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Rock City

Hi everyone! I’m back from study hell and ready to reinvigorate this spiritual journey, meaning more posts, hopefully better posts, and I will continue the challenge of reading the Bible. I will also be starting a series where I interview those close to me with both similar and different beliefs and write about those conversations here. Lots of fun stuff to come.

Today was my second, and probably last, visit to a megachurch. I took on a church I had seen quite a few advertisements for in and around Columbus: Rock City. Rock City is “One City One Church” but comprised of four campuses across the Columbus area. On their website, their mission is “to reach the unchurched and awaken the spiritually restless to become fully devoted followers of Jesus.” I chose to attend their Lennox location, which takes place inside a movie theater.

When I visited Crossroads megachurch in Cincinnati for Easter, I mentioned that my dislike of megachurches is a reflection of my own personality more than a criticism of megachurches. I didn’t like the presentation, I didn’t feel like it was authentic because it was so polished, and the music was loud. Like “lose your hearing within the next ten years” loud. Rock City was very similar – with one difference. The polished presentation came along with a very disjointed, confusing message.

Look, I don’t like to bash sermons, because I respect the time people put into them. Even if they don’t speak to me, they probably speak to someone. This one was just a big ol’ struggle for me, though. Broadcasted to the theater via livestream from their short north location, the sermon wasn’t prerecorded as the Crossroads sermon had been on Easter. That gave me hope the message would feel more authentic, and gave me comfort that even if there wasn’t a person physically in front of me speaking, someone somewhere at that moment was preaching the message I was hearing. So, my hopes were high.

What it ended up being was four distinct messages that I felt didn’t completely relate to one another or to the theme of the series Rock City is currently hosting. The series, VII, focuses on the last seven statements Jesus spoke before he died on the cross and is celebrating the seventh anniversary of Rock City. The opening for the series that happened at the top of the service was actually pretty distressing. It showed a man with arms out (presumably representing Jesus) but there was no cross behind him and he was wearing skinny jeans. Then a dark liquid starts falling on the man from the sky (presumably blood) and covers him completely, Carrie at the prom style. It ended up being a pretty grotesque image.

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Today’s statement was statement four in the series of seven: “My God why have you forsaken me?”

To be fair to the pastor speaking today, she got dealt the short straw in terms of the last seven things Jesus said. Other pastors got to cover statements like “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” or “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  She had a tough one to work with, and I won’t mention her name because I’m not here to publicly shame her. I am here to critically review what I experience, though, and, boy, is there a lot to unpack here.

The sermon started with her acknowledgement that Jesus asking this question is perplexing. Why would Jesus need to ask God why he is being crucified? 

Her logic was that Jesus was calling out to God as an example for the rest of us – that we need to seek God’s counseling first before we seek the counseling of other humans. That calling out to God with our questions is the best way to find answers.

Then she backtracked and said Jesus wasn’t asking that question to get an answer for himself, though. He was calling out to God so he could have God’s presence with him on the cross. What I took from that was “ask God your questions, but Jesus was perfect so he didn’t actually have to ask questions. You do though because you’re a human and you suck.” It simultaneously made Jesus feel relatable and non-relatable.

After that she proposed that maybe in those final moments, as Jesus was dying for our sins, he was feeling the fears we feel as sinners. That as he was taking all our sin upon his shoulders, it somehow possessed him and made him feel fear.

The last piece was “before the cross, there was the garden, after the cross we had the wilderness – God’s heart is the same in both places; He desires to meet us there.”

Did you follow that? Me neither. Jesus wants us to ask God our questions, but also seek his presence even if God doesn’t give us the answers to our questions, and maybe also was just feeling scared while dying, and then also we live in the wilderness. Do you see my problem? It felt like she was throwing a lot at the wall and seeing what message would stick with us. If we weren’t buying the question thing, maybe we would buy the calling for God’s presence thing. If that wasn’t working for us, maybe the fear thing would.

What was even funnier to me was that they gave us a note card to fill out during church to follow along with the message. Does this help you at all? Because to me it was just kind of a weird Mad Lib that was just as perplexing after the blanks were filled as it was before.

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So that’s it for me and megachurches. I’ve tried, and it has proven to not be my thing, and I shouldn’t keep writing posts about how much I don’t like them. Mostly, I don’t find anything that pushes me to think about a spiritual truth during megachurch services. I am too fascinated by the atmosphere, the culture, the people, and the presentation style. It’s so not what I expect church to be. That’s probably really refreshing for some people, especially if they were raised in a church that was at all traditional or restrictive. Rock City is modern and loud and like a big party! You can wear whatever you want, they’ll give you coffee, and you can see a movie directly after church because you’re already at the theater. What more could you want?

For me, I really just wished I had my earplugs with me, and that I was watching The Avengers instead.