So I went to the Sunday "choir" Agape service because a lot of people told me it was much different from the Wednesday night service and it was. The choir has been around for 21 years and it is a well oiled machine filled with people of all races and ages all dressed in colorful ethnic garb. They sang rousing versions of both spiritual and soul songs and were tightly conducted by Michael Beckwith's wife, Ricky who is also a wonderful piano player and singer. Yesterday's service was the first one to be streamed live to a web audience and perhaps that's where the problem lie. After the meditation section and musical introduction, which were both very nice, we were treated to at least 25 minutes of sales pitches for classes, social events and lectures. All of these events are clearly marked on a huge bulletin board and in the flyers you are handed each time you come to Agape so there's really no need to spend such a huge amount of time of what is supposed to be a church service on selling. The very energetic woman who did the really hard core pitch session concluded each description of classes or whatnot with something akin to: "hey, for only 35 dollars I'm going to go to that one!!!"
I think that it's great to have all of these seminars available for people but it really began to sound like a snake-oil salesman.."go to the fabulous bookstore and buy the DVD's! Please tithe as if you are paying God!! Go to as many lectures as you possibly can!" (I didn't find one that was free, not even the disco night..) Okay my last rant about the money issue is this. The web streaming is 5.95$ for people to watch EACH service and they stated that "someday, after we pay off our web streaming expenses..it will be free". Well, last I looked there were about 400 people in that room giving on average 5 dollars a piece for that Sunday service alone and there are 3 services on each Sunday plus many others during the week...oh and all of the people working are volunteers and I presume the building is owned by the church and all of the donations are tax free so my question is...how much does it cost to put up a couple of cameras and stream it onto an already existing website???
My spiritual-seeking patient mind was racing with numbers while I should have been thinking enlightened thoughts. Money issues aside I then noticed that when Michael Beckwith came up to do his sermon of the day which was "your slip is showing" (which "slip" stood for spiritual luminosity ...I forgot the rest because frankly it all started to sound the same.) He got up and yelled in his high register for the entire speech he gave. It was difficult to maintain focus because he was always at the same loud high pitchy yell...no fluctuation of voice..very much on your face and annoying. The one time he did drop into a lower register and whisper for a few sentences you suddenly leaned forward and listened. I think he was trying to up his energy for the web audience and that's understandable but it simply does not work in person, it was really hard to hear what he was trying to say. All of that said, I was interested to hear him quote Pema Chodron, the Buddist nun I have been reading and that drew me into the conclusion that the message is basically the same in all of these religions, new age or ancient : "stop being so hard on yourself, embrace all of your qualities good and bad, try to quiet your mind everyday, come from a place of love in your dealings with fellow human beings and all creatures and situations, understand that we are all God and everything is God and God wants us to be happy and fulfilled, life is the moments between making your plans so don't waste it...and on and on. Basically common sense but many of us need to be reminded of our inherent goodness and of the fact that as tempting as it is to dwell in the negative, we really DO have a wonderful opportunity to enjoy these years we are given. We live on a gorgeous planet, we are capable of having love and being loved and loving one another and there are sensual and artistic delights everywhere for us to enjoy PLUS a large portion of us in this world can do so without persecution, we have freedom to study, pray to our choice of God, have relationships with people of any race or gender without repercussion.
So, have I given up on Agape? Not at all...I just can't see myself becoming a groupie to a doctrine which is so money based, it was a bit of a turn off. The music and energy and love in the room is palpable and that I will hang onto. Buddhism? I am thoroughly enjoying dipping into that and taking from it what makes sense to me whether it be meditation or simply the message of "stop judging yourself!" Catholicism? I have to admit a mad love for the ritual of the incense-costume wearing-get on your knees and pray you heathen! of a great Catholic service, I in fact go during Lent and sometimes on a random Sunday to a local church who has a great Irish (cliche anyone?) Priest conducting the service. He is a jolly fellow with a positive message, not filled with the guilt and penance which turned me off as a child, he's quite modern and the service is in Spanish and English and the church is gorgeous so that I enjoy...
All in all I think this recent quest for an easy way to meditate taught me one thing, nothing important is easy! You must do it daily if you are going to get good at it hence the name "practice". Consider it a workout for the mind. I have also learned that I am a dabbler, I enjoy taking what touches me from each religion or faith that I study and then forming a nice little mix for myself, it seems to work..I guess I'm a bit of a rebel when it comes to enlightenment.
At the end of the day if anything makes a person more conscious as a human being and urges them to be kinder and wiser and more forgiving..then how can you knock it?
So, in spite of the pitches and heavy price on enlightenment I am still grateful that people like the Beckwith's and Deepak Chopra (as commercial as they are) are here spreading a positive and harmless message to people who need to believe in something...all good.