To cut to the chase for a second, I'll admit I do indeed have a spiritual problem and I go about solving it in my own personal ways, one of which involves curling myself into a tight little ball and begging for mercy from … whoever's out there in the universe listening.
Occasionally, I get answers. Since I couldn't solve the problem on my own, I imagine the answers couldn't possibly be coming from me, but I suppose some people would say they come from my subconscious, even though I believe God is speaking to me. It's nothing worth fighting over. It works for me, sometimes.
Which brings us to the Bethel Church, headquartered right here in Shasta County. I'll be honest, I was out of the county for a number of years before Bethel became a world-famous and somewhat controversial religion. In fact, I drove up to their compound the other day for the first time. With all the flags from different nations—North Korea's displayed prominently in front—it looked liked the United Nations of Christianity.
This was the day before Good Friday, and as I slowly trolled through the parking lot, I swear to God, most of the dudes going out of the various ministries on this scraggly hilltop were sporting beards just like Jesus. Which to me says they're taking their studies seriously.
My own homegrown spirituality works so well I could really care less what the folks at Bethel get up to except for the fact that for the past several months, Bethel the organization has been trying to give—not loan!--hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Redding Police Department, and judging by social media and local news comment sections, about half of Shasta County is vehemently against it.
It does indeed seem we are in a spiritual, not to mention constitutional, pickle.
Living as I do in the foothills 30 miles east of Redding, my only connection to the riffraff running the streets down there is the occasional broken down junkie camped out on the corner, curled up in his own tight little ball, ready to spring at passersby. Sometimes I answer their prayers, sometimes I don't.
I remember one story a vagrant told me. He was balling his eyes out - his wife had left him and taken their child - and he had nowhere to go.
“What about the Mission?” I said, which was right up the street.
“They've got rules,” he said. Like no opiates. LOL, I did, on the inside.
I knew the dude wasn't faking it - he really was crying - but I found it hard to feel sorry for him. The Mission was right up the street. All he had to do was crawl over there and confess.
Anyway, Bethel doesn't take people like that, according to this story I read in Christianity Today. The newly sober junkie is apparently not ready for the charismatic gift that is about to be bestowed upon him or her at Bethel. Which seems like a pretty good policy, if you ask me. It would be silly to give miracles away.
So what I gathered from Christianity Today was that there's a major division between Orthodox, Catholic, Protestants, Evangelicals and Charismatic creeds such as Bethel. The difference all boils down to one thing: Does God do his work here on earth, or do you have to wait for heaven for that?
These Bethel people—well, I have to say, so far I haven't met any of them. I live in the mountains. They don't come up here. I hear they're very nice. I hope some of them are reading this story.
But Bethel the Christian organization donating money to our allegedly secular local government is a different story. At least, as far as I can tell on social media. I'm pretty sure most of the people commenting are Christians, and it's pretty clear to me that some Christians are different than others.
The constitutionality of Bethel Church giving the city of Redding or Shasta County money is a mystery to me. I'm no lawyer, and frankly, when my favorite lawyer, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, recently rhapsodized about the resurrection, I had to check myself. I know this is Easter, but do I have to believe Jesus literally came back, or is this some sort of metaphysical metaphor I haven't been able to wrap my mind around yet?
The Redding City Council will be taking up Bethel's offer this Tuesday night. What's the worst thing that could happen if the council takes the money? Well, assuming it's true the city doesn't have to pay the money back and there are no strings attached (how Christian can you get?) I think we can expect an increasing influx of people who believe God does his work right here on earth, through miracles.
In other words, instead of building cars or rocket ships, Shasta County's main industry will be harvesting souls. Think about it. If you were in your 20s or 30s and someone told you God's power could be at your fingertips for the low, low price of $5000 and nine months of training, would you buy it?
Sure you would.