Shepherd's Pie

Photo from Cardelli's Myspace page

Ever seen a house engulfed in flames? The first thing most bystanders stumbling upon such a tragedy instinctively mutter is, “I hope everyone got out ok.” Whether or not there are casualties, as specks of ash float upwards through the cardinal and tangerine tented vapor, one can’t help but be locked in the gaze of such astonishing devastation. After the fire is tamed and the new morning sun is pouring over the debris, the town can often be heard discussing reconstruction. “What’s the new building going to look like? Is it even going to get rebuilt? How did the residents deal with the catastrophe?” It’s from here that I attended church at Calvary Chapel Arcata following the arrest of alleged child rapist and pastor, Dino Cardelli.

Calvary Chapel Arcata holds services in a quaint pale blue building across the street from Arcata High School.  The service in which I was present started like most do with a typical acoustic guitar led sing along. Attendance was high. Tension filled the musty air and quivered as it was squeezed past the vocal cords of the crowd. Several trepid brows were raised by my presence. I understood. Considering that I was a stranger in this chapel, and many of these people just had their trust breached by Cardelli, it was to be expected.
I had met with Cardelli’s son-in-law and CCA’s assistant pastor, Daryl Messina, a couple weeks prior. He disclosed that some of the less tactful online critics of Dan Davis and I regarding “Beer me, Jesus” were members of his congregation. One such commenter had gone as far to suggest that, as an atheist, I should throw myself off the roof of Humboldt State to see if I believe in gravity -- then I’ll know how obvious God is. With that in mind, as a meet and greet was initiated by a man wearing a tricorne hat (he announced that it’s talk as a pirate day), I knew that for those few who shook my hand it was merely a formality.
As the singing ensued I looked over the morning’s syllabus. The first thing to catch my attention was an insert titled, “Let’s take America Back!” The insert was adorned with a picture of a child praying and a phone number one could call for directions to a gathering.  I was later informed the meeting was being conducted due to America’s backsliding morality. This left me wondering if the nation was more moral when it was enacting genocide on the natives or when one third of the population was kept in shackles and being publicly tortured to death by Christians -- while picnickers watched.
The next page I turned to was titled, “Impact the World for Christ” (cleverly printed in impact font) showing a picture of “misled” Muslims in prayer.  The purpose of this propaganda was to inform churchgoers they could financially support spreading the Gospel to Muslims without having a “face-to-face confrontation.”  (for more information: gladnewsministry)  By the time Calvary Chapel Eureka’s pastor Glen Mustian approached the stage to give his sermon, I was no longer in need of the morning cup of coffee I didn’t have time to drink.
A feeling of deep sadness for these people stuck between delusion and betrayal over came me. How was Mustian going to rebuild solidarity? Is he capable of delivering a speech filled with enough hope to help ease these people to the next transition of CCA? CCA has spent the last two and a half years solely studying Psalms. Is antiquated poetry going to help at this moment?
Mustian started his sermon by telling the audience that he need not mention why they are in a downtrodden position. He then read from Nehemiah utilizing the destruction of the wall of Jerusalem as a metaphor for the state of CCA and the demise of Cardelli.
He announced, “The enemy Satan took the wall down. He wants to kill you. He will not be satisfied until the work here ceases.”
He then went further and said that it is the end times and “the enemy” is circling the wall. (the enemy was used vaguely in reference to anyone who challenged the church or that church goers don’t agree with) The local media is part of the enemy. Now that the wall is down, earthly people, who are doing Satan’s bidding, will come in and mix with the crowd. We should be cautious of them. This statement, though not denoted in the sermon, is clear for those familiar with Nehemiah. It was Mustian’s way of twisting the interbreeding of Jews with foreigners, and thus loosing their religion, to the situation at CCA. Then, as a chimp throws feces from his cage, Jim Jones crazy was flung at the spectators:
“This is the end times. The enemy surrounds us! We need to bring our alert level to five! Spiritual warfare is real; the enemy is real; destruction is real, but God is real, real!”
As presumably the only atheist in the room, one who had been threatened and ridiculed by members of this congregation, I could understand the feeling of being surrounded by people who were less than approving of myself. I, however, knew all too well that that’s not where these people are.
I had assumed that Mustian would build hope by identifying Cardelli’s actions as human and not of God. Which, he did (metaphorically).  Although Mustian didn't directly mention Cardelli by name, he attributed the current atrocities at CCA to Satan, who he then attributed everyone else to who sees those alleged atrocities as monstrous. By doing so he absolved Cardelli from personal responsibility and accountability. The message this sends is that for Calvary Chapel, if you accept Jesus you’re forgiven for your sins, and if you sin – it’s surely Satan’s doing.
In regards to hope, though some people in attendance will surely claim that it was there, what seemed to prevail was fear. Mustain’s speech was fascist and filled with hate. He built moral by stating over and over again that CCA is engaged in warfare with an enemy that has them surrounded. Considering his long carrier in the military I understand how he was able to find this to be a unifying message. However, Mustian seems unsure of where to draw the line between metaphor and reality. 

So where does it go from here? If Mustian is right, it's the end times and the church is under siege then everyone at CCA who is a "true" Christian must stay together. Perhaps die together.  Those standing in the rubble, meagerly waiting to find God at Calvary Chapel Arcata, are indeed shepherd-less sheep.