I’ve been very slow in my latest update but it’s finally done. I’ve been sick with either a cold or flu and it’s made me extremely tired. That much tiredness has also been somewhat demoralizing. It feels like I’m never getting better even though intellectually I know I will. I missed church again today. Hopefully I can get myself together and feel better on all levels very soon. This is no fun!
Church name/type: White Couch Albany, a non-denominational church with origins stemming from a mixture of Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God groups
Pastor: Pastor Mike
Style of worship: A message about communion was bookended by music. I’m told this format is not usual and that it was light on music this time.
Overall Impression: neutral
I had heard this place was fresh and new and different, so I had some expectations going in; however I just didn’t get any sort of vibe from the place. It just felt kind of flat. Maybe it’s the new building, or the snowy lack of attendance. Or the fact that I came at the end of the year and found the doors closed. Yeah I tried to attend this church once before at the very end of the year. Unfortunately for me they had no service that day, and no notice on the website to explain this. They couldn’t even leave a note on the door? So maybe I was annoyed with them from the get-go. I’ll start again and try to examine what I did find at this church.
On arrival in my car I found several young adults in the parking lot with shovels. They motioned me inside with smiles. I had come at exactly 11am, but the service was not quite starting and I took a seat. The rest was rather straight-forward. We exchanged high-fives at greeting time rather than the standard handshake. We had communion together by filing up front. That was just a little weird because we were instructed to come up as we felt led…no one really went out of order however.
The main point of this service was the sermon. It was really a description of communion and what communion represents. To me it was sort of like hearing the Catholic liturgy with explanation breaks. Every Catholic knows the story of Jesus serving bread and wine and calling it body and blood. It’s imbedded in what the priest recites every. single. week. Even the part describing Jesus as the lamb of a new covenant in blood. And the bit about this new Lamb’s blood taking away the sin of the world. Heck, I can sing it in Latin even. But for the unfamiliar, I will assume this was an interesting sermon. I liked the fact that pastor made mention of the Last Supper as a Passover meal. That is what the bible calls it. Thematically Jesus’ death is seen as a parallel to what happened at the original Passover. In both cases a lamb was slain and the blood saves the children of God. As to the idea that Jesus was celebrating a Seder with his disciples- I have heard that’s not quite correct. It seems like the Seder used today was not yet solidified into it’s current form when Jesus was on earth. So whatever Jesus usually did for the anniversary of Passover, it would have been rudimentary at best compared to a Seder today.
Of course, there are some scholars who think the juxtaposition of the Last Supper with Passover was retconned by the writers of the gospels to make the point more fully about Jesus making a second covenant. I guess I’m ok with that. Sometimes I wonder if I let biblical scholarship chip away at the bible, what will be left? But then again, God made us to be able to think, and that’s important if one is actually interested in the truth. I think learning more about this stuff can actually make my faith stronger. Jesus could certainly have made a comparison to Passover without necessarily using the anniversary of that day. Plenty of things could be different about the specifics in the bible and I would still love the stories. I guess that’s the best thing I got from this week’s service. It made me reexamine what I love about the stories and realize all over again that changing beliefs will not wreck me or my faith. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if Jesus was having Passover as his last meal. It doesn’t even matter to me if Jesus died to save the world or just to save twelve men from execution. That’s powerful. He asked us to remember it and we do.
Negatives?: There was one odd bit. We were listening to the in-depth story of The Last Supper. It was probably around the part where Jesus’ death takes away our sins. Pastor explained as kind of a one-off that when we sin it makes Jesus sad. This was meant as a reason to not sin and it even seemed like the pastor was getting a little bit emotional as he spoke about it. I find it somewhat odd to hear a statement like this. The way Jesus feels about us should be the last reason not to sin. The first reason should be the other person we are hurting and the second reason should be the damage we are doing to ourselves. If Jesus is so kind and awesome and one-with-God, he can handle Himself to be alright even when we are sinning. I feel like this reason serves as a guilt inducement and very little else. So that was at least kinda strange.
Church name/type: New Horizons Christian Church, a full gospel pentecostal church
Pastor: David Traynham
Style of worship: Praise first, talking (prayer and sermon) after
Overall Impression: I’m very torn. The people all seemed warm and friendly. The message from the sermon was a little off the deep end.
I liked the music. The taking-your-seat music is just prerecorded game-show-sounding worship music. But the actual praise music was much better. One rather talented praise leader played keyboard and sang. At the same time he directed the congregation what lines to sing before they came up. The music was also displayed on screens at the front of the room. I used to hate those screens, but they are definitely an improvement over nothing, which is what I’ve been getting from churches lately.
Everyone who said hello to me before service, after, and in between was very friendly and huggy. No one seemed clingy and a few people even asked about my project; the usual lead-in of course was ‘How did you find us?’ I gave out several website cards. Pastor David also noticed I was new and said hello.
When it was time for the sermon things began to take an odd turn. The title was: There’s a War Going On. Well ok. Based on the title this could be about several things: actual war, war in ourselves to do right, war to find the resources to help those in need… But no, this was a sermon mostly about the end times. The end times are happening now! Or so I was told by Pastor David. We are aware that the end times are in progress because of all the floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the danger from the Olympics. And the shootings at schools, on the streets, in churches, and in malls. And all the laws being passed that are anti-God. I gotta admit I am sooo not with pastor on this. Natural disasters happen all the time. Shootings happen pretty often as well, except in places like Australia where gun restrictions are tighter. I guess I really have no idea what anti-God laws are being referenced here so I cannot speak to this one. My biggest problem with all the descriptive world ending talk is that it felt more like fear-mongering than anything else. Some of the descriptions of people killing and maiming others were pretty graphic. I came to church unafraid, was made to understand I should be afraid, and then was told I did not need to be afraid. But for someone listening and believing it all, how would they not be afraid? We heard that the end times are already happening, that everyone will be marked with a number in order to buy and sell. Good Christians who refuse would then starve. And if they did manage to not starve they would face beheading by a gillotine or some type of laser. I don’t have to make this up, it was all in the sermon.
In addition to thematic scariness, there were a number of stand alone statements that I found dubious. I’ll list them out and respond.
1) The anti-Christ will come from the office of the Roman Catholic Pope. The current Pope is just so liberal after all.
(I strongly disagree that the new Pope is problematic. He reaches out to the marginalized, making headlines doing so. That actually seems very pro-Christ.)
2) Religion has sent more people to hell than heroin or prostitutes.
(This statement was in a message about backsliders. Does this mean atheists have the advantage over churchgoers because they can’t slide back to anything?)
3) The world argues with the bible not by good arguments but by loudness of voice.
(This sounds like a stab at either biblical scholarship or non-Christians pointing out the bible’s contradictory nature. Guess what? The bible is contradictory.)
4) I don’t agree with them, but I have no problem with Hitler or Saddam Hussein. God has an end time plan.
(Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean we can forget about anything happening on earth. We still have to live here.)
5) People say – ‘Jesus has been coming back for years and isn’t back yet? Let’s live it up!’
(Does anyone really say this? I am skeptical that this is the way it works inside anyone’s mind. This also feels like a very weird statement to make given the fact that Pastor David’s advice to his grandson regarding death was not to worry and just enjoy life.)
And finally there were some dichotomies that I felt needed to be presented as much grayer. Pastor David contends that all was chaos for the Israelites before Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments. Similarly, all is supposedly chaos within us before we are saved. I see that as too simplistic. It does not account for any kind of conscience until a person is introduced to Jesus (or Moses?). I know people who are and were capable of knowing right from wrong before being told about Jesus. We also heard from Pastor David about people who hurt others- killers and shooters. Pastor says they are selfish and suggests selfishness as the primary and perhaps only motivation for these events. This ignores many other factors including: depression, desperation, and mental illness -just to name a few. We heard how the current generation is the “un-generation” because of all the things they are not. Listed in 2nd Timothy 3:2-7 are these descriptors: selfish, proud, boastful, disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy. This paints youngsters with pretty broad strokes. Should I assume those in church (like the pastor’s grandson) are exempt from these descriptors? We also heard that ‘flesh’ would love to blow someone’s brains out or sleep with someone’s wife. I have never thought either of these things. I am sure there are people who have never thought these things. We are not barely restrained animals keeping from murdering others because of Jesus. There is no reason to frame our impulses this way, even for those who deal with strong impulses. It seems like simply more scare tactics. To me that is a horrible way of bringing people to Jesus.
Any good stuff?: There was a portion of the message that reminded us that we are not here to judge others. We were told to remember that others belong to God and they have a purpose. Just because we do not know their purpose, we don’t get to treat them badly. So I guess that’s. Something.
It’s time I compiled a list of churches I’ve visited in alphabetical order by church name. The number after each church is NOT a ranking, it refers the order in which I visited them and it is meant to help you navigate my archive. I would link them all, but my website doesn’t seem to like that.
All Saints Cathedral (Episcopal) #33
aka under Cathedral
Bethlehem Community Church (Nodenom) #5
Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Lutheran- Missouri Synod) #11
Cathedral of All Saints (Episcopal) #33
aka under All
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic) #25
aka under Immaculate
Community United Methodist Church (UMC) #16
aka under Slingerlands
Church of Saint Vincent De Paul (Roman Catholic) #26
aka under ‘Saint’ and ‘Vincent’
Delmar Full Gospel Church (Nodenom) #1
Delmar Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) #15
Delmar Reformed Church (RCA) #10
First Church in Albany (RCA) #39
First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) #17
First Congregational Church (UCC) #22
First Reformed Church of Bethlehem (RCA) #19
First United Methodist Church in Delmar (UMC) #14
Glenmont Community Church (RCA) #4
Historic Saint Mary’s Church (Roman Catholic) #36
aka under St Mary
Holy Spirit Lutheran (ELCA) #24
aka under Lutheran
Iglesia Pentecostal (Pentecostal) #38
Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic) #25
aka under Cathedral
Jerusalem Reformed Church (RCA) #21
Journey United Church of Christ (UCC) #23
Kingdom Hall in Bethlehem (Jehovah’s Witness) #3
King’s Chapel in Glenmont (Nodenom) #2
Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit (ELCA) #24
aka under Holy Spirit
Metropolitan New Testament Missionary Baptist (NBC) #37
Mother Theresa’s (Roman Catholic) #42
Mount Calvary Baptist Church (NBC) #40
Mount Moriah Church (Nodenom) #7
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist (?) #47
New Hope Ministries (Assemblies of God) #31
New Horizons Christian Church (Pentecostal) #48
Powerhouse City of Deliverance (Pentecostal) #44
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal (Episcopal) #32
Saint Francis of Assisi Delaware Avenue (Roman Catholic) #41
Saint Francis of Assisi South End (Roman Catholic) #45
Saint George’s Antiochian Orthodox (EO) #29
Saint Mary’s in Albany (Roman Catholic) #36
aka under Historic
Saint Matthew Lutheran Church (Lutheran-Missouri Synod) #18
Saint Michael’s Chapel (Catholic, non-Novus Ordo) #13
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church (Episcopal) #43
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church (Episcopal) #28
Saint Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church (EO) #20
Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church (Episcopal) #8
Saint Thomas the Apostle (Roman Catholic) #9
Saint Vincent De Paul (Roman Catholic) #26
aka under ‘Church’ and ‘Vincent’
Slingerlands Community United Methodist Church (UMC) #16
aka under Community
Solid Rock Church (UPCI) #6
Third Reformed Church Albany (RCA) #30
True Witness Apostolic Faith Church (TCAF) #34
Union Dutch Reformed Church (RCA) #35
aka under Unionville
Union Missionary Baptist (?) #43
Unionville Reformed Church (RCA) #35
aka under Union Dutch
Vincent De Paul (Roman Catholic) #26
aka under ‘Saint’ and ‘Church’
Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) #27
White Couch Albany (Nodenom) #49
Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Christ (COGIC) #46
EO= Eastern Orthodox
NBC=National Baptist Convention
Nodenom= No denomination given
PCUSA= Presbyterian Church USA
RCA= Reformed Church in America
TCAF= True Church of the Apostolic Faith
UCC= United Church of Christ
UPCI= United Pentecostal Church International
**For further explanation of churches with no denomination, see individual church posts. I try to give explanation when possible as to church origin and philosophy.
*Notice lack of #12? For this one I attended not a public church but instead visited a religious community in Albany called the Bruderhof. The group has a house on Washington Park. They do allow visitors, but they like to be sent a request ahead of time. It is their home after all.
Church name/type: Mount Zion Missionary Baptist, unclear if there is any further affiliation
Pastor: Dr Robert Bradly
Style of worship: Songs were sprinkled throughout the service, which had a regular and straightforward format. It included scripture, prayer and collective reading as well as sermon and call to the altar for group prayer.
Overall Impression: I actually really liked it.
I arrived early this time and followed someone inside. I asked about the sanctuary and was directed up some stairs. Inside a bible study was happening so I sat a little back and tried to be quiet and respectful. The young woman leading the study took a second to say hello and handed me a book of the study material so I could follow along. The lesson was from Luke 14; the story of the wedding guests. We talked about the section in which Jesus instructs us to take the lowest spot at dinner, that we might be exalted to the highest spot. It warns that those seeking the highest spot will be downsized to the lowest spot. It’s a pretty standard Catholic lesson in humility and not seeking prestige, so it was not unfamiliar to me. I probably could have contributed if there’d been anything standing out to me. After the lesson was done several of the bible study membership approached me to say hello and welcome. Then they left me alone. They were very relaxed and low-key, which I like.
Once the service started a woman seated near me told me to come and sit by her; she’d tell me what was going on. I decided to take her up on this so I moved. (Minutes later, after I had decided to leave it in the other seat until the service ended, someone brought my warm hat to me from the seat I’d left.) My new friend’s name was Anna, and she told me what to expect at several key junctures of the service. Because of this and the format being listed in the church handout, I really had no trouble following along. At one point we were asked as a group for witness. This was more like news and updates. The sermon followed, continuing a few verses more into Luke.
The next part of Luke is again about a wedding feast. A man has invited a group of his friends to a wedding feast, but none of them show up. When he sends servants to them to ask what’s up, they beg off for various reasons. The host then sends his servants out to find anyone out in the street and bring them in as guests. One of the points that stood out to me in the sermon was the idea that this message relates to us today by representing the kingdom of God. We have to reach out to the people we don’t expect. We can’t only invite those we think belong. This is a strong message of accepting others and I really like it.
After the service a few more people came up to me to unobtrusively say hello. There was a bake sale in the basement so I hung around a bit and talked with a couple of the church members. They seem really nice. And they had what I’d consider the right balance of engaging me and leaving me alone. Everyone was warm but no one was pushy. Even during greeting time for visitors I didn’t feel forced- it was more ‘stand if you want to’.
Conclusion: I should come back here at some point.
So I’ve been transcribing episodes of this show I love called The Aquabats. I had already watched one particular episode several times and decided to try transcribing from memory. I do have a fairly good memory, so I figured I had a decent shot. I got many of the lines noticeably wrong. In fact, even while watching episodes scribbling furiously, I found I got lines wrong. Five lines would be said and I’d pause the DVR and try to get them all written down. The first line would be wrong. I thought for sure Ricky said, “No thank you. I swore off donuts in the name of fitness.”
In fact he said, “No thanks. In the name of fitness I swore off sweets a long time ago.”
And this was something I’d just listened to, with the actual intention of faithfully recording it. And I still got it wrong. Now try to imagine I heard it and then waited several years to record it. Now try to imagine someone else heard it too and wrote it down after several years. Theirs would almost unquestionably be different from mine. Perhaps a great deal different. Now translate them both into a second language and wait a couple thousand years…Do you see where I’m going with this? This is the bible; heard by several, written by others, translated across centuries. My own attempts at transcription bring this home to me so forcefully. I got it wrong within seconds of hearing it. This is the reason I do not hold with the idea that the bible is a book to be read as the actual words spoken by God and Jesus. As soon as Jesus said it, someone probably misheard it. I challenge anyone who disagrees to try transcribing a television show without pausing, and go back after and see what you were able to recall correctly.
There’s something else transcribing a TV show as a fan made me aware of. There’s this thing called fanfic; the word is an abbreviation for fan fiction. It is a story written by a fan of something. The something could be any existing story with characters and a universe. The fan fiction is written for these existing characters and universe, and often written to sound like the author who wrote the original story. It’s not just the further adventures of… but also a style parody. Good enough fan fiction makes you feel the original author may have written it. Biblical scholarship suggests the bible has this phenomenon as well. Several of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul are now thought to be composed in the style of Paul by someone other than Paul. It would seem the bible is partially fanfic.
What to make of all this? I used to have much more trouble with this idea. After all, there are pastors who see the bible as a perfect faithful recording that has never been mis-copied or translated, the phrases and words picked apart for meaning in every little word and phrase. In fact, I’m not even sure I have a problem with this approach except that it is touted as a source of further information about God. Perhaps in the case of word by word examination it should be thought of in terms of the gaining information on the ideals of the scribe/translator. Dig a little further and use a bible that examines the original language, giving footnotes, and you can look into the mind of the original human author, whether it be Paul or some fan of Paul’s. Listen to the overall story and try to find out what life was like for Jesus and what he was telling us about it.
In the end it’s all these things that make the bible special. When people use the cliché that something is like a rich tapestry, I think I actually get what they mean. Some kind of huge woven thing is just a bunch of threads. And you can look at the threads, if you want, and decipher who made them, how strong they are, and what their composition is. You can step a little back and see the twists and turns the threads make and figure out how the weaver did the work. You can step further back and see the patterns going on- admire the beauty of the colors and how they strike the eye. Take one last step back and you can take in the work as a whole and see it as one giant scene, a cohesive, or perhaps contradictory unit of some kind- busy with life and feeling. This is the bible. Taken many ways, taken together. But the thing about tapestry is, it’s a work of art. And with art you are supposed to see what you see and not what others see. No one else can tell you how to experience it- only how they experience it. You have to experience it yourself.
Church name/type: Wilborn Temple First COGIC (Church of God in Christ)
Pastor: Pastor Solomon Dees, although other leaders did most of the service and a guest Douglas H. did the sermon
Style of worship: exuberant praise was scattered throughout the service, mainly right before the sermon- sermon itself was sing-songish, rising to shouting- the end of service included prayer at the altar and communion
Overall Impression: The people seem really nice, although the message didn’t hold much for me.
This is a predominantly black church and the service went very long. I was there around three hours. Still I found the way it was broken up to be optimal; we were never doing anything for too long and nothing became tedious. At least ten people greeted me before service, during service, and after service. There was a specific part of the service in which visitors were asked to stand and say a few words. They kind of spring this on you. They had asked for my name on one of the visitor cards but didn’t tell me what for, then after they read the cards they got aloud. This would not be an ideal place for anyone shy. Luckily I’m not very shy. While I was somewhat taken aback by the surprise request, I managed, saying my full name and describing my project in the briefest of terms.
The music at this church was very good. The sound was clear and the instruments were balanced well. I was actually able to understand the words to songs- the sound didn’t get lost in the space. This can be a concern in large old echoey church buildings. This building was previously a synagogue. The only features reminiscent of anything other than a Christian church are the six-point stars adorning an area at the front, and the square ceiling area set with colored glass tiles.
The message was given this week by a visiting pastor named Douglas whose last name I have forgotten. It was the same old stuff about new stuff. There were a lot of references to how Jesus can save you and give you what you need if you only ask. There was a focus on it being a new year with new beginnings. This was tied back into the fact that Jesus makes all things new and his forgiveness wipes away sin. All things I’ve heard before and they didn’t really speak to me in particular. There was a weird moment in the middle of the sermon when guest pastor compared God’s mercy to not doing too much “beating up on kids” so they “don’t get too bruised”…which I have to assume is a metaphor for a verbal scolding. Nobody advocates beating kids do they? I sure hope not. Pastors reeally need to pay attention to what they are saying. The rest of the sermon was the same clichés repeated and while there wasn’t much objectionable in it, they wasn’t anything outstanding as a great message either.
Cool communion points!: This was a first Sunday, the day on which Protestants usually do communion. For communion this time we all lined the center row and held hands. We were given a tiny plastic cup filled with juice and sealed over with foil. On top of the foil was a round wafer sealed in with a layer of clear plastic. Instant communion! This is great for germophobes because everyone gets their own little serving and no one is touching your food. This communion can go anywhere, won’t spoil easily and you don’t have to worry about wasting leftovers. While there is something gratifying in tearing a nice chunk of actual bread from a fresh loaf, in winter I’d like a higher degree of attention paid to preventing the spread of cold and flu. This style of communion seems just about right to me.