It’s been an interesting trip so far to the Dream Center. I find myself going through ups and downs about how I feel about almost every issue. It’s beautiful to see so many people rallied together for the cause of taking care of their surrounding community. The parts that continue to fascinate me are the church services, the conversations and the overall approach to this kind of ministry. I just don’t resonate with any of it. I feel like I’m back being seventeen again. However, every connection with a family and every life I see transformed I’m blown away at the impact they are having here.
I spent the morning of yesterday working in the kitchen, helping get the food prepared for all the 300 or so people that eat here every day. It’s a pretty cool setup because they have one head chef that basically makes menus out of all the food that is donated to the center. They don’t spend money on food at all really. It’s wild to think of how many people are sustained purely off the excess of food in the food industry. Then in the afternoon I went around with groups and dropped off food to different Spanish families in poorer neighbourhoods. We probably gave food to about 200 families overall and we go right into their communities and set it up for everyone to come and grab it. It’s wild to watch that many families come out of the same area that all need and depend on this food.
Food is a major service of the Dream Center, trying to feed and keep people alive by feeding them all over the city. Their hands spread pretty far with this work and its great to see. This afternoon I went and dropped off groceries to a family of sixteen people who needed food to survive and to not have their children taken away by aid services. This is what affected me the most because I saw relationships being built with this family, so it was cool to see that happening.
Last night on the other hand was a entirely different experience. We went to Angelus Temple (pics to come) and Benny Perez was the special speaker. It’s been a long time since I experienced a service like this. We went almost an hour early so I watched as all the youth gathered around the front, usually good looking guys and girls dressed up in their hipster/emo look chatting to each other. It felt remotely like a concert the way everyone was dressed, interacted and looked forward to the upcoming act.
Then came the two black dudes to warm everyone up for the main show. Saying things like “let’s put your hands together for Jesus and purple shoelaces” and a bunch of other incoherent stuff that got the crowd excited. Then the lights dropped and for the next forty-five minutes I watched a concert. Different musicians, perfect sound, unbelievable lighting…complete with drum solos (where three drummers played at once), guitar players jumping off their amps and smiles that stretched across the stage. I tell you, it was perfect in every sense of the term. It was everything I hoped for in a worship experience when I was younger at the Pentecostal church times a hundred.
Then Matthew Barnett came up on stage and gave a little offering pep talk. He told us things like our money should go to the church if we want to see good things done with it and not the government because 700 billion dollar bailouts is a waste of our money. He told us that the hope of the world is found in Jesus and the local church and service to the people around us. It was odd for me to hear, the typical offering sermon jargon mixed with truth of justice and generousity. He said a lot in sermon number one of the night.
Then came Benny Perez, who gave a message out of the first bit of Joshua. Typical Pentecostal message of hype and excitement about how God is going to bring us out of everything we are going to and to not be discouraged but be hopeful. The louder he got on his rants of excitement the louder the crowd got cheering him on. He told a story about his own struggle (or flood) about a miscarriage his wife had and how it was hard to deal with but with Jesus he can walk through the middle of any storm or flood. Matthew Barnett constantly jumped up in applause when his rants were at the climax, it was entertaining to watch nonetheless. That’s the thing with these speakers, they are captivating. Their stories are dead on, they are funny and they keep you in tune with their constantly lowering and highering of voices. My issue is that they all say the same things and there is never any depth to anything they say. It’s the same messages of power, joy, faith and how God will get us through our difficult times and bring us to better times and then we leave it at that. There is no exegesis, no contextualizing, no historical approach to the scriptures….nothing but hype. I still wonder to this day if Pentecostal preachers like this prepare for messages at all or if they just get up and preach. It’s not like what they are saying is untruthful, but it just doesn’t transfer into people’s lives practically. If it does it only lasts for a little while soon do be drowned out by real life. Heck if every day existed inside a beautiful theater with amazing music, emotionally driven preaching and everyone my age, it probably wouldn’t be so bad, but it isn’t and everyone walks outside and only takes with them the bare essentials to the mystery of the kingdom of God.
For lunch today I grabbed lunch with JR Woodward who is a church planter here in LA of some churches called Kairos. It was a random connection I made through David Fitch, but it was cool to be able to sit down with him and here about what God was doing in his communities across LA. It’s always encouraging to hear stories like his, new church plants that God is doing good things through. Seems like we connect on a number of levels with how we see church, the empire and our place within it.
I’m enjoying my time here getting a different taste of what the Dream Center is doing and other people here in LA. Can’t say I feel anymore drawn to LA as a city (like my friend Rob who I came with does) than anywhere else I’ve visited but I’m sure the things I’m experiencing here will help me shape better what a community could look like in Sarnia.