Saturday, November 10, 2007

South of the Border...

*due to incredibly sketchy internet access over the last couple days, this is a post from Nov. 5 but copied, pasted and posted today!

I’m sitting in a small café that Katie has always talked about, Caribou Coffee. It’s got this quaint log cabin feel, the baristas are friendly and the coffee is good. It has to be. It’s not my first visit to Caribou AND I passed a Starbucks to get here! Plus, it's fair trade!

Just reflecting on what I’ve done since the last time I wrote. Yesterday, for one of Katie’s classes, we went into inner city Chicago to attend Sunday morning services at a Black Charismatic Catholic Church; St. Sabina Church. If it seems, as you read it, like that would be a fascinating combination, let me just assure you that you’re right. It is. I wanted to absorb it all but honestly it felt like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose on full blast right from the minute we walked in the door. The church meets in massive stone cathedral that stood in stark contrast with the community it was in and yet somehow felt like it was in exactly the right place. It was fantastic. I couldn’t help but wish that I had my camera as I gawked at the stained glass windows, beautifully carved statues and intricate carvings adorning the walls. What was fascinating to me was how it had been “updated” to fit the community meeting in it. A unique melding of old and new. On the carved pillars at the corners of the sanctuary, speakers had been mounted and covered. There was not a crucifix in sight. Instead, there was a massive mural of a black Jesus being released from the hands of heaven. We knew it was Jesus because of the halo surrounding his Afro. It’s also the first church I’ve ever been in that has Jesus’ name up in neon lights! Seriously, I wish it had been appropriate to take pictures!

What I was impressed by was the amount of energy and passion the people brought. In some ways, it was exactly what I expected at a black church (thanks to Hollywood’s rendering in many a movie).

The music was incredible! An incredible choir. Worship band that would put a lot of secular bands to shame, fully pieced out with a trumpet, saxophone, drummer, percussionist, electric guitar player, keyboard player, vocalist and one of the most incredible bass players I’ve ever heard. It was such an interesting blend of R&B and the electric jazz that Chicago is famous for. It was so refreshing to hear music of that quality in the church!

I can’t forget to mention the dancers. Fully choreographed, they danced for at least an hour at the start of the service and from the alter call on, right until we left. I can’t imagine bringing that much energy to church. I have trouble getting out of bed. A mix, in my mind, of tae boe aerobics and interpretive dance. They definitely got their work out! I couldn’t help but think that most people I know would set aside time and pay big money for a work out like that where all these folks did was bring what they had to church to use as part of their worship. Right or wrong, I don’t know. Just different.

The preacher, too, was in many ways like the stereotype would require except (and here was the real surprise) he was white. Passionate and electrifying, he definitely knew how to bring excitement to Sunday morning. He expounded, for at least an hour, on the story of Zaccheus, the role of the Church and how Jesus is “on the move.” I have to admit that I missed some of what he said simply because I was distracted by the sheer intensity of it…and he “puts on a show” like that every week! I can’t image.

What else? Oh yes, the alter call. Like I said, it was a charismatic catholic church. I couldn’t, for the life of me, have expected how the two would be merged. They’ve found a way to make a home for liturgy in their mornings. It’s a beautiful addition. On the other hand, I observed an alter call that ended with people being slain in the spirit (at the extreme end). The charismatic side of it was also reflected in the way people…um… interacted with what was happening from the front. Lots of “hallelujahs” and “preach it pastor!” My favorite was this little lady sitting behind me who shouted at the top of her lungs and range through most of the service. I was convinced she was going to lose her voice it was so strained! She killed me, really. At one point, the pastor was talking about how if the church just does it’s own thing and takes care of itself it becomes inscestual. Completely caught up in the act of repetition, she burst out, “That’s right, pastor. Incest!” I nearly fell off my chair!

Oh man!

We talked after the service about how most of us there would describe ourselves as so much more reserved. If I took one thing away from that experience, it would be that that’s okay. I was reminded again of the beauty of the diversity found in the Kingdom. How we are all created differently and how our worship of the One true King reflects that. That we serve a living God who meets us where we’re at and rejoices how He’s created us.

That said, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is stuff that we could learn from each other. I wonder if there is room in the churches I know of to be more uninhibited in our worship, more unashamed in our devotion, and more unapologetic in our approach to the cross. On the other hand, I wonder what the role of silence and solitude would be in a church like this. How does that sort of intensity and passion continue through the week? How do you keep that sort of “show” from becoming a “show?” How does it stay genuine? These are some of the questions I couldn’t help but ask.

All in all, if I wanted a cultural “Chicago” experience, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I got one right there!

Today, Katie had class and some meetings so I spent a lot of the day wandering the Wheaton College and Seminary campus. So different from what I am used to!

Found out there's a lot of pretty influential alumni from Wheaton; Billy Graham (for whom they have a museum built on campus) and his wife, Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne to name a few. Wandered through the Billy Graham Evangelism museum. It's a pretty interesting experience. A general section on the history of evangelism in North America and then a wing on Billy Graham, his ministry and his family. I couldn't help but wonder what he thinks about that!

There's also a museum dedicated to the work of C.S.Lewis, Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings crowd. Apparently it's one of the biggest collections in North America. Something to do with a 1940's scholar and professor at Wheaton who took interest in the work of the guys! Pretty neat stuff. In addition to letters and other writings, they have the original desk that C.S.Lewis wrote on, the desk that Tolkien wrote the Hobbit at and (and this was my favorite), the wardrobe that influenced the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! There were even fur coats hanging in it. I wanted to get in and see what was on the other side! It felt that magical. Really!

Anyway, now I'm taking a little bit of time to relax before I head back north of the border to join the Fairs in Toronto. It's going to be an exhausting stretch so I'm glad to have some time to relax now.

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