September 14, 2009 by

It’s Different Here


Categories: church, food for thought, religion

We’re still finding our bearings around our new digs–not just within walking distance, but also in the area.

Comparing Denver to the Bible Belt…it’s different here.

I might submit that last sentence to a “best understatement” contest, if I can find one. 🙂

I’ve spent the past sixteen years in two different towns in the south central U.S., where if you ran into someone on the street, chances were pretty good they went to church someplace and claimed to be a Christian. Bumper stickers invited you to a particular church. The Seattle-style coffee shops made their way south, but the conversations overheard within them were not nearly as postmodern; rather, they were almost always a Bible study geared around a Christian book, or people talking about what happened in their church, or trying to get one of the minority non-believers to come to church. And church edifices old and new would dominate the local skyline.

It’s different here.

Oh, there are Christians here. In my new favorite hangout/blogging spot (which I’ll discuss some other time), I’ve seen several Bibles out on the tables, and overheard a few conversations where God was mentioned. But the bumper-sticker thing takes a different tack (try, “What Would Buddha Do?”). I’ve been researching the local music scene here, and you can see a real diversity of belief coming out in the artist profiles. The church buildings, even the big ones, don’t seem to dominate the landscape (kind of hard to compete with mountains, maybe?). And there’s this store right across from where I’m blogging that I can’t decide whether it’s a convenience store or a Buddhist/Hindu shrine–incense burning, hundreds of idol statues including both Buddha and Kali, and bottles of Coke and Vitamin Water. Here in the heart of downtown America.

The thing is, you get the feeling that when you talk to the average person on the street, chances are just as good that he/she will be an atheist, Buddhist or new ager as they will be a Christian. That’s different than where I come from.

Other things are different, too. The complacency level, for example. Oh, it’s here, like everywhere else. But it’s like things aren’t quite as taken for granted as where I come from. People laugh at the funny lines in the movie theaters, rather than just sitting there. This past weekend there was an annual festival in Olde Town Arvada, and we walked up the street to catch the parade. When the parade began with the police and fire departments sporting American flags–people stood in respect, up and down the entire street. Some put their hands on their hearts. Where we came from, maybe a handful of people, military vets and old people, would have done that; but many others wouldn’t have even noticed. The Wild One cried.

Where we came from, when The Wild One would take out her camera in public, people would look at her with suspicion, or ask accusingly what she was doing, or just get in her way and ruin the shot. When the parade began, the people sitting next to us saw The Wild One’s camera, and made room for her, inviting her to take a prime spot right in front of them on the curb.

That’s when I cried.

Yes…it’s different here.

Okay, so Denver’s got it’s problems, and we’ve already seen some of them. I’m not saying it’s perfect–just that it’s different. It’s not the same battle.

This isn’t a post to knock where I came from. I guess what I’m saying is that my observations of what things are like in two different parts of the country are teaching and reminding me of an important truth. We so often harbor this Christendom mentality where if we could just “win our city to Christ” and the church could dominate the culture, things would be perfect. We mistakenly equate the Lordship of Christ with church influence–particularly the church influence of the religious or institutional kind. But I just came from a part of the world where the church has probably more influence than anywhere else…and I can tell you, it was far short of perfect. It created its own set of issues. This is supposed to be “Living Water”, but we forget that when water gathers all in one place and doesn’t flow….it stagnates. We want to find a place where the church faces no resistance, but when that happens, paradoxically, things start going sour. It’s like we need that kind of resistance to come to life.

I used to be fearful of non-Christian influences (see my posts about “Afraid of the Dark“). There was a time when I would have cringed at all this spiritual mixture and longed to be around Christians exclusively. But after 16 years in highly “Christian” environments…now I come into this spiritual mixture, and I find that people are awake, and I find myself breathing deeply again (and no, it’s not the altitude). And I can see so clearly how I was choking in the very culture I once thought would save the world.

It’s different here. I’m so ready for this. I am so glad.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

6 Responses to It’s Different Here

  1. Like a Mustard Seed

    man, wow… reading this was actually really refreshing. it's been interesting (being that we live in Seattle…) to be learning more about the kinds of experiences that people from the "Bible belt" have had growing up there, and how that shapes a lot of their perspectives in various ways. When you've never experienced that kind of "church-saturation" (as we haven't), it's sometimes hard to imagine.

    I really connected with a lot of what you said towards the end, like, "We so often harbor this Christendom mentality where if we could just "win our city to Christ" and the church could dominate the culture, things would be perfect", cuz I really wonder about how people manage to maintain that "Christendom mentality", when all they have to do is look across to Europe, to see how that whole experiment has already been played out.

    Spreading the gospel is not about winning "the Culture War", it's about sharing what Christ has freely given us. Good thoughts…

  2. Jeff McQ

    Mustard Seed,
    "Spreading the gospel is not about winning "the Culture War", it's about sharing what Christ has freely given us.
    I simply couldn't have put it any better. Thank you.

  3. reneebaskin

    i love this, jeff….we have been talking about moving to denver for years, and everytime we mention it to someone, they always say something like, "oh, you know it's a lot different there, they are very liberal!" i'm so glad to hear this perspective! are you going to "house church" there? tell me more….(i absolutely loved the pics that shelby posted of arvada…makes me want to be there by morning!)

  4. Erin

    I apologize because I'm way behind on your blog, Jeff. 😉

    But this post caught my eye…it sounds like Portland (which on this subject is very much like Seattle, as Mustard Seed said.)

    Roll-your-own religion is prevalent here, where most people are a mixture or combination of spiritual beliefs, and it's beautiful because people ARE awake and breathing and alive.

    Hope you enjoy the new culture!

  5. Karenkool

    I keep thinking about how excited I am for you and the wild one and the director. I definitely believe you are so ready for it!! Love the photos Shelby has been taking.

  6. Jeff McQ

    Sorry, everyone, that I'm so late in replying…

    I think statements like the one you described "they're very liberal" come from the mistaken notion that we should stay in the "safe" zones, gathered around people who think–(and vote!)–the way we do. I've come from that mentality myself, but lately I've realized that environment can be very unhealthy, warping our perspectives, making us dull. I've heard (though can't confirm) that U2's Bono purposely maintains his friendships with atheists, because it sharpens him and challenges him to know what he believes.
    As for the rest…watch for an email or something.

    I figured from descriptions that Portland was like that, and I figure you'll probably get a kick out of seeing me figure this out, since you have been a long time in this kind of mixture. And I mean "get a kick out of it" in a good way. 😀 Looking forward to the ride…

    That means a lot, sis. Thanks. (We haven't forgotten about trying to make it up your direction sometime.)

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