June 22, 2011

Giving Church the 'Super 8' Treatment

I want to Super 8 the church experience of my youth.

J.J. Abram’s cinematic homage to Stephen Spielberg relishes in nostalgia without overdoing the saccharine. We caught the flick on date night, and it prompted many a tale over dinner about the movies of our youth, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even Star Wars.

So I got to thinking: How would I tell the story of the church of my youth? How could I begin to pay tribute to the ways it shaped me, helped to craft my moral compass, and cement the types of relationships I still seek?

Every Wednesday night, 15 or 20 teenagers piled into the youth minister’s office. He looked like Jesus, the Caucasian version with a scraggly beard and kind eyes, and sometimes, I think, we believed he walked on water. We lit a candle in the center, and the guitar led us through campfire-church songs (even Kumbaya, before it became shorthand for schmaltz).

Then we started talking. About our day and our parents. About friends who started drinking and whether it was OK to go to second (or third) base with the boyfriend.

We were hungry for this, for a safe place to explore the challenges in our lives. Looking back now, I see we were looking for guidance on how to live our faith, how to merge Sunday morning with a Monday world. We sometimes left with more questions than answers, but we returned each week, knowing we would burrow deeper, struggle together.

Nostalgia paints our memory with a sheen, giving it glimmer and sparkle that didn’t exist at the time. But I believe what we created in that basement office was special.

We were a community, wrestling with deep questions about faith and sin and choices. We laughed. A lot. But we also prayed with earnest, believing without grown-up cynicism that God was with us.

If only I could have captured that on film. Or could re-create it in my church today.