Back in the late 90’s, I met a very nice woman – a neuromuscular massage therapist – via a mutual friend who recommended her services as a cure for my then-frequent sinus infections and TMJ. Although my friend had originally met her when she worked at a local South Florida salon, she’d set up her own home-based business by the time I’d been introduced. Best of all, she lived close by, charged reasonable rates and worked evening hours, allowing me to stop by her house for therapy sessions on my way home from work. She’d come highly recommended, and I would soon discover why — the woman excelled at her profession.
All of these years later, and I no longer have serious sinus problems or TMJ. The sessions at the time tended to be so painful, I’d literally be in tears on the massage table, but it had been well-worth the suffering, thanks to her expertise and strong, healing hands. Initially, I’d visit her two to three times per week to get the conditions under control, then we weaned down to “maintenance”, which involved a session once per week and eventually once every two weeks. All was well until she started questioning me about my faith — conveniently waiting until I was stretched out on the massage table, unable to get away as she relentlessly kneaded at my tight muscles.
When she found out I was Catholic, I might as well have told her I belonged to a Satanic cult. She immediately related how her husband used to be a Catholic until she helped him see the light and brought him to Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale. Then she’d wax rhapsodically over Pastor Bob and his sermons, occasionally playing them in the background while she worked on me. Did I mention the treatments were indescribably painful to the point of tears? Yeah, well throw in lecture after lecture about how Catholics did everything wrong – read the wrong Bible, “worshipped” Mary, distorted Jesus’ message — and they were excruciating. After all, I was there for a resolution to two specific physical conditions, not for a Bible study or theological sermon.
Eventually, I implored her to please honor and respect my faith, even if she didn’t agree with it, with the promise that I would do the same in return. Which she for the most part abided by, except to extol the virtues of Pastor Bob at every session, and to badger me to attend a service with her and her husband in the near future. Having heard Pastor Bob’s recordings, the last thing I wanted to was catch a live performance. He came across like every stereotype (or for that matter, some of the real ones on TV) I had ever seen and heard of the phony, money-grubbing televangelist — overly demonstrative, dramatic, damning and frankly, irritating.
But if it would put an end to her proselytizing, I figured I might as well get it over with and attend a service. Maybe I was wrong and that in person I would truly enjoy Pastor Bob’s sermon. After all, I counted among some of my other friends faithful congregants to Calvary and they were all genuine, decent people. So perhaps I’d been too judgmental, in spite of my therapist’s annoying anti-Catholic tendencies. At the very least, no one could accuse me of making a judgment without having been to an actual service.
So off I went one Saturday night with my friend and her husband.
We arrived at what I can only describe as a compound — a huge campus with a densely crowded parking lot, a daycare center, an immense auditorium and a bookstore. Since we were early, my friend suggested we go into the bookstore to browse. As I strolled around, I came across a section entirely devoted to books that condemned every other denomination of Christianity — from Catholicism, to Episcopalian, to Lutheran to Presbyterian. Let’s just say it was an “equal opportunity” display wherein every other Christian group and organization was derided for being wrong, evil, sinful, shameful and otherwise engaged in the work of the Devil. This included Eastern Star and The Masons, neither of which group I have ever been a part of, but knew about because my dear, late cousin Maris Lee and her parents were participants — Maris and her mother in Eastern Star and her father in The Masons.
Now I can’t describe in any detail the type of rituals they engaged in, but I can say with confidence that none of it entailed Satanic worship. My cousin and her parents were three of the very best people I have ever known: charitable, funny, warm, caring, loving and generous to a fault. Maris read the Bible every single day of her life and often quoted it in the various Hallmark cards she’d send out for different occasions and holidays. It’s hard for me to name a more devout Christian than she, and she has been one of the best influences in my life, aside from my parents and siblings.
Needless to say, by the time we actually sat down, I was already pretty turned off. And then the service started.
I should note here that when it comes to worship and prayer, I’m more the silent type. Yes, I sing along to hymns and I recite the prayers at mass but I am not comfortable with the sort of writhing, arm-waving and hysteria that seems to be a requirement of these types of services. I can also do without the fire-breathing pastor who constantly sounds like he’s running out of breath as he hyperactively recounts a Bible story, occasionally banging on the podium or crying “Can I get an Amen?!” for dramatic effect while the congregants sit or stand with their eyes closed, responding to every cue as if mesmerized.
And of course there was the requisite moment in the service during which Pastor Bob called all of those who wanted to be “saved” to the altar. I just sat in my seat, staring straight ahead, much to the chagrin of my friend, I am sure. Later I told her that I was baptized as a baby — a commitment that Catholics require children to reaffirm in the sacrament of Confirmation somewhere around the age of 12, prior to which they are prepped thoroughly by learning about the Holy Spirit. So as far as Catholics are concerned, we don’t need to be “born again”; we’ve already accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Now, other Christians can disagree with that. I am simply explaining my point-of-view as a lifelong Catholic. And let me also state that I dislike the Catholic Charismatic services for the same reasons noted above — the drama, the theatrics, the hyperbole. But hey, if they appeal to others, more power to them. It’s definitely not for me.
Similarly, I noted that night at Calvary Chapel the many testimonials of people who’d previously struggled with drugs, alcoholism and other addictions who’d found salvation and peace at Calvary. That’s a very positive thing for which the church should be commended.
On the other hand, I have it on good authority that a friend of a friend, who was the victim of domestic abuse and a member of Calvary Chapel, was counseled that a woman’s place was “subservient” to her husband — apparently even if he’s a wife beater. The person who told me this story has no reason to lie, and the anger she felt was palpable as she related it to me. I am not sure what the outcome was, if the woman found the courage to leave her abusive spouse in spite of the lousy advice she got from Calvary but I know for a fact that if I went to a priest for help in the same situation and he gave me the same advice, I’d walk right out of that parish, never to return.
So that was my experience with Calvary Chapel. I have no intention of ever going back again but the irony of the story is that my friend who finally dragged me there is no longer an avid congregant. I could never get her to tell me why aside from a vague “We like our new church better”. It’s not my intention to add insult to injury so I simply told her I was happy for her that she found a church she liked.
Bottom line: My friend is a good person and in her mind she was doing the right thing by trying to “save” me from the Catholic Church. And as with all of my non-Catholic friends, I still believe we have more in common than in opposition. I hope we can all stay focused on that as we fight for our country and our religious freedom.