Thursday, October 11, 2012

#264-Turning General Conference Into Barnum & Bailey's

Over the past few years I’ve lost touch with a lot of people and a lot of events. Sometimes intentionally. For instance, I try not to pay attention to Music Fest, Youth Congress, General Conference, etc.

Joel called me a few weeks ago and, in passing, mentioned camps, which gave me great glee in the fact that I had been oblivious to the fact that it was camp season.  It’s always the same: one shouting service, one weeping service, words of ‘prophecy’ are given, everyone eats too much and we all go home.

I knew General Conference was going on last week but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t try to stream it, I stayed away from the speaking schedule, and I was blissful.


They made it impossible for me. It’s like I’m in The Truman Show, except it’s The Glen Show and there’s some guy in a control booth somewhere saying “Ok, send in the crazy in three…two…”

Act 1

A few years ago I saw a hilarious viral video of a guy who gets his first chance to preach at a southern evangelical church. The preacher's name is one I will never forget: Brother Barry.

You will not regret bearing witness:

I remember the first time I saw the video (full sermon is around 30 minutes). A preacher friend showed it to me and we could not stop laughing. So fast-forward to 2012. One of our dear preachers saw the video, and somehow, without any drugs or alcohol assisting, made the most drunk-guy decision I’ve ever seen: He decided that this guy needs to be affiliated with the UPC. He'd be one of those trinitarian-gone-Acts 2:38 ministers we all hear about. Bonus: He's Youtube famous. 

So, bless God, they tracked this guy down. Now, I wasn’t there but what I heard happened is this:

After the trapeze artists finished up and they got the elephant that walks on his hind legs out of the arena it was time:

A little purple clown car pulls up onto the middle of the stage. The door swings slowly open as Jukebox Hero by Foreigner blares from the speakers. Out steps a big red shoe.. then another… A clown stands up and dances across the stage. Then another. And another. And six more. And just when the audience thought there couldn't possibly be another clown in the car… one penny loafer touches the floor. Followed by another… And out steps….our hero… Brother Barry. The arena erupts. Young girls faint. The Board is in tears. Stoneking has two girls by the hair. It's glorious.

Ok maybe that’s not how it happened but it’s how it played out in my head...

Anyway, they take Brother Barry on stage, give some spiel about him to the crowd and over to the dunk tank they go.

Cue dozens of iphone cameras filming a the in-house big-screen showing the baptism.

Cue baptism.

"Brother Internet-Celebrity-We-Brought-In-To-Get-Exposure, upon the confession of your faith in what I explained to you on the phone I do now indeed baptize y..w..what's that? No you can't have the microphone...I do now indeed baptize you in the Name..."

Cue shouting music.

Cue shouts from the old ministers rejoicing that they acquired one more of those Tritheists.

Cue quiet chuckles of younger ministers who were all really big fans of Brother Barry two years ago.

Cue History.

Act 2

The next act was even more daring.

Perhaps you remember this sassy young senator from the great state of Missouri:

You heard it here folks. Women can’t get preggers from ‘legitimate’ rape. But this has been hashed out in the media and on Facebook for weeks, so I won’t bore you with my take.

But yes, this media darling spoke at General Conference too.

And in related news, I managed to get my hands on the minutes from the board meeting that planned General Conference.. sorry that’s #upcigc12 #GC2012.

It reads as follows:

“Gentlemen, thank you for coming today. I trust you've brought some great ideas to the table for General Conference 2012?”
“Yes sir, we have some very relevant ideas.”
“What word did you just say?”
“Um, ideas?
“Before that.”
“After that.”
“Turn in your affiliation card and get out.”
*Two large men in suits carry away the heretic*

“Now, does anyone have any REAL ideas for General Conference this year?”
“Well, I saw this video of a really awkward guy trying to preach at some Trinitarian church…”
“How do you know it was Trinitarian?”
“Because he had a mullet.”
“That’s all the proof I need. What’s the idea?”
“Well, I was going to say we baptize him, but I think he might be mentally disabled or at least socially inept, so maybe we shouldn’t take advantage of him for our own gain.”
“No no, I like it, someone call Chance, who’s got Delta Miles? Get this guy on a plane tonight!”
“What else?”

“Sir, there was a member of the House of Representatives that went on the news and said women couldn’t get pregnant from actual rape.”
“They can’t.”
“But….according to science…”
“I don’t care about some pinko, commie, atheist ‘doctors’! They can’t and that’s final. What’s your idea?”
“Well, the election is around the corner and he’s running, and it could bring a lot of exposure to us and him equally if we let him speak, and since this conference seems like all we're trying to do is get exposure and make waves...”
“That’s the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard! Call his office. NO! I’ll go myself. We must have this man at our conference.”
“But sir, isn’t the point of the conference to gather the members of the movement together to network, handle ministerial business, raise money for our outreach programs/global missions, and just have good church? How does any of this contribute to that?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get Arnold to do an hour long set.”
“You mean sermon?”
“Yeah yeah, sermon, that’s what I meant, sermon, right.”

And that, my friends, is the story of General Conference 2012.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

#263- Making a Commotion @ General Conference

For those of you who don't know what this is, it's called a Meme. Memes started as pictures in chain email forwards that you used to send directly to your trash bin without opening them. It's a descendent of the early internet humor of the nineties. Think of The Dancing Baby or The Hampster Dance. These were the progenitors of memes.

Basically, what a meme is is this: internet humor that not a lot of people get. The ones who do 'get' can sit on websites like 4chan or 9gag and scroll for hours, laughing incessantly and never getting bored, no matter how stupid, random, abstract or completely senseless the stuff they're looking at is. The ones who don't 'get it' just roll their eyes when they see it, and click onto the next thing.

There is no sense to a meme. It's like an inside joke that all you have to do to get on the inside of is say you get it, and boom, you're in.

"It's so funny!"
"But why is it funny?"
"Oh, you either get it or you don't. I couldn't possibly explain it to you."

About the UPC Meme

Allow me to introduce you to a list of characters. Your task is to figure out what they all have in common:

  • The guy most likely to use a prank handshake buzzer at a funeral. 
  • Possible kamikaze pilot in a past life. 
  • All-too-happy-that-you're-here Wal-Mart greeter. 
  • Semi-Pro Paintball player. 
  • Your Aunt Mildred.
  • Retired Auto-worker who has had it up to here with anyone who does not buy American. 
  • Aging mayor whose one goal now in life is your approval and your vote. Or....
  • On halloween night, he is the one guy who leaves Free Candy on his porch with the house lights off making it seem like he's gone for the evening, but lo and behold he was hiding in a bush the whole time and wouldn't you know it, he has a live chainsaw and is chasing the unsuspecting innocent children, but "don't worry mom and dad, there's no chain on the chain saw so it's safe!" And the kids are left in tears and half heart attacks, and are so worked up they just can't bring themselves to go onto another house free candy or not.... and all of this because the guy with the chainsaw likes watching kids cry.

So what do all of these have in common? If you answered that all of the above are possible analogies for Jeff Arnold's preaching persona, then you win. If you were wrong, well maybe next time. Because as a UPC meme, Jeff Arnold can be all of the above and more when he's preaching.

As for Jeff Arnold's sermons.... you will laugh. You will clap. You will become disoriented, but in a good way. This is because listening to a Jeff Arnold sermon is kinda like being on a tilt-a-whirl ride that has spun off the track. There is no way to tell where you are or where you'll end up, and the scariest part is you can't recall how you even got on the tilt-a-whirl in the first place. 

Other things you may encounter in a Jeff Arnold sermon:

  • Someone will find a lit firecracker in their pant pocket two seconds too late. The firecracker will ignite leaving a slightly blush-worthy hole in the victim's pants. Everyone there will laugh including the victim. They will say "Oh Bro. Arnold" and he'll have his hands up and say "Hey folks, it wasn't me" in a serious tone... but then with impeccable comedic timing, he'll break his stare and say "Naw I'm just playing.... It was me." And he'll laugh and the audience will laugh harder and then he'll give a noogie to the victim with the huge hole in his pants and the victim will smile as if he is the lucky one.
  • You will hear Jeff Arnold say the word "Shenanigans" in all seriousness and without irony.
  • You will see Jeff Arnold do what can only be described as The Geriatric Douggie, in which he will shuffle around the stage to a beat played by God that only Jeff Arnold can here. Whilst doing The Geriatric Douggie Jeff Arnold will tell you to get off your 'fanny' and dance, because if he and his robo-hips can gyrate then yours should too, you young whipper snapper.
  • You will hear Jeff Arnold rip into conservatives at conservative churches because he's Jeff Arnold and he's called by God. He will then rip into liberals at liberal churches because he's a licensed UPC minister. And at the end of the day he'll he walk past you with his suit over his shoulder and give you a finger point and a wink and he'll say "now that's how you play ball son." And you'll know right then that he's completely in control of the situation no matter how much his preaching style reminds you of  a circus-tent on fire during a circus' grand finale
Before recently, I had always thought Jeff Arnold a meme for the UPC. Like a meme, my only knowledge of him or his sermons came through the virtual world of the internet or preaching tapes. From what I saw, he seemed like a kind of inside joke meme that we hollered at in support, but always with a wink, a giggle, and an elbow-nudge to let everyone know that we don't take him too seriously, like he's comic relief. Sure he said some witty statements to tweet here and there, but it was just enough Truth to allow the show to go on lest we be accused of allowing church to decay into a one-hour stand-up comedy act.

The question in my mind was whether or not Jeff Arnold himself was serious or was voluntarily just playing the part of UPC class clown?

But then you hear that he says stuff like this...

(Please Note:  Typing the sermon words out to accompany the sermon and adding intense-Batman themed music cannot save the quote from it's comedy/bigotry/stupidity).

Jeff Arnold's witnessing abilities are flawless. And by flawless, I mean pathetic to someone who knows a homosexual or is one. Nothing says "Jesus loves you" like "fag/twinkie/queer!" Apparently he does this kind of thing all the time.

Which if you missed it, according to Jeff Arnold, since I'm an advocate of gay rights, I'm either a "Fag," "a twinkie," or "a queer." Note: I'm heterosexual. But Arnold's inference is that only a fag/twinkie/queer would actually care about gay rights...

Not to mention that parts of this clip were beginning to eerily remind of a minute long segment in the film version of The Wall:

Or maybe I'm taking Jeff Arnold way too seriously....and who cares if he's said such things many other times before?

"Which let's be honest. That whole queer/fag quote...well it's Jeff being Jeff right? It's what he does. He says bold things. Some of them silly, some of them true. And along the way you are bound to get some bigotry mixed in. It's part of the price I guess.... he's from the South and all... it's not that big of a deal. You should cut him some slack...."

And truth be told I was. Glen had told me about this stuff for a while, but I just said that it's "Jeff's gig." He's there to shock and to get laughs and to get us to pray a little and by the end of the night hopefully we'll be able to say the Lord was there and a time was had.

And Glen warned me that his preaching at General Conference was a cause for concern.

I didn't listen.....

Here is the sequential logic of the above clip:

1. Jeff Arnold likes puns.
2. Jeff Arnold has a Word from the Lord
3. Jeff Arnold declares Jeroboam an idiot and a fool.
4. Jeff Arnold reveals that Jeroboam birthed a spirit named after him and the spirit is sweeping the nation.
5. Jeff Arnold lets us in on the Spirit of Jeroboam's platform: Pro-Tolerance
6. Jeff Arnold reminds us that we sometimes have to confront things regarding holiness. We must contend with the faith.
7. Jeff Arnold exceptionally paraphrases the people who are under the influence of the Spirit of Jeroboam. AKA "The Pro-Tolerance" preachers.
8. Jeff Arnold announces that "that's not legalism. That's life."
9. Jeff Arnold has a loud voice and he'll use it if he has to.
10. Jeff Arnold quotes Jesus telling us that He will give us life and life more abundantly.1
11. Jeff Arnold declares there is nothing wrong with modesty, sacrifice, formality, or separation.2
12. Jeff Arnold sings "When I think of his goodness and what he's done for me."
13. Jeff Arnold doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
14. Jeff Arnold is 68 years old.
15. Jeff Arnold does not have real hips.
16. Jeff Arnold is the original Mr. T.
17. Jeff Arnold announces he is a robot.
18. Jeff Arnold demonstrates that robots can dance.
19. Jeff Arnold wants to know what your problem is.
20. Jeff Arnold does not like non-emotional people.
21. Jeff Arnold thinks you are a liar.
22. Jeff Arnold wants you to be just as somber and quiet and unemotional when you catch a 5 pound bass fish as you are somber and unemotional in church.
23. Jeff Arnold thinks you need to do something.
24. Jeff Arnold wants you to get happy.

Glen's less rigorous, more honest interpretation of the above clip:
"I can't even tell what he's getting at. The last time I heard him preach he was all over the place, dropping 'zingers' and one liners. Back in the day he was a great speaker, but I think he's reliant on the whole 'Oh no he di'int" candor he was known for in the nineties and he just isn't shocking anymore. Oh you called someone a twinkle toes or a faggot and then shuffled around and said we should get off our "fannies" and dance? Don't push that envelope too far, you'll get a paper cut."


1. Note the bait & switch argument here. Talk about one thing (holiness) and back up the talk by talking about one of those Christian buzzwords that will get everyone worked up. Next, hope everyone is too rowdy to notice the shoddy logic that acts like "Life and life more abundantly" has anything to do with confronting and challenging "tolerance."

2. The inference here being that the "pro-tolerance" camp say that modesty, sacrifice, formality, or separation is a bad thing. (Which is so not true that even the angels are scratching his head over this one. Except for formalities. I personally don't care for formalities. But nor does God: He's the one who made Adam and Eve naked and turned water into wine and called a woman a dog ). Plus, irony here: Arnold upholding "formalities?" That's like Republicans supporting NPR.

3.  Another quote from later on in the evening: "So you think I'm a legalist? If I am a legalist then my Father is a legalist. It was He who said "Get out of my garden and put some clothes on."*

*God never said this*                                                                                                                                                                                            

So there you have it. We can chalk up the above logic to being orchestrated by the power of the Holy Spirit which apparently works in the same discontinuous, shoot-from-the-hip style similar to the way we imagine a 2 year old would attempt to spell "White Mans Paranoia" off the top of his head with a set of scrabble letters.

And maybe in the chaos we'll get a meme.

So ask yourself,  what kind of meme your'd prefer? One that says fag as if it was authorized by God himself...

Or a meme that also makes little-to no sense but will also never call you a fag since this kind of meme is a dog barking into a phone with a look of horror hoping to God that it it's not Jeff Arnold calling him on the other end of that phone line asking him why he doesn't dance in church.