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Religion, made palatable

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Colorado Springs is considered by many to be the evangelical Christian Vatican. I was raised in New York City. Back in Queens, religion was strewn in church, or in school.

In Colorado Springs, you're liable to get your Jesus in a pizza joint.

In my youth, my mother would often say, "Michael, you sorry son-of-a-b ..." It was great. This was her way of saying she loved me. Back then, mothers didn't want to raise any pansies. You had to be tough. Many of us attended Catholic school. If you messed up there, the priest or, worse, a nun would give you 36 inches of a wooden ruler across your backside.

Those were the good ol' days, when teachers could beat the devil out of you.

In Colorado Springs, the modern approach is to gently slide Jesus into you, whether you want him or not.

The Jesus of the Springs is a white, gun-toting, Velveeta cheese-eating U.S. citizen, who sports yellow "Support our Troops" stickers on his SUV. And the evangelical you encounter in Colorado Springs wants to share the trickle-down economics of His love with you.

I recently went to Sunday service at Rocky Mountain Calvary. The stained-glass windows, candles, confession booths and nuns in penguin garb were all gone. I walked into what appeared to be a mall or a converted Wal-Mart.

After buying some beautiful Jesus stationery in the gift shop, I ordered an excellent egg and cheese burrito smothered in green chili for $2.50, and sat down and listened to the sermon. It was one of the most sincere, honest and informative talks I'd heard in a long time.

I said to a woman eating her own burrito near me, "This guy is really good. Could you pass the pepper?"

In my youth, had I brought a burrito to church, I would have had far more to contend with. Catholics, especially the Italian ones, love to eat and drink. I could see it now, fat Joey Maggiano, trying to steal my burrito in church, "Watsupwitu? Get off me, Joey!"

Rocky Mountain Calvary's pastor, Eric Cartier, who preaches in a relaxed style, wearing jeans and a comfortable, untucked, button-down shirt, exuded sincerity. The truth will set you free, and the green chili doesn't hurt either.

And if you happen to use the restroom during the service, you won't miss any of it, because the message is piped into the throne. Upon leaving church, you can shake hands with or hug the purple dinosaur that sometimes greets the congregation at the entranceway, or pet Morgan the parrot, part of the congregation.

It's a long way from what Pastor Ted Haggard termed the "pastor's graveyard" he saw in 1984. Sensing the Springs was overrun with demonic activity, humanism, New Agers, ex-hippies, covens and gays, Haggard and his flock decided to "praywalk." They visited gay bars, government buildings and stood outside of "witches'" homes, chanting and anointing the troubled areas.

Haggard claimed his prayer-walking helped transform Colorado Springs. Of course, Haggard may have lingered a bit too long in the gay bars.

Finding myself ready for lunch on this recent Sunday, I stopped at Louie's Pizza. Plenty of high school kids were filing in. I sat in a booth, and the television was blaring a T.D. Jakes sermon on morality.

I started with a little taste of the crust and heard Jakes say, "I wish more people would be like me."

Did I hear that right? I bit into the cheese and pepperoni, and Jakes went into some frightening nonsensical tongues. "Meka-leka-hi, meka-hiney-ho, meka-leka-hi, meka-hiney-lo."

I asked the kids, "Is it the pepperoni, or is that guy babbling?" They told me it was the pepperoni, and he always babbles. One girl said, "Isn't he great?"

"Jesus and pizza, isn't that a bit much?" I asked. "When do you go to a rock concert, sneak a few beers and smoke a little of the wacky?"

"Oh, we never do that," one pretty girl winked. "We are wacky enough."

And you know, I believe her.

Michael J. McCarthy, a Colorado Springs resident, is a writer and an activist for social reform. Contact him at mjmccarthywrites@yahoo.com.

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