Several months ago eight year old Avery Lake told me she remembered being in her mom's belly. Intrigued, I asked "You do? What was that like?" Without skipping a beat she replied "VERY bloody."
My memory is not quite as long as Avery alleges hers to be, but there are some remnants from my late-babyhood that linger. The Buddy Holly Greatest Hits 8-Track that my family listened to in that red Ford Mercury. Walking along the sidewalk of Tuckers General Store during the Chandler Centennial celebration, where Ernest Tubb performed on the trailer down by the train tracks and several years before the downtown buildings burned down and were demolished. But the most vivid and numerous of these memories are from the inside of the little tan brick building on 3rd Street that held the congregation of First Baptist Church.
In that place we were free to roam. Of course we had to be in our classes when they began and in church on time, but in the in-between times, the building was ours. This was a different time and place, of course, where all parents assumed that every adult in the church was keeping an eye on the children and would keep them from harm and discipline them if they saw fit. It took a village, if you will.
But back to memories. It's strange the things you remember. What I remember most from those early years in church are the patterns on all the surfaces. The cheap linoleum in the nursery was cream colored with precise puzzle-piece type sections that probably originated from an early 70's drug induced creative streak of some floor manufacturer. The tile on the ceiling were perfect squares, suitable for counting when the church service became boring. The upholstery in the pews was solid red and had minuscule diamond patterns that would embed in your hands if you sat on them long enough.
These memories are random, but they are mine. They tell the story of a kid that always had a home aside from the one where he laid his head at night.
In conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago, a younger person who has many friends at UBC, I came to an epiphany-- No one at UBC, my church, ever feels like they really ever completely belong. Some of us who mostly sit on the side, us "older folk," can feel alienated from the language and emphases that are zeroed in like a missile on the life of a college student. Those in the center, though, see the way the older people walk the halls with confidence, familiarity, and a sense of permanence, can feel that, since they are transient and we are not, then the church belongs to us.
Though at home, we all can feel like exiles.
This morning we dedicated five babies. It was beautiful. The parents promised to raise their child after the way of Christ, said a personalized prayer, and then the church promised also to be family to these babies and to model Christian love in their lives. When that part of the service was over and the parents took their children back to the nursery, a little smile began to slowly form on my face as the realization formed-- Some people in the building today felt they completely belonged. Of course, and I guess this is the irony, they can't articulate all that this entails. They aren't in conversation with each other about the direction or lack thereof with the church. It really doesn't matter to them who is preaching and none of them are there because of who sings on Sunday morning. (Well, I guess technically Emmy Parker is.)
All they know is that sometime in the course of the morning they will be fed, played with, passed around by scores of people patiently waiting their turns, and may even sneak a nap in when they feel like it. Later they will hear songs that tell of God's extravagant love and the ancient stories of sin, sacrifice and redemption that reverberate into the narratives of our lives.
They will also notice the surfaces. The grainy-colored carpet they play on in the nursery. The corrugated tin that lines the hallways. Standing on stage, if they looked up, they could see the painting of the Last Supper.
As adults they will tell stories of that place. The surfaces, the people, the stories. And hopefully, they will say that there has never been a time when they didn't belong. To this church, yes, but also to the God that became a baby so we could all become children again.