Monday, July 25, 2011

The First 48: Rendering Unto Caesar, Rendering Unto God

For those who don't know, we are on vacation in Southern California. Please do not burglarize our house.

While we've seized the opportunity for extra rest and nourishment, we have also turned our eyes to a different sort of nourishment, which is to say that which comes from forming future memories and broadening one's experience.  Our first night in Orange County found us at Shakespeare Orange County.  Indeed, we actually planned our trip with seeing their production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in mind.  It was a marvelous production.  The cast was, without exception, superb and they breathed lightning and thunder into the words of The Bard.  I would especially note John Walcutt who played Cassius. Not usually a piece that I associate with this sort of reaction, his performance of the speeches imploring Brutus to join in the murder plot were so beautifully played that I was moved to tears.  I cannot recommend SOC enough.  If you ever have a chance to see one of their performances, let nothing stand in your way.

I also was able to see my old friend and Shakespearean mentor Tom Bradac.  Naturally, we were unable to bring back any photos of the event, but here are Laurie and I on our way to the show.

We were invited by our friend Cynthia to attend church with her on Sunday morning at Saddleback Church, which, for those of you who don't know, is the church of Rick Warren, the pastor who (among many other things) gave the prayer at President Obama's inauguration.  I think I'm being only mildly hyperbolic in saying that the church is about the size of Chico both in acreage and population.

I have something I do so often in life which I've recently come to describe as Warhol-esque tourism.  It came from a handful of Andy Warhol quotes (i.e."I think everybody should like everybody" and "I've never met a person I couldn't call a beauty") and applying them more broadly to institutions and ideas.  I also tend to take a lot of photographs.  It came from realizing my own natural propensity, and that of the world around me, to dislike things.  I do not wish to be a person marked by his capacity to dislike things (quite the opposite, in fact).  Put simply, I like to keep an open mind inclined toward liking things.  

There are a lot of people who dislike Pastor Warren's ministry (and, clearly, a large number who do like his ministry.)  They have their reasons (which I have heard at the usual nauseating protractedness that marks the speech of the hater.  Please restrain yourself from telling me why I'm wrong in how I reacted to my personal experience.) I came with an open mind and was delighted.

Here's me in front of the children's ministry building, complete with didactic playsets.

We were in the "Gospel tent."  There are apparently several sites on the campus to accommodate different worship music tastes.  Sheila E, she of The Glamorous Life fame, was a featured performer.  She looked fantastic and the music was excellent. 

Both Laurie and I found the sermon edifying.  Afterward, Cynthia took us on a tour of the campus.

I noticed two things about the demographic of the congregation.  I shall be blunt and state that so often I've found that the majority of church congregants, in our post-Christian age, tend to be the elderly, the infirm, the marginalized, or young couples with children seeking to raise their progeny with some religious foundation in hopes of inspiring character and what not.  The spiritual needs and wounds are immediate and at the forefront of the mind of the congregants.  Sort of a spiritual Naked Lunch atmosphere. 

At Saddleback there was a great deal of wonderful and heartening racial diversity.  The people (in general) seemed prosperous and in the prime of life.  They wore nice, well-crafted clothes and exuded an air of physical health.  I remarked to Laurie that so often these are the people who are not attending religious ceremonies because they have the illusion of safety in their lives, but that they are a group who ought to be reached spiritually because everyone is one cancer diagnosis or car accident away from needing spiritual comfort.  And, needless to say, we are all dying.  It is a church tailored perfectly for Orange County's needs.

Apparently, Pastor Warren took a large survey of non-church attenders, before organizing this church, and asked why they do not attend church.  The results lead to a great deal of the choices made in the organization of the church.  I would also hasten to add that the church is thriving, and I do not simply mean in numbers.  There seemed to me to be an abundance of earnest Christians, the outreach for a first time visitor was nothing short of astonishing, and the multitude of ministry opportunities were manifold.  They even had a youth building made with painstaking attention to environmental standards. 

Also, I found the entire campus to be quite beautiful.  In short, it was a lovely visit and a memory which Laurie and I shall treasure greatly. 

Also, there was an aquarium.

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