Okay, let’s pull back on the road and get back on track.
So, without going into great details (because they’re really of interest only to…well, me…), when I was growing up in Tupelo, MS back in the halcyon days of the 1980’s, there was a bit of what we shall term a separation of church and church. Allow me to explain…
Just as I have come to see the division between colleges/universities that inhabit the same city, there was – and may still be, for all I know – a prevalent division between not just Christians in Tupelo (everything from Protestant VS Catholic to Baptist VS Methodist VS Nondenominational VS Presbyterian VS etc.) but also between churches in the same denomination. For example, if one lives in Jackson, MS, then one attends Millsaps College as opposed to Mississippi College or Belhaven College…you’re tagged as probably being a certain way. Each school, although all of them are private and religiously-affiliated, has a certain “style” of student it attracts, either due to the make-up and heritage of the school or by virtue of the fact that for so long, students of a certain “type” attended there and – voila! – suddenly, the campus is rife with them.
Same as it goes with churches. The cliques and sub-genres of Christians that attend a church of a certain style or slant are there because like tends to be attracted to like. Not that there’s anything inherently WRONG with that in theory – but it does run the risk of coming across as possibly being exclusionary of others. Should every church be everything to everyone? At the risk of sounding heretical…not really, because given the various ways we as humans differ and the various passions we carry…we’re all different, and in my humble opinion, only Christ has the right to claim a “one size fits all” tag.
We just need to not judge or look down at one another for the ways we celebrate grace.
Case in point (now that I’ve chased this rabbit for a bit): back in the mid-to-late 80’s when I was in high school, there was this one Bible study (yeah, we still called ‘em that back then; it was the 80’s. We were dumb) that was housed at the house of a lady in town that was…more or less, an interdenominational small group for high school students from various protestant churches (mainly Baptist – SOUTHERN Baptist, specifically) who came together to meet weekly and learn from one another. In a lot of ways, in hindsight, this was a bit of a forerunner of the emergent/emerging church mentality; we were young and brash enough to want an authentic worship experience that also took us deeper into a study of the Bible that was devoid of all the trappings of the “open your hymnal to 138 and we will sing stanzas 1, 2, and 4” rut coupled with the “walk the Roman Road, come forth, pray a prayer, and sign our membership directory” style-teachings of our home churches.
The only criteria to attend this meeting? You had to be in the ninth grade or older. This added an air of mystery to us little peons in Junior High who wondered what the “big kids” did at this thing. Did they sit around and talk about s-e-x and how evil it was? Did they talk about going to college? Did the boys get to sit by the girls? You know – the questions of a deep and complex spiritual nature.
Once I was of the appropriate age, along with my friends Dea and Aaron (if you guys are reading this, by now, you’re probably snickering), we started attending on a semi-regular basis. It was kind of cool based on the fact that we got to see some of the “older kids” we saw at high school in a spiritual light. Oh, to be sure, when we were at school, they were – almost without exception – too COOL to speak to us, but in this little pocket of equality, we were…respected.
And some of the older kids role-modeled to a fault what it meant to talk about one thing on a weekday night and then to completely destroy any and all street credibility of being a Christ follower during the other 6.5 days of the week. This was, of course, the exception rather than the rule, but still…when one of THE most “popular” guys was seen as a role-model at this Bible study and then during the weekdays was heard dropping the “F-bomb” left and right, was a known drinker (we were still all underage; don’t forget that fact) and was – at least, according to reputation – an experienced ladies’ man…yeah. In hindsight, not that I judge, but someone somewhere along the line should’ve done a better job of explaining the Pharisees to these people, and how the harshest criticisms Christ ever reserved were for the ones who claimed His name but dishonored God by their actions.
Not that this excuses it, but we didn’t have The Message translation to put everything into plain English for us. :)
Anyway – these last few weeks at Mosaic have made me all nostalgy for this Bible study. This past Sunday clinched it for me, and where and why I was drawing the positive analogies of my youth. The main teaching pastor (hi, Kevin) was on vacation with his family, and – with the apparent absence of a traditional hierarchical grouping of deacons, elders, leaders, associate and assistant pastors – so, instead of canceling the gathering for that day, the teaching cloak was passed on to one of the guys in the congregation (who, in addition to doing a phenomenal job, tossed out one verse that started sparking thoughts that I sent to my fellow windshielder for a possible night of teaching at the 706 sometime this Fall, because it just – to me – fit so well in the series that’s been designed).
See, the setup at Mosaic is designed to make you feel at home. Like it’s designed for intimate moments, intimate connections, and heart-joining experiences (not THOSE intimate moments, connections, or experiences, ya buncha friggin’ gutter minds). And the simple fact that everyone seems to know everyone, but for people who come in as an outsider (you know – the kids like me & Ashley), it’s not as if we’re intruding in on a closed gathering. It’s like we have just been invited to sit down and join in the celebration.
It makes me sit back and smile at myself when I see the patterns that God’s been making evident in my life. The way that everything cycles, the way that everything IS connected to everything else. (Or, paraphrasing the words of Chagall Guevara: welcome to Escher’s World.) The way in which a choice of a Bible study I went to in 1987 set in my heart an understanding and appreciation of the worship experience I would have 20 years later. It helps me to better understand and have the thoughts galvanize in my mind about how everything I have ever done, said, seen, acted upon, and cried over has led me to this point in time, here and now, and that the path my life has been on HAS been set before me and that…yeah. God knows what’s going on. I might not, I might disagree with it, and I might even openly rebel against it and ignore that still, small voice screaming in my ear.
That I can have faith and take comfort in that my life is guided, that my past does play a part in who I am and who I am to be, and that there’s a hope beyond my questions that gives me comfort.
My only judgment between the twenty years? Thankfully, the coffee has improved in the past two decades.