Category Archives: Worship

From Baptists to Buddhists

 

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www.marysvillebc.org

I looked in the Appeal-Democrat newspaper to see if I could find anything of interest happening in the local religious community. I saw that the Buddhist Church of Marysville was inviting the public to their service and that the Reverends Tim and Carol Castle from Sacramento would be officiating. So that’s where I decided to go.

As I parked my car on B St. near the church, I thought back to a time when I heard a lecture given by Christian psychiatrist, Dr. M. Scott Peck, author of the immensely popular book, The Road Less Traveled, and many others. To the shock of the mostly Christian audience, Dr. Peck exclaimed, “The most Christian man I ever met was a Buddhist, because of his Christ-like qualities.”

When I entered the Buddhist Church I felt that, with the exception of the fairly elaborate altar at the front of the church, it was as if I had walked into a traditional American church. There were pews with song and prayer books in the racks and a lady was playing an organ in the front left-hand corner of the sanctuary. I didn’t recognize the tune, but again, it still felt like I was in a “main-line” Christian church. I introduced myself to Reverend Tim and told him my purpose for being there. I also inquired if it was okay to take pictures. He said taking photos would be fine as long as they weren’t taken during the actual service.

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Inside the Marysville Buddhist Church

Service began with the sudden clanging of a gong. Just like the Episcopal Church, I thought, except the Buddhists use a gong instead of a bell.

Since it was Mothers’ Day, Reverend Tim gave a brief message about the importance of mothers, which included the Buddhist belief that no matter how hard we try, we can never repay our parents for their unselfishness in raising us.

Reverend Tim mentioned a fairly new tradition in their Sacramento church which involves setting aside a special day to honor parents.  They call it Parents’ Day. I found that very interesting because my wife and I have been promoting National Parents’ Day, a relatively new American holiday which falls on the fourth Sunday of July, since 2006.

http://www.parentsday.com

There were several young people from Yuba College attending the service because of a project for their World Religion class.  A special  session took place after the service during which visitors could ask questions about the church and the Buddhist faith. The students had many good and deep questions; one pointed out that the whole experience wasn’t as different as he thought it would be.

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Reverend Tim answers questions.

Reverend Tim, who’s Caucasian, quipped, “Yeah, you were probably expecting an Asian with a shaved head wearing an orange robe?”

When one student asked about the meaning of the various items on the altar, Mrs. Castle explained that many of them represented perfection, such as gold or an abundance of food; or the beauty of nature such as flowers. And since many of the people in the original temple were peasants, they could get comfort through looking at these symbols. Mrs. Castle went on to say that today, especially in the western world, since most people have plenty of food and material comforts, many of the altars at a modern Buddhist church might simply have plants or a water fountain as symbols of serenity.

 

The Altar
The Altar

Another student asked about the use of incense during the service and was told that it was to purify the atmosphere–not just spiritually, but since the people coming to the temple had been working in the fields and sweating, incense served the very practical purpose of making the temple smell better.

Personally, I find it a bit sad that although I have been in the Yuba/Sutter area for over forty years, that was the first time I had ever been in the Marysville Buddhist Church, or had taken the time to look at their beautiful sanctuary and garden. My short visit was truly enlightening.

Some time ago, my wife and I read through two volumes of World Scripture, a publication that helps illuminate the inherent goodness within most religions. Admittedly, when we read some of the Buddhist texts, we found them hard to understand; not too unlike when, many years ago, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Since I was mostly into motorcycles back then, I kind of skimmed over the Zen parts.

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However, my visit with the Marysville Buddhists helped me appreciate the contribution that Buddhism has made toward inspiring humanity to care for one another and strive to be less selfish, traits which are hard to argue against.

The Garden

Note to visitors: It was especially gratifying to see college students at the service. I hope these young people are also encouraged to attend some of the more typical American religious services (such as Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or Mormon) to round out their understanding of religion and culture. However, one thing I would recommend is that they dress appropriately; halter tops and tight shorts may make the student and the congregation uncomfortable.

www.marysvillebc.org

 

Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah

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http://www.jw.org/en/

Clearly the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been by. There was a Watchtower magazine and an invitation to a memorial service to commemorate Jesus’ death stuck to the door of our house. It was from Maria, who lives near Lincoln, and often visits our house. I was curious, so I googled “Jehovah’s Witnesses Memorial of Christ’s Death” and from what I could gather, aside from weddings and wedding anniversaries, the memorial is one of the only events Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate. Since it was their primary celebration I decided to attend.

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Yuba City Kingdom Hall

Maria’s invitation listed a Kingdom Hall in Lincoln where the celebration would be held. However, I’m trying to focus on visiting places of worship in the Yuba/Sutter area and was pleased to see the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City listed as a place where people would be gathering for the same memorial. (Also, I didn’t want Maria to get her hopes up that I was interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than academic reasons.)

Although I drove to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City intending to get there early, the parking lot was already full when I arrived. I parked on George Washington Boulevard, near the Nazarene Church, and remembered hearing about a recent controversy in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses complained about the shadow of a cross on top of the Nazarene Church falling on the Kingdom Hall. That problem was eliminated when the cross was turned to face a different direction.

I walked into the huge meeting room and soon realized I was a bit under-dressed for the occasion. Sometimes I just don’t know what to wear to these different churches, since some are a bit more formal and many are simply “come-as-you-are” churches. I guess I should have known to dress up a bit more, since it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses only celebration.

I was guided by an attendant to a seat close to the front and sat in quiet anticipation of the festivities that I expected to soon take place. The crowd was mostly made up of Caucasians but there were quite a few African-Americans present. I’ve been to a multitude of African-American churches, and for the most part, they are usually spirit-filled and lively. So I assumed, only to find out later how wrongly, that this service would have the spirit of celebration.

Maybe because the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have any other official celebrations, they apparently set the celebratory bar pretty low. Basically the event consisted of a song at the start of the service, a prayer, a talk by one of their brothers, the passing of unleavened bread and wine, another prayer, and a closing song.

Now I like to sing in church. However, I couldn’t join in because it appeared that the congregants brought their own song books. There were no song books for visitors, no words on a big screen, nothing. My wife, a long-time church pianist/organist would not have been needed here; their piano music was all prerecorded.

As for the message from Tom Allen, who came from New York to speak, it was fine. Can’t say I agreed much with the theology that we are meant to live forever on earth, and thought of a few Bible quotes that seem to point out otherwise, but his message about appreciating what Jesus has done for us was good. I had a little chuckle when Mr. Allen talked about what life on earth would be like once God’s, I mean Jehovah’s, kingdom is restored. When he said we could be playing with all the animals, and mentioned swinging through the trees with the monkeys, I just couldn’t help thinking: clothed or unclothed? Now I really don’t want to have that thought in my mind the next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on my door.

When the time came for Holy Communion, or whatever they call it, I was a little anxious. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m supposed to partake in a church’s communion unless I’ve been baptized in their faith. However I didn’t have that problem this time. People were simply passing the crackers and wine without partaking.  So, trying to fit in as best I could, I passed the plate as well.

There was a closing song after the sermon and that was it.

I’m in a bit of a quagmire because I’m trying my best to be positive about my experiences when I attend worship services. Although my visit to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City wasn’t bad I can’t say it was particularly uplifting. Also, I did some research on the internet and it appears that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no room for other belief systems. Ethicist, writer and talk-show host Dennis Prager used to hold a popular radio show in Los Angeles called Religion on the Line.  Talking about his past experiences hosting that show, Prager said the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only major denomination that refused to come onto his program.

That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication many Jehovah’s Witnesses have to their faith and the difficulties they experience while trying to convey their message door-to-door. Maybe they could stop by the Episcopalian Church and give a little pep talk on how they do it. Now that would be a miracle; Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking at a church other than their own, and Episcopalians knocking on doors to proselytize.

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Location of possible pep-talk. (I’ll need to get permission first.)

Gospel Christian Center

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My dad would often go to the building at the corner of North Beale Road and Griffith Avenue for fellowship and to help ease some of the burdens of life. It was the Royal Oak Tavern back then.  Dad would always park his car behind the tavern, so that our family could see it from our house, which stood on a small hill about half a mile north-east.

The presence of the Royal Oak Tavern also provided me with a guiding light. Sometimes the fog on North Beale Road would be so thick at night I would have probably missed the turn at Griffith while driving home if it hadn’t been for the flashing of an incandescent arrow beckoning patrons to the tavern.

That flashing arrow is now gone, as is the tavern. It has been transformed into a church, the Gospel Christian Center.

I’ve been to a few services at this church and I’ve also shopped many times at the thrift store they used to have on the property. I’ve known Pastor Ruth Catlin and her son Arthur for many years; when I recently visited, Arthur was giving the sermon.

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Pastor Arthur Catlin

The Gospel Christian Center is a family church, in that it seems, at least when I attended, that most of the people there are related to the Catlin family. For the most part, the congregation is African-American. I find it sad that only a short distance east is the Bible Baptist Church which is a predominantly Caucasian congregation. Personally, I believe God likes to see us mixed up, at least in the racial sense. To quote Martin Luther King Jr.,   “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Pastor Catlin is a very capable preacher, and his sermon about not being discouraged in life was poignant and easy to relate to. He pointed out that we often give up before the blessing comes and that the devil will do his best to dissuade us:

“Renew your mind,” he preached. “Don’t block your blessings…submit, resist, speak the word of God….as you’re trying to go in the right direction, the devil will discourage you.”

One thing I’ve discovered in visiting so many different places of worship is that I always leave with the feeling I’ve gained something. I have yet to hear a “fire and brimstone” service where everyone is going to hell if they don’t live a certain way.

There can be so many different motives to attend church: fellowship, family tradition, fear of hell, a need to look good, a desire to play on the softball team, or even a yearning to meet God. Or, as an old friend once told me, he used to go to church to meet girls. Whatever the reason, if you look for something good, there’s a chance you just might find it.

Since the Royal Oak Tavern served hot food (pre-made sandwiches heated up in a toaster oven), people of all ages were allowed inside. I remember chomping down on a toasted ham and cheese, my feet dangling from a bar stool, and sipping on a bottle of Coke that had a handful of Planters Peanuts floating inside its neck, while the juke box played country music.

Blog research - Unsalted peanuts recommended.
Blog research – Unsalted peanuts recommended.

The music’s different now. There is a small band playing and I recognize the song, “I’m Desperate for You”, from the Christian radio station my wife likes to listen to. At the beginning of the service, one of the band members gave a testimony about how Jesus had changed his life. Just as the flashing arrow at the corner of Beale Road and Griffith was my guiding light years ago, it appears that someone else has found direction at that same corner. It’s still a beacon in the fogginess of life.

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Hope Point

Hope Point at Yuba College

Hope Point at Yuba College

www.hopepointnaz.org/

A great band playing music and singing about God was a welcome relief compared to the last time I was at the Yuba College theatre, nearly seven years ago, which was when my wife and a couple of friends had come to see a play.

Some time back, a friend told me, “Bob, the only culture you know about is agri.”

Well, I’ve been trying to change that. After all, my wife has a college degree in English with a minor in music. Even if it’s just by osmosis, I have been getting a bit more cultured. In fact, one of best times I ever had was watching I Love you, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a play by The Acting Company in Yuba City. Because of that great experience, I got the inspiration to invite my wife and a couple of friends to see a play at my alma mater. Bad idea.

Try as I might, I could not get into Betty’s Summer Vacation, even though I did know it was a satirical black comedy. Maybe it’s just me, but a homosexual serial killer storing body parts in a freezer and a flasher flashing on stage just didn’t seem that funny. As I walked out with my wife and friends to get our money back, the last scene I remember seeing was someone holding what was supposed to be a frozen penis they just pulled out of the freezer. Ha…Ha… Ha. I can only take this culture stuff so far. The last time I encountered something that stunk so badly at Yuba College was years ago when people around me in my accounting class started sniffing and turning up their noses. I looked at the bottom of my shoe then noticed I must have accidentally stepped on a cow patty while cutting across the neighbor’s pasture on my way to school.

This Sunday morning was quite a different experience however. I was there because I’ve been visiting places of worship throughout the Yuba/Sutter area, taking pictures and writing about my experiences.

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Driving east on North Beale Road past Yuba College, I noticed a sign for “Hope Point” Sunday worship service at 10:00 a.m. I made a mental note of it and headed towards the corner of North Beale Rd. and Griffith Avenue where I had hoped to attend service at the Gospel Christian Center. Driving by I noticed there was only one car at the church and it was almost ten so I knew their service would be later. I headed back to Yuba College to check out “Hope Point”.

I was late, so I quickly walked up and into the theatre which was fairly full. A band was playing Christian music and I found a place to sit near the back. The crowd was mostly younger Caucasians singing and clapping to the music. I did notice some African-Americans, but not many.

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I’ve been to services like this before, churches that have started outreach in a community through a more established church in another location. It seems to work well. I took a few pictures after asking if it was okay, and I was pleased to hear that newcomers weren’t expected to donate anything when the offering plate went around. I don’t mind giving, but I was planning to also attend an additional church that day.

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The sermon was a series titled, “Seeing Truth in Dr. Seuss”. Of course it was geared more toward the children in attendance. I wondered what the adults in the audience thought about the presentation. I could relate to what the pastor had to say about not worrying about being cool and fitting in. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool. And as for fitting in, well, I’ve been a member of the Unification Church since 1978. The pastor also told the children they need to be willing to make fools of themselves for God. I’m not sure how often it’s been for God, but for me, making a fool of myself just comes naturally.

I left the service early since I wanted to go to the Gospel Christian Center for their service. I snuck out the back door and headed outside and took a few more photos.

While leaving, I stopped and talked to a guy that had been directing and greeting people near the college parking lot as they headed towards the theatre. I started up a conversation and asked him how long he’d lived in the area. He told me he’s lived here for about six years.

I pointed to a small commercial building on Beale Rd. and mentioned that I’ve never seen a business make a go of it there. I told him that one of the weirdest businesses I ever saw there was a place called “Magnolia Thunderpussy which was some kind of strange restaurant that specialized in desserts that resembled certain parts of the human anatomy. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say that if that restaurant had been in business at the time “Betty’s Summer Vacation” was playing, it could have supplied some of their props.

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Former sight of Magnolia Thunderpussy.

Not only that, Magnolia Thunderpussy was a real person, who had obviously changed her name, I hope. She had a few of these “restaurants” in the San Francisco Bay Area. For some reason, it just didn’t catch on in Linda.

Forty Years

Bible Baptist 3

http://biblebaptistnet.com/

Forty years – I guess I can forgive someone for something that happened over forty years ago. That’s how long ago my dad said the Bible Baptist Church on North Beale Road stole our firewood.

The church had bought the property where my dad and I had been given permission by the previous owner to cut down old almond trees for firewood. When he called the church’s minister to get permission to remove the several cords of wood we had cut he informed my dad that the church had bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, and that the wood was theirs. When that pastor was warming himself in front of his fireplace, I do hope he was feeling some pangs of conscience.

I pull into the parking lot of that church and find it hard to believe how nervous I am. “It’s just another church”, I tell myself. Quickly my fears are calmed as I walk towards the sanctuary.

The property is well-kept with many outbuildings. I walk towards the main building, past the coffee kiosk, and into the sanctuary. I notice a book and CD table and look at what they have to offer. There’s nothing about cults or about how bad other churches or religions are, which is a good sign.

I pick a place to sit in the back row and think, where is everyone? Where is the choir? A young man starts singing a capella and a few people join in. Something’s odd; there are mostly older people sitting in the pews. The pastor walks in and asks everyone to open their Bibles. Luckily, I remembered to bring mine, but wonder if anyone will notice the small yin and yang decal I have stuck to the front. I soon realize I’m there for the Adult Sunday School and not the regular church service which starts in an hour. Oh well, it looks like I’ll get more church than I expected today. I open my Bible and join in the study.

The theme of the Bible study is how we need to be a living sacrifice. The pastor, Kerry Brown, quotes from Saint Paul where Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that he “dies daily” and that he is consumed with serving the Lord, not with his own desires. Again the pastor quotes Paul: “My desire is on the altar.” Pastor Brown explained that we need to give our all to God because we often only give God part of ourselves.

Once the Bible study is over and the regular church service begins, many more people come into the sanctuary. It’s a much younger and more unique crowd now, although the congregation is almost entirely Caucasian. There were no African-Americans in attendance.

Pastor Brown’s sermon continues with the theme of being a living sacrifice for God. He speaks about the prophet Jonah who tried to turn his back on God and how we are often like Jonah and that we often just want to do our own thing, and hope that God blesses it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon and felt that it was a good message. To do our best to serve God and do His will. Of course, that’s easy to say, but doing it is another matter.

Pastor Brown ends his sermon and asks everyone to join him in prayer. I bow my head and after he’s finished praying and everyone says “Amen”, I keep my eyes closed. I think back to the time when I was working hard in that almond orchard where the Baptist Church now stands. I can see myself as a young man, piling the cut almond branches and I can almost smell the scent of fresh cut almond wood. A deep fog embraces the orchard as wild geese cry out overhead.

I open my eyes and look out on the congregation. It’s a mixed crowd now, old, middle-aged, young, some with tattoos, some not. I can see the butt-crack of a twenty-something man in front of me, but I don’t mind. I know he could be somewhere else on a Sunday morning.

I get a premonition, as if God is talking to me, “I love these people.”

“Even if they stole our firewood?” I protest.

“Even if they stole your firewood.”

BB!
Outside the Bible Baptist Church

 

Pegman Tours the Old Neighborhood

Pegman

My old neighborhood in Linda, that’s where I’ll go Sunday.

I search on Google Maps for Hammonton-Smartville Rd. and Dunning Ave. When the map comes up I drag and drop the little orange guy (Pegman) at the corner and head west on Hammonton-Smartville Rd. until I come to McLaughlin Way. I take Pegman down McLaughlin a short distance to a building where I used to attend church as a young teenager. It’s still a church, but it’s a Romanian Pentecostal Church now, whereas I guess it was just a regular Pentecostal Church when I attended nearly fifty years ago with my friend Joey and his brothers. We always went on Wednesday nights because that was the shortest service. If we didn’t go once a week, we couldn’t play on the church’s softball team. (Unless you were a really good baseball player, and then the pastor/coach would bend the rules a bit.)

Pentecostal Church
Pentecostal Church

A lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ went on in that church, often referred dismissively as a holy-roller church. I never could quite figure out what all the commotion was about. Pastor Booth would sweat profusely when he preached in that small non-air-conditioned building. During every sermon he’d have an altar call and ask for volunteers to step up to the front of the church. Since there weren’t many congregants it wasn’t long before I quickly noticed the same people were going to the altar again and again. I had been attending services for a short while when an elderly lady in the pew in front of me turned around and glared at me when the call came. I never did take that walk, death stares or not. I just didn’t want to take part in something I did not understand.

I did however take part in a Harvest Festival Celebration at the church. I dressed up as a girl and since I had long red hair nearly everyone thought I looked like Margaret from Dennis the Menace. I even won a prize. That was the first and last time I ever wore a dress.

I’d love to attend service at the Romanian Pentecostal Church, but I’m not sure if the service will be in English. I’ll have to phone to find out.

There’s another church nearby on Hammonton Rd. near Dunning Avenue. It wasn’t a church when I was growing up. It was the Linda Community Hall, a meeting place for the citizens of Linda. Now it’s the Abundant Life Church. Most of the words on the church sign are in Spanish, so I’ll have to phone to find out if they have an English-speaking service.

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I drag Pegman east on Hammonton-Smartville Rd. past Alberta Avenue and soon I stop at 2422 Hammonton Rd. That’s where the Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall sits.

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When I was a kid, it was an open field. Sometimes I would cut across where the church now stands and head over to the Peach Tree Golf and Country Club to take some oranges off the trees during the winter or in the summer to meet up with Joey and some friends to go swimming.

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The golf course was a wonderful place for exercise and recreational activities. Best of all, we didn’t even have to pay membership fees. Swimming in the pool on moonlit nights was especially exhilarating, even more so when we had to hide from the security guard.

Our daylight recreational pursuits at the golf course often took place near a putting green that was close to a small pond. Joey and I would hide in the pond and run out and grab the golf balls that were hit near us. One day we almost got caught.

“Did you see those kids?” One of the golfers shouted as they drove up and jumped out of their golf cart.

“Yeah!” the other golfer shouted. “They stole our balls!”

We almost drowned trying to suppress our laughter as we lay motionless, our faces above the water, breathing, but barely visible, covered by the loose pond reeds. They never did find us.

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Place on Dantoni Road where we used to enter golf course. (Before the trees grew big and chain-link fence was erected to keep out hooligans like ourselves.)

Joey eventually joined the navy. He didn’t even try to be a Navy Seal, which was too bad. He might have been a good one since he already had some training.

I check the hours for church service at the Kingdom Hall. The public service takes place at 3:00 P.M. I’m taking part in a Lenten Book Study Group at the Episcopal Church in Wheatland Sunday evenings, so the Jehovah Witnesses will have to wait.

I give Pegman a rest because I know there’s a church on North Beale Rd. I can attend next Sunday. That’s where I’ll go;  Bible Baptist Church.

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