Friday, February 10, 2006

8. Come Blow Your Nose

O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain,
That shall distil from these two ancient urns,
Than youthful April shall with all his showers:
In summer's drought I'll drop upon thee still;
In winter with warm tears I'll melt the snow
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face.
——Titus Andronicus,

You can tell a lot about a church by where they put the tissue boxes.

The Seattle congregation of City Church meets in a former union hall in the Belltown district. I was the first band member to arrive for our evening concert, because I had three instruments to set up and it always takes me longer than anyone else. Not even Q. was there yet. As I was bringing in my gear I observed the church's ushers, all young men dressed identically in khakis and blue polo shirts with the church's logo, preparing for the service. They polished the handrails on the steps leading into the lobby, cleaned the windows, set up displays—and put a tissue box under the first chair in every other row on either side of the center aisle.

I must say that God often moves me to tears and I'm not ashamed of that. However, when I see the tissue boxes coming out, I know I'm going to be expected to weep during the service. And to me there's a difference between being emotionally available to God, on one hand, and being emotionally manipulated by people, on the other. It smacks of Tammy Faye Bakker and Jan Crouch and every other smarmy televangelist you can name. But if that's your thing, I won't try to talk you out of it.

It was on this night that Sarah and I met Ken and Barbie, the final two individuals in this tale who'll need pseudonyms. They're a married couple, and when Q. introduced them to me, I got the impression that Ken was on staff at City Church—which apparently wasn't true. In my never-ending quest to give Q. the benefit of the doubt, I'll say I'm not sure whom to blame for the misunderstanding. Research reveals that Ken formerly led a cell group at City Church for young professional creative artists, but it's not a staff position. The rest of the band showed up, including a drummer (I have no idea if it was the same guy from the previous rehearsal), and we played our gig. Frankly, it was pretty sloppy and tentative, as you might expect of a band that's rehearsed just once in eleven months. Sarah, who isn't one to mince words, later said that we sucked.

But if so, she was the only one outside the band who seemed to notice. Everyone else said it was great. I should mention that the concert was bookended by a couple of loud, interminable "charismatic" prayer sessions featuring lots of glossolalia, and at some point Q. delivered a tearful, rambling monologue in which he sounded a lot less confident and prepared than you might expect of someone who's about to lead a touring band overseas for two and a half weeks. I suppose he was glad for the tissue boxes. I personally didn't need one; I was bemused but not moved. Everything and everybody was prayed for, not just the band and the people we'd be "ministering" to in Athens. I remember a woman praying for someone's patella to be healed, although it was obvious from her prayer that she didn't know what a patella was.

There's something to be said for diversity of worship styles within the church. I don't pretend the style of worship at my church is for everybody, and I would hope that other Christians can extend me the same courtesy regarding their worship styles. I was uncomfortable at City Church, but that alone doesn't mean there's anything wrong with City Church. Nor does it mean there's anything wrong with me. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy on such matters.

So I'm not about to suggest that overtly emotional worship and prayer can't be authentic. But some situations call for prayer and others call for action, and in the latter situations prayer is not an appropriate substitute. More later about that.

At dinner after the concert, we learned that Barbie had been a nanny for the children of TV actor John Schneider of "The Dukes of Hazzard," and that Q. greatly admired her and Ken for the purported effectiveness of their prayers as well as for their good looks (he actually called them Ken and Barbie, which he apparently meant as a compliment). More importantly, we learned that they were to accompany us to Athens as co-leaders of the group, although they weren't in the band.

Though it was kind of a strange evening, and I had misgivings afterward about what I was getting into (were Sarah and I going to be the only non-charismatics on the trip?), the concert was useful in helping me make some final decisions about the gear I was going to take to Greece.

When I first got involved with Loudmouth Worshippers, I thought we were going to be an all-out rock band and I'd probably need to use my electric violin and mandolin in order to be heard. The violin needed some repair, so I sent it back to the builder for a $350 pickup upgrade. I paid another $100 for a wireless in-ear monitor so I'd be able to hear myself playing it. (There's no "under-the-ear" sound with a solidbody electric violin, which is hard to get used to if you've played acoustic all your life.) A carbon-fiber bow designed for electric playing set me back another $300. Later it became apparent that we were more of an acoustic pop band, and furthermore, we might be playing some gigs where it wasn't convenient to plug in. So I settled on three acoustic instruments: mandolin, violin, and resophonic tenor guitar, all of which I played at the City Church concert. However, my tenor guitar couldn't be heard at that concert, despite being a loud instrument on a very hot microphone. So afterward I had a pickup custom-made for it, which cost $130, and then paid another $70 to have it installed. In November and December 2003 I spent $59.38 on new instrument cables, and just before we flew out I ordered a pair of Ritter gig bags for $55.75, since (a) my mandolin case has no carrying strap and (b) my tenor guitar case is much too big to carry on a plane. If you're keeping track, that's $1,065.13 in instrument upgrades as a direct result of joining the band.

Naturally I still get the full benefit of those upgrades, and might have spent some of that money even if I had never joined. On the other hand, I might not have. I am not seeking pity, just reporting the facts. And I don't need a tissue box.


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