A Tattoo Worthy Day
Yesterday was a tattoo worthy day: a singular day worth remembering and cherishing. The word “epic” comes to mind.
But first some background. I write regularly as a Christian father and cultural analyst about millennials and religious nones. I also have three millennial children. It is thus important that I give them space in their own spiritual journeys. And like most Boomer parents of millennial children, they are all over the map spiritually—one completely disconnected from the church, another believing but disconnected, and another believing and reconnecting. They are all on their own separate journeys and the journeys are uniquely their own. I am proud of all of them and seek to walk gently with them when I’m invited to do so. So about a month ago, while I was teaching a doctoral course at a seminary on the importance of reaching the millennial generation, I got a text from my oldest son, which read, “Are you free to come down and spend time with us at our church? Still not sure of their approach, but check them out and maybe you can join us one Sunday.” I shared the text with the class. It is not everyday that one’s searching millennial child invites you to attend his church.
My travel and my son’s ultramarathoning conflicted until yesterday. I got up early to drive from Philadelphia to Baltimore to attend my son’s church with him and his fiancé. Mosaic is a church billed as “a church for people who don’t go to church.” As my new Copernican people tend to be the spiritually frustrated and homeless, I was intrigued. On their visitor’s card, they highlight that “Mosaic is a place where you can belong before you believe.” One is greeted by a welcoming staff of young volunteers all wearing black Mosaic T-shirts. When I told the parking attendant that I was a first time visitor, I was immediately ushered to VIP parking after which the parking attendant then walked me to the door of the church, a boxy building that looked like it was once a car dealership or workout gym. The combination of warmth and professionalism was immediately apparent. After getting a cup of coffee I went up to a tent with a sign which read, “Ask me about Mosaic.” There I had a lovely conversation with a 29 year-old who had been with the church since its inception when he was in high school. Today approximately 1,700 people attend the church in two services. The church is not in a hip part of Baltimore, but rather in an affordable up-and-coming blue collar community, where housing prices are far more affordable than trendy Fells Point. Nor was the church on a main street. No, it was set back in what appeared to be a normal office complex area where the square brick and glass buildings were all surrounded with ample parking. It’s the kind of place where you might expect the main FedEx distribution office. As we entered the “sanctuary,” I grabbed ear-plugs gratefully provided older participants. And the music was loud. The songs for this service emphasized God’s pursuing love for the confused, lost, and wandering. The sermon series was on “The Identity Journey,” where the deepest answers to who you are were framed as a process not a destination illustrated by the story of Joseph. Participants were invited to join Mosaic Groups on the two large projection screens, “Whether you want to try new beer or study the Bible. Our groups empower you to make solid friends and grow spiritually.” Everything was framed relationally and in terms of assisting potential members on their spiritual journeys. It was open handed and inviting—truly belonging before believing. The question explored this morning was “What are you destined for?” and was explained through the story of Joseph’s life. His early arrogance and lack of self-awareness before his brothers was acknowledge. “Sometimes God needs to work on you before he can work through you.” We were invited to take stock of our lives: 1) Do you read the Bible every day? 2) What is your relationship to tithing and porn, greed and sex? and 3) Are you doing deep soul work? The ambiguity of life was affirmed: “When you are destined, most of the time it doesn’t feel like it.” No, it feels like a daily grind. In fact, the preacher went on, “God’s blessing is not God’s destiny.” The destiny of Jesus was a cross and your life will be no different. No prosperity gospel here. For he concluded, “You are destined to use your pain for God’s purposes.” Your pain is the platform out of which you will find your destiny as you walk in the power of the resurrected Christ. His last words were “Hang on to Christ, he’s gotcha.” Here was biblical orthodoxy presented simply in terms of the complex brokenness, unfulfilled longing, and fragile spiritual seeking of one’s modern life. The service then seamlessly moved into communion. “Who is communion for?” the preacher asked. “It is for all who are willing to say, ‘Jesus help me.’” After the service my son’s fiancé said that it was her first communion ever, for it was the first time she felt invited to participate in terms meaningful to her own spiritual journey. She shared this with tears in her eyes. She went on, “He might have broken some rules, but those were rules that needed to be broken.” I agree, for it is apparent that Jesus shared in the Lord’s Supper with Judas that first fateful communion. We went to brunch at a German rathskeller and then made a visit to the U.S.-based Guinness Distillery, where the myth that Guinness improves in proximity to its source was verified. Here we talked about future dreams and plans for travel to foreign lands. It was low key and special. And then I drove home with a heart filled with gratitude for a loving God who pursues us in his own way until we are found. I was also grateful for a church that provides an onramp to spiritual pilgrimage to those whose lives do not conform to the traditional church experience or expectation. To me a Bible and a beer made it a perfect day.
If I were to mark the day with a tattoo it would be of the Guinness harp or perhaps St. Brigid’s cross. A story is told of Brigid, the Irish saint, that while working in a leper colony she asked God to turn bathwater into beer so that her lepers could enjoy the taste of beer. How earthy and thoughtful! The novice beer drinker still thinks Guinness tastes like bathwater. This was one of her many miracles. She is credited for this prayer: I’d like to give a lake of beer to God. I’d love the Heavenly Host to be tippling for all eternity. I’d love the people of Heaven to live with me. To dance and sing, If they wanted, I’d give for their use vats of suffering. I’d make Heaven cheerful because the happy heart is true, I’d make the people contented, I’d like Jesus to be there too. I’d like the people of Heaven to gather from all around, I’d give a special welcome to women, the three Mary’s of great renown. I’d sit with the men and women of God. There by the lake of beer. We’d drink good health forever, and every drop would be prayer. Brigid too would have enjoyed this church and cherished this tattoo worthy day.