There is something about a 100-person choir that can amend any controversy. It can change expectations, overlook disagreement and immediately make discomfort into comfort. The sound of passionate, dedicated voices could very well solve all of the problems in the world.
My experience at Lenexa Christian: Assemblies of God, is hazy, like a dream that you can remember right when you wake up, but not afterward. Then, certain pieces stick in your mind vividly, like reality—sights, smells, sounds—and the rest of the dream disappears. The first thing I heard when I walked into Lenexa Christian was the choir. I could see them in the distance, through the sanctuary doors, moving back and forth to the music. The band was musicless, relaxed and improvisational. Though they were rehearsing, it sounded sincerely on-the-fly, like a tight-knit jazz combo that can change keys together just by mutual feeling. I was overcome with joy. I suddenly forgot how worried I was to attend a tongues-speaking, bible-preaching, altar-calling mega-church. What should have seemed foreign and distant felt strangely like home. Throughout the service, I had moments of liberal Protestantism, when I stopped and realized how much I was enjoying myself. That’s when I started to really freak myself out.
The preacher sang as he spoke and extenuated his thoughts with movement and volume. He spoke in tongues twice, and though I now look back on it with a smile, at the time I didn’t find it that funny. Every aspect of the service was joyous and uplifting, and the people were as genuine and heartfelt as the church. The sermon, which I expected to be filled with hell and damnation, offered a different approach to the concept of “God’s Will.” Whereas other conservative preachers claim that sickness, debt and job-loss is due to lack of prayer, tithing and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Pastor Purkey (awesome name, right?) suggested that God’s Will is unique to each individual. He presented an example: two people have cancer. They each undergo the same treatment. One individual goes into remission while the other person's disease worsens. This is not because one is less of a sinner than the other. It is because God’s Plan is different for everyone.
I still have trouble accepting this theology. People often say, “Everything happens for a reason,” “God never gives us more than we can handle,” or “It’s God’s Plan.” I don’t really believe in the devil or Satan, but I do believe that bad things sometimes happen to good people, and I have trouble believing in a God that “plans” that. Though I try to comprehend an almighty, powerful God that is perhaps capable of inflicting such pain, I tend to also give credit to circumstance and reason. Sometimes, there is no explanation, just circumstance. Sometimes, in order to feel strength and have faith, we conclude that God must be behind it. Like the Israelites thought that God was hardening the heart of Pharaoh, we often reason that God is behind our suffering.
And I guess that’s okay. If that is helpful for people during a time of crisis, to understand suffering as part of God’s Will, then I have no right to disagree. For me, though, I can’t trust a God that gives people cancer for a reason, utilizes misery to teach a lesson, or makes pain a part of the plan. I appreciated that Pastor Purkey verified what I do for sure believe, people don’t get sick because they don’t pray hard enough. That is just outrageous.
Near the end of his sermon, as if the terrifying connection I felt with this church couldn’t get any stronger, I heard a phrase I thought I would never hear again in church, “Never put a period where God puts a comma.” I turned to my mother to view a mirror image of my own shocking expression. And then, I cried. I cried out of mourning for a denomination I’ve lost, and a family that I desperately miss. I wonder now why I didn’t feel anger or resentment because another church stole the UCC’s slogan. I think it’s because that experience affirmed the only type of evangelism I do support, the spreading of new ideas, progressive change and serious discussion.
I have come to terms with the fact that I enjoyed this service so much. I was in a joyous, uplifting, non-judgmental, diverse environment. I felt affirmed, involved and completely emotionally present. Now, I must consider the same dichotomy I experienced with the Southern Baptists: Could I justify attending a church that is part of a denomination that is extraordinarily anti-gay?
Maybe now and then, if it’s God’s Will.