Randy picked Jim up to visit Bliss Megachurch at almost 10:30.
Jim had to chuckle. He had put on his best jumpsuit this time, but Randy was wearing his most comfortable 'suit - artfully torn coveralls that is. Jim always dressed in better than old coveralls, even while at work fixing aerocars, so this week he was vastly overdressed. It seemed Bliss was a little more relaxed than First Evangelical. Either way, there was no time to change.
Hopefully, Bliss was a lot more relaxed, because if the service started at 11:00, they were definitely going to be late. Randy had an old hybrid road car that had only passed the most recent emissions test because Jim detuned its gasoline engine. Bliss was well outside town, and they were not going to top 35 mph the whole way.
Randy told him not to sweat it. They were only going to miss the singing, and half the men skipped the singing anyway. The women comandeered the singing decades ago, and the men just kind of decided to gaga, (go along and get along.)
This was a strange thought to Jim. The Walkers had been all about the singing so he was confused when someone like Randy, who really walked the Lord, was intentionally skipping the singing at Bliss. He wondered what might make half the men want to miss the singing?
Jim had forgotten how little traffic was on the roads on a Sunday morning, and was pleasantly surprised when they pulled into the parking lot only 5 minutes late. As they walked in, Jim noticed just how right Randy was. There was a line to get into the building, and people still pouring in from the sidewalks. Once they were inside, the picture didn't get any better. The Bliss Buzz Shop on the left was doing a booming business selling caffienated energy drinks, while the Bliss Bible Booktable was selling jewelry, home decor and occasional books on the right.
Directly in front of them, two friendly looking men held the double doors closed as strains of, "The Rose Loved Me," wafted between the cracks. Jim looked to Randy, and drifted toward the door. Randy looked over to the Buzz Shop, longing for a little pick-me-up before entering the auditorium. He saw the line was at least a song long, though, and it was obvious Jim wanted to be in the auditorium already, so he decided to forego the bliss of Bliss juice. They joined the short queue at the double doors, just as the last chorus of the current song finished.
When the doors opened, ushers guided them directly to the closest row with two open seats. It was a pretty good walk, and they were handed off from usher to usher twice along the way, since the auditorium was really quite full. Jim could not stop looking around, taking in the size of the audience, the electronic orchesta, the amazing architecture, and the quality of the sound. The whole time that he was being seated, and being amazed, the man on the stage was filling time with a poem.
The poem seemed to be much like the song. It, too, was about a rose, and how it loved the world around it. The aromas of rose petals, fresh rain, and pungent earth teased Jim's senses as he sat, taking in the poem in its full surround-sound glory. High Def pictures of perfect roses waved on the three screens behind the speaker as Jesus approached the viewer with His arms held open. The rose loved by receiving the sunlight, and reflecting it to God's children. It drank deeply of the water in the earth, and reflected strong leaves out to the world. The rose was Christ Who had drunk deeply of God, and loved us so that we could love Him.
This really was just like a vid. The screens darkened, and switched over to weekly announcements of upcoming Bliss Events, and the clean scent of vanilla filled the air. The aroma immersion worked. Whenever he smelled vanilla, for at least the next week, he would remember that the Bliss Bible Booktable was holding its annual missional special sale next week, and that the Bliss Buzz Shop did discount catering for all registered members.
The smell of some kind incense took over from the vanilla, as a lighting change revealed a 6-piece band, and the next song began. The words scrolled on the center screen with the current word underlined. The band led the audience through the dynamic moves of the song, as the audience lighting dimmed, and a series of rapturous faces gazed upward on the outer vid screens. The song celebrated removing our veils to behold the Lord face-to-face, and the people in the vids were doing just that. As the song built up to its well-known ending, the vid screens filled with a joyous brightness, the audience lights came back up, and the audience itself responded with a delighted shout.
The leader began a spontaneous outpouring of praise, and the audience followed him with gusto. The building was filled with the simultaneously spoken love of hundreds of people for their Lord, until the power of the moment could not be ignored.
Jim struggled to keep his eyes from bulging like some security-bot's.
Jim had never seen anything remotely like this. He was a new-ish Christian, and he had been converted in a living room, to a living room church. He had never been a part of a thousand people shouting at the same time about anything, unless it was one of the local semi-pro football games. He didn't even ask whether it was right or wrong. He just assumed that a thousand followers of the Lord could not be wrong, and took it all in.
Soon enough, it ended again, and the doors were opened again to the latest wave of latecomers.
This time a man stood up to exhort everyone to give freely to the Lord, while the vid screens explained how to use the credit pad that was about to be passed around. Just thumb print the screen, and enter the amount into the keyboard that comes up. The vid screens also showed a map to the cash offertory for those who were more comfortable giving after the service. After a quick prayer of blessing on the offering, the pastor came up and began his lecture before the credit pads had even started down the aisles.
Pastor Jones was a great speaker.
It could not have been more than 5 minutes before Jim was laughing along with the vid highlights, sombering at the deeper meaning behind them, and seeing the value of a church that could speak to its culture. Jesus left us with a mission, and no one else could do it. Jesus fit in with sinners, not religion. Jesus understood failure, and spoke to people in their own language, not theo-jargon. If a Buzz Shop spoke to the culture, then they would put one downtown!
The Anti-proselytization Act had held them up for a while, but Satan could not hold the upper hand for long. They had done the grace-roots campaigning, they done the praying, and they had overturned the enemy's devices. Now, they could serve the Lord with all their hearts, and with all their means. Satan could not keep them on house arrest for long.
Yes, Bliss Megachurch was opening "Bliss Buzz" at the corner of High and 3rd. It was all part of the mission of reaching the lost, and it was a faith step since they were not yet sure where the rest of the money would come from. The initial investment would be high, but the payoff would be eternal. (The credit pads started their journey through the audience about now.)
Jim thought about his morning so far, and Pastor Jones was right. At no point, since he had entered Bliss, was he ever in unfamiliar surroundings. The little shops and the vids and the casual atmosphere really had made it easy for him to fit in. No wonder Charles' kids were more comfortable at Bliss. The buzz drinks alone would be enough to bring a man back again, if he had either arrived early enough to get one, or skipped a song or two. Aside from the long, loud group declaration of love of audience for God, the whole experience was natural for him.
Pastor Jones continued.
Christianity had covered up Christ for too long. They kept cloaking the simple, loving Carpenter in religious robes and religious rules that prevented the average Joe from feeling comfortable enough to hear from Him. If, instead, His church would humble herself enough to rub shoulders with people just like themselves, then Christ Himself could be seen. We all need to be accepted, and the church is God's chosen tool on earth to teach the lost about their acceptance in Christ. We just needed to reset our priorities, learn to love our neighbor, and do all we could to help the Bliss mission in the power of the Spirit.
As the last of the credit pads was collected, Pastor Jones wrapped up his call to action.
The pastor started another time of free praise and declaration to the Lord. The audience answered back with enthusiasm. Now that he knew what was happening, Jim tried saying a couple words of praise. He could not hear himself, so he tried again a little louder. Once more, really loudly, and he felt it. It was pretty cool to shout praise, and oddly safe to do it in that large of a group. Everything was so loud, no one would hear him, so he could say what he felt. He was beginning to picture his voice as joined with everyone else's in the ear of God, when the lights began to drop, and the band quietly started playing.
They played the last song again, about beholding the Lord face-to-face. Only this time, the vids in the background were showing downtown scenes, and the people were all from the High St and 3rd Ave area. The audience looked at their faces, while they reminded themselves in song that these people all needed to see Jesus' face. They just needed a chance, and the joy of knowing the Lord in Bliss could be theirs.
When the song ended, the ushers emptied the auditorium in a surprisingly efficient manner. It probably took less than 2 minutes to get everyone out who wanted to leave.
Even more surprising was that it was still not quite 12:00 noon. It had been such a ride, that it seemed like almost two hours to him, but really it was less than one, and they were headed for the door. Randy looked at the Buzz Shop again on the way out, but the line was way too long. If he had to choose between waiting in the latte line or the parking lot line, he may as well be making forward progress.
Jim and Randy talked the whole way home about the benefits of an energy drink bar in the downtown area with Bliss's name on it. It was a shrewd move, if it would eventually be self-supporting. They talked about all the things that could happen down there. They might could even introduce the kind of singing and poetry they used to do back with the Walkers. That could be a lot of fun.
Of course, neither of them was sure how you would go about starting a Walker meeting in the middle of a bunch of downtownies getting tanked up for their afternoon meetings. Tough call.
When Randy finally dropped Jim off, it was still barely 12:30. He'd been gone for a total of 2 hours.
There was a lot to tell Brenda, of course. But as he started in, he remembered the question he asked himself about the singing. Why would half the men at Bliss decide to skip the singing? The Buzz Shop came to mind, but really that was just one thing they did instead of singing. Some of the men just decided to be late. The only thing he could figure, and Brenda thought it made sense too, was that they didn't like to be told what to feel, when to feel it, and how overpowered to be.
He thought about asking someone he'd met, but it dawned him that he had not really met anyone. Everyone was friendly, and easy to greet, but he didn't really meet anyone but ushers.
Whatever it was, it was a lot to think about.
He and Brenda talked on through lunch.
Next week he was to go with Thom to Corner Church. He wondered whether it could possibly be as different from Bliss and First Evangelical as they had been from each other.