The God Show: Do We Have To Go To Church?
Why do we go to church? Think about it. We go, voluntarily. Most of us. We give them money, to put on a show. The Pastor. The Choir Director. Add TV cameras and merchandise, and some of these guys make a lot of money.
What’s the difference between this and any other show? Say, a musical, or a concert. Well, the guilt trip, for one.
Can you imagine Bruce Springsteen coming up to you, and saying: “Hey buddy, when was the last time you came to one of our shows? We sure do miss you at our shows. Ya know, your wife comes to our shows all the time; she cries a lot because you're not with her. Me and the whole E-Street Band pray for ya every day. No, you don’t have to come to our shows to love music. But if you love music, you’ll come to our shows. And not just when we’re in your town; you’ll follow us around the country!”?
If the best you can offer God is someone else’s brilliant song with your own shitty lyrics, then you deserve a public slap-down.
In the mid-to-late 70s, I was part of a huge church in Southern California, called Melodyland — which was exactly across the street from Disneyland. The building was a 3200-seat theater-in-the-round. Before being bought by the church in '69, it was a for-profit performance venue, featuring nightclub acts by the likes of Johnny Carson, James Brown, Bobby Darin, the Grateful Dead, Don Ho, Liza Minnelli, Laurel & Hardy, and Connie Stevens.
But I doubt anything these cats did compared to the shows we put on. Our Music Minister wrote and produced three original musicals a year. Full orchestra. 400-voice choir. Full theatrical lighting grid. Special effects.
All of this was in addition to the regular weekly services, which were telecast around the world on a variety of religious networks. Just about every Christian celebrity that you can think of dropped by Melodyland on a regular basis. Pat Robertson. Oral Roberts. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Johnny and June Carter Cash. Pat Boone.
We even had a former Vegas lounge singer on staff, named Chico Holiday. And this is a funny story. He used to sing “Sweet Lord Of Mine” to the tune of “Sweet Caroline”; until Neil Diamond slapped him with a Cease and Desist Order.
This always amuses me to no end, because . . . I’m sorry, but if the best you can offer God is someone else’s brilliant song with your own shitty lyrics, then you deserve a public slap-down. But, at any rate . . .
I realize that all of this sounds very cynical. We go to church, ostensibly, to find God. But as I look back on my church upbringing, I found God mostly in the privacy of my own bedroom, with my Bible, and my classical music recordings, and in my one-on-one conversations with other seekers, Christian and non.
And for the most part, church . . . was a show. Mostly mediocre. Sometimes deeply moving. But a show, nevertheless.