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Hair of the God: On United Methodism

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Hair of the God: On United Methodism


Hair of the God: Church reviews by Phil van Hest

Being a new resident of Indianapolis and a Los Angeles refugee, I've noticed that folks around here are very religious. They’re religious about football, drinking, their lawns — and sometimes even God. My opinions on the first three are pretty solid, with only God remained “undecided.” My formative years were spent as an atheist, until I realized that what bothered me about “religions” was their claim to truth. Being an Atheist seemed like committing the same error as those religions so confident in their belief; merely saying “Nuh-uh” to the faithful’s “Yuh-huh” feels less than constructive.

Behold! My commitment to agnosticism continues apace with Hair of the God, a series of church and sermon reviews. As with much of my life, this began as a joke and became a true truth investigation. I’m heading into the wilderness in search of peace and love, but mostly understanding. Starting with Church seemed like a good a place as any. Hope to see you there.

Meridian Street United Methodist Church, Rev. Ann Rosebrock

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Upon entering the sanctuary, everyone gets a program. Across the top it says, “Meridian Street United Methodist Church: Unexpected.” As the choir filtered in, standing to either side of a pipe organ in front of a big cross and behind an altar and a pulpit — and as I looked down to my pew to find a conveniently located Bible, hymnal and offering envelopes — I began to think that maybe “unexpected” was supposed to be ironic.

The most unexpected thing to happen so far was the listing of “acolytes” in the program. My only experience with that word is from World of Warcraft, where acolytes are primarily spell-casters in service to the Cult of the Damned. Here they took the form of adorable candle-holding young ladies.

I still don’t know a Methodist from a mineralogist, but despite my early suspicions, much of the service was unexpectedly refreshing. Associate Pastor Rev. Peter Curts appeared enthusiastic announcing the Super Bowl Sunday church parking lot tailgate party (for the glory of God) and reminding everyone about the Financial Peace University Class. This seemed like the right amount of practical religion — football and wealth building. God loves people who help themselves help other people to help themselves.

Pastor Rev. Ann Rosebrock delivered the main performance as a “meditation” entitled “Reality Check.” Pastor Rosebrock appears a confident and happy woman, and her living warmth is contagious — I smiled along as she confessed her love for The Apprentice. Her comparison of the show to God’s love, for which none of us are competing because we are all His forgiven and beloved children, was joyful and coherent.

The theme of Rosebrock’s piece was baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows. Since it is predominantly children who are baptized, she suggests that those adult children could do worse than renew their vows. This seemed prudent — I missed the details, but on the surface baptism involves a conscious rejection of evil and the devotion of one’s life to serving Christ. How is an infant supposed to affirm that? Would spit-up represent evil and the child’s rejection of God's beneficent love?

As she elaborated about the spirit of God entering Jesus at his baptism and how the contemporary ritual represents our own incorporation with the Lord, it dawned on me that there was to be a renewal of baptismal vows ceremony that very hour. Oddly, this gave me the same kind of pre-stage fright I get when it’s show time and I don’t know my lines.

Instead of debating it, I just got in line; I was there to participate after all. I don’t know if I’ve ever been baptized, but Rev. Ann reaffirmed my vows anyway, with positive words and a watery cross on my forehead. As I walked back to my seat, I noticed a subtle but real sensation of ease and simplicity. Before I could meditate on that, before I even reached my seat, I noticed the fluted columns along the wall were in desperate need of re-caulking. I dropped a note along with my offering, “For God’s Caulk.” I have much to learn.

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