Easily offended? This deals with religion and observations about one church service last week. Though not meant to offend, it may not be suitable for all audiences.
It started with a Facebook post that we received from friends announcing that Nadia Bolz-Weber was coming Jakarta and would be participating in a church service. That’s the advert up top.
She’s a Lutheran minister who’s written a book and has done some speaking. My daughter was inspired by speech she heard a few years ago at the Superdome in New Orleans and both she and Mrs. S.A.M. wanted to go.
It was at a church on the northwest side of town. Maybe a 40 minute drive from our house. Our driver took us. First things first. Our driver had a very poor knowledge of the area, so I used Google maps and that got us in the general area. But, he wasn’t too trusting of the new technology when Google told us to make a U-turn. He pulled over to ask a group of Ojeks or motorcycle taxis for directions. They told us to keep going straight for another mile or two. They were right.
Smugly, our driver said, “I think we should trust the Ojeks more than Google” and just laughed.
We arrived at the church which was in the basement of a large office building.
The first curious thing was the dress of the staff. Maybe they were ushers? Greeters? Guards? Pit crew? Regardless, they were dressed in Automobile racing shirts with sponsor patches sewn all over. Ferrari, UPS. Shell, Pirelli. Maybe 15 or 20 folks all dressed in bright red and white. Very friendly. Offered us coffee and tea.
They also guarded the entry doors. We could here practicing going. Singing and music. Just like those entrances at amusment parks, the doors opened at precisely 10:45 and we all filed in. Z wanted a place near the front so we sat about 7 rows back. It was a good size room. And by the time the service began it was full.
The first thing that struck us was the music. Pop music thumping out of a sizable sound system. Not even christian rock. Just pop music. Z knew all the words.
The next thing were the lights beaming and sweeping multi-colored from all four corners of the room.
Then there was the huge, wall-sized movie screen at the front of the room showing, curiously, motorcycle moto-cross movies. Right there larger than life. It fit right in with the music and maybe the racing uniforms of the pit crew outside.
We sat down, and I surveyed more closely. I saw a pole sticking up where the lectern might be in a normal lutheran church and I joked with my family that it was a stripper pole. And then I looked again. My eye wandered down the tall, brass pole to the black base with purple LED lights bordering the edges. On the front was emblazoned a pink and purple flower and the name “Hannah” scripted underneath. It was indeed a stripper pole. Or maybe a Pole-pit.
Then came the smoke machines. The room got hazier and hazier. I briefly feared we’d be put to sleep and our kidneys harvested, but Mrs. S.A.M elbowed me at this suggestion The lights, though got flashier. On the screen a big countdown clock started ticking down the seconds until the service began.
Promptly at 11, the church leader came out and it was then that we realized that the entire service was going to be in Indonesian. This, I don’t think. had dawned on us for some reason. But, there we were. Listening for words we knew like.. Jesus, and amen.
Let me tell you, though, too that there is no Indonesian word for pole-dancing. I know this because in his all Indonesian announcements I heard two more familiar phrases… “Nadia Bolz-Weber from Denver” and “pole dancing by Hannah”
And, on cue, out curtsied Hannah into the spotlight dressed in a stylized tank top, purple sparkly shorts and skirt and heels. She stepped across the stage and mounted her pole as the music began. She gave a brief, but athletic twirl up and down and around and around. I took video. I was not the only one. Cameramen beamed the show larger than life onto the screen behind her. It ended with applause.
Music was next with 8 piece rock band and and 5 vocalists. It was karaoke style. Words were on screen and you could follow along with the bouncing ball. Jesus is King, Jesus is the savior… Lights were flashing. It was rocking!
Then came pastor J. He said a few words. Led us in prayer and then brought out Hannah again. I thought for sure this was how the offering was going to go down, but Pastor J kept it classy and just let her do her routine. And it was really athletic and beautiful and probably would be even outside of a church.
Pastor Nadia did the sermon. A talk about the Good Samaritan parable. It was translated, so that broke up the flow. And, though good, she was clearly upstaged by Hannah. I think even she was stunned by the dancer as she remarked on this a couple times.
Then we were done. Some sort of introductions were made of benefactors and band members and sound technicians and then the music started thumping and we filed out for snacks and photos. There were interviews and cameras and all sorts of stuff. You can see them here.
Hannah and her friends. Skim fast…. there are hundreds.
The church bills itself as “where imperfect people are perfectly welcomed.” During the Indonesian parts of the service I found my mind wandering. Is this what religion had come to? Trying to attract by being at the extremes. One side being ultra-conservative and the other side throwing up pole dancers and smoke and movies. I’m an admittedly Christmas and Easter church goer, so I’ve little room to talk, but I wonder if there is a the middle ground?
We rode home in silence. All wondering about the utterly surreal experience we’d just witnessed. I was quietly thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t invited our driver to listen in while he waited. On the way there, I thought about it. A devout muslim, he would have been scarred beyond repair and probably quit his job.
I think next Sunday we’ll try and tone it down a bit. Maybe check out a human sacrifice.