Aug. 15, 7 p.m.
Brand New Life meets in an office building on Taft Avenue, a stray police bullet from Anaheim. No door greeters met your Alpha and Omega, but that's no mind. The warm church body had several folks who kindly welcomed him into their sanctuary, including Chuck Battaglia, who, if he wasn't a preacher, would make a great 1970s TV cop, what with that cool name and all, and a li'l bit of Eric Estrada in him.
The OCeeker needed to piddle, so he hit the head in a jiffy. Much can be learned about a church by visiting their restrooms. Brand New Life's featured mouthwash on the sink, and scriptures on plaques that hung above the urinals. The OCeeker can't recall the exact scripture above his potty, but it was from the Psalms. Perhaps he was distracted by the picture of a wolf glaring down at his glory.
A poster featured Santa Claus, and said Jesus loves us whether we've been naughty or nice.
Back in the sanctuary--with rows of chairs, burnt orange and taupe hues, a wooden stage and Bible sayings on the walls-- about 20 of the faithful gathered to hear from the Battaglias. Matter of fact, Chuck called out your lord and king by name. The crowd turned around with smiles, and yer brown-eyed boy blushed a little, like the night he drove ol' Dixie down. And he ain't talkin' about the Confederacy.
Chuck, who had earlier introduced himself to the OCeeker with a manly handshake, took the stage first, dressed in dark jeans and a long-sleeve, kinda Hawaiian-looking shirt of gold and tan hues.
He updated the faithful on the doings of the Lord, and asked the congregation to give a shout for "Gentleman Josh." The ol' OCeeker even heard a "woohoo!" or two. Chuck then introduced his helpmate, Amy, a slim and sexy blonde dressed in a black pant suit, and a silver and bedazzled chemise.
Amy launched her sermon from 2 Corinthians 4:14, which says "knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you."
It was her aim to raise our faith, so that we could see all the blessings God has for us, and become more Christ-like in how we live and love. She said the same spirit of faith that was in Moses, King David and Jesus is in us; we have been seated in a place of authority, next to Jesus, and Satan is under our feet.
"But a lot of us are hanging out at the lower level," she said.
God is calling us higher and higher, and in mentioning how Jesus commanded Peter to walk on water, Amy said God's commandments contain his enablements.
She also asked a question many of ye heathen could answer in the affirmative: are you higher than you were a year ago?
To many an "amen," Amy spoke seriously about not settling for mediocrity in our lives, but it seemed at times that a lot of responsibility was placed on the saints to just believe more in order to become more.
But if we do, God will set us among the princes of the faith, Amy said. Even the generals. Those include, according to Brand New Life, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Oral Roberts. Le sigh.
It was Copeland (whom my Mexican-in-Chief so memorably profiled years ago
), whose eyes look like they've been whiskey-painted, who once said God was like us, "a being that stands somewhere around 6'2," 6'3," that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better, [and] has a [hand] span nine inches across."
And you know what they say about the size of a god's hands...
Roberts had a bad habit of telling people God would kill him unless they gave him millions of dollars. He also said the devil showed up at his house and choked him.
If that's where great faith takes a man, y'all can follow this here sinner down to more broken altars.
Who swiped my stash?
Amy preached for about an hour, and then she tagged in Chuck, like Road Warrior Animal slapping hands with Road Warrior Hawk. Actually, it was more like good cop/bad cop. Chuck didn't mince words about how to walk with God.
"You have to want it," he said.
Chuck has a down-home preaching style, like he's talking at you over a plate of chicken-fried steak. Forget the niceties and get ready to hear lines like "you make your own problems" and "don't get mad at me, I'm just trying to get you into blessing."
He even made a crack at the mothers in church whose kids don't speak to them, and the four divorces that followed the church's marriage seminar. In the "man up" culture of the American church world, it was nice to hear a preacher call women out on their shit. When he was given roses to hand out on Mother's Day, ol' Chuck said he declined, and spoke his mind.
His sermon, which featured many a shout-out to your heavenly host, was peppered with a lot of "turn to your neighbor and say blah, blah, blah."
The OCeeker wondered at what point he would tell us to turn to our neighbor and say "I do whatever I'm told."
Chuck spent a lot of time in 1 John 2:4, where the apostle says those who claim to know God and yet don't follow his commandments are liars. He somehow connected it to word-faith healing, where we should be able to tell sickness to be gone in Jesus' name.
"When he died on the cross, he didn't just take your cancer, he took your meth, he took your pot and he took your porn," Chuck said.
Sumbitch. Apologies to Weekly reader 20ftjesus for the false accusations. We cool, hoss?
The OCeeker gave the dueling sermons two out of five fake healings. Long on love, but short on light, sounder doctrine in the hands of the Battaglias would make for an even greater church, one already marked by hospitality and a thirst for holiness.
Brand New Life Christian Center meets damn near every day at 1110-B W. Taft Ave. in Orange, (714) 974-7031; www.brandnewlifechurch.com