Thursday, November 5, 2009

Church #5 of 10: Amazing Grace, How Come the Routine

“So your dad must be pretty conservative,” I replied to Rachael, who was sitting on the floor of her bedroom working on music theory homework.

“Conservative?” Rachael inquired, “Why? He’s Methodist Minister.”

“Right…” I didn’t look up from my book.

When I felt Rachael’s eyes on me, I glanced up and put down my highlighter. “I mean, Methodists are pretty conservative, right? So it must be hard since you’re so liberal.”

“Methodists aren’t conservative,” she seemed utterly perplexed.

“Sure they are. My dad grew up Methodist, they told him he was going to hell because he wasn’t saved. And, in my city, there is this giant Methodist Mega-church that totally gets off on ignorance and whatnot. It’s called ‘Church of the Resurrection,’ but I call it ‘Church of the Mega-Erection.’”

“Are you sure they’re Methodists?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m sure. It’s one of those say-a-lot, do-nothing denominations,” I said, without considering that this might offend her.

Rachael’s heart was so genuine and pure that she seemed more concerned than offended. “In the Bay Area, they aren’t like that at all.”

“You mean, you’ve never met a conservative Methodist?” I raised my eyebrows.

“And you’ve never met a liberal one?”

Since that conversation, I have met plenty of liberal Methodists. In addition to Rachael, and her boyfriend, David, I encountered them all over the country, at protests and marches. I realized that in my own city, The Reverend, Mayor, now-Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is a progressive Methodist pastor and politician. But I have not sought them out. I was so proud of my ex-denomination’s national stance on the “tough” issues that I ignorantly pushed aside what I called the “say-a-lot, do-nothing” denominations—Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans.

When visiting Broadway Methodist Church, I expected a congregation much like my ex-church. Elderly, progressive in thought, but unwilling to take much serious action. I also thought I might experience a protestant, slow service, like the Lutheran frenzy. I have worshipped in Methodist churches before and have never been very moved or impressed. What most people find comfortingly traditional, I find annoyingly conventional. The Methodists are a large, well-known denomination, and therefore, easy to criticize. Generalizations fit them.

Broadway Methodist fit-in, but stood-out, much like my beloved friend, Rachael Weasley. I know it may seem odd that I shun tradition and also bask in its glory, but it really depends on how it is presented. I love an homage to the past, a recognition of the spirits and places before us, but I always need movement toward the future. Broadway Methodist kept its beautiful stone structure but built a coffee shop into their fellowship hall. Their piano and organ were old and decrepit, but the music was upbeat and contemporary.

The service was out of the ordinary for this church. A guest preacher/pianist spent the first 40 minutes of the service preaching about “Dancing on the Edge of Mystery.” He told a story, made a point, and brought it home with a song...several times. It was a routine that I could stand to endure every week: using music to give the message, using a message to play the music. Such a powerful and moving interaction gave way to the last 20 minutes, which lived up to the slow, boring Protestantism of which I’m starting to tire.

Broadway Methodist required me to admit that it isn’t routine that I dislike…it is under-stimulation. In fact, I love routine and function well in environments with rules, structures and procedures. But I pace when I teach, sing-along with the radio, and doodle during staff meetings. I think when I’m driving, dream when I’m awake, and type blog entries when I’m sitting in graduate class. In order to be really moved, motivated and involved, I need to be visually, aurally and physically inspired. Most of all, I have to be intellectually enthused. And I’m not claiming to be a highly intelligent academic. Sometimes it takes very little to stimulate my mind. For the first 40 minutes, it worked, for the last 20, it really didn’t.

So I wonder if this is true of Methodists. Are they 2/3 like my friend Rachael, interesting, progressive and welcoming, with significant stimulation? And does the remaining 1/3 just happen to live in the Midwest? Which third was it that knocked on my door within two hours of the service with a coffee mug, homemade bread and a pen? And is that enough to make me go back?

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