Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas

Six months ago, I began a journey to find a new house of worship. Living near Hollywood, and noting how many churches there are in the area, it seemed as good a place as any to base my search. I made my way through Hollywood itself, Los Feliz, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Little Armenia, North Hollywood, and even dropped by Downtown LA and San Diego. I visited churches backed by Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Russian Orthodox, non-denominational Christians, Scientologists, and -- Lutherans, to name a few. I even tried (and failed) to visit two mosques. I never made it to a synagogue, but I did visit Canter's Deli a few times, and many of my Jewish friends have told me that suffices.

I had a few goals in mind when I began my quest, but first and foremost was finding a place where I felt comfortable giving praise and thanks to God. I decided to blog about the experience because I wanted to ensure I gave each church due consideration, and because I am always trying to find new and distinct ways of flexing my writing muscle.

Some would say there is a dichotomy between God and Hollywood, but I find more than a few similarities. The most glaring ones are that both feature the concept of faith and hope. A belief in God can be likened in many ways to the Hollywood dream. It can be a hard road, there will be obstacles and naysayers, and there are no guarantees. Yet I still maintain if you ever watch the sun go down on Sunset Blvd., then you know there is a magic and a mystery to Hollywood that cannot be explained. And I still maintain that if you have God in your heart, you can endure far more than if your heart is empty.
Christmas is upon us, and it means different things to different people. My godparents were missionaries in Africa back in the 1980s, and one year they sent me a gift for the holidays. It was a hand-carved Nativity scene, made of wood by the locals of their village, and in what some have described as blasphemous, obscene, or just plain wrong, the Nativity depicts all the major players as black. And I love it. I love that it offends; I use it as a barometer for who really understands Jesus at His core. God made us in His image -- why wouldn't a group of Africans carve Him as a black child? And why would any Christian lose sleep over it? Christmas is upon us, and it is the time of year we are most united in faith and compassion. It is the time of year when appearances do not count; action counts. Intentions count. Anyone who misses the action and intention of an African Nativity has missed a great deal more than that.

I sometimes hear people say, "I'm not a very religious person," but that makes no sense to me. You either are or you are not, the modifier has no place in that sentence. I am a religious person; I don't ram it down anybody's throat, because it isn't generally my style to do that. If you question me about my faith, politics, beliefs, etc., then I will likely respond and even debate you, but if you don't really care, I'm just as content to smile and move on about my day.

After visiting two dozen places, I have not yet found a church to call my own. I've made peace with that; I've actually made peace with the fact I might never find a church to call my own. A church should not belong to a person or even a congregation -- it is God's house, after all. Setting aside all the creeds that narrowly define who we are, we are all children of God. Christmas began as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but it has expanded to become a celebration of life itself -- of giving, of family, of friends, and of love. This blog began as a means of deconstructing churches, but it expanded to become a place where faith is celebrated, hope is encouraged, and love is mandatory.

I wish everyone who reads this the merriest of Christmases, and I wish the very best for you and yours in the coming year. May God bless you and strengthen you, and may He fill your hearts with faith, hope, and love.


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