The following weekend, our family headed back to Austin. The church Sydney and Brayden spoke at that first weekend in Texas had invited them back to attend a worship night while the rest of us had dinner at my friend Katie’s house. (Surprise! Another Noonday friend.) Katie and I went to Uganda together a few years ago.
If there’s anything to know about our family it’s this: the way to our hearts is through food and conversation. And we most definitely got our fill of both at Katie’s. Also, not immune to church hurt, we talked to Katie and her husband about past pain, but unlike a lot of the other conversations on the road, this one moved past the pain. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t closed the door on church. They fought to stay in it. Sometimes people have a hard time moving past the pain, which is understandable. It took our family a while. It took me even longer. And sometimes people never move past the pain, allowing resentment and bitterness to gain a foothold. But, Katie and her husband were still fighting for unity. It’s a common thread in their life story, so it doesn’t surprise me.
Our weekend in Austin would be capped off with a Sunday morning service before heading back to Houston. Our family has really tried to be intentional when it comes to visiting churches on the road. We’ve tried to visit places all across the theological spectrum, and interestingly enough, the one city where people felt the incessant need to make an unsolicited suggestion on our Sunday Service (Sorry, Kanye. But your trademark request hasn’t been approved yet) was Austin.
Everyone wanted us to go to Jen Hatmaker’s church, Austin New Church.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t want to go. I have nothing against Jen Hatmaker personally. Her book, Interrupted, profoundly impacted my life. But, I don’t agree with her on a lot of theological points. And I most definitely don’t like the celebrity culture of some churches, so I didn’t want to “waste” my Sunday morning going to her church when there were so many others I actually wanted to visit. Here’s my confession: The above sentences are filled with arrogance and ignorance, which I’ve had to repent of on several occasions. To several people. (None of those people are Jen Hatmaker, but if I ever see her, I’ll probably apologize to her as well.)
At some point over the weekend, the conviction, or maybe the curiosity, got the best of me and our family decided to attend a worship service at Austin New Church. Here’s another confession: I went in ready to tear it apart. Very Christ-like, right? (Seriously, the Lord has done a CRAZY work on me over the past seven months.) At the first sign of bad theology or false teaching, I was ready to bolt. Honestly, I was just waiting for it to happen. Counting the minutes. All 60 of them. Because we sat through the ENTIRE service. The whole sinking thing.
Their pastor, Jason Morriss, was starting a summer sermon series focused on “hot button” issues in the church. His first sermon was about legalism. I was prepared for him to go after the conservative evangelical fundamentalists, specifically those who often times confuse their national identity with their kingdom identity… or marry their religion and their politics. And, to a certain point he did. And rightfully so. But, he also gave a grave warning to his congregation. Acknowledging that several members found a home at ANC after being ostracized in those conservative congregations, he warned them of the temptation of building up their own walls after being kicked out of those.
I remember the moment he said it. Sydney and I immediately whipped our heads around to each other. Jamie pathetically tried to hide a snicker. Jason’s wife, Ashley, also got up and talked about the church’s immigration ministry, both at the border and in Austin. As she talked, I saw my whole family intently listening to every word. We didn’t know anyone who had actually been to the boarder to see firsthand what was going on there. (But we knew a TON of people who had an opinion about it.)
And then there was Mark.
Mark was one of the worship leaders that Sunday. It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, we’ll visit a church and almost immediately, Sydney knows she wants to work with someone. After the service she approached Mark, shared about Be The Change Collective and asked if he would be interested in writing with her. So far, she’s batting 100% with these requests and that didn’t change with Mark. (And, if I’m really honest, Jamie and I are never 100% sure about the process.) It seems so random, but by now, we know it’s the Holy Spirit! Come to find out, Mark and his wife lived in a RV for two years and just so happened to have a place for us to park our RV at their house because their RV was in the shop.
Just so happened.
So, I guess Sydney’s going to write a song with someone from Jen Hatmaker’s church. I see what You’re doing God. (Actually, I had NO CLUE what He was about to do. And I wasn’t prepared for it either.)
But you’ll have to wait for the conclusion of this story because a lot happened in between our trips to Austin.