Sunday, December 11, 2011

The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (fourth visit)

Yes, I went back to The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, and I did so for several reasons. Among them:
  1. I wanted a place that would put me in the Christmas spirit, and I assumed the church would be nicely decorated. I assumed correctly.
  2. I needed to focus more on the message instead of the aesthetics today. Not sure I can explain why, but today didn't feel like a day to be critical of the paint job, the music, or the size of the cross above the alter.
  3. I wanted to pray.
I have not really focused on my personal faith over the last several months, largely because I still feel the sting of having been judged inferior by my former church. I am reluctant to share, but here goes.

I'm not big on praying in public. I'm not saying it is a bad thing; I'm just saying my words to God are generally private (one reason I'm not a Catholic -- I don't like the concept of middlemen in the prayer chain). I've been to churches where one is expected to hold hands with strangers while praying. I've been to churches where people gather around a person and -- well -- lay hands upon he or she while praying. Many people experience an energy from such a tactile experience. I'm just not a fan.

While it is true that one can pray anywhere, I have felt compelled to pray lately, and I wanted to do so in a church. I'm not one of those cheese-balls who will spout off about "the power of prayer." Sorry, that was less kind than it should have been. I just don't automatically assume prayer, for lack of a better word, works. But I have some friends going through some stuff, some family going through other stuff, and I had a few personal prayer requests of my own. When the list starts to pile high, I tend to go to church and, as the song says, "take it to the Lord in prayer." I don't know if it helps in every instance, but I know it has never hurt.

Today's service began with a prayer by the pastor that we be "participants, not observers" in worship. I propose the same needs to happen in life. I suppose that might be one reason so many prayers go "unanswered." In some cases like the illness of a loved one, there is nothing we can do except pray. But often we pray for something to happen, then sit back and wait around to see if it does -- we could be trying to make things happen, or we could be asking others for help. Instead we take no action other than prayer, and I'm not sure that is the correct approach.

Lately I've been more proactive regarding certain things -- things I also pray about. It isn't that I feel prayer is not enough. As an example, it is that I don't tend to pray for God to help others -- I pray to God that I can provide help to others... if that makes sense. I believe prayer is a part of a partnership or alliance, and both parties need to do their part. I may pray for my own happiness, but I'm really praying for the ability to make myself happier. I don't see God as a genie granting wishes. As the protest phrase goes, I believe we need to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe God wants us to make the changes, and it is perhaps asking too much of us to be asking/begging Him to do it for us.

The focus of the sermon today was "Trust God," and I do -- sort of. I believe that God is a sort of a "big picture guy," that he is looking at the whole universe at any given time. I trust that God is looking at the big picture; I just don't believe that means he's looking out for me as an individual. I also don't think He has anything against me. I just don't know if, as the saying goes, God is on my side. We don't see the big picture. At best, we see a microscopic fragment of it. We cannot hope to understand why bad things happen to good people (or vice-verse). And rather than try to find out, I choose to pray for wisdom or strength to try to lessen the number of bad things that might happen. I trust that God has the power to grant me the ability to become wiser and stronger.



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?

The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood

1760 N. Gower St.
Hollywood, CA 90025

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

Isaiah 7:9-14

What are the demographics of the congregation?

A children's choir sang, so there were more parents than usual

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Formal in structure and tone

What was the music like?

Organ and a voluminous choir

How was the use of PowerPoint?

Very little, just for the Bible verses and song lyrics

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

I'm 99% certain one of my favorite all-time actors was near the front of the church, but I didn't want to intrude

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