Lately, a strange vague desire has come over me.
J. and I have been looking for an Episcopal church to attend in the area and frankly, it's slim pickings over here in the OC. After COS and All Saints, what did we expect? In the last two years, we've attended one of the most architecturally beautiful churches in the area with a strong tradition in contemplative ministry as well as the most progressive and diverse Episcopal church in the nation.
Visit #1, we felt very out of place at the closest church which was in Newport Hills, an incredibly wealthy WASP neighborhood of Newport Beach (think of the tv show, the OC and you'll get an exact visual). Everyone wore tailored outfits and an award was presented to the Peltasons for lifetime service by the Bishop of the Los Angeles Diocese. We live on the corner of Anteater and Peltason--need I say more? This is the kind of church where members have streets named after them.
Visit #2, the church was so ugly we drove into the parking lot, almost parked, and then truly had to just drive away because we couldn't handle the building. The ushers half-heartedly fluttered their programs at us and watched us drive away. Yes it was awkward and we felt kind of bad...but the building! It was a completely square box-like building with a huge phallic steeple rotated 45 degrees on top of the box. We were gaping. Ok, I know, I sound like a complete snob but aesthetics are important to me and to be fair, the OC has some of the ugliest church buildings I have ever seen in my life. I hesitated and said to J. "I feel bad...maybe we should just go in there." J. responds, "You need to prepare for something that hideous. We'll come back next week." We never did.
Visit #3, J. and I were excited to visit this church in Santa Ana which describes itself on their website as an "urban" church which celebrates its diversity. Ok, there were some brown people in there which is an anomaly but there were no Asian people and almost everyone was white. Was this really the most diverse Episcopalian church the OC had to offer? I didn't even see what made it urban. Sad. Plus the incense made me wheeze and cry the entire service.
Since then, I've felt a bit blah about my Episcopalian church search and found myself wanting to just sit in a megachurch on Sundays, get some nice feel good music, and a friendly message. I KNOW, RIGHT?
It's been this vague unconscious thing. In the far reaches of my mind, I can find my inner compass wandering to neutral carpeting and cushioned pews and friendly smiling people and Glade air freshener--all very bland and easy feeling. What is going on? I feel like my spiritual radar has been hijacked.
I was talking about this with J. and how I could have these sensations and longings for a spiritual experience within a nondenominational megachurch. He replied, "I guess all those shopping malls you go to make you want to sit in one for church too. That's all you see around here."
Yes, that is all you see around here. There are so many shopping malls here and not much else to do. Everything is suburban development. Stucco, housing tracts, wide streets, small tree saplings. The streets are so clean that the only word to describe it is sterile.
I'm not going to go to a megachurch but I'm beginning to see the effect of the environment on people's spiritual choices. If all you know is the shopping mall for recreation, it makes sense that your church would emulate one. If all you see is comfort and wealth, it makes sense that that's what you would want out of your church service. It feels absolutely relevant and "normal." You never come across injustice, physical need, or poverty so there's no reason why faith would have anything to do with that. It becomes perfectly reasonable that faith is about singing good songs, feeling good, getting the "right" theology, and making friends.
My ponderings continue. How strange it is to live here and be affected by wealth and suburban life. I'll end with a musical meditation from Hillsongs United. It's actually quite good. It makes me want to raise my hands and smile.