April 2018

Monday, September 30, 2013


Ann and I attended church yesterday with my friends and previous colleagues Dawn, Dave, and Erik. We'd never been to this church before, and I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't what I expected.

I had thought that these friends attended an evangelical, ultra-conservative church. I had never attended such a church before, and they said that they thought that Ann and I would be welcome, so I wanted to be part of a service and to see where I saw God in this place. At first, the scene was so different than what we experience at our little progressive Methodist church, that I continued with my preconceptions about what defined this church. 

The church is relatively new, just eight years old, and convenes in an elementary school gym. Ann and I followed the signs to "Jesus Christ Salt & Light Company" (I forgot to ask why it's called that.) That name sounded like it could be an evangelical church. A friendly man greeted us at the gym door and invited us in. Several people noticed us entering and noticed that we were new and came to greet us. It seemed like the people in an evangelical church would be friendly.

So far, I'm sorry to say, this friendliness probably wasn't what newcomers experience coming to our church for the first time. Though we do have greeters at the door, you enter the sanctuary from the back, so as  you enter,  you see the backs of people who are already seated. If Ann and I are already there, we're up front (so that we pay attention), and we probably don't turn around to see you. Because it's been difficult for me to turn my head since neurosurgery, I'm sure I don't turn around, and I also don't grab my cane and hobble up to see that you feel welcome. In fact, I might not even notice that you're there for a few years and am likely to introduce myself several times over the years.

As we entered among this friendly group, we approached maybe 75 folding chairs, this church's pews. In front, musicians plugged in their instruments: two electric guitars, one acoustic guitar (or it looked like one, but it had a plug), one electric keyboard, a drum set and a few mics. Someone else was setting up the computer to display lyrics, images and Bible verses throughout the service. Though we do have a few mics at our church, we're otherwise without technology: another difference. 

My friend Dawn, who was checking the mic for her solo, waved and ran over to say hi. When she had been serious and checking the mic, I didn't recognize her because she has cut off her dreadlocks and now has a short cut with a swoop of purple. When she ran over, however, (and yes Dawn runs in church--she wears blue jeans, too--excellent), I recognized her kind enthusiasm in yet another welcome. 

As the chairs filled, the band sang "Hosannah," and I noticed for the first time that the lead singer and acoustic guitarist was Dawn's husband Erik, a science teacher at the same school. He had his same short haircut from a few years ago but now sported a new beard along his chin line that was spookily reminiscent of my seventh grade science teacher's beard. Sometimes he raised his hand in the air--and sometimes Dawn did--I'll have to ask them why they do this. I've seen it before, but I don't know what it means.

As the music played, Dawn and her kids ran to the back to dance with flags, something I had never experienced before. Dawn said the flags and the dancing had something to do with the Biblical Ninevites, but she didn't know what: she just thought it was fun. At my church, we mostly stay seated if we're over the age of twelve.

As the music played and some people danced, a woman from behind came to give me a giant hug. "Sue!" I said. Sue also works in this district, and though she works with the little ones and their teachers and I worked with high school students and their teachers, we shared a skepticism about what we perceived to be pretension. Plus, we share a birthday: March 13. (Please note it.)

After the music, two folks (bravely, I thought) stood to demonstrate that they had memorized the month's memory verses, and then everyone but Ann and me knelt to pray (Ann doesn't have the knees for it, and I don't have the mobility: Dawn had told us ahead of time that we didn't have to kneel.) 

Much like at our church, there was an offering and then Dawn of the blue jeans and the purple swoop stood to sing her solo while Erik played the guitar and images that Dave's wife, Judy, (his best half, I hear)  had put together. As she introduced the song, Dawn said, "I like this song because it reminds me that I can be faithful to all that God  has called me to do in the face of all that is terrible in the world. This is a song of hope."

I understands Dawn's search for meaningful living and working in the context of what sometimes seems an overwhelming need in the world, a need that I know I can't fill. (Senior Romero said that's part of the difference between being a worker and being God, so I should chill out.)

Dawn sang and Erik played the guitar as images rolled by, and for the first time I thought, "These people are new hippies, like us. I like their church, and I think they would like ours." The day's music and message rang true for me: Let me be an instrument of God's love in this world. Let me love deeply. Let me especially love those who live in difficult conditions of poverty and disease. 

A woman stood to read the day's scripture, as happens in our church. She read 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11: 
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

I thought, "Yes, this church and I are of the same Spirit. The setting and the trappings are so different in so many ways, but the spirit is the same. How perfect that this was today's verse."

Only it turned out that this was not today's verse. My friend Dave, who was preaching on this day, had emailed the wrong verse. Still, it was the right verse for me.

Dave intended to talk about the beginning of John 16, with the message that in weakness there is strength and ended with the disheartening verse, "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God."

Dave pointed out that he prefers strength over weakness, something that many of us may share with him. He said that as a culture, we like the strong, the winners. As evidence, he said, attendance at the Seattle Mariners' baseball games has dropped 66% in the last decade. "Why?" he asked, and answered his own question: "Because they're terrible."

Dave's sermon was in many ways like his high school American history lectures, with his mix of self-deprecating humor and serious reflection. 

Dave told a story about a guy who'd had his truck towed after the Husky football game on Saturday night. I've forgotten the point of the story--something about how things don't always go right just because you're faithful-- but I remember that Dave said, "All of us have had our trucks towed." Yep. I've had my truck towed: brain tumors, car wreck, swine flu...My truck's been towed. 

Dave noted that the American prosperity gospel, claiming that you will prosper if  you are loved by God, has it wrong. "We're supposed to be like Jesus," he said. "And look at what happened to Him." He concluded, "The kingdom of God is about Jesus Christ taking broken people and making them whole....You know what we should pray?" Not make me strong and wealthy. Nope. "My life, God, is yours today. Do what you will." 

This message of love and humility was not what I had expected. After the service, I asked the lead pastor, Pastor Jerry, what sort of church this was. "Some people identify as Methodists or Baptists and such. Some think of themselves as conservatives, or evangelicals or liberals. How does your church identify?"

"Strange," Pastor Jerry said. "We're strange. We're not really about religion. We're about relationships."

Yep. I liked this place.  

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