Sunday, April 22, 2007

Operation New Life: Putting the Gay Back in Gay and Rebranding Christ

If I were back in Rome, I would surely be immersed in too much vino and gelati to get any writing done, but while in Colorado Springs, I thought ... why not do as they do. In a town known for the Garden of the Gods and the headquarters of my favorite Christian right-wing supercentre, Focus on the Family, I found it only appropriate to spend a Sunday undercover as a Colorado Christian. Everything in town is closed anyhow, even the nearby Starbucks.

At the Bijou Bar and Grill last night, the only "gay" bar in town, I was told by the woman that bought me a drink that all I had to do to find Focus on the Family was to drive north on the 25 and look for the large sign. She was missing two teeth, has been unemployed for three years and spends her days gambling in a nearby mining town turned casino complex called Cripple Creek ... but even despite her inability to answer any of my simplistically-delivered questions about colorado springs after having said that she has lived here for her entire life (which I'm guessing is around 38-45 years), I decided to believe her. Truth be told, she didn't know anything about Focus on the Family when I first asked her and had to relay my inquiry to the bartender with spiky hair, who replied, "girrl, they even got their own mall and shit."

With the help of my on-star, also known as Marisa Barrera, I was able to track down that the New Life Church, of the infamous ex-gay-then-caught-with-meth-and-gay-male-prostitute Ted Haggard, is also off of the 25 on a street called Voyager. This sounded strikingly similar to "Explorer Drive," where the Focus on the Family megaplex is located according to the yellow pages. Voyager, Explorer ... scientology anyone?

Anyhow, New Life is indeed a block away from the Colorado Springs version of Auschwitz ... and I was just in time for the 9:00 am service. From the outside, the large grey concrete structures and adjoining big top tent (called the World Prayer Tent, where I'm told they have individual stalls, kinda like the tomkat theatre on santa monica but with internet) looked more like a circa 1991 Costco than a Heaven-bound launchpad for 14,000 fortunate souls. There were four giant stucco entrances, but before I could get confused, I quickly noticed that one read in large bold letters: main entrance. Like the fairground, or a costco, the flow of traffic was not the only thing $17 million helped to build.

I had read an article that compared the megaplex to a wal-mart, so I was not surprised at the indoor cafeteria (complete with an -open- starbucks), the bookstore, the blow-up playground for children, the Louvre-sized guest information pagoda and the large airport-style hallways connecting the various buildings -- but I was surprised by the lack of Christian iconography and anything resembling the cross-bearing, thorn-hat-wearing-bearded-white-man that even us Jews have come to know as Christ Jesus.

The service took place in their main 'sanctuary', which had six jumbotron screens, a maze of exposed catwalks, and for any AV geeks like me, enough fresnels and follow spots to put the Galen Center to shame -- not kidding. The service began not with any type of sermon, but with a stylized blonde man introducing the "Desperation Band" and speaking for 10 minutes about their success. Then, as the crew of 30-40 AV techs were cued and ready to go for the show start, the house lights went down, and the rock band, which stood on a stage in the center of this pentagon-shaped mini staples center, started tearing into their christian rock. They were backed by a 100 member choir who interestingly wore black and red and were situated beneath spinning gobos that were to emulate smoke.

Not until 9:51 am, did the music stop and anyone resembling a pastor get on stage. He wore a mustard yellow suit, which shared the exact same pantone color as his hair, and small talked to the crowd of thousands for about forty minutes. With the exception of two different bible passages being projected onto the jumbo trons, there were no bibles (we sat in conference style chairs instead of pews, and they did not have any spare bibles available for the possible jew visitor), no deep thoughts, and nothing even closely resembling a sermon. His Pat Sajak-esque chatter, which included a few jokes and a numbers and alphabet mind game (a la third grade), could have been mistaken for a game of Wheel of Fortune were it not for the constant mention of jesus and the devil. The main mantra that we were asked to repeat out loud every few minutes, was this: "Don't mess with me, I'll knock you out." With his fist curled in the air, a la Mike Tyson on the Nintendo version of his knock-out, this was Colonel Mustard's version of what you say to the devil. With the opening speech (in-between shout outs to their commercial success) having included a brief moment of group prayer for the victims of the virginia tech massacre, I found it rather interesting that we would then spend the next hour gripping our fists and being taught to insinuate violence. Can't there be a more peaceful way to approach the devil and his madness? Geez.

For the "New" Christian masses, Bibles and statues have apparently been replaced by podcasts, jumbotrons, and Stratocasters. Unlike many services I have attended, the message was so simple and watered down that even the girl with Cerebral Palsy -- who ended up on the stage for having raised her hand when the man in yellow asked if anyone needed to give themselves to jesus -- hopefully got the message that was as packaged and tailored for the masses as the lattes waiting outside the gymnasim-style doors.

And as for my last pillar of intention, there was no mention of anti-gay during the service, but there were more gay boys in the audience and up on stage than at the Motherlode beer-bust. In a church that was started by a big ass queen, it is not even the slightest bit ironic that almost all of the congregation could be mistaken for the West Hollywood cheerleaders out of drag. I'm not kidding -- gay, gay, gay. Perfectly groomed faux-hawks, shirts so colorful and tight they could give Ryan Seacrest a run for his money. Good thing most Coloradans think he's straight as much as they believe that American Idol is fueled by nothing but the grassroots text messages of the people.

After two hours of multimedia mindfuck, I walked back to my 1988 creme volvo (my rocking car here in Colorado) and wondered how I could follow up such a morning of peace, inspiration, and reverence. I soon opened the large booklet I received in my press kit and realized that it is filled with 85 pages of New Life groups to join. In addition to the cleverly branded "_tag" for the high school kids and "theMILL" for the twentysomethings, there is everything from "Men of Caliber: Guys + Gunpowder reloaded," "Demon Busters: Freedom Fighters," "God's Grace and Homosexuality (of course), and "FAITH: Film Acting In True Holiness." Watch out L. Ron Hubbard, Haggard and his New Life media militia are coming after Hollywood next!

Photos to come soon ...


ninja rad said...

omg omg omg ohmymuthafucking god. i cannot wait for pictures!!! who would've guessed haggard left a fellowship of fledgling gays ripe for the picking in colorado springs!!!

Kim said...

You are one brave soul.