As some of my older readers may remember from the time spent on my previous blog, I was in heavy contemplation about whether or not to stay at my old church. I’ve since left that church, trying my hand at another church newly pastored by a friend who was also a former member of my old church. But after spending a few months there and putting up with as many shennangians as I could, I decided that church wasn’t a fit for me either. So my girlfriend and I – sick to death of all the coonery that we’ve discovered in predominately black churches over the years - decided to defect and try our luck at a church with a cultural environment entirely different to what we were accustomed. In short, we started attending a predominately white church.
After a few months now, let’s put it this way: this will take some getting used to.
First off, the pros. As I stated earlier, we were seeking a church free of all the coonery that has become a staple of Flint church-hoodedness (not a word, but you get the point). I was pleasantly surprised to see that our new church offers a refreshing departure from all that mess. An example of some of the buffoonery you WON’T see there:
On top of that, you won’t see egotistical preachers who feel the need to force their members to kiss their rings in total submission. You won’t see begging ass people trying to
scam (um, I mean), scripturally Deebo (um, I mean) encourage you into giving your hard earned money to the church without leadership having the least bit of accountability. You won’t see people tripping out about the clothes you wear. In fact, I see just as many people wearing jeans, shorts, and t-shirts as I see wearing suits and dresses (which, by the way, don’t come with glitter, neon colors, or matching hats). You won’t see people driving fancy cars that were purchased above and beyond their means. You won’t see this church vying to be the top dog out of all the other hundred churches in the area.
What you will see is a church on the move; committed to advancing the Gospel (they quite literally have mission programs both stateside and abroad), outstanding activities and events for youth, a multi-million dollar budget that gets used and accounted for with the utmost fiscal responsibility, and an environment that has far more “little you’s” than “Big I’s”. Even the pastoralship is divided amongst five people. How often can you say that about a black church?
Now, the cons. First, my girlfriend, her son, and I stick out like sore thumbs. Therein lies a major struggle for me. This may sound pretty modest and self-congratulatory on my part, but I HATE being the center of attention. Yet that’s precisely the case at my new church. Assimilation, I’m discovering, is not a simple thing; especially when race is in play and is so blatantly at the forefront. If you find yourself out of place because of - let’s say - the way you dress, simply wear what other people are wearing and disappear in the crowd (not a good example because, again, dress is not an issue there. But you get what I’m trying to say). But unfortunately for us, we can’t jump into new skin suits, akin to maybe something Foghorn Leghorn would do in the cartoons. I suppose being the standouts has some advantages though, but even those advantages raise unique questions all their own. For instance, people know us there…usually by name…and seem very interested in learning about us. I have to admit, however, that my interaction with many of the members of the congregation often feels like they’re taking a pop quiz on political correctness, with them internally saying ”Let’s show these black people how colorblind we are by being so uber-friendly to them.” I question whether we’d get the same treatment if we were a white family; people far more likely to blend in the crowd undetected. Or it could be that they’re just very friendly folks.
What’s funny to me is that for their attempts to learn about us through chit chats and subtle probing, there are some aspects that members of the congregation haven’t even touched yet. To date, the majority of the members think my girlfriend and I are married; a sentiment which – in their defense – we haven’t exactly made a consistent point of correcting. The few members who do eventually find out that we’re only dating are usually embarrassed by their initial assumptions about our marital status, but then use our situation as a cultural learning tool. For them, I suspect, the idea of a single mother dating a man who is not the child’s biological father is pretty atypical and falls prodigiously outside of their more-traditional upbringing. Meanwhile, our situation is not only commonplace in the so-called “black community”, but it’s almost like it’s an unspoken bylaw. You would be hard-pressed to find the “Black guy marries high school sweetheart and only then has a family” scenario play out anywhere except for on the Cosby show. I thought the fact that we don’t wear rings and don’t have the same last names would have been a dead giveaway. But I guess not.
What’s most hilarious to me (and maybe most problematic) is the order of service. The service is admittedly well-timed; getting out no later than 12:15, which I can appreciate. But prior to the sermon, which is my favorite and most fulfilling part of service, I have to suffer though approximately 45 minutes of cheerless singing and epic levels of boring. They use PowerPoint (ugh) to flash the lyrics to each song on the screen as we sing to the tune. The singing is led by a Praise Team – comprised of approximately four to five people armed with microphones, or a choir. Accompanying the singing is a team of musicians including a small orchestra at ground level. Admittedly, I know less than 5% of the songs, but I do my best to keep up. I find myself gamely singing along and - in some cases – actually getting into the song (being the musician and music lover I am). But then – right when I think I’ve got the song down - there is invariably some part of the tune that completely throws me for a loop. It might be change of tempo, a series of words you have to squeeze into a single line, whatever. In response, I usually stop singing at that point, resentful because I don’t know what to expect next. Follow this same process for three to four more songs and you have what makes up the morning worship service. I love Sunday School (which unconventionally takes place AFTER morning service), but I’m usually so ready to go home by that time, that I have a hard time even caring about the lesson.
Obviously, I still have plenty of growing to do in the spirit. As pastor pointed out today, no matter how spirtually mature we think we are, there is no way we can outgrow matters of the Spirit. I agree with that 100%. What makes me wonder, though, is whether my growth can be at this church or not. I’ll give it a try and hope for the best. What I do know from this and all my other experiences is that church-hopping is not the end all/be all solution to whatever is spiritually hindering you. In fact, in making my point, I’d be remiss not to include this funny analogy from my pastor a few weeks ago:
Once there was a man stranded on an island. After being rescued from the island and knowing he’d never see this place again, he asked the pilot to do one last flyover. Looking down with him, the pilot asked the man about the three buildings he saw down there. Said the man, “The first building was a small house I made. The second was a church I made. The last building was the church I moved to.”
The point of the story was to warn us that changing churches as often as we change underware may not be the solution. Some of the problems we are escaping at one place could easier show up at the next place; especially if we’re the ones carrying them around.
Time will tell how far this place takes me on my journey.