Taking advantage of the last clement temperatures of the fall, I sacrificed my lunch hour to the wrapping and decommissioning of my sailboat for the winter ahead.  This is my first “considerable” piece of Fiberglas, and it hulks, ominous and white, in the nook between the old tin garages, propped up by four stands, a big block of wood beneath its keel. The plastic came in a big hernia-inducing roll, and was melted onto the boat with a heat gun that roared like a horror movie sound effect. The tactile pleasures of ironing out wrinkles with a jet of blue propane is up there with the fun of popping bubble wrap until you remember that bubble wrap doesn’t melt and stick to your skin like magma.

My buddies Jim and Bruce did the hard work, changing the oil in the diesel Yanmar engine and flushing the water system with pink non-toxic antifreeze. All hatches are opened, all drawers, doors, companionways, lazarettes and bilges have been exposed to the dessicating winter air and now it sits, drum-like and pulsing in the gusts of wind, a white plastic reminder that the days are about to get longer and I will be afloat in five months or so.

Turkey: cinema and social networking

I am in the process of planning my first trip to Turkey, hoping to travel in late January for a series of exploratory meetings to gain a better understanding of digital marketing opportunities, consumer personal computer preferences, new media, and social networking. To prepare myself I’ve been brushing up on everything from Byzantine history to contemporary Turkish cinema.

I’ve posted in the past about The Auteurs, a stunning site devoted to cinema, particularly so-called “art film” which I’ve been diving into over the past three years as a winter/travel diversion. Starting with the 50 disc collection of the Essential Art House by Criterion, The Auteurs is an awesome continuation and melding of social networking with streaming cinema, discussion forums, reviews, and external notification integration with Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, while in Raleigh, I took advantage of a free stream on the Auteurs of the 1964 black and white Turkish film, Dry Summer,(Susuz Yaz) (watch for free) which won a prestigious award in Germany that same year. A simple story of water rights, greed, fraternal jealousies, and lust gone wrong, the film was a nice way to spend an evening while lounging in a desk chair at the Courtyard Marriot Suites. When I returned home I started to dig a little deeper and plugged my ThinkPad into my big Panasonic plasma screen with a male-to-male VGA cable. I dug a little deeper into The Auteur’s archives and paid $5 to stream Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climate.

Ceylan, who is about my age, is a former electrical engineering major who studied photography and released his first short film in the mid-1990s. Climate (Iklimer), his second feature length film, star himself and his photographer wife Ebru Ceylan. Shot in HD it is a gorgeous film shot with a photographer’s eye,  but a true art film in the sense that the shots dwell and linger, turning inconsequential objects and sounds into significant ones by lingering for a long time on the found art that surrounds us.

I noted my thoughts on the film on The Auteurs and without really being conscious of it, that review and my professed crush on the landscape of Turkey and Ebru Ceylan were automatically posted onto Twitter.  Later in the day, when picking through my email, a Twitter follower announcement jumped out at me: Nuri Bilge Ceylan was following me.

Cool, this is how social networking works. I post. He detects. He pings. All this online socializing is good for some global connection making. A little later in the day I received a direct message: “Mr. Churbuck, you make me happy to promote my film.” To which I replied: “Thanks for making it.”

Anyway. I watched another NBC film last night, Uzak, and it also made a great impact. This Ceylan guy makes great great films.

Update: I started a list of Turkish films on the Auteurs.

Cape Cod Calvinism – Presbyterian Church of Cape Cod – 52 Churches

This week your intrepid correspondent ventured into the direction of Calvinism with a trip to The Presbyterian Church of Cape Cod located on Iyannough Road (Rte. 132) in West Barnstable near the Cape Cod Community College campus.

A big goal in this year-long journey is not so much spiritual discovery as an attempt to discern – after years of wondering – what the heck the difference is between the various Protestant arms of Christianity: Episcopal, Methodist, Congregationalist, Baptist …. I hope to finally figure out what stripes or spots separate the different animals in the religious zoo. Do Baptists baptize? Congregationalists congregate? Do Methodists have a method? Today I visited the Presbyterians, to be accurate he Orthodox Presbyterians.

First let me indulge in a little amateur armchair theological history with apologies to those who know better. The Reformation – was a very big deal in Europe in the 15th century that split Christianity into Catholics and Protestants (emphasis on the “protest”). A number of religious thinkers (Martin Luther, Jan Hus) become disillusioned with perceived abuses by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which was rich, powerful, and doing some sleazy moves like selling “indulgences” to people who couldn’t afford them so their dead relatives would be absolved from sin and granted entry to heaven (there were a ton of other beefs, which got hashed out in the Diet of Worms (har-har) when the Holy Roman Empire summoned Luther to come get his comeuppance. The Reformation took hold in northern Europe, focusing not so much on spiritual issues as on governance, in other words: Reformists challenged corruption in the church and how it was run, looking for a more transparent system with more involvement by the laity (the people in the pews). To over-simplify, the Reformation set out to reform the Catholic Church and give more power to the people. (I feel like I just got a C+ on Mr. Keany’s 11th grade European History course).

Luther got excommunicated (at least he didn’t get executed like Jan Hus) but his movement spread and found a home in Switzerland in Zurich (a guy named Zwingli) and Geneva (Calvin). The movement spread all over northern Europe and hit the British Isles when John Knox, a cohort of Calvin, brought it there from Geneva. Eventually the religion was declared the Church of Scotland.

Presbyterianism is (to be absurdly reductionist), a form of Protestantism that believes the fix is in — e.g. predestination –- and that the ruling model should be more collaborative and based on a council rather than Bishops, Cardinals, etc.. I won’t bother getting into the details based on a 90 minute visit and some web research – but the defining characteristics of Psrebyterianism would appear to be 1) origins in Scotland and the Scottish Reformation in 1560, 2) the guiding religious text called The Westminster Confession of Faith and 3) the system of church governance by pastors, a council and the laity. If you want to be further confused, read in depth about the various Presbyterian splinter movements.

Let me digress here to say there’s no wonder I have been confused for 40 years about the difference between a Methodist and a Presbyterian. I am sure every religion has its shadings and hues – but some seem to hang together tighter than others. I am sure there are gradients of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism that track to the many different flavors of Protestant Christianity, but to the casual visitor like myself, they seem like a lot of noise obscuring the basic signal.

Onwards to the service. I intended to visit the Touro Synagogue on Saturday morning for Shabbat, but the 70 mile drive for an 8:30 am service was daunting so I slept in and deferred this week’s visit to a “safe” bet closer to home. Not until late on Saturday night did I decide on the Presbyterians for no other reason than I wanted a “safe” church this weekend after the intensity of the last two weeks spent with the Quakers and the Victory Chapel.

The Cape Cod church is fairly young, with the visitor’s guide indicating the first phase of the chapel’s construction was completed in 1981. It is a one story building with a little steeple. The interior has low ceilings and the feel of an office building – meaning the notion of “narthex” or “porch” is not strong in the architectural design.

I arrived, hung up my winter coat, said hello to a deacon, signed the guest book and took my back row seat in a room about 50 by 50 feet. The wall behind the altar was glassed by a series of tall windows looking out into the gray tree trunks behind the church. A piano provided the only music – an austere contrast to last week’s large electrified and amplified band at the Victory Chapel. A bank of poinsettias, a red candle and a few other embellishments put one a little into the Christmas spirit. There were no pews, but instead rows of padded chairs fitted with a wire basket that held a Bible and Hymnal. About two dozen men and women filled the seats to close to half-capacity and the same deacon who greeted me made some announcements.

Following the announcements the pastor,  Reverend James A. La Belle,  took the podium and began the service. The liturgy and order of the service was very familiar with a greeting, and then, while standing, a call to worship, hymn, invocation, then a rote statement called the Confession of Faith, followed by an Ascription of Praise.

The pastor read Isaiah 51.21-52.12 from the old Testament. I followed along with the Bible taken from underneath the seat in front of me. I have never read the Bible cover to cover or in any organized Bible study group, so I have some issues finding chapters and verses, but the pastor kindly pointed out the page number. The Bible was not a King James version but another which I failed to note. It was printed in large type and the verses were laid out in a strange “stanza” arrangement more like poetry than the usual eye-squinting justified pica type I am accustomed to.

The operative word in Presbyterian liturgy is “confession” – a bit strange to my ears because I associate a confession with a booth, a screen, and a priest in the other booth. The service had a Confession of Faith, a Confession of Sin and that was followed by a Silent Confession of God’s People. Reverend La Belle delivered a considerable and eloquent pastoral prayer, which, because of its duration, I initially took to be his “sermon.” His prayer – which I estimate at 10 minutes, was directed at God and had a good line about the congregation coming together to help each other sharpen their faith the way “iron sharpens iron.” That pastoral prayer was concluded by the Lord’s Prayer. I noted that instead of saying “and forgive us our trespasses” the Presbyterian version says “and forgive us our debts” – an entirely appropriate 2009 TARP sentiment in my opinion.

The offering was made, I dropped a five into the bowl, and wondered for a second about the financial affairs of any congregation and how much income came from the offering plate. The thought passed, a hymn was sung, I actually tried singing, and realized my hymn voice is very basso profundo in its native tone-deafedness.

Then came The Proclamation of the Word of God. This was the sermon part and it was a good one – a long but very well argued and logically presented dissection of Mark 8.31-33, a passage from the Gospel according to Mark (patron saint of Venice) where Jesus says he will go to Jerusalem to die and be resurrected which earns him a rebuke from Peter. The whole death of Christ meme struck me as pretty out of season given we’re a week or two away from the birth of — as my late atheist* father would put it: “The Beej” — the Baby Jesus — but Reverence La Belle tied that knot neatly by persuasively arguing that Christ was born to die (giving rise to images of Hell’s Angels mottos and Bruce Springsteen songs) and in dying became the Son of God. I thought La Belle was a very good Deconstructionist of the text, putting me in mind of my Comparative Literature classes at Yale in the 1970s when deconstruction and the literal analysis of texts drove me nearly nutty with overweening critical analysis.

Random observations:

  • This was solid Christianity. Stern, to the point, and very based on the fundamentals without being fundamentalist.
  • The Presbyterian God is a stern god.
  • This was not fun or entertaining but solemn and pensive.
  • The word took precedence over the architecture or the music.
  • The crowd was well dressed and I spotted one bow tie on the morning I decided not to wear a bowtie.
  • I wondered if most American Presbyterians have Scottish ancestors.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes, Bob Hope, and Ulysses S. Grant were Presbyterians.
  • Parking lot had no trends in automotive selection worth noting.
  • New churches don’t smell like churches. Yet.
  • This is the second weekend in a row I went to the discount big box store after services.
  • A Presbyterian cocktail consists of whiskey, ginger ale and Coca Cola. And is ordered as a “Press” as in, “Barkeep I should like a V.O. Press.”

    Next weekend ….. off to California on Saturday so …. Either a synagogue on Friday night or a church in California.

*On the topic of athiesm, this is a nice observation by the late David Foster Wallace in his recent posthumously published short story in the New Yorker:

“If you consider the usual meaning of “atheism,” which, as I understand it, is a kind of anti-religious religion [emp. mine], which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination …”

Biting my tongue

There are times when my professional affiliations force me to temper my screeds and flames, but right now I am highly agitated trying to activate a piece of very common software via an online commerce process. This process is proving to be so broken, so expensive, and so convoluted that I found myself pushed by simple survival online to a free cloud based solution.

Four days later and I am very close to declaring I will never return to the former incumbent solution because their pricing model is so onerous and the free attacker is actually more technically elegant.

Rant over. But if you are an old style software incumbent accustomed to a cash cow based on per-PC-licenses, you are toast. I’ve seen consumer after consumer defect when they take their $350 netbook, configure it, and balk at a software license that is as expensive in some cases as their total hardware cost.

Fix the disconnected model and the cloud juggernaut will keep rolling.

Victory Chapel – 52 Churches

Last week’s 75 minutes of silence at the East Sandwich meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and this week’s visit, the fifth in the series, could not be further apart, more diametrically opposed, more yin/yang, salt and paper, or black and white than what I decided on for this week’s visit in the 52 Churches project. I knew, somewhere along the year-long project, that I would encounter some interesting variants and eye-opening experiences, I just underestimated the amplitude of the contrasts and the impact of some of the experiences. This week’s church visit was pretty amazing on many levels.

The Victory Chapel in Hyannis is located in a former tennis court complex near Captain Phinney’s Lane and Route 132   and was formerly housed at a location in Dennis. The church is a Christian Fellowship Ministry and its leader is the Reverend Dr. Paul Campo.  I have been dimly aware of the church since moving to Cape Cod full-time in 1991. It has been the subject of a series of stories in the Cape Cod Times and gathered some controversy in the press, including allegations made elsewhere of cultish tendencies. I had forgotten about the church until recently reminded and told of its location by a friend who is active in Cape Cod religious circles.  Here is the Wikipedia entry on the Victory Chapel and the associated Potter’s House.

This was not a mild experience for me. I  approached it with an open and objective mind, but knew, going in, that I would be visiting a church that was different from most Christian experiences I have known as a Congregationalist and Episcopalian.

“Victory Chapel, located in Hyannis, MA, is a full Gospel Pentecostal Church, where Jesus is still changing lives. Our mission is to proclaim the gospel in our local community and throughout the world. We belong to a larger fellowship of churches called Christian Fellowship Ministries, with over 1300 churches throughout the world. We hope that you will come visit us and see what God is doing in our church.

Over the years, we have held true to the fundamentals of Christianity while maintaining a fresh enthusiasm for engaging the community. At Victory Chapel, God has reached people through bible studies, haunted houses, theater productions, coffeehouses, parades, healing crusades, outdoor concerts, revival meetings, TV and radio broadcasts and holiday productions.

Victory Chapel has been on the Cape for over two decades. Pastor Paul Stevens and his family came from a Christian Fellowship Ministries church in Tuscon, AZ to begin the work. The church began holding services in a living room before moving to a storefront in Yarmouth. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Paul Campo assumed leadership of the church. Over the years, the congregation has grown in size and influence. We have seen many souls touched and redeemed through the power of Jesus Christ.

We hope that you join us and see what God is doing in our midst. We’re a close-knit community always willing to welcome someone new!”

I arrived 15 minutes early, too casually dressed I realized as I entered the church and saw a busy congregation of well-dressed men and women wearing neckties, dresses, jackets, and polished shoes. I was warmly welcomed, introduced myself, and shown the double doors leading into a large open room the size of an indoor hockey rink. The floor was carpeted and lined with several hundred chairs facing a large stage filled with musical instruments and a large wooden lectern. Above the pulpit hung an array of flags from China to  Brazil to Salem, Massachusetts. I took my customary place in a corner seat in the back row, sat down, and was soon approached by a man who introduced himself as Jermaine. He was followed by another gentleman, Jeff, and a third named David. All were very welcoming and offered themselves should I have any questions. Afterwards I learned Jermaine and Jeff were listed on the staff page of the church website.

The chairs began to fill with men and women — I would estimate the average age of the congregation in the late 30s or early 40s, mostly married couples, some with children. A few African-American parishioners were in attendance as well as several Hispanics.

The service began with a very energetic hymn played by a twenty-piece, electrified and amplified band. The musicianship was very good and the congregation sang along via a powerpoint presentation projected on a screen behind the band. I stood with the rest of the congregation and clapped along, but did not sing as my weak eyes could barely make out the words of the hymns — most of which reminded me of Christian rock music. The essence of the songs was Jesus, the Ancient One, salvation, and statements of Christ having died and risen again. Four songs were sung in rapid succession, with very little speaking between songs by a man I initially assumed to be the minister.

There were no hymnals. Many of the congregation carried bibles. I took off my coat as the clapping was warming me up. I was a little uncomfortable as I was too casually dressed and a bit in awe of the volume of the music and the enthusiasm of the people around me, many of whom sang with both hands high above their heads, or their right arm raised in a type of salute.

Announcements were made of upcoming Christmas performances, scheduled prayer meetings, and reports on “outreach” expeditions where some of the congregation traveled by  van to Providence, Rhode Island to hand out pamphlets in the rain at some housing projects and stores. The congregation applauded enthusiastically whenever it was reported that someone prayed or accepted Jesus as a result of these outreach efforts.  Outreach programs also traveled to local prisons to spread the faith. Parishioners suffering from the flu were urged to stay hope to spare the rest of the congregation, but to phone the church to let them know how they were doing and if they needed any help.

Following announcements the baskets were passed for the collection and the minister told the story of a Salvation Army kettle in Pennsylvania that had been given a dollar bill wrapped around a South African Kruggerand. A biblical parable was cited in parallel to the Kruggerand story but I forgot to write down the Biblical citation.

The pastor of the congregation, Dr. Paul Campo, delivered a sermon based on Phillipians 3, v. 13 — and energetically and with some wit presented a sermon on looking upwards from the pit, the pit of sin, to the light of life under Christ. He used several metaphors to describe this redemption, and at some points in the sermon spoke against smoking, drug use, drinking, and internet pornography. He also criticized other Christians who sinned but believed their church attendance absolved them, calling such churches “dead churches.”

The sermon was graphic at times, drawing analogies to being born again to being pulled from a toilet and placed on the seat by God, and backsliders to dogs returning to eat their own vomit. My favorite part of service was joining hands and introducing myself to the other parishioners around me.

At the conclusion of the sermon the congregation knelt its head in prayer and people were called forward to the altar. While this occurred one of the parishoners who greeted me before the service, David, returned to ask my opinion of the service. I said it was was “interesting and energetic.” He asked if I would be returning and I explained my intention to visit 52 places of worship. He reminded me that the Victory Chapel was about making a decision, a decision which could not be delayed for I needed to be prepared for whatever could befall me. I felt some pressure to commit, but I was able to deflect that pressure, and turned down an invitation for lunch at a parishoner’s home after the service.

I left at 1:15 pm, 2 hours and 30 minutes after arriving: the longest service so far. Another prayer service was scheduled for 7 pm. I did not attend.

Random observations:

  • This was a somewhat aggressive religious experience and made me uncomfortable at times. I think it was designed to do that.
  • There was some response by the congregation to the sermon, many “amen’s” and “good preaching”
  • Sometimes there was a rising inflection of an appended “a” sound to the end of the some of the preaching, putting me in mind of Robert Duvall in The Apostle
  • There was no moment of silence or silent prayer
  • The Victory Chapel was my first “born again” “pentecostal” religious experience
  • The faith supports the speaking of tongues. I thought one of the speakers spoke in tongues but cannot be sure if he was or if the microphone was malfunctioning.
  • While there is a great deal of online controversy expressed about the Christian Fellowship Ministry, I won’t repeat or link to it here. I didn’t arrive at the church with an agenda, and I believe in suum cuique when it comes to religion. I have not personally witnessed first hand any of the negative incidents reported elsewhere.
  • This form of worship is not new, and can be traced far back into the tent revival and Chautauqua movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Next week: undecided, but it will be my last Cape Cod church in 2010.  I may go Baptist or Catholic next week. I plan on using my time in San Francisco during the holidays to attend Friday prayers at a mosque and meditation at the Zen Center.