Can’t Touch This

The Second Coming has arrived. There’s no hellfire. No boiling seas. But it is time. Time for the Only Begotten Son to grace the cover of Time and turn water to Cristal. Because Christianity is red-hot right now. God is wicked-cool. And everyone’s favorite homeboy from Nazareth is filling a lot of literal and spiritual bank accounts with, shall we say, unleavened bread.

In fact, there couldn’t have been a better time for last week’s “Discover Life Kansas City!” evangelical extravaganza at the First Family Church in Overland Park. The weeklong event rivaled the atmosphere of a large music festival, only with fewer naked hippies and spiked Kool-Aid.

Ohhhhhhhhh yeah! It was Godstock. Messiahpalooza. The right place and the right time to carve out a good nook for the good book. Because subtlety in religion is so last millennium.

Mel Gibson knows what I’m saying. He is, after all, the man behind The Passion of the Christ, an early Oscar front-runner in the Best Snuff Film category and a more-gore, less-bore affirmation for those who like their sermons with a little sadomasochism and a lot of buttered popcorn.

Christianity has embraced popular culture as a means to reinvigorate its ranks. Christian music, Christian books, Christian bobblehead dolls — you name it. There’s a niche for religious kitsch. And The Passion has not only filled the void for everyone who thought Jesus Christ Superstar was a tad too homoerotic but also broken martyr marketing wide open. “Passion Nail” pendants and “Passion Cross” coffee mugs have joined the tower of baubles that includes W.W.J.D. bracelets and magnetic fish.

It’s an idea that’s long overdue. Hell, Judas could have made a killing had he supplemented his thirty pieces of silver with a merch booth on Cavalry, hawking novelty foam crowns of thorns, “My Other Car Is a Cross” bumper stickers and “I Went to the Crucifixion and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt” T-shirts.

There’s nothing wrong with religion that a bumping soundtrack and shiny tinsel can’t fix. Thus, the First Family Church used star power to kick Corinthians up a notch, add some punch to Psalms and give the gospel a little get-up-and-go. Thousands flocked to see Christian celebrities such as NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, Miss America Erika Harold, country crooner Randy Travis and one of the Baldwins.

But if anybody was going to hammer home the notion that getting nailed to a cross (a) hurts like a mother and (b) sure is a supernice thing to do for your friends, it would be Stanley Burrell.

You know him as MC Hammer, the ebony to Vanilla Ice‘s ivory in hip-pop history. We can thank Hammer — and singles like “U Can’t Touch This” and “Too Legit to Quit” — for inflicting groin-pulling dance moves and hideous baggy pants upon an entire generation.

His career was a Behind the Music tale of a meteoric rise and a dramatic fall. And he fell hard. So hard that he decided to devote his life to God in order to atone for The Funky Headhunter. That’s how he found himself in the cavernous auditorium at First Family Church, a sprawling, sparkling complex that boasts a day care, a bookstore and a coffee shop. A giant video screen hung behind the stage. Television cameras sent the satellite feed to as many as 217 million homes worldwide.

Even God can’t buy publicity like that, which is perhaps why Hammer’s visit — and the other celebrity appearances — were free. It’s all about fresh blood. And Hammer is a draw, even if he’s already a Trivial Pursuit question. Not that the church’s pastor, Jerry Johnston, knew or cared.

“You’re the dean of rap,” Johnston gushed to Hammer.

Uh-huh. I think you mispronounced crap, Reverend.

Hammer still had charisma. And even though he never sang, danced or did anything other than talk about himself and toss in a “Thank you, Jesus” every now and then, when the session ended, people had lined up to give themselves over to God.

Mission accomplished.

Or was it? As the crowd filed out and another waited to move in for the second “show,” a young girl stood in the foyer, gazing contemplatively. Had Hammer nailed home the point? Did the pomp and circumstance of modern Christianity convince her to be born-again?

“Shit,” she said. “I was totally hoping he would sing ‘Too Legit to Quit.'”

Amen.

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