When I was younger, my mother would sing at church, and she had secured a solo with “Amazing Love.” I still remember her vocal embellishments on the second repeat of the chorus. When she got sick, she couldn’t sing it anymore, but we all still revered her version at church. That’s back when church was a regular part of my life, and I had to wake up at 7:30 a.m. with my mother so she could get to church early and the band who lead worship could rehearse before the congregation started to file in at around 9:30 or 10 a.m.
By the time I was 15, being a member of a church was all I knew. And for a good part of my teenage years, my fondest memories surrounded my unimpressive but close-knit youth group. I thrive in community environments. Which is why my job now is perfect–because we all live in the office whether we want to or not, and we have to like each other because our product depends on cooperation, sugar, spice and everything occasionally nice. I was nostalgic for how the youth group was when we first joined our second church. Everything was enthusiastic and inspired, and had we had a growing church, the older kids could have lead the younger ones. But we didn’t. Instead, we had a simple group at a simple church that would never be anything more than that.
If I told you I could remember what was written on the wall in the youth room before it got painted over, I would be lying. The cliché, “it’s but a memory” is truer than true. I remember something was written there, though. Something Jesus-related. A youth leader–whom I had only known his last two weeks before he left for another church–wrote in marker on the bare walls of the tiny youth room to make a point. That tiny youth room was all we had to barricade ourselves from the taxing adults next door in the sanctuary. It was the perfect, unfortunate size for a group that would never grow larger than 10 teens in the three years I hung around. But in the beginning it was worth it.
When we decided to paint the walls to something we thought was more fun and fitting than off-white, for a funky group of rebellious and contemporary Christian teens that thought heavy metal had changed their lives, we attempted to cover up the past with a dark blue and left one wall to be painted in chalkboard paint–for no other reason than we could doodle on it. But we put the primer in the absolute wrong hands. With a head full of useless knowledge–much like the older gentleman in the sanctuary who always made bitter coffee in the mornings for everyone and could tell you 100 facts about anything, like a game of intelligent roulette–and a complete disregard for common sense, Mikey took the paint brush and smeared the primer on, tracing the letters of the word rather than covering it in uniform strokes like they teach you in art class. To this day, if you know where to look, you can see the faint word beneath the blue. We tried to cover it up, but it didn’t work. It could have said something like “faith,” but I have a feeling it said “devil.” I distinctly remember us all giggling like fools when we realized how weird it was. That probably shows some reflection on our level of devoutness. Or perhaps it just proves we were indeed silly teenagers. Centuries ago, people feared going to see “Doctor Faustus” because even mentions of demons instilled crippling fear in such a society, much less a play in which thespians were required to act out the summoning of one. But seven years ago, our youth group giggled when something devilish was written on the wall in our church. It was part of something bigger–a verse or a statement. He didn’t just write “Devil,” “demons” or “Hell” on the wall for the fiery pits of it.
It wasn’t until our group took a trip to Myrtle Beach that our attitudes started to change. Church wasn’t a chore for me after that. I enjoyed Sundays, but some weeks you would just rather spend your Sundays sleeping in or watching cartoons like an anti-Semite. But God wasn’t just some omniscient presence I had known of since I was a toddler after Myrtle Beach. Until then, I had asserted myself to be above the believers who only had faith because Hell didn’t sound fun, or because they were utterly lost without it. But that trip, meeting with several other teens who weren’t that different from us, and getting to spend time at the beach with each other (rather than that tiny, hot room), made me realize why I had persistently believed all this time. I didn’t need what those nonsensical billboards and televangelists told you that you needed in God. I believed because I actually had faith that it was true, because I saw (and see) proof of it every day. Say what you will about Baptism, but I got baptized for the first time when I was 16-years old after having put it off since I was 3-years old. I blame the beach and Chris Tomlin. I had insisted I didn’t feel secure enough or devoted enough, and I refused because I would have much rather waited until I felt that devotion before I took that step. Because it was supposed to mean something. Oddly enough, no one else seemed to get that. But like any large leap in my life–symbolic or exhaustingly physical–I was going to take it seriously. I’d like to think I got “Saved” that day. At least, that’s what my friend said sometime after, because my choice was more meditated.
I am still like that rebel in that small group, though. I don’t think tattoos are damning, and I see no reason why federal law, ruled by a governmental entity that’s supposedly separate from the church, has the right to tell anyone who they can marry. I have my opinions about celebrity fodder like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, but I like to think I stay out of people’s way and out of their business. I’m a friend, not a preacher. I love people because that’s what God told me to do. Smacking people in the face with a Bible won’t make them your friend. In fact, you’ll never get picked first for anything on the playground if you play that game. That’s the first rule you learn in both Kindergarten and Sunday school; at least you should if you don’t.
I was invited to a church recently, and I’ve made a mental note to go back. Because fellowship is nice, even if it is just once a week. My first week there, they sang “Amazing Love.” I started crying. I took it as a sign that I should be paying more attention to what God wants for me. But I’m a flake. I’m going to have to be reminded more than once.