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March 16, 2004

Zomby Goes to Church

I went to church a few weeks ago. It seemed like a harmless enough decision at the time. For the record, the church I attended was Heritage Christian Center on 9495 E. Florida.

The Heritage Christian Center is huge. It is a monstrous building that pops out of the surrounding landscape with that sort of architectural look that Mike Brady would have loved. Being a bit early, I went in one of the many side entrances and into the church bookstore. Clean, quiet, and well stocked--I have to admit that I was impressed with the corporate attitude of the place.

I wandered the aisles looking over all the different titles designed to help me be a better Christian/boyfriend/husband/economic planner, thinking quietly somewhere in the back of my head that I'd rather be wandering around the Coolest Book Store in the World. And then I saw it.

It seemed that fully a quarter of the store was dedicated to the sermons of Dennis Leonard, the pastor of the church. There were cassettes and CDs of last week's sermon (which indicates some pretty impressive ability to quickly duplicate media), books, pictures, and maybe even DVDs. If this church were Disney World, Dennis Leonard was Mickey, and I felt that strange compulsion to buy some souvenir shot glasses.

No such luck.

The bookstore left me a bit shaken. I like my religion with a little less obvious financial motivation.

We moseyed into the auditorium for the late show. The thing that struck me was the sense of being at the UN building. The flags of, apparently, every nation in the world were displayed proudly on the walls, and everyone wandered into the room on their own schedule. While the service was supposed to start at 11, people were still filtering in until 11:30.

During that time, the music played, the pastor prayed, and the tissue boxes were passed out. I was a little confused by the tissue boxes since no one had bothered to actually say anything yet, but the wet eyes and weeping women proved that I, apparently, wasn't sensitive enough to the spirit. Or something.

I was quickly losing my enthusiasm for the church experience, but felt obligated to stay and hopefully gain a nugget of wisdom. Although, I admit, by this point, a successful journey to me would involve staying awake during the proceedings. I suppose that's a low bar, but not low enough to avoid disappointment.

After most of the people had finally made their way to their seats (and that's a lot of people--this place seats hundreds and hundreds of lost souls yearning for free tissue paper), we were treated to the poetic ramblings of a very sincere lady celebrating Black History Month. The church was largely African-American, with a dusting of Hispanic congregants, and then me and my companion. I wouldn't normally note this, because I don't think ethnicity should play a role in your worship habits.

Again, a low bar, but not low enough to avoid expectations.

The poem was that special mix of victimization and arrogant self-esteem that never fails to confound me. Frankly, it's what I expect from a poem of its nature, so it didn't bother me except in that it completely failed to celebrate how far race relations have come over even the last few decades in this country. Instead of celebrating and finding a reason for hope, this came across as a defiant, not-quite-angry thing that seemed somewhat past its expiration date. But that's just my opinion on the subject.

Next, Dennis Leonard came up to pray and preach. I thought. Apparently, the preaching was still a bit off, even though it was getting pretty close to quarter 'til 12, and my butt was starting to hurt. Instead, Leonard introduced one of the assistant pastors, a woman whose name I forget.

The assistant pastor is also a member of the Colorado State Legislature, a fact that I found kind of neat. But when Leonard introduced her, he had to note her political affiliation. "We love her even though she's a Republican."

It's an obvious laugh line, and it had its intended response. As a long-time GOPer, I'm pretty used to things like that. I smiled tolerantly, shook my head a bit, and waited for them to move the show along. The pastor didn't really want to move things along, though, he was happy mining that same ground for a bit. He felt it important to tell us that he didn't vote for a party, he voted for God.

Foolish me, I hadn't even known that the deity of my choice was running for office.

My tolerant smile had started slipping a touch when the pastor made the remark that almost got me to stand up and shout in church. And not in a good, Holy Ghost Spirit kind of way. You'll forgive the fact that this isn't a perfect, word for word retelling of what he said, but I was stunned and had forgotten to pack a notebook and pen.

"I know that Republicans haven't historically been sensitive to minority issues, but Whatsherface isn't like that."

My jaw dropped, blood rushed to my face, and I wanted to shout back at him. My looked at me in shock and leaned over, asking me if I wanted to leave. "Maybe..."

I sat there brooding for a moment, missing most of what was being said while I ran over every possible response in my head. Then I realized that Leonard was holding up a book.

It wasn't the Good Book, but according to him, it was a good book. He proceeded to tell us how good Christians need to be well read, and that a good step in being well read was to read his book. Or, if you've already read his very important book, to get it for a loved one who he guaranteed would be blessed by what it had to say.

Wow. He hadn't managed to break out the bible, the holiest of Christian texts, in the first forty-five minutes of the show (and, yes, I mean that in the nastiest possible way), but he did manage to start hawking his own work. Apparently, the word of God isn't necessary when you have the word of Leonard guiding your way.

Somewhat miraculously, the ushers appeared with stacks of this book while the pastor told us that the book would be available in the bookstore after the sermon, but that if we purchased it from an usher right now, we would save five dollars. It was the Church Shopping Network playing out in ugly colors right in front of me. That's when we stood up to leave. It was nearly noon, and we had yet to hear the pastor's sermon. I had heard enough and seen enough to know everything I needed to know about that particular church, though.

It was the most vulgar thing I've ever seen in a church. I had just witnessed an Anglo preacher playing racial politics in front of a mostly minority congregation, and then capitalizing on it by peddling his own goods during the services. I was offended, angry, and disgusted.

Worse, I was thrilled to be leaving what was supposed to be the house of God. I think that made me angriest of all.

Posted by zombyboy at March 16, 2004 12:07 PM | TrackBack

Ick. My sons' dad took them there for a while, and even he bailed out after a few times. The boys were never very crazy about it at all.

You are always welcome to come to church with us any time, the Cathedral on Colfax. The Archbishop did write a book a couple of years ago, but I don't think he's ever tried to sell it outside of church, much less inside of church.

Posted by: Patty at March 16, 2004 01:16 PM

I might well take you up on that some time.

This was the first time I'd gone back to church in a few years. Not pretty.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 16, 2004 01:18 PM

Apparently, he hasn't read of the occasion when people were selling their own things (all for "betterment in faith") in the temple to make a buck. It seems Jesus wasn't too happy with what was going on. Something about "My house shall be a house of prayer..."

I think you have managed to keep it in perspective though ("I had heard enough and seen enough to know everything I needed to know about that particular church, though"- my emphasis) in realizing that this man was the problem and that he certainly isn't representative of all churches or ministers.

Good for you for leaving. I just wonder about all those others who stayed....

Posted by: Rae at March 16, 2004 01:22 PM

Agree on all counts. The man preaches to a large community--and, yeah, that bothers me, too.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 16, 2004 01:26 PM

I'm speechless. Well, typeless...

Posted by: McGehee at March 16, 2004 01:37 PM

Any time, I mean that. It's a beautiful church with wonderful music, and the homilies are meant to teach, faithful to the gospel, and I just noticed last Sunday that the mass we go to is more than half men, which always means great things, if you can drag the guys in and keep them coming back.

Posted by: Patty at March 16, 2004 02:11 PM

Patty, once things have slowed down, I'll drop you a line and find some time that I can go. It would be nice to meet y'all, and it would be great to go to a service that didn't make me want to run away from the church.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 16, 2004 02:16 PM

...and you have turned it into a den of thieves.


Posted by: nathan at March 16, 2004 02:21 PM

Z: I don't know Patty, obviously, so I'm only guessing that she's Catholic. If I am wrong then feel free to ignore everything that I am about to say.

Assuming that the Archbishop hasn't changed since I moved I think that you will like him alot. I met him when I sponsored for RCIA at IHM and was very impressed. One of my ex's (the crazy one -- wait, that doesn't narrow it down at all -- the one that broke up with me at a Rockies game) went to mass at the Cathedral (which is a beautiful building, by the way) and was a big fan. Her and I actuall made a trip to the Coolest Bookstore in the World once so that she could buy his book. If you get an opportunity to see him celebrate mass I highly rcommend it. If you are curious about his book it is called Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics and his name is Charles Chaput. The BN link is:

Posted by: StumpJumper at March 16, 2004 03:26 PM


Make sure you go out for beers with Patty and Warren, while you're at it.

You might want to do it after Mass, though. :)

Posted by: mtpolitics at March 16, 2004 04:38 PM

Stumpjumper, it is Archbishop Chaput, and he is an impressive, funny, humble man. He's the main reason for our full seminary here in Denver. J My husband isn't Catholic, but it's the only mass/church service he'll go to.

Posted by: Patty at March 16, 2004 04:40 PM

It always amazes me what churches will do, especially some of the "nondenominational" ones. Sounds like you got stuck in a weird sort of charismatic ethnic church. I'd be curious to know what their theology was.

Anyway, don't write off the whole group (churches) just because of a few bad apples.

Posted by: bryan at March 16, 2004 04:48 PM

Z: "ya'll?" You give much away in your selection of words....Makes me miss the vernacular of the South.

SJ: love this: "One of my ex's (the crazy one -- wait, that doesn't narrow it down at all -- the one that broke up with me at a Rockies game)." You must save that one for the book you will write.

Patty: what a nice person :)

SJ and Z: Waaaaaaahhhhh! I want to go to the Coolest Bookstore in the World. The coolest one here is closing....O.K. whining over- so unbecoming.

Posted by: Rae at March 16, 2004 06:14 PM

I know how it is Zomby.

My wife and I have been searching for a church for very long.

We recently thought we had found the right place, but then they decided to interject politics into the sermon. I don't go to church for my political views, even though many of my political views come from my religious faith.

I want to go to a church that spends more time with concerns of the soul, and less on the concerns of the world.

Soapbox off

Posted by: Shad0runr at March 16, 2004 07:40 PM

Holy cow, Z-Boy! I don't know why I never made the connection! You live in DENVER! Home to one of the best Archbishops in the country. Do go with Patty to the cathedral. Archbishop Chaput is a great man. If you introduce yourself and chat with him for a moment or two he will likely remember you when you see him again, even one year later. I have lots of friends from college who no live in Denver. Solid folk.

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2004 07:41 PM

It sounds like we have quite a few Catholics here.

I really am just curious, I am not making a judgement, but what do most people here think about the pope getting involved in politics? More specifically wading in on the Iraq issue.

Please again, I am not judging, merely curious.

The real reason I am truly interested is I have a Catholic friend who is not going to vote for Bush, not because he personally disagrees with what Bush is doing in Iraq, but that Bush would do something counter to what the pope said to do. He is furious, and now hates the man, even though he personally thinks that Bush is right. Basically he is voting on the fact that the pope said our actions in Iraq were bad, so that is what he is going to vote on, even though it is counter to his own beleifs.

Thanks for any insight you all can give to me.

Posted by: Shad0runr at March 16, 2004 07:59 PM

Shad- my first thought was, "not with a ten foot pole." Then, I figured, why not dig a big hole for myself? It'll be fun.

The Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals when speaking ex-cathedra, from the Chair of Peter. This is not an everday occurrence. His words on other matters rightly carry a greater weight than say, a priest or a bishop, but they are not infallible.

The Pope is a teacher. He has decided to use his teaching office to make statements regarding Iraq and he would be failing in his role as the Supreme Pontiff if he didn't. Keep in mind that his words are chosen very carefully and he bases his judgements on more than just current events. It is likely that he has applied time honored philosophical and theological ideas to come to some conclusion regarding Iraq. However, the Church is wise enough to avoid declaring that holding an opposing opinion is mortally sinful.

Many others, including bishops and lay people have come to other conclusions using the same principles. Does this mean that they are being "disobedient" or unfaithful? Not at all. However, prudence dictates that someone who disagrees with something the Pope has said about the war in Iraq should do so respectfully and with great deference to the office he holds.

Your friend is within his rights as a believer to disagree on the matter of Iraq if upon examination and prayer his conscience commands him.

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2004 09:28 PM

Thanks Patrick.

You make alot of sense. I, not being a Catholic, don't really understand the heirarchy.

I really appreciate you clarifying these tenants, as they are foreign to me.

As I said, I wasn't trying to start anything, as I feared I may do with what I wrote. If you are ever in Denver (I assume you live somewhere else), you, Zomby and I should go out and grab a beer.


Posted by: Shad0runr at March 16, 2004 10:09 PM


Patrick is exactly right concerning disagreeing with the Pope. My understanding of Papal Infallability is different than his so I will have to do some research on that. I believe that the Pope's "infallability" is more limited than Patrick indicates. He is 100% correct in his assertion that Papal Infallability only applies to issues of faith.

One thing that Patrick didn't mention is the Catholic doctrine of the informaed conscience. After my discussions from last week I was thinking about going into more detail on this. I will give you the short version. Basically, the Catholic church believes that your conscience is the primary means by which the Holy Spirit communicates with you. Your conscience, therefore, should be your ultimate guide. In order to fully understand what is being communicted to you, you must be fully understand the matter at hand (hence the "informed" part of "informed conscience"). When developing an opinion on an issue the Pope's position should always be taken into consideration and given high regard, for all of the reasons that Patrick mentions. When a Catholic blindly follows the Pope without fully researching the issue they are probably being a bad Catholic because they are not applying the doctrine of the informed conscience.

Posted by: StumpJumper at March 17, 2004 06:26 AM

Unbelievable. I mean, I believe you, but...sheesh.

Posted by: J.Scott Barnard at March 17, 2004 08:56 AM

I'm sorry to say that I have an even BETTER bad church story. While your story of Heritage Christian Center is a very good one, I had the opportunity to see an even more extreme pastor here in the Baltimore, MD area a few years back.

I was working at a different company at the time and the guy who essentially had gotten me hired at the company, seemingly a fellow Christian, invited me to his "awesome" church, Greater Grace World Outreach. Apparently, the service that I was asked to attend that evening (it was a weekday), was the launch of their world ministry week, a huge event.

So, I agreed to attend, even though my wife had heard suspicious stories about the church's pastor. But I went with an open mind. I had never visited the church before, which was about 30 miles from where I lived, so, of course, I got lost and arrived late.

When I arrived, I saw another co-worker when I walked into their sanctuary area, who got up, came over, welcomed me, and helped me find a seat WAAAAAY down in the front of the church about three rows from the front. The place was packed and so I was surprised to get such a close seat to the front. When my co-worker indicated for me to take the seat, I began to sat down and noticed three men in the same pew. I gave them a brief smile, which was answered back with an utter lack of reaction.

They looked at me briefly, and, dare I say, a bit suspiciously, then looked away. I was a bit uneasy with their reaction, but the pastor was just getting ready to start his sermon and so I tuned into what he was saying and tuned out the three next to me.

There were some things the pastor said during the sermon which I thought were completely un-scriptural, but the biggest shock came at the end, when the pastor concluded his sermon and began to walk away from the podium towards the exit to the sanctuary. The man sitting immediately to my left lifted his arm, and began to TALK INTO HIS SLEEVE!!! He said, "okay, he's moving, lets go." The three men immediately stood, moved past me, and went over to surround the pastor. THEY WERE HIS BODY GUARDS!!!

A pastor needing body guards? Did Jesus employ body guards?

Needless to say, I was turned off. I stuck around for a bit to chat with my co-workers, then got myself the heck out of there and never came back.

A pastor with body guards... Sheesh!


David Flanagan

Posted by: David Flanagan at March 17, 2004 10:17 PM

Religion and politics. Politics and religion.

I don't think religion can or should determine your political view. Well, at the very least, not Christianity...

Everything Jesus teaches is about the importance of the next life. Boiling down His words into a nice little soundbit, He tells us that the next life is far more important than this one. He also tells us nothing we can do nothing to attain eternal life in Paradise, but that we must cultivate an attitude of humility, repentance, and submitting to His Will to be able to receive the gift.
Politics, on the other hand, is eminently concerned with this life. It is a process of developing, establishing, and maintaining conditions that you desire in this world.

Jesus didn't really talk about minimum wage or supply side economics or social security or taxation. The most political he got was to say that people should respect and obey proper authority and that you can never eradicate poverty.
(I might go a step farther and conclude that one aspect of Christianity is that helping the poor should be a personal compassionate act rather than a emotion-less governmental function. But I also might not.)
So should we raise taxes to ensure everyone has "free" medical care? Should we open or restrict immigration? Should we legalize SSM? Should we vote Republican or Democrat?
I think these things have absolutely nothing to do with religion. My Christian faith leads me to certain conclusions about homosexuals regarding their place in heaven, and homosexual behavior regarding it being an obstacle to placing your will beneath His, but that says nothing about SSM, so I approach that from the view of family and society.
I don't think you should ever betray your faith for the sake of your politics, tho, either: lying or cheating in order to get minimum wage increased or whatever isn't allowable because you think you are helping.
But that's all I'm going to say right now.

Posted by: nathan at March 18, 2004 08:52 AM

I am sorry that your experience at my church did not fill spiritual cup. Although I am active member in the church there are some things that I don't quite agree with but I am sure if I went to another church there would be things there that I would not agree with either. I challenge you to attend another church and let us know if you agree with everything that is going on. You may not see it on the first or second visit but become a member and you will see different things.
The size of the church yes can be intimidating to some but once you start attending on a regular basis you will get a chance to see that the church is really not that big. You start making friends in a small group and then you are introduced to another small group of people, then this trends keeps going and before you know it you are saying hello to a lot of different people and it is a beautiful thing.
The message usually does not start until 30-45 minutes after the published start time. But during this time there is a lot of information that is passed on to the congregation (church plays, senior functions, singles functions, family functions, and the offering(tithes, only members of the church are encourage to give)).
Like any other church, people do come to the service late sometimes, be it that they might be working in the church in another area or they have had car problems, or just the simple running late. We at Heritage understand these things and we still gladly let people in so that they can hear the message for that service.
Some times the Bishop will sell some of the books he wrote or a CD from the choir at a discount price. At first this was strange to me but there is no one there to twist arm to purchase these items. It is always at a lower price than you will find it in the bookstore. This was great for me because you have to remember after the service there are a lot of people in the bookstore with a long line trying to check out, or you need to leave immediately after the service and donít have time to get to the bookstore. There are a variety of reason for selling some of these articles before the sermon, because during the sermon our bookstore is closed, we think that there might be something else more important in the church going on.
Letís not forget why we go to church, to get filled with Godís spiritual nourishment. We must also recognize that these are just men delivering Godís message and they all have their faults. ďHe without fault cast the first stoneĒ, that is what you need to tell yourself.
The message that Bishop Leonard brings we truly believe it is the anointing of God. I encourage you to not give up on finding a church home even though it might not be at our church, but we gladly welcome you back anytime.
(Sometimes the devil does different things to prevent us from hearing God's message, don't let him succeed)

Posted by: HeritageChristianCenterMember at March 26, 2004 03:09 PM
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