The San Diego reader, apparently feeling its oats, has begun reviewing various church services using a "star rating." With churches, one star is "good," two is "very good," three "excellent" and four gets you "extraordinary."

The week I was there, the church falling under the paper's critical gaze was the North Park Baptist Church.

The delivery of the sermon won the church three stars, though congregational music could muster only a "good." The fact there were "no snacks" didn't help.

Despite the paper's attempt not to judge churches harshly, many wonder if a newspaper should be judging them at all. More than a few people are bound to be annoyed and even offended.

But I suspect most believers will simply be amused by it all.

The newspaper reviews show us consumers out shopping for God. But believers realized long ago that God is the consumer. He's out shopping for us.

When you venture onto God's turf, you don't get to be the wolf.

You're the rabbit.

There's a scene in the first Rambo movie that has stayed with me. Rambo flies into a righteous rage and flees into the wilderness, and the portly sheriff rounds up a bunch of weekend warriors to go after him. After Rambo does in a couple of hunting dogs and scares the daylights out of a few deputies, one member of the posse turns to another and says, "We aren't hunting him. He's hunting us!"

I think that same moment of truth happens in the lives of believers.

Few conversion stories play out as a lost soul shopping around until he finds a nice fit. Most are rather harrowing tales.

I think of the Francis Thompson poem, where Thompson is pursued through the sky by the howling "hound of heaven." When he finally turns to face his fate, he finds out the hound is really Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis talks of being brought into Christianity "kicking and screaming" — looking for any door or window for an exit.

From the Sacred Grove to the Garden of Gethsemane, followers often go from feelings of fear and dread to feelings of rescue.

The Aztecs believed God was a plumed serpent — a snake with fangs.

God still plays that role at times. But instead of poison, his prey find themselves "shot full of love" (to borrow Bod Dylan's line about Christian conversion). Instead of venom, they feel their veins fill with sweetness, peace, strength and energy.

Getting "stalked" and "taken" by God can lead to firmer footing in life, stronger family bonds, a clearer sense of self, lasting relationships and a sense of purpose.

It's a process that doesn't easily lend itself to selecting a "two star" church over a "one star" church based on a newspaper review, nor do "snacks" enter into the equation.

In fact, it's really not something that can be rated with a row of stars at all.

It's more akin to a moment that makes you feel one with the stars — all of them.


E-mail: [email protected]