Midnight last night - get home from wedding.
1:30 a.m. - Finally get to bed.
3:42 a.m. - Rise and Shine!
5:15 a.m. - On the road again.
9:30 a.m. - Arrive at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan an hour and a half early, and literally cuss myself for needing that extra sleep 6 hours ago.
10:30 a.m. - Commence geek-out.
Listen - I'm the first guy to say that church is not a show, or a performance. And at Mars Hill, it's really not. But I can't imagine a time when I was this excited about front row seats at church! In my mind, the front row is where the offering plates are stored, or the place you sit after the offering if you want to make an announcement from the stage. Today - it was within spitting distance of the stage at Mars Hill. So close - we were inside the ring of speakers.
It was pretty much what I expected - simple, stripped down, un-flashy. I think they have the same amateur hand-painted mural of Noah's ark on the wall of their "Preschool Pier" that we have at Copperfield. The building is an old mall that somebody donated, and it appears that there have been very few renovations to the property. "The Shed" is the room you see above, where the worship gathering takes place. It's set up in the round, with instruments and musicians all around the outside of the stage, facing inward. The ceilings are low throughout the room, much lower than it looks in the picture - and the screen-cube-thingy hangs just above the head of whoever's speaking.
I guess I was impressed by the fact that it's really obvious how little they care about making a show of things. Their facility can't really be considered "nice", at all. There isn't a single sign that says Mars Hill Bible Church. In fact, you don't even know what the building is until you walk up to the doors, and it's stenciled on the glass. They are NOT advertising - and they are not concerned with attraction strategies. They break every megachurch rule in the book. It seems clear that the folks at Mars Hill are more interested in doing something real for the world than for Mars Hill. And I think that is what is attractive about them. Sure, the worship and teaching is amazing, insightful, and seriously hip (Rob Bell was sporting a buzz-cut and sideburns; they played Bob Marley's Redemption Song in a seemingly endless loop before the service), but a lot of the people seemed to really be tuned in. Like Rob speaks for them, instead of to them.
The teaching was about how the gospel shouldn't be something that weighs people down with guilt, and responsibility to be good enough. The gospel is "good news" - and the news is that it's not about getting there.... Jesus is already "there" and if you're in him, you are too. It's about the kind of freedom you can only know when you realize that whatever it is you're trying to do has already been done for you.
After the teaching, I had a brief audience with the rabbi, and mentioned to him that we had driven from Houston to have the Mars Hill experience, and he introduced me to his friend Alan, who had just come in from England - which, he made sure to mention, was farther than me. LOL. When I mentioned Houston, he said - "Oh yeah, I'm going to be in... uhhh..."
"Dallas" I said. "We'll see you there." And that was that.
By the way, Rob Bell? That's one seriously tall, and seriously skinny dude.
Also, Rob - the jig is up on the cool glasses. You took them off, and forgot to put them back on to read. Listen - just between you and me? I think they're purely cosmetic. It's cool, though, man, I've got some myself.
Jordan and Vicki, the really nice couple who sat next to us invited us over to their place for lunch, which was really, really nice. Only, I think she read the look on my face as being totally creeped out, instead of the utter joyful shock that I intended it to express, and then tried to backtrack. Either way, they invited us to hang out with them at the church-wide celebration this afternoon at the park down the street. Even gave us their phone number and e-mail address. Unfortunately, the only thing we could conceive of was finally getting some much-needed sleep, so we had to pass on both.
Lastly (and I realize this is such a vanity post, and that absolutely NONE of you will have read this far, BUT), if you have never visited Grand Rapids, I highly recommend it. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, breezy, about 70 degrees, and not at all humid. Around dinnertime, it got as cool as 58 in some places. Abby also remarked about how clean and quiet it feels around here. We think we could actually live here....
... during the summer.
Tomorrow: Chicago, Gary, and Memphis (redux).