Monica wears “fabric” as opposed to real clothing most times. When we met on Sunday she had on a turquoise piece of silk that clung tightly to her tiny torso, with what looked like a net draped over her shoulders. She carried a normal looking jacket in one hand, and a skate board in the other. We hugged like no time had gone by outside of a pastry shop, and then picked apart flaky croissants while she caught me up on the past few months. And those months had been hard ones, not exactly yielding the results she was expecting.
When talking to her in the past I had tried my best to be sen-si-tive to her feelings and to care-full-y speak, but this time I hammered it home as we walked from the park benches to Hillsong: you need God in your life. She didn’t say much in response. For me, it was enough that she kept walking toward the sanctuary—I mean nightclub that is turned into a sanctuary for this weekly occasion—without knowing what was in store. I so, so appreciate those special people in my life who believe differently than I do and trust me enough to let me occasionally throw them a spiritual surprise(!) party.
Here are my top five words to describe Hillsong Church:
- Dark (as in lighting, not the atmosphere)
Those sound more like words used to describe a concert, and that’s exactly what Church service with this group feels like. The experience is a little bit messy, the hair of the congregation is messy, the floor is messy. And perhaps biggest of all, there aren’t enough seats for everyone so people—ack, I’m almost choking here—people STAND UP.
For almost two hours people who aren’t lucky enough to be first in line for chairs are willing to stand as they worship, sing, and listen to their rockin’ Pastor. Even though it was me who had led us there, Monica seemed to instantly adapt to the idea. I was still struggling with what the correct position for my large purse would be while she was happily bobbing up and down with a backpack slung around her arms. When we were asked to step back so more chairs that weren’t meant for us could be set out I literally almost said the F word after the words “What” and “the”. She glanced over at me when that happened and I raised my arms up in the air all holy style like What, I didn’t say anything? Oh yes, hallelujah Lord.
I picked Hillsong because in my spirit I knew it would allow her to feel free. I had been several times before and know how refreshing it feels when your feet hit the “Come As You Are” welcome mat, and you look up to see that people really have come as they are. Imagine! (Some of them, ahem, have come without taking showers, but let me move along because I could talk about that allll day.) My Church however, which I love and treasure for many other reasons, is huge and traditional. Ushers wear matching outfits. There is a seat for me, my husband, my purse, and my winter coat when it’s snowing. But I wonder, how many of our traditional/coordinated/fortunate/showered members would stand to get the Word?
Not many. It’s just not the way we want our experience to be. We want it to be neat, organized, and comfortable. – And I’m not judging. Oh God knows I’m not. Because I am culpable for promoting this. ‘Hello, my name is Jasmine and you’re sitting in “my” seat.’
I have no intention to stop partnering with my Church. None. My spiritual teachers have laid too good a foundation—and now I must build upon it, with the same high standards and tools my leaders have given me. Yet, I do not want materials purchased at the finest stores with which to build. I want organic, messy, and raw stuff—I want a grassroots campaign in my soul that is hungry for the Word. I want a desperation that used to be contagious, that used to cause people to stand on shorelines for days until Jesus came down from a mountaintop and taught them.
So thank you Monica, for taking a hammer to the bell. A ringing alarm has been set off in me, too loud to tune out, and it is saying “Grow! Grow! So you can be the change you hope to one day see everywhere!” It’s telling me that it’s possible to have reverence and respect for God without feeling confined to repeating the same routine steps. There’s grace to fill the spaces and moments when service isn’t planned. I know there is.
Author’s note: As I write this, I’m waiting for two of my girlfriends to text me back and let me know where we’re meeting for dinner. One of them wants to eat frittatas and the other is all like Ew, I can’t eat an egg pie for dinner and I’m probably the only happy one because these words are flying out of me. I don’t care if we never eat, I need to write. Honesty is the best policy, and it sure does a mighty work on writer’s block.
There is so much more to say on the subject of standing that I’ll break this into two pieces…