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LOS ANGELES – In a liturgical change that church leaders describe as long-time coming, the Keeping-It-Real Christian Church of Pasadena will abandon the traditional Trinitarian formula for baptism in favor of the phrase – “in the name of the mortgage, the constant busyness, and the latest car.”
Pastor Greg Holloway characterizes the shift “as a new, exciting honesty.” For too long, he says, “members had to suppress their true devotion under the older Christian language of self-denial and sacrifice.” But that didn’t fit modern realities. Though members used the phrase of “loving God with all their heart,” everyone understood that their fifty and sixty-hour a week jobs received the real devotion and all-consuming interest, until the weekend. “It made sense to have our baptisms reflect our true loyalties,” said Holloway.
Members now report a much more satisfying and holistic approach to faith. “In the past,” says member Jack Greenwood, “we lived fragmented lives, where part of us was loyal to the bank account, part to our favorite TV shows, part to shopping at the mall, part to national patriotism, and part to sponsoring a third-world child, but now these all line up perfectly in our devotion to the American Dream.” Other members express similar relief. “Now I can be single-minded in my devotion,” says member Anita Fraser. “The book of James warns us against the instability of being double-minded, and now we’re free of all the lies.”
The pastors of several local churches have expressed the outrage with such an innovation. “I don’t think we should play around with the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” said Rev. Greg Denneshaw of St. Jerome’s Episcopal. “One can devote oneself to the American Dream but still use the traditional language. Christians have done that in every era,” he explained.
Pastor Jerry Newberry of the Alive Now Church objected that the switch to the American Dream was completely unnecessary. “These Keeping-It-Real people don’t understand that the Christian faith is merely a set of neat ideas. Nothing in one’s real life needs to change at all. You just need the right ideas in your head, namely, that Jesus is God. You can believe that right alongside the American Dream.” He explained that the Alive Now Church “distinguishes cleanly between spiritual ideas on the one hand and real life and work on the other. Never the twain shall meet.” The Keeping-It-Real Church’s leadership said that it attempted to follow that path of reducing the faith to mere ideas, but “some of those ideas and stories, like Jesus’ harsh treatment of Martha for her busyness still conflicted with the truths of the American Dream.”
The Keeping-It-Real Church denies it has abandoned the Christian faith. The leadership contends that traditional readers have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings as a critique of the American Dream. “Jesus worked hard, and he nowhere condemned people who worked fifty or seventy hours a week. You won’t find it. We’ve looked carefully at the Scriptures,” says Holloway. He adds that in the Book of Revelation Jesus wears the best clothes and rides on a very elegant, late-model chariot. That’s part of what it means to be a Son of God – quality and taste.”
When asked whether other features of the worship service would change in the same direction as the baptismal formula, associate pastor Jeff Barker said he had laid out a proposal to add some gourmet cheeses to the Lord’s Supper, since “a good gouda would round out the stone-ground wheat and salt crackers and Perrier.” He admitted that some of the younger elders were pushing for the inclusion of traditional Super Bowl snacks. The elders have resisted to this point but grant that “few other foods capture the essence of the American Dream as well as spicy buffalo wings and guacamole.”
In terms of worship music, the Keeping-It-Real Church incorporated a jazz version of the Star-Spangled Banner, but “we don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” said Holloway. “We’re moving beyond our several versions of the national anthem to incorporate the latest, cutting-edge TV commercial melodies into worship, the most creative music of the American Dream.”
The Keeping-It-Real Church emphasizes that the changes are all about identity. Member Cathy Sigmund says, “being baptized and rebaptized in the name of the American Dream solidifies my identity deep in my soul.” She says she wants that identity to permeate every aspect of her life – “my shopping, my driving, my texting, my shopping, my eating, my shopping, just like Jesus.”
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