I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time out here in Southern California. It’s always wonderful visiting with my daughter and eating ourselves silly at the countless ethnic restaurants in our immediate neighborhood. My morning runs down to the beach with my new son-in-law have been invigorating as well as humbling. Those eight-minute miles are a thing of the past for me. CJ, on the other hand, trains for triathlons. I tell him to come back when he’s sixty and let’s see how fast he can shuffle his feet then.

One thing I’ve forced myself to do during my extended stay out west is to look for church services to attend on Sunday. Unfortunately, I got into the online rut during the midst of the Covid pandemic and never fully recovered. There’s nothing wrong with watching YouTube sermons from the sanctity of your treadmill, but you soon realize you’re missing the brunt of what true worship is all about.

Like many of you, I’ve heard rumors that real religion simply doesn’t exist on the West Coast. According to Fox News, SoCal is a virtual Christian wasteland—a bastion of heretics and atheists who sleep in on Sundays. The Bible Belt it’s not. Do churches even exist out here?

To make matters worse, I have no car and am too cheap to uber, so I’m a bit restricted in where I can attend. Wherever I land, I’ll be walking. I figure a two-mile radius around my condo would be a good place to start. Lo and behold, three solid choices pop up on my trusty travel app.

Choice No. 1

Choice No. 1 is a church I’ve passed many times walking to the Brentwood Farmer’s Market. It seems welcoming enough with greeters in a courtyard right before entering the sanctuary. As I make my tentative approach, I realize how much I despise doing stuff like this. I’m a stranger in a strange land who hates small talk and mindless chitchat. Looking for a new church family is like nails on a chalkboard.

Nevertheless, I put on my best “I’m glad to be here” smile and walk past the greeters with nary an acknowledgement. They’re too busy talking amongst themselves anyway to say anything to me. Oh well, so much for first impressions.

Entering the sanctuary, I notice that it’s small and there are just a handful of people seated. I strategically find a seat in the back away from everyone just in case I need to make a quick exit.  Thank God for cell phones. I bury my face in mine and pretend that I’m preoccupied. Remember, I’m not here to glad hand and make new friends. I’m just here on reconnaissance—like Joshua and Caleb in the land of milk and honey.

Ten minutes later, the sanctuary is still empty. I know there’s trouble in paradise when the pastor refers repeatedly to the pandemic and how the congregation has not yet rebounded. I feel as though he’s apologizing directly to me. Honestly, it’s a bit awkward.

We then go through the usual worship songs, the announcements, the obligatory meet and greet your neighbor (I just stare down at my cellphone screen), the ever-important offering, and finally the sermon.

It’s actually pretty good. Right out of 2 Corinthians with an emphasis on God’s grace being sufficient for all of us. The message is scriptural, and best of all…not too long. When it’s over, we’re dismissed, and no one says a word to me on the way out.

Choice No. 2

The next week, it’s on to choice No. 2. This church claims to be non-denominational and has services in three languages—English, Spanish, and Farsi. That’s the thing I’ve noticed on a lot of church websites here in California. There’s a ton of diversity. This church proves no different. I’m a Chinese guy with a ponytail—and I’m blending right in.

Unlike last week, I even get a quick “good morning” as I enter the foyer. I prepare for a tsunami of friendliness coming my way. Standing for the worship songs, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. Gotta be another brother in Christ welcoming me into the congregation, right?

“Could you please sit down,” says the blue-haired lady seated behind me. “I can’t see the video screens.”

“Then you need to move up to the front, you mean-spirited battle axe,” I replied.

Actually, I didn’t say that. Remember, this is church. But I’m kind of ashamed to say I actually did think that for a second.

Once again, the sermon was good and right on point—this time from the book of James. Something about taming the tongue and how it’s a restless evil. This pastor was, however, a bit long winded. He reminded me of a lot of the preachers back home. I guess they can’t help themselves—all cut from the same cloth.

Scampering out after the benediction, I realized the only person who actually spoke to me was the blue-haired battle axe. Maybe this is just the way church services operate in California. It’s a toned down, silent type of community—not the fake and insincere, in your face type of pious social interaction I was expecting and perhaps dreading. Hmmm, perhaps I can find a good church home here after all without having to bare my soul to strangers.

Choice No. 3

A week later, it’s on to choice No. 3. I notice immediately that the vibe at this church is a bit different. There are boatloads of young people bopping to the beat of the worship music, hands raised and hearts bowed, belting out the words scrolling on the video screen as naturally as if they’re singing in their own showers.

Ten minutes later, the beat goes on, and my feet start getting tired. Thirty minutes later, they’re still singing and worshipping. Fifty-five minutes in, the preacher takes the microphone…and he starts singing himself.

How long can this go on? I’ve got places to be and people to see.

Finally, I kid you not, AN HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES into this worship extravaganza, they finally invite us to take a seat. Look, I’ve been to numerous mega-church grand productions where the music drones on and on, but this was on a totally different level. Sure, I was a bit taken aback by how long they made me stand, but I was also inspired and encouraged by the passion pouring forth—a true and unpretentious offering to the Lord like nothing I had ever experienced before. I walked out of the service surprisingly nourished—although once again I realized I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone.

I guess if finding a semi-permanent church home was the goal of this experiment, then it’s three strikes and I’m out. I’m nowhere closer to joining a church out here than when I first arrived. But I’m no longer worried about becoming lost in the wasteland of scientology and witchcraft either. I’ve heard the Word of God preached directly from the pulpit, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit working amongst the lost.

Throughout my spiritual walk, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that church is not about me. It’s about worshipping God together with a group of like-minded believers in Jesus. You can find that anywhere if you look hard enough. Wherever you are today, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and explore the different faith congregations worshipping around your neighborhood. You might be surprised at the passion you’ll find. And who knows, you might just discover your own passion of the (West Coast) Christ without uttering a single word to anyone.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a freelance reporter and sports columnist. He is the author/coauthor of four books, Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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2 thoughts on “Passion of the (West Coast) Christ

  1. I love reading your articles! Best wishes to your daughter & new son-in-law on their nuptials. Are we going to have a articlre on the “Father of the Bride” and how the wedding went? Hope that is in the near future writings.
    Thanks John again for wonderful articles.
    Mary

    Like

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