Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mount Calvary Lutheran Church

A lot of times we seek out what is comfortable. That was almost certainly what I had in mind when I selected Mount Calvary Lutheran Church as my house of worship this morning. To be blunt, the Lutherans haven't changed much since the protestant reformation a few hundred years ago, but the familiar appealed to me today so I gave it a go.

There is an old axiom: When God wants to punish us, He gives us what we want.

I came in search of something familiar, and I was greeted at the door by a woman who was very nearly identical in appearance to one of the long lost loves of my life -- and she was very friendly. No doubt she was confused because I'm fairly certain a woman who looks as good as she does is unaccustomed to men averting their gaze and walking away as quickly as possible. But it was frankly unsettling to see a virtual doppelganger of a woman who carved my heart up like a holiday ham. I found my way to a pew and buried my face in the church bulletin. That was when my prom date appeared to welcome me and hand me a packet of information they give out to all church visitors. It was not my prom date, of course, but as was the case with the first woman I'd encountered, this woman looked startlingly close to another woman from my past. The first woman clearly does not handle rejection well, because no sooner had my prom date left when the former love of my life stood next to me and gave me a monthly newsletter. There I was, in search of a familiar setting where I could think and pray, but I found myself engulfed by familiar (distracting) women.

Once the women had sufficiently freaked me out, an incident occurred which reminded of a moment in my past that I'd managed to repress. As those who know me are keenly aware, I am blind in one eye and lack depth-perception. While attending a Lutheran junior high, I sometimes served as acolyte at the church affiliated with the school. The candles I had to light were placed at eye level and it wasn't too much of a problem to light what needed lighting and snuff out what needed snuffing. But that church was not our family's church. Our family's church had candles perched higher than my eyes were able to estimate. On one (and only one) occasion, my family pastor asked me to acolyte. To hear my family recount the story, I looked a bit like a drunken Jedi trying to wave a lightsaber at fireflies. I was unable to light any candles and very nearly burned down the church. I generally don't waste much time worrying what others think of me, but there is no denying the embarrassment of that moment.

This morning, one of the two acolytes attempted to light a candle and actually managed to do a worse job than I did. The floors are a smooth (very smooth -- too smooth, it turns out) marble of some kind, and as the young boy reached up to light the candle, his feet sailed into the air and he landed hard on the ground, pausing just long enough to hit the alter and the wall on the way down. Candles sailed one direction and the snuffer (with the lit end) sailed another direction. The kid was clearly hurt, but the physical pain was nowhere near as bad as what the kid felt, if the expression on his face was any indication. With luck, he can repress the memory just as I did, only to have it resurface a few decades later when he's in church already feeling uncomfortable.

The last week or so I've had a few friends indicate that I've seemed more depressed than usual. There is an element of truth in that, but I contend what is really happening is that I'm coming to terms with the less-than-stellar quality of my life, as well as the lives of others around me. Lately it has been obvious that -- through little to no fault of our own -- things aren't exactly going our way. Already one who doesn't hold much back, I've been vocal about my unhappiness at the state of affairs, or lack thereof. The argument can be made that I'm not doing myself or anybody else any good by speaking about it, but I've never been one to repress things... aside from an odd acolyte experience or two.

Continuing the theme of lookalikes, I shouldn't have been shocked to see none other than Jolly Ol' St. Nicholas presiding over the worship service. Again, not the real Santa Claus, but an incredible simulation. Santa led us through a very traditional order of worship, though he did caution that the city was scheduled to work on the electricity and it was entirely likely the power would go out during the service -- probably not a good day to have toppled candles.

The church itself looked like bits of it had been renovated, but other bits looked old and even a little tired. The front was entirely brick and looked more like the backdrop of a small town comedy club than a big city church. The style was akin to art deco, only it felt like the end of the era of art deco, when people weren't trying very hard. The room's acoustics were designed to give any crows who had nested above the alter a prime sonic experience. The rest of us had to struggle to hear the pastor speak, even when he used a microphone.

One thing I liked was that the alter was up against the wall, which meant the pastor faced away from the congregation and toward the cross when he prayed. This is -- I feel -- as it should be. As is the case with my profession of teaching, ministers have to resort to being entertainers, but in the end, both the pastor and the congregation gather together to worship God, which should mean that we all face the proverbial Him. Another thing I liked was that, of all the Hollywood churches I've attended so far, this was only the second where the pastor preached from the pulpit. And the pulpit was elevated above the congregation. Santa spoke with authority, though -- sadly -- his message was too simplistic for my taste.

This being the Sunday closest to All Saints Day, I guess tradition dictates this is when we review the beatitudes. I reviewed them a month or so ago in another church, but that is neither here nor there. Reverend Claus indicated the translation could be the well-known "blessed are the poor..." but he preferred "fortunate are the poor..." because -- well -- that was never made entirely clear. But he stood on a pulpit in Beverly Hills talking about how the poor and meek would inherit the Earth, so he gets extra credit points for that.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this weekend also marks the birth and death of a very good friend of mine (he passed away several years ago, coincidentally on his birthday). I've written elsewhere about my final conversation with him, and the guilt that I carry having been rude to him during our last phone call. While I try to celebrate his life and the good times we shared, when this time of year rolls around, I still find it hard to carry the burden of guilt about not having been able to tell him how much his friendship meant to me over the years. The real reason I wanted a comfortable, familiar church setting today was so I could effectively work through some of those emotions, praying to God and talking to my friend. Instead, I wound up encountering two women whom we both knew, watched an acolyte do a double-axle, and listened to Santa tell rich people they were basically doomed.

Up in heaven, I think it might be possible that God and my late friend just high-fived.


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?

Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church
436 South Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

What was the denomination?

Lutheran (LCMS)

What Bible verses were referenced?

Revelation 7:9-17 and Matthew 5:1-12

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Good mix of ages, mostly white... low numbers, though... roughly 30 in attendance

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Formal in structure and tone, except there was a coffee pot in the rear of the church

What was the music like?


How was the use of PowerPoint?

No PowerPoint

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Only Santa

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