Sometimes just getting to my regular seat at church is a pain in the--well, it’s a pain. There are so many people I’d like to avoid. I love the church, but I don’t like the people in the church. Welcome to the True Confessions edition of Students of Jesus.
My usual seat is on the far side of the auditorium and there’s no way to it other than by passing by people I’d rather not talk to. Walk with me.
There’s The Gullible Guy: He’s never seen a Facebook post he didn’t believe, and he means to tell me about every one. There’s a secret government campaign to confiscate Bibles in America; there’s a new prophecy about Israel and the 2012 Euro Football tournament; Sesame Street is the Devil’s playground. If I try to point out the problems with each one of these revelations it will mean I’m part of the conspiracy. Plus I’ll miss the entire praise and worship portion of church. I move on.
Just a few feet away is The Blowhard: He’s memorized the entire book of Malachi. He chose Malachi because “Christians don’t understand that the Old Testament is the key to the New Testament.” When it comes to orthodoxy, it’s his way or the highway to Hell. He snags my arm because he read something on my blog that caused him to think I might be a Neo-Platonist Arminian Sycretizer. At least, that’s what I think he said because the band is into their second song and I still haven’t gotten to my seat. Plus my coffee’s getting cold.
I swing wide to avoid Miss LonelyHearts. Otherwise she’ll hug me and hold both my hands while she asks me about every member of my family. Some people say she’s just really empathetic, but it seems each question is more about prolonging the conversation than it is about whether my son’s team won their age-group community league soccer game. She seems nice enough, but I resist her brand of empathy because I suspect it’s really more about her than it is about me.
The path to my seat requires that I swing wide around The Flag Lady, who worships with her own set of color-coded worship banners: red for sacrifice, purple for royalty, and that gold one that always makes me think of the New Orleans Saints. I steer past The Prostrate-n-Kneeling Crew, who always seem to be deeply touched by every song. But my seat is in sight.
I still can’t sit down yet because The Homeschool Family is running a ferry service in and out of the aisle with their six children, all of whom have names that end in “-iah.” This is confusing because they all look identical as well. If I have to say their names, I usually cough when pronouncing the first syllable and then say the one syllable I know.
When I finally get to my seat, I find it’s taken. There’s a New Guy, about 30, long brown hair, dark eyes, and a beard. He’s just a little too old for the sandals and T-shirt look, but he apparently thinks he can pull it off. Church is crowded today, so I don’t even get the one-seat buffer that common courtesy demands. I nod toward the new guy, using my best Alpha-male look and take my place next to him. I’m finally ready to worship but the presence of the New Guy kind of cramps my style. I steal a look his way. I think he’s into the worship. He’s not super demonstrative but he’s grooving on the music in his own way.
At our church the band circles around for a soft landing by the end of the third song, but they keep playing quietly in the background as someone steps forward to present a scripture-reading. They throttle back and settle in with the mood music. The reader opens the Bible and raises the microphone to his mouth:
"In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters."
I look to my left at the new guy and something strange is happening. His hair seems even longer. The T-shirt has morphed into some kind of robe with a golden sash, and--I swear to God--he’s beginning to glow.
After he listens to this passage he leans toward me and says: “I love you, Brother. I’ve loved you through each stage of your life, including the rebellious stage, the doubting stage, the porn stage, the video-game stage, and the greedy stage. I’m not ashamed to call you my brother.” Then he gestured to everyone in the room and asked me “If I am not ashamed of you, why then, are you ashamed to call these people your family?”