“You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16a).
In Chillicothe, Illinois sits a church made of brick and mortar that serves the community as the Christian Church there. However, thirty years ago that building did not exist. Instead, the church met in the basement of a big white house. The church had classrooms, with blue corduroy dividing curtains on gold rings. It had no sound system, no organ, no baptistery, and metal poles ran throughout the sanctuary intermittently. The congregation sat on gun metal gray folding chairs, and sang songs played an old chocolate brown upright piano in the corner. The parking lot contained no pavement, only gravel, bordered by old railroad ties and young fruit trees. Upstairs was my house.
My father was the minister and my mother played the chocolate brown upright in the corner. We not only had to go to church, we lived on top of the church. Even if I faked sick on Sunday evening to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, followed of course by The Wonderful World of Disney, I could still hear the piano, the singing and my dad preaching downstairs. I couldn’t get away from church. All of my friends, until I went to school, were church people. My physical, emotional, spiritual and social life revolved around the church—literally. Most of the memories of my early childhood include church, or church people. I grew up on crackers and grape Kool-Aid. Memory verses and Christmas pageants, flannel-graphs and a little birthday bank shaped like a globe, long sermons that I didn’t quite understand (even though it was my father who preached them) and songs that I still hum to myself when I’m alone in the car—these things make up the tapestry of my childhood.
Nobody ever asked me my opinion about church. Nobody asked if I wanted to go to church. As far as I know, no one ever cared much about whether or not I wanted to go to church. I had absolutely no freedom in the situation to choose. Practically speaking, I couldn’t even skip church. I couldn’t not go to church. I lived as a prisoner of the church.
And do you want to know the funny thing? I didn’t mind at all. I didn’t feel put upon. I didn’t feel like my rights were violated. I didn’t feel like I had forfeited my freedom of choice. I liked it. More than that, I remain convinced that I do what I do today, in large part because of my experience with church as a child. It is certainly not that I was any holier than anyone else, I just didn’t know any different. I figured everybody’s life revolved around the church.
We don’t choose a number of things in our lives. I have all kinds of opinions, for instance, but for all my ideas about parenthood and what it should and should not consist of, I didn’t get a single common stock vote on who my mother was. I didn’t choose my dad, my family, my name, my eye color, my I.Q. No one even sought my assistance in the decision making process. Does that bother me? No, it’s who I am; and I love the me that was created without my consent.
One of the great verities the church has to offer a world consumed by the nostrum of choice is that there are some choices that we cannot make. But if Christ chooses, and you are the one chosen, you rest in pretty good hands. What the world calls repressive, the church sometimes calls grace.