Today, one of my favorite customers at the coffeeshop came in. He is an older man and always fondly greets me with “hey boss!”, even when I do not immediately make eye contact. We have dialogued many times over the years about church, books, and even the city I live in. He is an incredibly sweet and kindhearted man who is full of smiles and laughs.
But today, he asked me an odd question. First, he led in with, “so are you going to start a church?” to which I replied a almost-too-firm, “oh, absolutely not!”. “Well, have you found a church to go to?” he asked. “Not yet, we are waiting to get settled” has become my standard answer. What he said next surprised me the most - he leaned in and whispered, “you’re not looking for a mosque, are you?”
I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
Texas is a strange land. People say things like, “have a blessed day” and they play worship music in chiropractor offices. Just imagine the lyrics, “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” singing over you while you get your back adjusted. Its weird. But its a totally normal thing here in the South.
Last week, we talked about where I spent my earliest years. Now, we are going to visit how on earth I got to Texas.
When I was seven years old, my dad left the Air Force and we moved to Texas - mostly, just to get back to America, but even more so to join forces with a local church that my folks had a relationship with. Bear in mind, my parents are North Easterners; my mom was born and raised on Long Island and my dad is from New Jersey. Texas was a total enigma.
Our family dove fully into this new church. We started off meeting in a small church building off the highway and then we moved to a high school cafeteria. The mascot for the high school, “the dragons”, was painted prominently in the cafeteria and we would lug a huge fake wall in every week to cover him up. Unfortunately, the “wall” was too short, so the dragon always curiously peeked over the top and observed us in our worship.
My dad was an elder, my mom taught Sunday school, I volunteered in the nursery, and it was through this church that I went on my first short term missions trip (a topic for a later date). I honestly do not remember a lot of the theology or what I learned about God - I just remember my best friends, the fun times we had, the time we got “held against our will” during a youth lock-in gone bad, and the ex-professional roller-derby-girl who taught us how to wave flags around during praise and worship - you know, normal kid stuff.
Unfortunately, it is also where I learned that people, even pastors, are fallible.
When I was thirteen, my dad sat my sister and I down to tell us that our new pastor had been preaching some “light heresy” and also, just maybe, embezzling some money.
That conversation shook me. “What does this mean?”, I thought. Wait, pastors lie? Pastors steal? I thought they loved God? How can someone whose job it is to tell us about God do those things? My thirteen year old brain was dizzy with questions.
What do you tell a young girl when the evidence is stacking up to label God and his people “untrustworthy”?
Here is what I would have told my thirteen year old self that day:
Janice, this is not the first time that people will disappoint you or prove themselves to be less than you thought. The church is made up of incredibly imperfect people. Sometimes they lose focus and they get distracted from truth. Sometimes, shiny things lure them in. But, when someone disappoints you, do not lose hope. Fight for the truth. And, please oh please, do not get bitter. Remember, the church is not a tribe or a particular political party - the church of God is broad and wide, diverse and beautiful. Sometimes you will not get along with everyone in it, but its important not to isolate yourself or build up walls. Ask questions, dig deep, grow, build community - that is the church, and its bigger than you think.
I wish that customer at the coffeeshop could know the journey that I have been on. I wish he could know how I have fought to not give up, to stay honest, to not build up walls.
So, here’s to staying the fight - to continuing to seek truth.
Do not give up.
Do not get bitter.
Do not lose hope.
My almost thirty-year-old self needs to hear these things too.