Veterans of the mosh pit know there is a sacred moment, about one minute into the first song, where bros are give each other the eye, as if to say, "who's gonna set this mutha off?"
Well, fair pagans, there is a similar moment in charismatic churches (those that believe God gifts them with supernatural powers) when the congregation sways a bit, peeking at one another as the worship leader noodles with his git-fiddle, and asking the Lord if it's OK to get their boogie on. Indeed, they do boogie in the Holy Ghost at Blessed International Fellowship in Anaheim, a church made up mostly of Asian-American disciples who don't know they are supposed to behave like docile motorists clogging the streets of Irvine.
May 27, 1 p.m.
Greeted by two babes who were friendlier than hostesses at the typical Korean BBQ restaurant, the OCeeker took his seat in the back of the bright auditorium, located in an industrial tract tucked off Katella Avenue, just west of the 57 Freeway.
Blessed International meets in the same building as Stadium Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which is affiliated with the Association of Vineyard Churches, a movement that started in the mid-1970s and took off in the early 1980s under the leadership of John Wimber (home with the Lord now), who broke away from Calvary Chapel in an effort to be more open to the moving of the Holy Ghost during church meetings. Think of Vineyard as Calvary Chapel's popular, druggie little brother--he'll always be blood, but you don't mention him to friends, and you kinda hope he doesn't show up for Christmas. Blessed International started in a living room in 2004.
Anyway, props to the church for the comfy, blue-cushioned seats, which were the best the OCeeker has sat his backside on in all his seeking days. Gazing toward the stage, with a mauve curtain hanging behind it, one could see what appeared to be an imitation Thomas Kinkade painting of a rock formation near water, and a wooden cross with the the Greek word "tetelestai," which means "It is finished." (That was the phrase Jesus uttered when he died on the cross, ye heathen.)
With the church a'swayin', worship leader Justin hit the stage with his fellow Asians and a token white guy (he probably has yellow fever for one of the saintly ladies), and started the holy hollerin' with a slow jam for Jesus. And from the corner of his gold-flecked brown eyes, the OCeeker caught his first glimpse of charismatic chaos: tall flags waving about in the air. We're talkin' barefooted gypsies-for-Jesus gettin' their high school drill team on, twirling and whirling in the corner of the room. Sure as shit, Justin seamlessly segued into a rocker, and it was on.
Blessed International is home to all the classic church dance moves. Among the 100 or so worshippers, a middle-aged man performed the Two-Step, a nifty move where one hops from one foot to the next; young women did The Blender, where they spin around with their arms out; a young man did the Short Bus Shuffle, where he spazzed out near the altar; an elderly lady did the Come Hither, where she pulled the air (and reluctant angels) toward her; another woman did the Big Swan Lake, where she threw her ample booty clumsily about like a boozed-up ballerina; lots of folks did The Stinky, where they just wave their hands in front of them and look perplexed.
The OCeeker? Why, he mixed a Running Man into his jig.
After the worship set, there was an awkward moment where a white lady took the microphone and said she had a word for someone in the congregation. They were late on their rent, and God showed her that money was coming their way. When she asked whoever the broke believer was to raise their hand, nobody obliged. Apparently, the Asians, a proud people, will play along with the Holy Ghost until it comes to disclosing that they can't pay their bills.
Following the little incident, the church took an offering, and a delightful group of young ladies gave announcements and sang another worship song. Kind smiles were in abundance at Blessed International, which seemed like a warm and welcoming place for those not creeped out by the fact that they claim to cast out demons and all manner of foul spirits.
Pentecost Sunday fun day
Joseph Lee, an associate pastor, took the pulpit next. A gentle man of middle age, he sported glasses, blue jeans and a sporty jacket that covered a casual, button-up shirt.
Lee reminded the church that it was Pentecost Sunday, which marks 50 days from the resurrection of Christ, and also the day the Holy Spirit fell upon 120 believers in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, resting on their heads as tongues of fire, and empowering them to speak in strange languages and become witnesses to the resurrection, which pretty much kicked off Christendom.
Now, it seems to the OCeeker, who has attended his fair share of charismatic church services, that the Holy Spirit is less interested these days in using Christians to lead others to Jesus than he is in curing believers from colds, fulfilling their material wants and telling saints the dirty secrets of others. He's kinda like a Pez Dispenser, just pick which flavor you want this week, and he'll deliver.
But alas, Lee took Pentecost in another direction altogether, if only for 45 minutes.
Taking his cue from the fifth chapter of Galatians, which partly reads, "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature," Lee spoke of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work in the Christian, whereby he cleanses sin from one's life and transforms the person into the likeness of Christ.
In a nice turn from charismatic cliches, Lee said when it comes to the battle of the flesh against the spirit, victory comes through a relationship with God, not the quick-fix casting out of spirits, be they a "spirit of pornography" or whatever else ails the saint.
"We become holy by growing in our relationship with the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit do his work inside our heart," Lee said.
In other words, holiness in not our doing, but God's.
About two hours into the service, the OCeeker needed a smoke break. He moseyed to his car, fired up a smoke and some hillbilly music, and proceeded to watch a fat man across the street do jumping jacks with his shirt off. I shit you not, gentle reader. The man wore jeans and sandals, and hopped about in the blazing sun, stopping once to hit the grass and do crunches and sideways leg-lifts, the crack of his ass flapping all about. Later, the man was seen with a shirt on, inside the Blessed International service.
Upon the OCeeker's return, Lee was encouraging the church to rekindle their fire for God by doing the things they did when they first became believers, a time marked by simple devotion and a disregard for those things that would impede the life of faith.
The sermon warranted three out of five fiery tongues. Even charismatics need to be reminded sometimes that it's not all about the holy heeby-jeebies.
|Come to me, Jesus|
Then we boogied again. Yup, the band returned, and so did the juking for Jesus. The flags were back, only this time led by an older white lady who did her best Stevie Nicks impression all over the room. And since Lee invited the church for prayer at the altar, you knew there would be some Christian calisthenics going on up front.
Screaming? Check. Tongues? Check. Falling on one's ass and getting covered with a royal-blue cloth? Check. The Holy Spirit is zany! And rather regimented. He only seems to do this stuff during scheduled church services.
One middle-aged gal shook like Joe Cocker at Woodstock, while another did a little rooster dipping in the aisles.
Now, the OCeeker fixed his eyes on a fine brunette who seemed as though the weight of the world had fallen upon her soul. She finally made her way up to the altar, and was promptly met by the Rhiannon wannabe, who fervently interceded on her behalf, as the OCeeker prayed too. Indeed, as she trembled under the hand o'God, the OCeeker stretched out his pleasure paw and implored, "Make her mine! Make her mine! Make her mine!"
And you know what happened, ye heathen? She turned and walked toward her seat, and as the OCeeker rose to meet her, she was intercepted by another lion saint, who clearly had lovin' on his mind. Cock-blocked in the house of God. Le sigh. Not in the mood to prove his mettle de l'amour, the OCeeker rambled on, leaving that sexy sinner in the hands of a lesser god.
Blessed International Fellowship meets every Sunday at 1 p.m. at 1531 S. Sinclair St., Anaheim, (714) 446-8884; www.blessedintl.com