When you grow up in a community surrounded by other people who (for the most part) look similarly, think similarly, talk similarly, vote similarly, and complain about similar discomforting groups of people, there can be an itch that begins developing for what the world is like outside your particular socio-cultural commune.
Which is where the Rumspringa comes in.
Rumspringa, traditionally understood, is a time for (mostly Amish) adolescents to “look around” or explore the rest of the world by (I’m assuming here) gambling, playing violent video games, listening to NWA, drinking sodas past 7:30pm ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, and something else incredibly scandalous for a community of people who constantly question the inherent value of poly-blend fabrics or sensible Japanese sedans for deeply religious reasons.
To be fair to all the Amish folks who aren’t reading this for rather obvious reasons, they aren’t necessarily misguided in their aversions. I once saw a kid fall out of a shopping cart while watching cartoons on an iPad in a crowded grocery store. Neither he, his episode of Paw Patrol, nor his parent seemed to notice that anything at all had happened. But everyone else in the cereal aisle, we noticed, made knowing eye contact with one another, and immediately took a social media break punctuated by a self-righteous announcement (on Facebook) that we’re taking a break from Facebook because of God and the Enneagram.
You could say that I'm currently in the midst of a Rumspringa of sorts myself, but instead of rejecting a notoriously closed off, regressive, anxious group of bearded dads forever disappointed in your choice of mate, hair-style, and “political views” for religious reasons in the heart of Pennsylvania, I’m taking a break from being Baptist in East Tennessee. Or, as (probably) none of my friends say: “Amish, but with more smokeless tobacco, Salt Life stickers, and stricter views on Hell and a balanced federal budget”.
Currently, I’m dabbling in Presbyterianism (USA!).
Which is equally hard both to spell and to explain.
So I won’t.
Suffice it to say that there was a growing part of me that seemed to struggle to find a fit within the faith community of my birth, my family, and my current ordination that, to its credit, did NOT require a complex credentialing process of several tests (following the several tests of graduate school) to prove one's fitness to deliver robed speeches to people who are politely ignoring you. In response to this perceived "lack of fit" I thought I might explore a bit of the "Mainline," at least as a way of poking around in a tradition those LifeWay polls about Christianity's declining influence in the world were endlessly complaining about.
However, one thing I didn’t expect on the other side of the MOST boring Rumspringa one can undertake, is how exhausted I would feel learning a new set of vocabulary words, chants, readings, songs, orders, structures, rules, hierarchies, baggage, and anxieties with which I didn’t grow up.
Church has always been a bit of struggle for me, even when I’m in charge of what happens on a Sunday, but one thing I could count on in my inherited Baptist tradition was at least a solid grasp on what we’re all taking incorrectly about when it comes to God, communion, tithing, singing, sitting, standing, and arguing with one another about the budget. Frankly, there’s a certain level of comfort that comes from knowing where all the bodies are buried in your family, your faith tradition, or your preferred college football concussion factory ("team"), it gives you this sense of freedom to know what to ignore, what to grow increasingly anxious about until it eventually kills you, what to challenge, and what to always revere as sacrosanct.
It’s almost like knowing what’s broken about a tradition or a faith community frees up a great deal of your bandwidth so you can get on with the more creative tasks of attempting to concretely put flesh and blood on the resurrection with the rest of your life that isn’t punctuated with minor chords awkwardly strummed by the Christian cover band attempting to “set a mood” for prayer time.
In this new tradition, with new people, new creeds, new saints, new sinners, and new ceremonies all of my creative energy is mostly depleted before the Benediction, leaving the rest of my week and my day and my mind struggling to catch up and refill before another Sunday and another Sunday and another Sunday. Which got me thinking, if the weirdness and creative energy we all expend in the name of the divine, rather than being poured out complaining about worship, or sermons, or church decision making, or denominational fidelity, or historic theology, can instead be saved for filling all the other days of our lives --where no one is delivering a speech to you while donning a robe, or a pair of skinny jeans, or a bad Men’s Warehouse suit— with redemptive weirdness
what a world we could create together.
There’s nothing wrong (hard stop), there are quite a few things wrong with being Presbyterian, just like there are quite a few things wrong with being Baptist, just like there are quite a few things wrong with being Amish. The point, I’ve found, isn’t to spend our days attempting to find a tradition that is the least wrong about such things (whether they be thermonuclear war, the LGBTQ community, politics, or something some white dude named John said about God in the 16th century that none of us actually believe anymore), the point is to find a tradition that feels incredibly commonplace, usual, and ordinary to you whenever you stumble into the Narthex (a real word!) on a Sunday.
To be clear: if the weirdest thing about you is what you do on a Sunday morning from the hours of nine to noon when compared to everyone else brunching their way through the weekend, then you are incredibly unnecessary to the ongoing flourishing of God’s world. Despite what you may have read about killing things, or food purity laws, or people turning to pillars of salt, or altars consumed by fire, the way in which the Bible speaks about the practice of religion is incredibly ordinary to the ancient world.
Like waiting in line to buy groceries and pretending not to consume every word in a headline about Brad Pitt’s reconnection with his kids sorts of ordinary.
The Bible’s weirdness, is found not in the talking snakes or flames from heaven, but in the way it invites ordinary religious folks to redemptively treat the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the tax collector, the hawks of war, the enslaved, the oppressed, and that demon possessed uncle you have in finance...on the other side of whatever usual religious practice their context demanded they undertake.
So, whether it’s the “smells and bells,” the mass and robes, the power chords and earnest yelling, or the robed considerations of someone quietly Terry-Grossing their way through this week's lectionary reading that only “kind-of speak" to you, don’t overthink the Sunday stuff. It isn’t that important, if it were Jesus would have probably gone to Sunday School more often.
What is important, I've found, is the amount of redemptive weirdness those ordinary moments with God and your neighbors on the weekends help you uncover in your own life.
If those moments with God and your neighbors on the weekend never actually concretize in political, social, economic, and cultural weirdness that brings everything in our particular contexts to a screeching halt in the name of widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor, the oppressed, and yes, even that uncle we all have in finance who keeps aggressively talking about his boat at Thanksgiving, then it doesn't much matter to me what your music sounds like, or how the "about us" page of your church website reads, or even how "right" you are about your collective belief in things none of us know for sure.
The world needs fewer middle class Americans shopping around for the perfect amount of weirdness when it comes to the shape of their weekend plans worshiping a crucified, impoverished, 1st century political dissident, and far more middle-class Americans hell-bent on conjuring weirdness in the midst of a nation desperate to kill itself in the name of wealth, safety, success, and early retirement.
If you're searching for a metric to determine the efficaciousness of your Christian community, perhaps redemptive weirdness might suffice for now. And, if it comes up short in your particular faith context, maybe the answer isn't a church-to-church-to-church-to-church-Rumspringa of the most epically boring proportions, maybe it's simply time to gratefully receive the gift of more cognitive bandwidth when it comes to practicing Christianity rather than thinking about how long the offertory should be.
I've realized, even as a professional Christian who occasionally gets paid to pray, the question greeting the end of my days probably won't have anything to do with the health of churches who provide me business cards for free lunch raffles, and will probably have more to do with why I don't know my neighbors' last (and sometimes first) names, or why I've spent my life trying to convince other people to practice Christianity on my behalf, or why most of my creative energy gets spent trying to make the least important part of Christianity the most important.
I think the question greeting the end of my days will probably involve a bit of explanation to the now quite a few widows, orphans, immigrants, as well as hungry, sick, naked, and homeless folks I have habitually ignored in my professional pursuit of talking about God to ever-increasing numbers of anxious middle class white people on the weekends.
Your question might be a bit different, but if I was a betting man (and on Rumspringa, WE ALL ARE) I'd say yours might not involve too much about worship either.