It's summer, the time when church youth groups on their way to and from camps and mission trips stop by our church to experience the music of The David Crowder Band. In my attitude, and I believe in the attitudes of others who have remained at UBC for several years, I have seen a progression of reactions to this phenomenon. The beginning stage consists of acting surprised that anyone would want to go out of their way to visit a church because of who leads the musical part of our worship. It is here in conversation where we pull out our respective stories of where we were when we "found out" the DCB was a "big deal." This usually consisted of us overhearing someone enthusiastically reaping praise upon the band and then feigning surprise that anyone knew who they were. The purpose of this approach was to exhibit a sophisticated detachment from any mindset that may suggest we go to UBC just for the music.
The next stage is anger. I think most of the time this begins as pretend anger (more detachment,) and occasionally evolves into genuine indignation. Here is where we say something about boundaries and how we feel like zoo animals being watched by paying customers.
Eventually we settle into an acceptance that we are what we are-- A Destination Church. I suspect Destination Churches are a relatively new phenomenon, probably nonexistent before television. I can't imagine my grandparents, devout as they were, wondering what it may be like to visit a church outside of their home town. That, to them, would be insanity. But for me, raised in the age of celebrity, I cannot act surprised when people actually like something, in this case a worship band, that is not immediately in front of them every Sunday. Because I have my own Christian celebrities I wouldn't mind seeing every now and then as well.
Not sure where that is going, except that I have three stories about my church to share with you.
Several days ago at work I noticed, from a distance, someone pick up a book by a relatively popular author who is part of the Emerging Church Movement. I could see a negative reaction appear on this person's face. My natural instinct was to try and engage in a little conversation, but I chose instead to file it away for another time. Either I have shown remarkable growth in this area, or I'm just tired of talking. But the conversation eventually came to me. I was asked by the person whether or not I went to church. After a fruitless attempt at lying, I said that yes, I did go to church. I was then asked where, to which I told the truth, and added the caveat that if this person wanted to be critical of Emerging Church thought, then I'd probably be a safe person to speak to. I suppose it was my invitation to honesty that empowered this person to be so blunt in saying, "I'd be interested in knowing why you'd want to go THERE." I shared the reasons why I arrived there, acknowledged that some of her concerns with our type of church are valid and true most of the time, and then confessed that the reason I'm still there is because it's easier to stay than to leave and that I'd just be trading one set of problems for another.
Several weeks ago I ran into an old friend who asked what I have been up to. After hearing where I lived I was then asked where I went to church. Upon hearing the answer my old friend replied reverently, as a child talks about Disneyworld, "Oh, that is SUCH a great church." I told this person that they were correct, it IS such a great church. My inner demeanor changed, though, when I asked when my friend had visited my church and the answer was "Never, I've just heard a lot about it." If I were in a more contrarian mood, I would have clarified that what I meant by being a "great church" and what my friend meant were two totally different things. I've got lines on my face, bags under my eyes, and a collection of restless nights to prove that a great church community rarely means a life of bliss.
The youth group this past Sunday took up most of the center seats, those vacated by students away for the summer. It was an expressive group, as far as hand placement was concerned, much like the first few Sundays of the fall semester. When the sermon was finished and the ushers called for offering, the band began to play. Our visitors had obviously not received the memo that this is the time to pray, think about lunch, or silently look around and judge your neighbor for praying or thinking about lunch. So they stood and they raised their hands and closed their eyes as tight as they possibly could. When this happened I realized something about myself. For the better part of my life, as far as my faith is concerned, I have been competitive person. In my younger years this competitiveness manifest itself in being more spiritual than anyone else. Later, once I realized the futility of that, I tried to be the most cynical person in the room. If I couldn't raise my hands as high or close my eyes as tight as you, then damn it, I'm going to secretly demean you better than anyone else can.
But this past week, when the middle section stood, raised their hands and closed their eyes, something inside me was able to say-- You know what? Good for them. I'm really happy they are having this experience.
So, there's that. Do with it what you will.