Monday, September 27, 2004



I walked to a new church yesterday. Walked. In Los Angeles. Now you know I'm strange, but if you've been reading this Blog that's not a new idea.

Anyway, Mosaic pulled out of Beverly Hills a while back and I've been dithering. I really detest driving, and the idea of going to downtown L.A. on Sundays, after spending the week down there working, was repellent. I like Mosaic a lot. Without their powerful presentation of a real God who wanted to participate in people's lives I wouldn't be writing this. They came to the West Side, introduced me to God, helped me get to know Him in addition to themselves, and then they departed. In the last month I've been feeling more of a need for a church to belong to.

I have never been very good at belonging. Mosaic gave me that, too. I want it back. I don't want to drive. So, I've been going to visit other churches with some friends. Heretofore they've chosen the church. This time I did it. As with any other project, this one benefited from some research.

First, I looked in the phone book. There are lots of churches, of many kinds. I knew the name of Metro Church, so I looked for their listing to find out where they met. Just a phone number. I called and found out their meeting place is in a school auditorium about a mile away from where I live. I called my friends and we decided to meet over there.

Then I did more research. Metro is affiliated with Calvary Chapel. I'm not sure what that means, but after reading some material on the Calvary Chapel Web site I decided it was a good sign. Calvary is a straightforward organization: teaching the Bible. That sounded very good after coming from churches that teach what they want to teach and use the Bible as a misapplied back-up.

As I approached the building I got cold feet. Typical. I'm not brave in social situations, and I'd forgotten to ask God to help me with this. I did then, as I walked across grass wet with the remnant dew. After walking into the foyer I found an information table; the man behind it greeted me, then resumed a conversation with someone else.

My friends actually showed up on time. We walked in and found a place just as the worship music was starting. The most interesting aspect of this was their re-use of old hymns, using the words and music but changing the rhythm to move the whole thing away from its lugubrious history. I liked this. One of the songs we used to sing at the church in Greeley, and Metro gave it a whole new experience.

Then two women who'd been involved in a mission project in Uganda spoke. Usually these mission things are thinly veiled plugs for the program, but these women had been there, and gave the real story. I liked their honest, straightforward talk.

The pastor continued this pattern. He's the most interesting preacher I've heard since meeting Erwin, although his style is very different. Erwin, of Mosaic, is very dynamic and uses a lot of homiletic fireworks He's very good at this, and always uses anything he can to reinforce the message. Steve, of Metro, is quieter and almost devoid of fancy effects. It's rather like comparing Shaker architecture to Baroque. Or a deep, smooth stream to a creek bouncing down a rocky mountain. I was fascinated all the way through, and he talked for nearly an hour.

He spoke the truth. This was extremely refreshing after the previous experiences. Only Erwin has affected me in this way: I knew God was speaking. Steve used Psalms 11, 12 and 13 as his text, and the theme was refuge. God is our refuge. When he read the text he'd have the audience read aloud with him. At times he would stop his exposition and pray, quite simply, for guidance or help in understanding, both for himself and for us. He moved back and forth between expository speech and praying so smoothly it was hard to tell the difference, and I found this enchanting and powerful. It was as if God were right there, watching and participating. Sometimes he would pause, silent, for 10 seconds or so. I liked this as it gave me time to think about what he'd said.

The short version of this is that I'll be going back One sample doesn't make a curve, but more data points will fill it in.

My friends and I discussed this over lunch. One liked the use of the old hymns, now that he's been removed from the old Catholic context. Another said she felt as if she'd been walking in a desert and had just received rain. I agreed.

This morning, coming to work on the bus, I thought about this. Steve spoke about refuge. This has a bad rap in many churches; they think that talk of refuge encourages people to stay holed up, so they're always exhorting people to go out and be active. I've heard plenty of that. Sometimes the hill is just too steep, the road too rough, and my sensibilities are scraped raw. I need a break, and what I need a break from is different from what others may need a break from. Transforming a life of death doesn't look like much from the outside.

But then a new thought hit me, at about Crenshaw. If God promises to be our refuge, then there's a reason for it. Most people develop their own strength. They don't need a refuge; difficulty breaks around them like water around a rock and they remain unmoved. I used to be like that.

No more. I need God as a refuge because he's remaking me. People were always telling me when I was a kid that I was too sensitive. God has gone the other direction, making me more sensitive. This makes sense: how can I love if I don't know what's going on outside of my insensitive hide? Oh, yes, I'm gonna need a refuge. I'd better learn how to do this.

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