An Atheist’s Guide to Worship in Los Angeles
Agape International Spiritual Center
April 26, 2015
Location: 5700 Buckingham Parkway, Culver City, CA 90230
Duration: 2 hours
Do you miss the 1980's? Do you want to go back? Good news. YOU CAN!
The Agape International Spiritual Center Sunday service is held in a large converted warehouse (or as Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith calls it an…“aware-house”). From the moment you walk in you are greeted by the smell of incense, a live saxophonist a la Kenny G, and a choir of singers as diverse as the eye-poppingly colorful robes they wear. Paintings of surreal trees, people holding hands, and Ghandi don the walls. This. Is not. Your mama’s church. But it might be Michael Jackson’s…when he tried to heal the world.
The service begins with songs sung by the choir backed up by the on-stage band. There’s lots of hand clapping and swaying back and forth, which (compared to a conservative Jewish temple service) is really, really fun. A live video stream (or as Reverend Beckwith calls it a…“love stream”) projects the service onto big screen TV’s in case you got a bad seat or live in Timbuktu. (Agape “love” streams to almost every country on the planet.)
But the initial songs are followed by an unfortunate 30 minute sales pitch when you will listen all about their upcoming workshops, retreats, and services. Maybe they’re clever for trying to sell you at the top of the service as opposed to the end so you can’t sneak out.
Finally, Reverend Beckwith took the stage to sermonize. It felt a little cultish, sure. He just seemed a little too certain and used fancy buzz words like “superconscious” and “paradigm”. But, what I got from it was this:
We tend to spin out of control. We sit in traffic and think, “Oh shit I’m going to be late, and then I’ll get fired, and then I’ll be homeless, and then I’ll be dead.” This is not useful or healthy thinking. Instead, we should try to find the order in the chaos. We might not be able to see it, but we have to keep looking for it. I was invited not to project the worst case scenario on to the future. And that was liberating.
Here’s the really good news. No one in this church gave a fuck that I was Jewish or female or anything else that might offend someone in a different religious setting. I was unabashedly accepted. So, I sat there and held hands with complete strangers of completely different ethnicities and genders. We looked into each other’s eyes to say, “And so it is.” It was a good thing and something I wouldn’t have otherwise done today.
“And so it is.” Even an atheist can get on board with that.
Quiz: Can you tell which picture below is from Agape International Church and which one is from Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Tour?