Tondeleo's Experience at an American "Seeker Friendly" Mega-Church

Monday, June 29, 2009 9:40 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am not very familiar with the American church scene. InTondy3 the UK, we have primarily Church of England, and then some of the non conformist churches, and perhaps some others that I am not acquainted with and to be quite honest, I have never been tempted to go to.

I have read about churches that are known as "Seeker Friendly" churches, but had never been to one. A seeker friendly church is, as I understand it, a church that is geared towards people who don't go to church, and it gives them religion in baby steps, and the programme is based on fun, feeling good, being pleasant, and never making anyone feel uncomfortable - about anything.

In the States, I have met many people who are church goers, and a bloke that I met in a piano bar invited me to attend his church on Sunday morning. I am not used to meeting people in bars who have had a bit too much to drink and who also are evangelical Christians. I commented on this to him, and he said that Jesus drank wine, so he reckoned that he was allowed to have a few pints as well. His girlfriend Chrissie giggled that only self righteous people condemn people for having a few drinks on a Saturday night.

Actually, I wasn't condemning, I was enquiring. I am not certain of all the American standards of piety, and after we talked a bit, I agreed to meet him and Chrissie at their church on Sunday. I have not been to many churches.

On Sunday, I pulled into the car park which was packed with cars. I made my way into the building where my new friend and his girlfriend were waiting for me at the Welcome Center. They introduced me to the smiling couple who were working at the Welcome Center.

They gave me a Welcome Packet which contained a form for me to fill out, with a long listing of areas of interests and hobbies for me to note my level of interest in. There were several full colour tri folds and brochures telling about the many programmes of the church and the various "community groups" and "relationship building" activities that I could be a part of. It was quite a lot, for a church, and many of them seemed to have nothing to do with religion or spirituality. Also in the Welcome Packet was a biro with the church's name imprinted on it and a coupon for a free cup of Starbucks coffee and a free chicken sandwich at a local eatery.

My new friend Ron, and Chrissie, led me to the refreshments table where there was an assortment of bagels, pastries and fruit, as well as bottled water, coffee and tea (well, tea bags that could be dipped in the hot water from the dispenser). I went for a bottled water and a bagel. I tried to eat it before going into the main auditorium, but Ron and Chrissie assured me that at this church, we actually eat in the auditorium part, during the service. Looking around, I saw some of the other people I had seen at the piano bar and at the bar of the Holiday Inn where I have stayed when in town.

The service began with a rock band singing religiously themed 80's style power ballads. Two of the band members I recognized from a local club I had been to, and pointed it out to Ron. He said that these guys did indeed play in some of the local bars and clubs, that the Lord didn't mind.

I was remembering some of the songs they had been singing when I heard them at the bar. I remembered the cups of Budweiser that were sitting on their amps, and I began to call to mind some of the songs they had been singing, which I would not think that a spiritually minded person would sing. Some of the lyrics were quite explicit.

I must confess, I felt that it was out of place for someone to be singing on a Saturday in a bar, and singing about sex, imbibing in several lagers, and using mild profanity, and then to be singing on Sunday morning about having his whole heart, mind soul and strength belonging to Jesus. I kept my confusion to myself. After all, there were several hundred people here, all singing along with the band and having a good time.

After a couple of power ballads, we were finished our food, so it was time to sing along with a PowerPoint presentation, that had intense graphics and the words projected on two giant screens on the wall. It was not too bad. I quietly sang along. Ron, Chrissie and the others were clapping and having a bit of a time at it. He kept asking if I was having fun.

There was a short skit about how we should not judge people, and then the reverend was introduced. He was a round faced balding bloke about 45, I guess. He wasn't dressed like a minister. He was dressed more like he was ready to go to a theme park or the zoo. He had on a loud American tourist type shirt, and short trousers, and sandals. In my mind, it seemed as though speaking for God was not a very important occasion, which to him it may not be.

He spoke for perhaps 15 minutes, about how God wants everyone to get along well, and to never judge anyone, because we don't know where they are on their journey. He let us know that it was important to invite people to come to church, and to build relationships with them, so they could have a good life. His presentation could hardly be called "preaching." It was cool, low key, manuscripted and was very calmly delivered. He definitely did not break a sweat.

Projected on the screens were various Bible verses that were from different versions of the Bible. The initials LNT, TEV, NIV, and the words The Message were noted after different verses. I asked Ron about this and he said it was so we didn't have to learn the Bible ourselves, and that the Pastor picked the easiest to understand versions of the Bible for us. I looked around and nearly no one carried a Bible. The Pastor did not seem to have a Bible handy, either.

At the end, the "Praise Band" played another power ballad and a girl singer sang about how much she loved the Lord. Then we were let out. Ron and Chrissie were tremendously excited about my opinion of their church. It was very important to them that I had fun and enjoyed it. I have never thought about measuring a church by its' "fun quotient." That seems to be an American seeker friendly idea.

I told them it was ok, and was pleasant, but that maybe I was expecting church to be more like church, you know, with bibles, and preaching, and the minister to be in a robe or suit or something that would indicate that his job and message were to be taken seriously. Ron said that I was "old school," and it didn't work like that nowadays, at least not in the States.

I told Ron and his friends that I must be going, and he said he see me at the piano bar, or another bar that had opened up that I might enjoy. I said my goodbyes, and got in my rental car and drove to where my assignment was.

"Tondy - fruit trees is smaller than nut trees. It's so you can reach up and get the fruit. A fruit tree will FEED you. But nut trees is bigger, and all they do is drop nuts on the ground."

I began to think about Doc and Marilyn and the things they said about church. The churches they go to are smaller, but the people seem to be 100% sold out to their Christianity and the Reverend dresses in a suit, because he says his job is the most important one in the world: representing His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He preaches from a Bible and the people mostly have their own Bibles and look up the verses that the Reverend is speaking from. And when I say he preaches, I mean that he PREACHES! He is bringing his sermon with every cell in his mind, mouth and body!

The people in these smaller churches are very clear that they no longer go to bars or clubs, and they talk about how the Lord "delivered" them from drugs and alcohol and that "worldly lifestyle." Even though sometimes they can be a bit hokey, I enjoy the simplicity and genuineness of the rural peoples' faith.

Then I remembered something that Doc said about big churches and little ones. One time he walked me to the edge of the woods where they live, and pointed to an apple tree and then to a walnut tree. He said, "Tondy - fruit trees is smaller than nut trees. It's so you can reach up and get the fruit. A fruit tree will FEED you. But nut trees is bigger, and all they do is drop nuts on the ground. A church might be small and have a lot of fruit. One of them big churches MIGHT just have a lot of nuts. So, big don't really mean nothing, Tondy. What means something is if the Lord is there and if the people and the preacher loves the Lord and preaches the Gospel. Then the Lord'll give them fruit."

I didn't understand what he meant at the time, but as I drove down I-95 South through Virginia, I think I began to understand a bit of what he was talking about. Maybe.

Doc Stevens makes a discovery: That Sikhs are not Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Friday, June 19, 2009 5:35 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: Back in the Spring, when I was spending a Saturday with Doc and Marilyn, we went to Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington, DC, where they did some street performing in the late afternoon. They like to play in Old Town Alexandria because there is a lot of foot traffic, the crowds are appreciative and the police are friendly, and will let them at least finish whatever song they are singing before telling them to move on.

We went from Old Town to Crystal City, which is between Alexandria and Arlington. They set up at the bank which had closed for the day, on the corner of South Eads Street and 23rd Street. As usual, they drew a crowd, and some of the people were dancing and clapping. Doc and Marilyn were in their usual upbeat and high energy mode and people were tossing money into the collection box.

When Doc looked up the block and saw a Police car making its rounds, he announced that they were going to have an intermission, and would be playing again after a break.

As the crowd of locals and tourists dispersed, there was a young Sikh man who stayed behind, probably out of curiosity, having seen maybe his first live, genuine American redneck. He approached Doc and the two began talking. I could tell initially that Doc was particularly wary of the Sikh, and I decided to get Marilyn and take a walking tour of 23rd Street, to look at the maybe 20 small restaurants that line it on either side. I could not bear to think how the conversation between the turbaned Sikh and Doc might go.

After Marilyn and I came back, maybe twenty minutes later, Doc was standing at the bank waiting with his guitar and mini amp. He looked like he had just had an epiphany. I figured this would be a good one, so I pulled out my recording stick. Here is how it went:

Doc: Hey, Tondy and Marilyn - Didja see the towelhead I was talking to? That dude with the turbine ["turban"] on his head?

We noted that we had, so Doc continued:

Doc: When I first saw him hangin' around after we sang, I figured he was a terrorist, one of them Towel a Bands [Doc's term for Taliband]. I seen 'em on TV but ain't never seen one close up. I was ready for him if he tried anything.

But guess what Marilyn? He weren't no Towel a Band. I asked him and he said he weren't and then I asked him how I knew that he weren't one and was just lyin' about it. He told me he weren't a Towel a Band and he came from the wrong part of the world to be one. He told me he weren't no Al Qaida neither, in case I was wondering.

I hadn't thought of Al Qaeda whatever they are, but I told him that if he weren't no Towel a Band, then he must be a fortune teller.

Tondy, he said he ain't no fortune teller, neither. I asked, what ARE you then, and he said he was a Seek [Sikh]. I asked what he was seekin' and he said it was his religion. I let him know that if he would seek the good Lord, he would find him. No doubt.

Marilyn: That's GOOD, Uncle Doc! You was WITnessin' to him!

["Witnessing" means to tell someone about being "born again" in America - Tondeleo]

Doc: Well, I might've been. But I weren't tryin.' That Seek said he liked our music and that is why he stayed! He said he loves American blues and roots music. They ain't got it in his country, but he loves it and would like to learn how to sing it! In fact, he said his NAME is SING! ["Singh," a common name among Sikhs - Tondeleo].

Once I found out he weren't no terrorist, I clomrSinghsed up the knife in my pocket, and told him I was ready for him but now I wasn't gonna cut him. He said in his religion, Tondy, they GOT to carry a knife! GOT to! It's part of their religion! I told him it's a part of my religion, too.

He was a good old boy, Tondy. Just regular like me an' Marilyn. He said whenever I see someone with one of those turbines on his head, to know that it ain't no terrorist, just a Seek. Ain't that somethin? Seeks ain't nothin' like terrorists, Tondy. They are more like us. But they is still seekin. An' I got a picture of him with Marilyn's phone.

Doc Stevens on the Love of Money,Greed, Racism & Immigration

Thursday, June 18, 2009 4:49 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: In the light of the worldwide economic crisis, I thought it would be particularly fitting to post this conversation I had with Doc a few months ago about greed, money, and contentment.

As you know, Doc doesn't have a lot of money or material possessions, but he is content, and works hard enough at enough things that he and Marilyn and the dogs eat well.

I was asking Doc about the why America seems to have sudden;y plummeted from it's position as world leader to a confused giant that has somehow lost its way. I thought his answers were worth posting.

Doc: Tondy, I'll tell ya. It's about payin' the cost to be the boss. You Bodywork 2 gotta pay the cost to be the boss. America used to be a country full of immigrants. In my granddaddy's day, they al was pretty much immigrants, where he lived. In they's houses, they spoke the language of where they'd come from. At home, you might hear Italian, Pollock, German or whatever. They was all first generation immigrants.

But they's kids was American and called themselves American. Didn't call themselves half American like they do now. You can take some office boy what ain't never been outta the US and his parents aint, and his grandparents aint, and he calls hisself a Irish-American. No, he's American.

Same with black folks. They ain't all African American. Some is from the islands, like Jamaica or Saint Lucy. They is also white folks what is African, 'cause I met a white woman from South Africa, and she said she was African, and I said, Whoa sister! You are the wrong color but she said she was South African.

But what made America great, Tondy, was them first generation folks. Immigrants. They left everything they had in they's own countries and spent all they had to come here, to start a new life. They paid the price.

But that second and third generation, they is the ones that lose that sense of bein' hungry and havin' a dream to pull them along. A ot of them is spoilt, and ain't got no work ethic. Some of 'em won't even work. But they's parents and grandparents worked day and night and sacrificed so they could live the American dream. But the grandkids just ain't got that drive.

They ain't got the drive, they ain't got the work ethic, but they want everything that money can buy and they want it NOW. N-O-W, now. And if they cain't get it, they feel like they is being held back and mistreated. That is what has happened to America, Tondy.

These folks is so indulged, they feel empty if there is something out there that they haven't been able to buy yet, or if they find out about some place they ain't been to yet, and then they feel like they is bein' held back. They gotta have EVERYTHING they want and not ever be told the word, "no."

That's why most people in America is so in debt. They want everything right now, when they aint got the money for it, so they makes payments, and they spend more than they make every month.

Like most people gots credit cards. And they can't pay it off every month because they spend more than they make. They can't afford how they is livin.' And they think they gotta have all that stuff. They don't.

That is the kind of people what got in control of our country, and the banks and car companies, and they think they have to have everything and have it all right now. And they don't care who they hurt or have to rip off, and that is how they grabbed millions of dollars for themselves and ran the common people into the ground.

As for me, I think you are rich if you don't need anything. Like I seen a rich dude at the mall up to Waldorf. Me an' him got to talkin' an' I asked him what he was buyin.' He coulda bought half that mall if he wanted. Know what he said? He said he wasn't buyin' nothin. He already had enough of everything. Now, that is rich.

Bein' rich is about having enough that you doDoc Stevens & Car2n't need everything. I got a pickup truck an' my old panel truck. I ain't need a new car. Ain't even tempted. I like where I live, and I like my guitars and my tools and my dogs and my friends and Marilyn. I ain't needin' anyting else. So I am a rich man, Tondy. I ain't needin' nothin'.

Here's a story that my cousin down in Gate City told me.

A rich man dies and wants to take along at least one bag of money with him. It's all he has. He ain't never been very religious - ain't never helped nobody neither. He just made money all his life. The angel of death, he didn't care if the man brought along a bag of money.

So the man stands before the throne of God, up in Heaven, and Jesus asks, What's that? The man said, "it's my money, it's all I have."

Jesus says, to the angel: "Let me see it, bring it here." Jesus takes that bag of money and tries to sit on it. He says, This is too lumpy to be a good cushion."

So Jesus pulls it out from under himself and tosses it on the floor and puts his feet on it. He says, "It's too small to be a good footstool… and it never gets cold up here, so it is no good to burn it for heat."

So he tells the angel to give it back to the man and tell him he to carry it around. It's all he's got.

Tondy, that's the way a lot of people is. That story ain't in the BIble, but it's a good one.