Can I Get an Amen?

May 17, 2011

10 a.m. t0 12:30 p.m.

Abyssinian Christian Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

Chosen because…ethnic diversity touted on website.

I grew up in what’s fondly referred to as Vanilla Village. White, middle class America. When I was a kid, if we saw a black person it was like encountering a rare bird. “Oh my God look, it’s a black person! Where do you suppose he lives? What’s he doing in Ft. Collins? Where do you think he works?”

Our fascination wasn’t malicious. We weren’t trying to find his workplace to torment him, we were just curious. Ft. Collins is more diverse than it used to be, but it’s still really, really white.

So imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I walked into the Fort Collins Abyssinian Christian Church and found myself in the minority. It was fantastic.

Culture Shock

This church is in the middle of a neighborhood, which is how church should be — an extension of community. It’s very plain. Blonde brick. Basic A-frame. Old office chairs stand in as pews, each one with what appears to be a handmade pocket on the back. The pockets don’t hold Bibles as everyone brings their own and, when they pray, they hold them up to heaven. This is new.

A woman greets me at the entrance, hands me a handful of peppermints. Confusing. Later, during a pause in worship, a woman sitting near me offers me a peppermint from her stash. Is this some sort of new age icebreaker?

Several men stand to the side of the cramped aisles. They’re well dressed and big. They look like bodyguards and do not leave their posts during service. I’m intimidated. Not by them, but the situation.

I’m not the only white person in the congregation, but I stick out because I look like a bum and everyone else seems to adhere to old-fashioned church values of dress up. The dreadlocked hippie in the choir provides some comfort.

Get Your Shout Out

The choir and keyboardist are active and unbelievable, providing accompaniment I actually want to listen to. This is the first time I’ve heard a church choir sing. Usually they mumble, occasionally harmonizing words. This choir does its thing throughout the service, including when the preacher speaks.

The preacher greets us. “I hope you woke up with prayer.”

We all did. Even me. My prayer was, “Dear God, please shoot me.”

I can’t imagine anyone else in the congregation greeted the day this way because they’re moving about singing, talking, dancing, smiling — they’re thrilled to be in God’s house.  This is an anomaly. I’ve never ever seen such enthusiasm for God. Ever.

As per usual, the greet your neighbor bit sends me into a panic. A very large hatted woman to my left gives me a huge bear hug. I sit, terrified that the man jumping over a chair is headed toward me. He isn’t, kisses the kid in front of me instead.

The preacher encourages us to “get our shout out,” which means clap, yell, sing and dance the devil away. Terrified and amused, I sit, watching. Eventually a smile dents my crabby face. Though I’m not shouting, the shout out is working.

I’m fascinated by a woman in the front who looks like she’s leading a Jazzercise class. She disappears. She either had to suddenly tie her shoe or she’s fallen to the ground. When she pops back up, she sits in a chair fanning herself so I think she was probably writhing.

The preacher says religion is “not a spectator sport,” but I cannot will myself out of my chair. I don’t feel judged by anyone other than myself. Personal problem.

The preacher’s messages are simple. Be grateful for the day. Put your faith in the Lord. I like what he has to say because he speaks like a human – not a theologian – and says things like, “Can I get a witness?,” prompting the congregation to follow with“Amen” and “yes sir.” I freaking love it especially when the older woman behind me starts croaking out “that’s right.”

I don’t care about this church’s message. The congregants are so excited about God that it really doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm for anything is half the battle. Why is this the first time I’ve seen people get excited about church?

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Family Meeting

November 16, 2010

Family meetings. Everyone has them. It’s time for ours.

You’re pushing back — rightly so — regarding yesterday’s emotional cop out. Why can’t/won’t I dig deeper into the New Testament? Why not examine it and myself more critically? Etc.

You’ve gotten to know me a bit through this blog, but I’m fairly good at hiding behind words. I mean my profile picture is a llama or an alpaca. Who can tell? I’ve never met the young woman on the masthead. I told you I hate Miracle Whip, am offended by Tex-Mex and wear contacts but what do you really know about me?

Time for some honesty. Right now I’m going through some stuff I cannot write about because it affects too many people. This is not a cop out. Actually, it would be easier for me to write about the situation. You know the relief you feel when you’re sick to your stomach and you finally vomit? That’s what happens when I write.

Believe me, I want to write about this. It would be a redemption of sorts but I can’t. My motives aren’t selfish. I’m not holding back to protect myself. In fact, let me lay out a few things that, until now, have been reserved for very close friends. This will make you pity me, hate me, distrust me, fear me, but it’s honesty, proof I don’t fear exposure, evidence that I want to be honest in this quest. Two things: I’ve had my stomach pumped twice and three years ago, I slit my wrist.

Two things got me through: Love and writing. If I were to write about the current situation, I would feel better but everyone else would feel worse. So it’s not an excuse, it’s just what it is. Bear with me on the New Testament. OK?

If you looked through the hole in my head, you’d see these are the scriptures (is that what they’re called?). Maybe they’ll provide more insight…

Scriptures (or whatevs)

“Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?”

“Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.”

“To have good fruit you must have a healthy tree; if you have a poor tree, you will have bad fruit.”

“Anything that goes in a person’s mouth goes into his stomach and then out of his body. But the things that come out of his mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make a person ritually unclean.”

Two other observations

1. Matthew is a much better writer/story teller than Mark though Mark found a use for “sickle” and told a troubling story about dropping a paralyzed guy through a hole in a roof so his book isn’t a complete wash.

2. The parables clearly laid the foundation for 21st Century jokes. Did you hear the one about the 10 girls who took their lamps to a bridegroom? How about the one about the three servants and their coins? Or the one about the sower who sat in a boat? That’s a real side splitter.

I suppose this post is a parable. It’s the only way to explain yesterday’s haze but I believe substance will creep back in.

By the way, do not feel sorry for me. I’m medicated, I have faith this situation will work out (whatever that means) and I’m too old and tired for suicide.

On that note…have an uplifting day!

Stopping Point: Book of Mark, Jesus Feeds 5,000 Men

Freshman. Those cute, idealistic 17 and 18-year-olds that falsely believe a college acceptance letter is an invitation to four years of freedom, experimentation, sex and some education. (Five years seems to be the norm). Watching them bumble around campus makes me feel old — the boys are, for the most part, hairless and concave — but they also bring me back to the Bible.

Many factions of the religious community are desperately trying to bring young people back to the church (If you need “facts,” click the USA Today link and Crossexamined.org). In fact, this weekend marks the annual National Back to Church Sunday, which seeks the obvious — increasing congregants.

Some people think liberal professors, outside influences and parents are to blame for the fleeing youth. I made my own uninformed judgments in “Dusting Off the Pew,” but really, we all just need to chill out, read the Psalms and watch college students. We all return to our roots. We’re all boomerangers. Some boom to God, others boom to parents but the four-step process is essentially the same.

1. The Separation

Man leaves God. Kid leaves parents. Both feel the same. They just have different experiences.

Psalm: “All of my bones are out of joint; my heart is like melted wax. My throat is as dry as dust and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

(If you do not understand how this relates to college, please view the video below).

Psalm: “Because I have been foolish, my sores stink and rot.”

(“I was wasted” is a poor excuse)

Psalm: “You love to hurt people with your words, you liar!”

(Texts from Last Night)

2. The Discovery

Like the man in the psalms, college students also explore. They trend away from Christianity and harp playing and toward Buddhism, hallucination and guitars.

Psalm: “Indeed every living man is no more than a puff of wind, no more than a shadow.”

(Keep puffing)

Psalm: “See what happens to those who trust in themselves, the fate of those who are satisfied with their wealth — they are doomed to die like sheep.”

(Facebook?)

Psalm: “I will never be deflated.”

(Enjoy your senior year)

3. The Revelation

Biblically, this is when the fallen tear their clothes and stop washing their hair.  Academics refer to this as “graduation” or “defeat.”

Psalm: “Wake up and punish the heathen.”

(Get a job).

4. The Return

One is back to God, the other is back in the basement.

Psalm: “I have trusted in you since I was young. I have relied on you all my life; you have protected me since the day I was born. I will always praise you.”

(Can I please live here until the economy rebounds?)

Psalm: “I cling to you, and your hands keep me safe.”

(I need food and gas money)

In some capacity, we all return to our roots be it location, religion or politics but as my mother would say, be careful what you wish for.

“…a survey of last year’s college graduation class showed that 80 percent moved back home after getting their diplomas, up significantly from the 63 percent in 2006. The CollegeGrad.com survey of 2,000 young people showed that seven in 10 said they would live at home until they found a job.” — Huffington Post

Boomerangers: Meet College Grads Who Have Moved Back Home (VIDEO)

(College graduate Sarah Allen talks about life at home. Worth watching.)

Church leaders. Do you really think you can accommodate an 80 percent increase in congregants? How big is your basement?

Stopping Point: More Psalms

Editor’s Note: This particular entry is loosely based on my experiences  at the University of Colorado, which ranked No. 11 on “Princeton Review’s Top Party Colleges for 2010.” Whoop! Just kidding. It’s a fiction tale based on the formative years of my CU sorority sisters.

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