Clueless in America. Chapter 37

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37. The ‘Holy Trinity’. ‘Cafe’, ‘The Book Shop’ and ‘the Holy Toilet’

Well, you know how much I hate those times where we have to share about what God has been doing through us in Lithuania. I always feel the temptation to sell our cause and totally refuse to. But on the other hand, I am always really thankful for the opportunity. I would actually rather preach, but oddly enough America the-land-of-empowerment has a reputation of not sharing its pulpits and we only found this to be true. The church which we were visiting did get it right as far as our wee spiel went though. The evening was perhaps somewhat set up for us, but it did not focus entirely on us. For me the crowd winner of the evening was a table overflowing with cakes. Under normal circumstances I would have gorged myself here but I had been in the USA too long and had become more additive than human. American food tastes so good and leaves you feeling so bad. The second hit of the evening was the open-mike-entertainers, they had a good time clowning around. And then there was us; being us we vocalised through poetry, stories and photos, and as per usual at the end I felt like we had not reached anyone. We spent the rest of the evening chatting away, answering all sorts of questions about Lithuania. As good and as valuable the evening was, it still felt horrible for me. This just seems to be part of the territory with which I must struggle.

Sunday morn was church time. This was the first church of our denomination that we had visited during this trip so I was keen to watch and learn. This church was also coming out of the American churchianity syndrome of fund-raising their way into a new building and I was very keen to see this building. I guess what I was expecting was a square, imitation windowless carpet factory girt with V.I.P pastors’ parking and American and Israeli flags. It seems two things are synonymous in American christianity: the first being the rather odd and comfortable marriage between the church and state and the second being the ‘Holy Trinity’, or the ‘Cafe’, ‘The Book Shop’ and the ‘Holy Toilet’. I was very keen to see if this church was another American church that worshipped at the altar of the ‘Holy Trinity’.

Well I was not totally disappointed and was a little surprised. The church was another Jerusalem-type church sitting like a light on a hill, but no Israeli flags. The first thing that hit me as we drove up through the trees was that God had yet to provide them with enough money to seal their entrance  road. We were driving over pot holes up a dirt track. In my personal, and I stress very humble, opinion, there is nothing worse than the perfectly-polished church that has it all together. I like churches with character, creaky pews, leaking roofs and daggy pastors. I enjoy churches that serve you great cups of tea that you would never drink at home because they are so bad. A gravel driveway to a new church was a good start for me. I cannot remember what the outside of the building looked like. I am presently sitting in a cafe so cannot ‘google’ up a picture of it so please be content that it could have been brown wood or it could have been grey concrete. But the important thing to note is that it was not a square building. In fact it even looked something close to how I imagine a church building should look. No steeple, but they did have a steeplish kind of thingy on top. The car park was not that big, however we still parked some distance from the door. The congregation size was still blissfully small enough for the person who greeted us at the door to actually know and care that they were greeting new people.

And yes they did have the ‘Holy Trinity’ thang goin’ down. There was a small book store on the left and a cafe flanked with toilets on the right. The communal cafe area was very light, with lots of wood. It seemed that the décor was teetering between cute and stylish. It was so far definitely the nicest north American church that I had visited. But it was the meeting hall that really set the building apart from the rest. For starters the room was not square and the chairs were in a half hexagon format. In fact I was unsure if this really was a church or not, how could one possibly recognise a brand new twenty-first-century American church when it did not have square carpet tiles? I mean if we had to line up, how would we know where to stand? The floor was strange, nice but strange. It almost seemed to be polished concrete tiles. In most circumstances this totally would not work, but in this case the room was full of light and had large light-emitting windows behind the pulpit. Of course they were not silly enough to have these windows low enough for you to glance out and day dream your way through the sermon. One of the windows rose up quite high to form the afore-mentioned steeplish thingy. It was kind of like a giant stained glass window without the stained glass, thus allowing heaps of light in. It always strikes me as a bit of an oxymoron, these churches that sit you in the dark and preach on Jesus the Light of the World. This new church building was set out very nicely and the fact that it was light and airy, somehow participated in the facilitation of community.

The service was good, good worship and very good teaching. At one stage we were dragged up the front and blessed with yet another church praying for us. But there were two buts. This was not a church for me: as I said before, I struggle at well polished churches, I need some blood, guts and good old-fashioned community building grit. It was clear that this close congregation had journeyed together and that perhaps now with the new building, was on the other side of a mountain. It felt like the wrinkles had been polished out and I love wrinkles.

Now I am not saying that the next befuddled monologue explains the above church, but it is one of the things about which I left thinking.

One of the fundamental problems with our denomination is that in the west, it is a predominately white middle-class church. White, middle-class churches for me are like vomit on an ice-cream cone. The packaging is good, but they smell and taste terrible. It is strange that in the west we are a  middle-class church, when one of our focuses is serving the poor. Serving the poor, or perhaps better said as serving the asocial, is something that I am doing every week. However this kind of serving is in danger of becoming a luxury accessory for modern day church. Why do we serve the poor? Is it because it is something that needs to be on a church programme in order to make the church complete? Is it something that is driven out of pity? I promise you, the poor do not need our pity, they need our love. I can learn more about life and God during an afternoon in our local orphanage that I can during a Sunday morning in church. Are we serving the poor because we somehow think that doing good things will get us into heaven or at least closer to God?  Are we obeying the Bible, trying to obey God, or are we serving the poor as our worship of God? Each to their own I guess. The question I am working through is, why can I not see the poor in our local churches? Am I blind to them, are they not there or are we converting them into middle-class clones of ourselves? I so desperately hope not. One of the many beautiful things that the so-called poor have to offer is their vast richness of life experiences and non-kin family relationships. Us, we-have-all-we-need middle-class are in such danger of looking down on God, but the poor they look up at him with awe and wonder. Often with simple sentences they are capable of totally confounding my minimal Bible college-educated knowledge. The poor are such a gift and we should never introduce them to God only to refine them into middle-class clones. Encourage them into rough, non-conforming diamonds and let their voices be heard. Either we are not bringing them into our church communities or on arrival they are be presented with white, middle-class straight jackets.

Of course, to be all post sucky modern on you, we do not need to bring the poor into our churches. However if we are enjoying community, equality and relationship to minister to the poor, and they are  playing with our kids and eating at our dinner tables, then worshipping together should be a natural progression of the relationship. The poor are our friends, not our subjects or an accessory item. We should celebrate life with them and celebrate who they are without conforming them to our mould. A little easier said than done and with that I will now formally get off my high horse.

So what comes next?

Well you will have to wait until next week for that.

For past chapters click here. Or look on the side panel.

You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry!

Thank you so much to those of you who donated to the writing of this posting of Clueless in America. This chapter was written in the Tinderbox cafe  in Merchant City, Glasgow, Scotland.

Thank you so much for reading out for lunch. If you would like to contribute toward the running of out for lunch or donate money towards my writing projects, please click on the donate button. Thanks Kel.

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