Who else wants to get the most out of church?

You know how it is. When you visit a church, you want to get something for your time.

It’s not that church has to be like a business proposal. It’s just that church is supposed to fulfill a need at the core of every human… to feel accepted and validated by a Higher Power. To know the Creator of the Universe is indeed, concerned about and able to reply to my situation.

Check out the reasons people go to church here:

It’s rather egotistical to think you and God can be on a first name basis, but church is supposed to help you realize that. Think of it. Without God, without the Bible, church has no real value. But, if you believe the Bible, if you believe God created the Universe, then you can get outside your own narrow view of life and open yourself up to a new concept that you may not have all the answers!

When you visit a new church, or are returning after not attending for some time, you tend to compare it to your home church, or the church you once attended regularly.

My wife and I visited a church far from home recently. Some things, we liked  about the new church.  It was like a double shot of espresso (this new church was hip; it featured a Starbucks style counter!) We liked the energy; the smiles; the way people gathered and talked. But, of course, we like that about our home church, too. Even though our church is older and “whiter”, it still reflects a common thread of friendliness. And yet, my home church, the church I’m visiting, any church… they all have a shellac coat of phoniness.

Church smells of polyurethane politeness.

What I find generally missing in many churches is the “you can tell by the way I walk my walk; I’m a real world friend with time to talk (and listen)” as it pertains to visitors and newer attendees.

Do you think church is hypocritical?

Don’t think I’m a sour grapes outsider. I grew up in the church bubble and lived the “cliquey connoisseur” lifestyle most of my life.

Back to my visit. My wife and I sat on the second row, center. Not a very visitor thing to do, I know. Most of you would be in the aisle seat toward the back, ready to spring at the first sign of commitment.

On our first visit two weeks ago, a friend introduced us to some regulars up in the front center who park in the SAME seats and get there early like groupies at a rock concert. So, being creatures of habit, we again sat up front, center, next to the groupies.

Only these church groupies aren’t so hip. They’re, er, older than I, which means, pretty well up there. On a scale of 1-10, they’re a 9 for being un-hip. Which I like, by the way. I listen patiently to the older guy telling me his ailments. He’s pretty cool, for an older, ailing guy. He can drive without pain, but his rotator cuff acts up, especially when he goes to grab his wallet (his words, not mine!) which may explain his lack of participation come offering time (who am I condemning; I didn’t drop anything into the offering bucket either!)

The older guy (his name is Trooper, or something unusual with a T) confesses he missed last Wednesday evening service, on purpose. I confess the same. His reason is the same as mine, ironically. We don’t wanna stand and praise Jesus for an entire hour. At this church, the praise-a-lleujah time is half an hour, followed by a 30 minute sermon. But, last week was praise week. No sitting. Lots of rotator cuff afflicting with the expectation of raising arms toward heaven.

“I can’t stand that long,” Trooper says.

“Why not sit during worship? I’ve seen it done.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.”

Ego?

Nah, not this guy.

He’s genuinely scaredy cat of being different…something Christians really frown upon.

Me? I plop down during the second song as the chubby bearded hipster with old lady 1930s glasses and short hair on the side, man boobs, and pants so skinny a prepubescent girl could wear them sings into the mic and strums his guitar dramatically. And his boots… so shiny, so… what are they? Combat meets Laura Ingalls Wilder. Lace up, tongue poking over skin tight stretchy pants… wow. Just, wow. Distracting with a big, fat, man booby Capital “D”.

So, I plop down and sit with my head resting on my forearm draped over the seat reserved for man boobs at the mic. How do I know? Each seat in the front row is adorned with a honkin’ huge laminated sign for the appropriate designee. For example, this seat in front of me reads “Worship Pastor”. Gosh, what an absolutely stupid title. No resume builder here, folks. Unless you never want a real job out in the real world. “D-uh, I’m a worship pastor. I can, uh, wear tight pants and raise my flabby arms towards heaven like a real worship hero. D-uh. Follow me, as I, like, uh, follow Christ, for real. I know, right?”

OK, a little Millennial generation gap hostility there… but if you’re still reading, you’ve been warned.

The other front row seats are smattered with equally garish reservation signs. They read: (Church abbreviation) Staff; Lead Pastor; Associate Pastor; Outreach Coordinator; Connection Director; Ambivalence Eliminator; Song Leader Boot Polisher; etc. and so forth. Each distinguished designee firmly and securely regarded in his or her seat (which were completely unoccupied come sermon time… ) which means they probably went for a double shot of espresso at the cafe/bar for hipsters near the main entrance?

So, the worship ensues, my head is down and I’m in the “praying fervently” position, or so it seems to observers of my second row antics.  My lovely wife, in her tight red jeans and high heels, stands as if standing for an eternity in high heels is the most comfy thing in the world, as the entire congregation no doubt leers at her loveliness. She even waves at God with outstretched arms and claps along as they sing. Me, I’m watching those shoes close up. I think I have the better deal.

heelzzz

 

The sermon is by an older white guy. It’s good. It applies to me. My wife gives me the knowing look during the message that says, “Are you listening?”

Remember, I grew up in church. Heck, I was on staff at a church. I love God. I love Jesus. I just hate church.

Sort of.

I think everyone deserves to give church a chance. To get beyond merely observing and analyzing, but digest the meat of the message they’re trying to convey. You are short changing your religious experience if you think you can attend church as an observer only.

It’s not fair to sit back and judge like I do. I may hate church, but…

I’ll be back next week. I have a lot to learn.

John Cockroft is a walking contradiction. His religion is worthless, but he’s real and he doesn’t lay claim to a particular seat in church. You can sit anywhere you like. He’ll gladly adjust. For more about him and his lovely wife, visit TwentyFourSevenMarriage on YouTube, or go to www.JohnCockroft.com

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Fearful Amigos

We traveled to Mexico last Thursday and the Thursday before that. The first time, I blogged about it as well. That was a foot journey across the Rio Grande. The second time, we drove. I’d never driven to Mexico, and wanted to try something new.

We didn’t tell anyone we were going. Not because we weren’t excited about driving into the unknown, but because we knew that all the gringos would say it was a bad idea.

Before I explain what happened driving in Mexico, I’ll fast forward to the predictable: We got back and told people about it the next day. Of course, they were less than favorable.

 

Me: I drove to Rio Bravo yesterday.

Man I Just Met: Where’s that?

Me: South of McAllen… it’s a city of 101,000.

MIJM: There’s a city that big down there?

Me: (Nods head.) Uh-huh. Yep.

MIJM: Oh, I would never do that. It’s so dangerous. You could get killed.

Me: I didn’t get killed.

MIJM: They’ll kill you and drive off in your RV.

Me: I don’t have an RV.

MIJM: Aren’t you afraid of dying?

Me: No. If I die, I’ll just be in heaven sooner. You want to go to heaven, don’t you?

Needless to say, the Man I Just Met didn’t jive with my thought process. So, needless to say, I wheedled my way into another conversation with another Man I’d Never Met Before.

Me: I drove to Rio Bravo, Mexico yesterday.

MINMB: That’s dangerous. You could get killed.

Me: But I didn’t get killed. I’m still here talking to you.

MINMB: Did you hear about the woman in Houston? They took a knife and tried to cut her purse strap and when that didn’t work, they dragged her along and stuffed her into a car and killed her.

Me: I don’t own a purse.

I could bore you with more discussions, but you get the point. My fellow gringos were, ahem, scaredy cats about driving to Mexico. They’d all heard horror stories of kidnappings, bludgeonings, rapings, murderings, beheadings, disembowelings, tar and featherings, and further acts of terror involving driving south of Texas.

To hear the white people talk, one dare not venture beyond the sanctioned tourist traps and even then, watch out and hang on to your money. I venture to say those folks have never been to Mexico. And those who have, spend A LOT of money compared to me.

THE REAL SCOOP ON MY DRIVING TRIP TO MEXICO

My wife and I drove across the border on the Bill Summers International Highway from Progresso, Texas to Progresso Nuevo, Mexico. Getting in was anticlimactic. Once across the Rio Grande, you pay $3 to drive on in.  You stop at another gate and you think, here’s where they frisk you and get out the dogs and ask for your blood type. Nope. The uniformed guard looks at you as if to say, “what are you waiting for, drive on in to Mexico already!”

Once in Mexico, you notice a long line of cars lined up going North. Everyone is trying to get out. You have an easy path South and no one to block you save for a dozen or two Mexican men waving you into available parking spaces fraught with boys and buckets waiting to wash your suddenly filthy car for money.

 You politely decline their offers to invest in your pocketbook and keep driving. It’s kind of fun seeing the disappointed looks. In a twisted way, that is.

Once past the touristy stuff, we ran out of town. Not much of Progresso Nuevo exists beyond tourism. These people are excellent beggars. They know how to play the sympathy card really well. Hey, I’ve been there numerous times and it still kinda works on me.

Anyways, it was fun being south of Progresso Nuevo for the very first time. Driving in Mexico, into the unknown… Wait. We can’t use the GPS because of international rates. And the road signs… ahem, all in Spanish. Hmmm. This could be tricky. We’d better go straight south, then U turn and come back.

Uh, oh. There’s a toll booth up ahead. Like a sobriety checkpoint, it’s too late to make a U-ey.

We’re staring at words on a sign in Spanish and we see numbers. Cars: 32 Trucks 45. 32 cents? 32 dollars?

We’re at the toll booth, and I ask the nice attendant in perfect English, “how much?” She stares at me like I have a cactus growing out of my right nostril and indicates the sign that I can’t read.

I read the sign again. Oops. There it is. 1.60 dllrs. OK, I understand, but why abbreviate dollars like that?

We’re now on the open road, but the road only goes east and west. We’re on a ramp and we’re heading west. OK, so much for going south and then back north. Now, we’ll have to guess by the mileage how far we’re going.

The landscape is flat and agricultural. Plowed, unplanted fields and irrigation ditches. Looks like eastern Colorado where my brother farms. Boring.

A herd of Mexicans are cramped into a pickup. We pass it. Amusing how they disregard seat belt laws and seating limits. A seatbelt sign is visible within site of the scene, making it more comical.

We see a sign for Rio Bravo. We’ve heard of it. Must be a bigger town. We take the exit to the south and we’re in Rio Bravo, Mexico, a couple of stray gringos.

Sewage. It’s the first smell I notice upon entering town. Bienvenido!

Past the smell, the city becomes startlingly prosperous looking. We get out and snap pictures of a statue inside a circle drive.

There are lots of 7 eleven convenience stores. A church’s chicken, and Papa John’s. So many 7 elevens. Like the 90s and earlier in the U.S.

It’s a nice, 84 degree day in January. Bragging rights on weather, even though we haven’t a clue what we’re doing. We wander about on foot, after snapping a picture of where we’ve parked. We can’t imagine asking for directions, though!

A woman is walking up, asking us about why we’re taking pictures of dumpy houses. She rattles in Spanish, and we tell her we don’t speak Spanish. She continues, so I start rambling in English, knowing she hasn’t a clue what I’m saying. It’s funny. See more details on our YouTube channel. https://youtu.be/FNTZKEmfW8M

We’re back in the car, and wandering. Wandering. The streets are so dirty and so uneven. Such potholes; they could swallow a Volkswagen!

img_0562
The uneven streets of Rio Bravo, Mexico

More zigging. More zagging. We’re lost. Yep. No GPS. OK. This is interesting. I am wandering north, and then a block east until it runs out of street. A block north. Two blocks east. Three and a half blocks north. So on. Nope. Dead. End. Streets.

Dogs wander across the street like they have the right of way (because they do!)

Other drivers may or may not stop for you at intersections.

We take a LONG time to retrace our tracks back to the main road. South, west, zigzag…etc. Streets dirty. Dogs aplenty. Dirty. Rough. Uneven. Potholes.

OK, that was … time consuming. We find the main highway and head back to Progresso Nuevo before it gets too late.

It’s fun being on the south side of Progresso Nuevo. We bypass the toll to get there. We park in a dilapidated area.  I hand my expensive Canon camera to a girl and she takes our picture, surprised that we handed her a camera that is worth more than a year’s wages here.

Her mother is there. I try to talk to them and we get the names and general idea that we are going to a church to hand out gifts to children. The girl, about 14, gets into a car and drives her mother!

We grab a plastic garbage bag full of toys, and the camera, and wander the filthy streets, taking pictures of chickens, children… a dog sleeping on an abandoned recliner amid a pile of debris. I can easily count each of the dogs ribs.

img_0650
Emaciated canine on recliner in Progresso Nuevo, Mexico

He is sleeping across from a church, now in progress. The doors are open. We stop and I greet children on the street. I start drawing their caricatures in my sketch pad.

IMG_0680.JPG
Here I am drawing pictures and handing out toys.

The act bridges a gap in the language. Children are swarming us as we hand out the toys from our plastic trash bag. Santa comes to Progresso Nuevo!

Some guys are kicking a soccer ball around the mud rut laden streets. I join in for a bit.

The church service is over and our little handout session of toys and pictures is wrapping up. We go inside the church and snap a picture with the congregation of 17.

Tourists!

Dios te Bendiga!

Back in line to get to the U.S. Shorter line now that it’s dark outside. They ask us what all the boxes are for in the back. “We work at a market; they’re our supplies.”

“Did you buy anything?”

“A donut.”

The patrolman rolls his eyes. “Go on.”

There it is. Our dangerous, murderous trip full of terror…

Hate to disappoint the fear-mongers and fearful, but it’s not that dangerous in Mexico.

John Cockroft is a writer from Missouri. Every time he goes on a new adventure, he meets people who have never been murdered. As troubling as the world seems to the fearful, John still has yet to be mugged, beaten, raped, kidnapped, disemboweled, or have his RV stolen.

I almost cried at Starbucks

starbucks-mcallen
The Starbucks in McAllen where this happened. For real.

I usually rant about bitter, grumpy older man stuff… you know, the kind of thing that makes Millennials cringe…

This rant is dedicated to the Millennial couples I witnessed at a Starbucks in McAllen, Texas tonight.

It’s a January Sunday night, and the weather in this South Texas town is cooler than usual. My leading lady and I are finished working the market http://www.DonWesFleaMarket.net where we sell original artwork on Tee Shirts and Canvas.

donwes-artist
Me doing my artwork at the DonWes Flea Market. Wanna know more about my art? http://www.1ofakindonline.com

The weekend work aside, we stroll into a Starbucks to do our duty to remind you how in the online audience of ours just how observant and wise we are. Heck, we were born in the ’60s so we’ve earned some respect, right?

We sit at a corner table and I immediately notice a young Hispanic couple (Hispanic… only in America do we call Mexicans Hispanics, lumping them with Cubans, South Americans, Central Americans, and “real”Spanish people from Spain! Oh, and Portuguese. We don’t know what to do with them, but throw them into that group, too; not that we ever encounter a real red-blooded Portuguese person… or not that we would recognize one from the pack of aforementioned people groups; but I digress…)

Anyways, I am sitting in the corner table facing the door and I immediately notice this young Mexican couple and they’re so engrossed in each other… I mean, talking and laughing and touching appropriately from time to time. Sweet little “aww that’s adorable” stuff that would make a romance movie producer envious.

So this wonderful Mexican-American version of “When Harry Met Sally” is playing live before our eyes, and lo and behold, another Mexican-American couple walks in. He’s holding the door for her, and holding her hand for her, and… you get the picture.

They are like totally immersed in one another’s eyes. The way she looks at him. And these couples go on and on, for like, minutes, and minutes. No electronic devices. No negative gossip. No profanity. They are speaking English. Then Spanish. It’s… okay, to use a chick-flick term, freakin’ adorable.

I get goosebumps. My faith in young people is rising immensely, watching these couples go about their romantic Sunday night dates. They aren’t home, sitting in separate rooms, he on the video games and she on Facebook trashing him. They are in love and it shows.

Then, after a wonderful extended time together, the first couple leaves. He gets the door for her, dumps her trash for her. They go to their vehicle. He. Gets. Her. Door.

OMG… I’m gonna shake his hand. I’m gonna tell him what I think. I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes. I’m bolting outside and waving to him so as not to freak him out as he comes around to the driver’s seat. “Hey man,” I smile, approaching slowly. “I’m from Missouri, and I’m not used to seeing such amazing…”

I hardly know how to put into words what I’m thinking.

I point to him and look at her, smiling in the passenger seat. “You’ve got a real winner here,” I say. She quickly agrees. I turn back to Romeo. “I just want to say, you’ve restored faith in young people for this old guy. The way you treat her and each other with such respect. That’s almost unheard of nowadays. Thank you. You’re a wise, respectful dude.”

He shakes my hand, thanks me, and they are gone.

My next little couple eventually rises to leave. He dumps her trash, opens her door, and as they walked out hand in hand, he gets her car door. My heart is overflowing, and my eyes want to follow suit.

McAllen, Texas, if this is how your young people behave on a Sunday night, it’s little wonder your community is so blessed!

For those of you aspiring romantics, here is a recommended book:

John Cockroft is a really sensitive guy underneath his somewhat aloof exterior. His stuff is visible at http://www.JohnCockroft.com.

Snot nosed girl

Snot. It was glistening on her dirty brown face.

But it was her eyes that caught my eye.

Those hollow ebony eyes.

She wasn’t old enough to speak. But I spoke to her, through the chain link fence that separated us. Those hollow eyes stared holes through mine. I had wandered off the touristy path into the Mexico they didn’t want me to see. But I had to see it. I had to see her. I couldn’t do a thing about it, but I wanted to see.

Snot Nose.jpg

It wasn’t my first time across the bridge to the South. But it still wedges a mysterious hole inside my heart. That feeling clings to my soul like the dust from the streets. It’s still there when I cross the bridge, past the solitary hand of the woman waving a tattered ball cap begging for a quarter as I walk North with my passport and my legal U.S. citizenship. I am free.

Free.

The uncomfortable feeling the little girl left me with haunts me. It won’t wash off in the shower back in the security and comfort of my home country. I watch TV, talk with a friend, snuggle with my wife, and I can’t shake images of that little snot-nosed girl. She’s still there and I’m still here. I can go back there, but she can’t come over here.

Why was she sitting alone in the dirt by the fence, so close to danger, no one to watch over her? Don’t her parents care?  God cares, right? I mean, He’s watching over her, right? Right?

Then why do I still feel what I feel? Is this how He feels? If He feels this way, wouldn’t He intervene? If I was God I think I’d sweep down into that dirty yard and spare one more little girl from potential harm.

FROM THE WASHINGTON POST: In 2013, Mexico officially recorded 1,698 kidnappings, the highest number on record. Yet government officials concede that only a small percentage of victims — one in 10 by some estimates — report the crime, as police are sometimes involved in kidnappings and not trusted. The statistics kept by Miranda’s organization, Association to Stop Kidnapping (Asociacion Alto al Secuestro) , recorded 3,038 kidnappings in 2013. Another, led by Fernando Ruiz Canales, a former kidnapping victim who now helps negotiate for the release of hostages, puts 2013 kidnapping totals at 27,740, or 76 per day.

John Cockroft is a writer from Missouri. Visit  JohnCockroft.com for more information.