. But the sermons are amazing and have helped me grow in the understanding of Jesus' teachings. You know you may have gone a a soft day. Great blog, I feel we need an objective covering of churches and the things that surround them. Thanks for the great writing as well uber entertaining, the crowd like the cast of Pretty little true very CW, but ya know those kids are so hard to reach, this pastor is anointed. God Bless Him.

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