Sunday, January 30, 2011

Big Church, Small Girl

Texas...familiar and foreign at the same time.  I lived in Dallas from the ages of 12-14 and arrived back two days ago to visit my parents, who re-located from Portland three years ago.

Last night I attended the mega-church in Rockwall my parents are members of.  We walked in "late" and worship was in full swing.  Three huge screens in front with alternating close-ups of the band members with lyrics to the songs underneath.  The auditorium was HUGE.  It holds 5000 but my dad told me "only 2500 were probably actually there."  Ha!  Really?  So few...

As the three of us stood and sang along with everyone else, my mind wandered.  I began to remember all the churches I have been a part of in the past, and realized it's no wonder I have a hard time really feeling a part of any one church.  The daughter of a man who felt led to plant churches around the country, I grew up never getting attached to any one in particular or the people who went there.  Everything was temporary.  At the end of the day, we would leave.  We would move.  We would begin again.

Mega-churches are interesting, and actually, the kind I am least familiar with.  We would only attend this type of church in the interim of a move, as any church my father started up would be small.  I remember attending Jerry Falwell's church in Lynchburg, VA, and being terrified of the thousands of people.  There were lights and cameras everywhere.  People laughed and cried loudly.  When my family filed onto the platform there one Sunday to be "sent off" before another move, I cried in front of everyone as my mom looked on with embarrassment.  I couldn't help it.  I was petrified and didn't understand how/why all these strangers laying hands on us was going to benefit ME.  Stranger danger. 

Another mega-church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada - more terrifying than Lynchburg because half the church spoke French.  My father would herd us around like cattle and introduce us to everyone.  I didn't understand why they spoke a different language from me.  I came up with my own answer...they were speaking in tongues.  I had seen people do that in church before - that was the answer.  Sounded the same...made sense.  I took the liberty to educate and alert my younger sisters to this fact and was secretly proud when my less shy sister was introduced to a French-speaking man one Sunday and asked him, "Why are you speaking in tongues?"  My parents were horrified and apologized profusely, telling the man they had no idea where she had come up with such a question. She pointed at me.  I shook my head "no."  All eyes turned on me.  My heart was beating out of my chest and I could barely breathe, but I managed to squeak out, "Is that bad?"  Silence.  I supposed it was.  Oh, Canada.

I much preferred smaller churches.  I could run around with my sisters and felt very important because my daddy was the pastor.  Everyone knew who I was and it felt like everyone liked me.  But here, in these small churches, was where I learned that authenticity in the church was hard to come by.  Everyone was "nice."  No one yelled or spanked their kids, marriages were intact, and everyone was very put together.  At least in public.  I secretly hoped that behind closed doors, their lives looked more like mine.  Early in the morning at my house one Sunday before church, my mom had spanked me and yelled because I was reading in my room instead of getting in my dress.  I continued to cry in the car on the way to church and when we pulled into the parking lot she said, "Jamie, knock it off.  You don't want people to see you this way.  What would they think?  The pastor is your daddy."  Small statements like this were made frequently.  I had no idea what they meant at the time but the implications for my future views of the church and "Christians" in general were substantial.

As we took our seats last night after worship, I glanced at my parents and smiled to myself.  Some things never change...but some things, thankfully, do.  In the revolving door of churches of my past, I had somehow managed to find a church in my present that I feel at home in...where authenticity is embraced and encouraged.  I can laugh, cry and be myself.  I am always accepted.  I settled down in my seat further, very much engrossed in my own thoughts when the man directly behind me yelled out, "Tell it!" and I jumped (literally) inches in the air.  Holy s**t.  I had almost forgotten I was in the South.

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