Friday, November 11, 2011

Does God Care If I Eat Chocolate Ice Cream (Part 1)

This post is the beginning of a series called, Does God Care if I Eat Chocolate Ice Cream. This is how I think of questions related to things like divine intervention, and destiny, and things along those lines (which is odd considering my distaste for both chocolate and ice cream). My goal is to explore things like decision chains, and predestination. There will of course be a bit of cross over to other topics. But when you get deep by choice, you get wide by necessity. The post is a little long, but I’d like to think it’s worth it. The underlying themes I'd like you to consider are, the persistence of love and the confluence of events.

Part one: Over a Cup

Shortly after I settled into my DC digs, I stopped going to church. It was a decision, part antagonist, part apathy, part internal conflict. But for more than a year, I wasn’t attending any church regularly. When I was in a church it was as uncomfortable as a badly cut suit. If I was lucky, there was the awkward visitor glad handing, big toothy smiles, knuckle crunching greetings, and the stilted conversation which shields us from penetrating conversations, deep thoughts, or worse? Silence. You have to give them marks though. Enthusiastic, but a touch overwhelming. The other option is even less appealing. You walk in alone. You sing the songs. You listen to the message. And you go home alone. No greetings. No goodbyes. And lucky for the congregants, you didn’t upset the balance of their days. You could have watched a TV church service to the exact same end. After a few such visiting experiences, I settled into a regular living routine, and the church wasn’t a part of that routine. Work, write, sleep, play, repeat.

   Life goes on and my roommate and I moved from our little place on the outskirts to a microscopic place, right in the thick of it. I was still workin’ near the old place, so on a regular day, getting to work was an hour long trip of a train and a bus. On an irregular day it was three busses and two and a half hours of think time. And on those irregular days, I passed this church called Mosaic. It reminded me of a cool looking church I’d read about, over on the west coast. I thought about stopping in some Sunday. But, the people on the bus go up and down, and it was never more than a thought.

   Half a year elapses and I’m living and working in the thick of it, but some of my friends and thinking spots were still in the outskirts. So, every once in a while I found myself repeating my “irregular days” on purpose. All the while Mosaic sat at the side of the route, beautiful older architecture and an inviting new sign. I was going to go on Sunday, but I overslept Sunday School, and didn’t want to make myself, “that guy” as soon as I walked in... Maybe next week.

   Days and months roll on and I’m headed up to New England to be in the wedding of two very good friends. 688 miles from my childhood home, Canton, and 436 miles from DC. So the bride introduces me to her former roommate from her off campus semester in Michigan, of whom she’d spoken years ago, because she was attending Malone College in Canton where I grew up. And now when she introduced us at her wedding, the roommate is living in…DING! Our nation’s capitol. Our shared connections get us started, we chat over the course of the festivities,
“Do you go to a church in the area?”
“No. I visited a few. I’m kinda passively looking, at this point.”
“Well, you should visit my church, it’s called Mosaic?”

Let’s recap, shall we? So I went to New Hampshire for a wedding, met a girl who grew up in my hometown, who roomed with my friend, who studied in Michigan and, who lived in DC, AND attended the only church I’d considered going to. That’s a little much to be just a coincidence. So, immediately, upon my return, I didn’t go. I waivered and waffled, and stayed home.

I decided to go to church again, one Saturday night, the same way people give up smoking. Only this time, when I woke up late on that Sunday morning, despite my guarantee of tardiness, and at the risk of being, “that guy,” I dusted myself off and hopped on the bus, for the longest trip of my life.

I rolled along, as uncomfortable as anyone can be. While on a purely social level, large groups are my favorite, there’s something raw about being in a church. All the more, for a church one has no knowledge of, save the captivating sign, and the hope that a single familiar face may be among the gathered.

When the bus arrived at my destination, I didn’t know what to do. I walked over to the front of the building and just stood there, staring up at the building. The doors were open and I gazed through the foyer into the sanctuary. And I started in. Every step a hesitation. Not sure why I’m here, and not sure where to go next. Starbucks and the book in my bag are sounding more and more appealing.

I stepped through the foyer into the back of the sanctuary, and I just stood there. My head on a swivel, I teetered on the edge. A stiff breeze and I was gone with the wind.  The people in the church weren’t doing the typical pre-service milling; they were gathered around two large round tables eating breakfast. They’re eating. I’m standing. And I don’t know what to do.  There’s a young woman, maybe thirteen years old, standing in the corner rocking out on a by the cup coffee maker. I watched her for a second, “HI! Would you like some coffee?” She offered, with a smile that did not say, “Welcome to our church.” Her smile greeted me like family, “We’ve been expecting you. We’re so glad you made it.
I will never be able to encapsulate, the warmth that washed over me, in words. I felt what I can only express as God’s love radiating off of her, like the light of the sun off of the moon. Years of cynicism and disillusionment came off like the armor of battle which has been won. And, for the duration of my time in DC, the church enfolded me into its body.  Mosaic is a collection of broken pieces that come together in their brokenness to create something bigger, something beautiful, something eternal. Being a part of that community, reminded me why I want to be a Christian.