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November 09, 2010

why not

I spent the spring semester of 2001 at the University of Delaware doing a research clinical. For four months I lived muscle fatigue and function after ACL repair. Most athletes grow weary at the depths of physiology where lab geeks thrive. 

I plopped a suit case and air mattress on the floor of a bare room. The two art-history majors that I hooked up with for a roof over my head weren’t exactly choir boys. Not that they were horrible. They were, well, art history majors. Looking back, I wish I asked them more about their studies; about their lives.

I arrived late Saturday night. The stranger in a strange land decided to take a ride the next morning.

Traveling down an unfamiliar street, I spotted a little church on an elevated piece of land. I forget the exact wording, but the sign read something like Newark Zion Church of Christ. Much later I would discover that Zion was the name designated to a fortified mound at the southern tip of Jerusalem. It sounded sufficiently churchy and, more importantly, the 10:30 service started just 2 minutes ago.

Rushing through the unmanned double wide doors, not until 3 steps into the tiny vestibule did I look up. This little old church on a hill was packed wall to wall with black folks, every one of them completely dressed to the nines and about to move. I paused, recalling that I wore my typical jeans and long sleeve T. Oh, and I wasn’t black. 

I mean, not that color is a big deal or anything. Right?

I commenced backwards tiptoeing when a rather large attendant stepped behind me and whispered “Where you going?”

It suddenly seemed rather silly to rush out like that. I thought, with a big open hand on the small of my back, "yeah, maybe I should stay awhile." They apparently had plenty of room for an awkward white kid. Another attended walked me about 10 paces, where after a few shuffles and scoots I landed on the edge of a pew about midway to the front of the church.

“We’re glad you came.” 

Roman Catholics and Baptists don't sing with soul or clap or dance or wear formal suits, at least not the ones that have shaped me. So I stood amazed and uncomfortable for about fifteen or thirty minutes in a sea of soulful Christians. I felt like an obstacle, worse than out of place. I clearly recall the excellent message on faith as well as the appropriate black preacher swagger with which it was delivered. 

Some of the service was familiar, and some I'd never seen. The people didn't ignore me. They didn’t make me squirm under a cumbersome load of attention or expectation. There were no apparent agendas or attempts to appear theologically sophisticated. They simply did what they do, with no apology, making sure I knew they were glad to have me.

After service a few men asked me where I was from and how I got there. They invited me to their light lunch at the church and invited me back next week. 

Something felt right about that church. Surely, the presence of the Lord was in that place. I was quite impressed with the little Zion something church up on that hill. And during my four months at the University of Delaware, I never returned.

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