Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bel Air Presbyterian Church

It is not a surprise to people who know me, but I have mild obsessive compulsive tendencies. I happen to believe that it is not necessarily a bad thing because such leanings make a person more detail oriented. It doesn't interfere with day-to-day living if -- for instance -- I always shave from the right side of my face to my left side (unless I have a beard in which case I shave in the opposite direction, don't ask me why). Being blind in one eye, one idiosyncrasy I have is to kick the edge of a step with my heel when walking down a flight of stairs -- I do it without even thinking about it, and it helps me to orient myself and prevents me from accidentally walking off the edge of the next step.
One of my obsessions involves symmetry. I am a fan of symmetrical architecture where things are evenly spaced and in direct proportion to one another. Nowhere can such symmetry be more beautifully expressed than inside a church. Practically every famous house of worship can be evenly sliced in half, a mirror image of itself. Serene perfection.

It is impossible to deny the Bel Air Presbyterian Church is anything less than beautiful. What it is not -- however -- is symmetrical. And it is a jarring asymmetry. I understand the reasoning behind it; the church has one of the most amazing views in all of Los Angeles and the design of the sanctuary takes full advantage of that exterior beauty, with massive windows in all directions -- even behind the alter area. Note: There is a cross cut into the frame of the window behind the alter, but unless you are seated near the exact center of the room, the cross will be obscured by the pipes for the pipe organ. As compensation, they have erected a cross to the far right of the church -- to the right of the massive PowerPoint screen. For me, the asymmetry makes me feel unsettled and -- though I can't logically explain why -- unwelcome.

The result is a room that feels more like a quirky, high-end restaurant or coffee shop than a church. As I sat there, I half expected a waitress to come take my drink order.

While I found the music and multimedia in last Sunday's church to blend nicely with the quaint style of the sanctuary, in the hills off of Mulholland Drive it was just exploitative. The house band -- sorry -- the praise band did the majority of the singing; we served more as audience members than congregants. Splashed onto the screen was a comedy sketch produced in connection to the day's sermon about Nineveh. The video would have been a terrific way to provide background of the location to children, except the children were all downstairs in Sunday school.

The featured Biblical passages for this morning were from Isaiah and Jonah, both mentioning the town of Nineveh. It was in that place where the birth of Jesus was foretold -- and where Jonah got all worked up over a dead shrubbery, but that's not important right now.

I normally like to name the pastor of each church as I comment about the sermon, but his name was lacking in the day's bulletin as well as the PowerPoint screen, so I guess he doesn't want to be known. Though in looking up his name on the church's website, I see they have a "Pastor to the Entertainment Industry," so -- um -- there's that. As for the sermon itself, it was innocuous. I thought about what word best described it and none fit better than innocuous. For a casual church-goer, it was fine; how could something so watered down not be fine?

OK, I'm being nitpicky, but he was wrong in his definition of "advent." I know my Latin roots and I know what adv means and I know what advent means as a result of that. And even if I didn't know, there are dictionaries to assist me. Clearly, the pastor wanted to use the word "receive" in his sermon, and it did, indeed, fit nicely into what he was saying, but advent does not mean receive. Advent deals with arrival, not reception. Even the blasphemers of Nineveh knew that. So, yes, we should take the next few weeks -- a.k.a. Advent season -- to prepare to receive Christ into our hearts, minds, and lives. However, that ain't what advent means. Advent refers to the arrival of the King of Kings, regardless of whether we are ready to receive Him. Because ready or not, here He comes.

My advice to the church if it wants to attract people like me would be to strip away the ephemera. I realize that, in doing so, there would be very little left to the church (for starters, they wouldn't need a "Pastor to the Entertainment Industry"), and from the sizable congregation I am in the minority view here. However, if you were to take a poll of those who attended, I'd wager they will recall the comedic video about Nineveh and probably recall the handful of jokes the pastor told. But I wonder how many of them walked away with the message that Christ is coming.

And that is what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.


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?

Bel Air Presbyterian Church
16221 Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

Isaiah 7:10-17, Jonah 3, Matthew 1:18-25 (anyone who doubts the differences in versions of the Bible, read the account of Joseph in Matthew 1 from the KJV then look at it in one of the modern translations... completely alters his character)

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Mostly young, white, hipsters.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Very informal. People kept getting up and leaving.

What was the music like?

Praise band. 'Nuf said.

How was the use of PowerPoint?

An overwhelming amount of PowerPoint which distracted from the message

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Yes. A pretty minor actress sat next to me for five or ten minutes before receiving a text and leaving.

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