Nacho mama's church

The air chilled my skin and I pulled my coat tighter about me. Around me, hanging out in the night, teenagers with spiked mohawks in a rainbow of colors -- red, blue, green. Beneath those tints, I could tell their hair was black, but not naturally black. Bottle black, topped off with bottle red, blue, green. The phrase "Taste the Rainbow" comes to mind.

Metal hung from their faces, like they had fallen face-first into a tackle box. I wondered if the term "earring" is accurate when it dangles from someone's eyebrows, lips, nose. One guy had "cheek rings (not sure if that's the right term, either) and I wondered if it made some sort of bit since there were identical ones on each side of his cheek.

I stand next to a security guard who professed to be raised Southern Baptist. He looks like many people I know -- jeans, jacket. I think he's bald, but can't remember. He did not have a mohawk in a new Crayola color, however.

"They don't want their parents' church," he tells me.

I'm interviewing the pastor, his wife, and anyone else they want me to for a story about homeless teens. The Rock, as their church is called, has between 100 to 250 teens and youth on Wednesday night and I can hear the praise and worship band from where I stand outside. It reminds me of the heavy metal I grew up listening to on the radio and cassette tapes. I've been told, by the guy with the cheek rings that about 10 percent -- 10-25 of the youth here are homeless. One told me she was abandoned when her mother moved in with her boyfriend.

No wonder they don't want their parents' church, I think.

They've seen their parents come to church, put on the show, and leave it at door when they go home. The security guard doesn't say it quite like that, but that's how I hear it. I know it first hand. When we first moved to Northwest Georgia, the only job I could find was as a cashier in a bar/restaurant. I lost count of how many suit and ties walked in, told me that they would not eat at this establishment because we served the demon alcohol and stomp out muttering something about burning in hell.

Whoo-hooo, what a way to win 'em to Jesus, I thought at the time, glad of my decision to leave the church. I was raised Southern Baptist too and got tired of hearing how I was going to hell. So, when I worked at this bar, I was agnostic, after trying Islam, Wicca, and "The-Way-According-To-Susan." But I felt sad, too, because I felt like something was wrong with the whole picture the church was painting. So, yeah, the security guard really made sense.

This church has endured the same tongue lashing from suits and ties. Other brothers and sisters in Christ have called them "Satanist" because most of the kids wear black -- other than their hair.

They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another. No wonder they don't want their mama's church.

undoubtedly, some of the youth hanging outside the warehouse that has become a church are among that 10 percent. I guess if you're sleeping in your car, or trying to figure out whose couch your going to crash on takes priority over whether your clothes fit. When your clothes come from clothing closet, you can't be too picky after all.

The missing part of the picture was the color. Their mama's church was black and white. But is it really? Is heaven black and white? Or is it paved in streets of gold, with pearly gates and jewels so vibrant that it's literally breathtaking. Can God paint a Heaven so full of color, yet the people who live there be black and white? Can Jesus wash us clean, then make us vibrant, three-dimensional, full of color and wonder?

Can He do all that, yet leave our imaginations in black and white? (Did you really think this rambling wasn't going to tie into speculative fiction?). Did He show us His wonders and miracles yet forbid us from using our imagination?

Do I sometimes feel like the "Taste the Rainbow" kids? Yeah, I do. Maybe that's why Celisa Cooper is one of those kids in "Fair Balance." She didn't want her mama's church, either.


Andrea Graham said...

Without commenting on this church because I don't know enough about their doctrinal stands, you've hit the nail on the head of the number one reason traditional churches, especially mainline churches, are losing people. Where's the love? as the mantra goes. It's the same reason certain cults (and the ones I'm thinking of it wouldn't be PC to identify) are growing by leaps and bounds.

At the same time so many are losing biblical love and grace (we preach it, but who practices it?) the devil's offered up a very unbiblical counterfeit, one creaping into the church.

But how does one hold a biblical standard, recognize everything that doesn't meet it as sin, while loving the sinner? I know I struggle with the implementation too often. This narrow road we walk sometimes feels more like a balance beam or tight rope act--and I lack coordination (xliterally.)

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a little teaching tool I saw growing up in the Southern Baptist stretches. It was usually in the form of a bracelet and beads...often five beads...red, black, white, green, gold. Sometimes blue got added. Each color represented a phase of the Christian walk. The black of sin. The red blood of Christ, etc. You're absolutely right. God has infused our souls with color...even now we are looking out a grimy window, and one day we're going to be even more dazzled than we are now. But I think people are sometimes afraid of those gray areas...or, if we want to avoid the black-and-white motif...the pastels. We like having our color swatches handed to us without having to decide which ones fit best with our lives and what we truly believe.

And thank you for reminding me of those vibrant images of heaven. Somehow I'd forgotten they were there. Reading over them takes my breath away.


Frank Creed said...

Paradigm shift is seeing data from a new perspective. To be forced out of one's box for the sake of assimilating new points of view about truth, gives us an ever bigger box. Nacho Mama's Church and Fair Balance both do this. I'd not thought about it before, but paradigm shift seems to be a shared motivation in our writing. There are so many depths to the simple adage "Don't judge a book by it's cover."

Frank Creed

Home: http://www.frankcreed.com
Book Review Blog: http://afrankreview.blogspot.com/

Andrea Graham said...

Josh: OOOH, I remember those! :-D I had to make a walking stick in an art class, and painted it with those colors, only I added purple (for royalty was the excuse)

They were way more awesome than the commercial WWJD and FROG bracelets.

So now all the southern baptists around here know what to get me for Christmas...

Still, I'm probably about as big as Frank and Susan on the goal of getting people to think out of the box, but the bible doesn't have any shades of gray, or rather gray still isn't good enough. God hates gray the most, if you can apply his feelings about lukewarm.

Good thing that wasn't necessary to the central point :) Human beings do have a way of making black-and-white laws that are pure tradition, or rather have little or no basis in scripture. So on the nonessentials, I'll agree. I guess one big problem with the Church is we can't seem to agree on, or figure out, just what is essential.

Daniel I Weaver said...

I serve on our church's worship team and we had this discussion just last night (okay, minus the mohawks and hair dye). Love, true loving relationships, seem to be such a problem for so many churches. Christ's whole ministry is based around love and His people sometimes show the least of it. I love Todd Agnew's song "My Jesus" for that very reason. If you haven't heard it, go listen to it.

Now, tying this all into speculative fiction, we certainly should be the group that works to bridge those gaps. We aren't writing the soft mushy, traditional happy stories that so many Comfortable Christians read. We need to show the person that doesn't quite "fit in" that they are loved just as much as the man and woman in our pew tricked out in their Sunday best. So what if your next door neighbor has a half dozen dragon tatoos covering 90% of his visible flesh? Love him. And in your fiction, use real people, with real problems, with real emotions and show the CBA/"Comfortable Christians" that you're not afraid to step outside their perverbial box on the legs that our Lord Jesus gave you to stand on.

Daniel I Weaver

--Look for "Light at the Edge of Darkness" in March 2007 (includes three Daniel I Weaver short stories)

Bruce said...

This is great! Jesus went to the marginalised people of society in his time, andI think he would be happy to go to this yout church too.
May we see Jesus set free more of those who are neglected, cast off, or oppressed.