14 years of catholic schooling, and I just went to church for the first time

I’ve been taken to church a million times. By my parents. By my teachers in grade school, and some more in high school. I’ve been invited to church for weddings and baptisms as a means to get to the reception. But until this past Sunday, I had never gone to church. I, under the power of my own decision, using my own transportation, my own free will, my own time … I went to church.

I won’t climb onto a soapbox and spill all my thoughts about Catholicism or organized religion in general. Sufficed to say, I grew away from it. The repetitious, authoritative, and largely hypocritical aspects eventually won the battle in me against the concepts of faith, love and charity. I didn’t give up on those concepts, I just didn’t care to hear them in a place where Jesus stares at me from his cross. I was cool taking the good without the bad.

At the aforementioned weddings and baptisms, I started to reject offerings of the body and blood of Christ. I passed on offers to go to Christmas Mass. “If I were God, and somebody whom I invited to show up every week didn’t take me up on the offer, and then just waltzed in on my busiest day to eat my food and drink my wine, I’m gonna be pissed.”

That’s from Paul to the Any-Body-Who-Asked.

My wife and I didn’t get married in a church (thank God we were on the same page). We weren’t rebels. We just didn’t feel comfortable pretending. “Oh, yeah, we’re totally coming back here every Sunday. Definitely. It’s in my phone so I don’t forget.”

We talked about wanting to find a church, though. We had conversations about our faith and how we’d want it to impact our kids when we have them. That talk led to finding a new church. One that isn’t even in a church. One that has an app and is on Twitter. One that teaches rather than preaches. One that might just fit us.

We walked up the four flights of stairs at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Rochester with a crowd of others. Young parents with their young kids. A trio of 20-something girls. A couple in their 60s and everything in between. As we reached the fourth floor, you could smell the coffee pots. It felt like parent-teacher conferences at first with so many kids bopping around. Bright signs above three or four rooms laid out where the kids should go by their age, and they scurried to find their classroom for the next 90 minutes.

Caitlynn and I, a pumpkin latte and vanilla coffee in our hands, respectively, sauntered in slowly to take it in and hope that no one noticed the posers that just showed up for the first time. We feared judgement. Was that a hangover from past church experiences? I don’t know, but it faded. It faded partly because it wasn’t a traditional church, it was a theater. A band was on stage ready to play, a projection screen behind them was lit with a timer counting down to the start of the sermon. It was so … young. The pastor was a 30-something-ish bald guy with thick black frames and jeans. His white collar wasn’t covering his throat, it was just the undershirt to his plaid button-down. He made mention at one point that his church–Grace Road–had built a strong following of 20-somethings. Impressive, because that age group is the least religious in the country.

What I saw over the next 90 minutes was, for lack of a better word, inspiring. An image that I knew would last was that of a married couple about five rows up. They were in their early 20s. She was pregnant. And they held hands as they swayed to one of the songs, his left hand raised in the air like he was trying to catch God’s foul ball. Next to them was a woman showing more tattoos than un-inked skin. The band played songs most had never heard before, but people sang anyway with the words projected above the stage like a giant karaoke bar. If you didn’t sing, you didn’t feel bad. If you sang, you didn’t care how you sounded. I watched as people were truly engaged with what was happening in front of them and thought: “This is how the thirsty drink.”

I quickly put that line in my phone to remember it for this blog.

This is how the thirsty drink. How the hungry eat. How lovers kiss. When nothing else in the room matters but you and that glass of water, that plate of food, or that girl in your arms.

When it was over, I dropped my wife off and went to work. I thought about it until I got busy and likely didn’t spend more than five seconds on it until after 9 p.m. when my day was over. It didn’t change my day. I’m not reborn, just refreshed. And a little relieved. Relieved to feel OK about doing it differently. It’s not a hipster thing or a millennial thing or a cool thing. It’s a good thing, even though I’m not sure what it is yet. But we’re gonna go again. Totally. It’s in my phone. Plus, if we oversleep, we’ll listen to it later on the app.

Works for me.


All that running and no results: An app-setting development

Runners mingle in the atrium of the Blue Cross Arena just after completing the Johnny's Runnin' Of The Green on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Runners mingle in the atrium of the Blue Cross Arena just after completing the Johnny’s Runnin’ Of The Green on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

I have two screens in my face at this moment: my laptop and my cell. I had to upload a pic from my phone to WordPress from this morning’s 5-mile run (the Johnny’s Runnin’ Of the Green) in downtown Rochester. It was the second straight year I ran the race with a couple buddies, and both times we drank a bit too much the night before. Not sure if that’s part of the tradition now, but we’ll find out next year.

Normally after a race, runners will make their way to the bottles of water or Gatorade, the bagels and bananas, and then head toward the little corner where the results are posted to find out their official times. I’ve seen sheets of paper being taped to a wall and big screens where you type in your bib number.

Today, there were papers on the wall. But instead of results, there were QR codes. Scan the code, follow the links, get your results. And this brings me back to the screens. Instead of runners huddling up, bending around one another to find their results, they have the convenience of using their smartphones (which everybody has by now, right?). It was the only way they offered to get results right after the race, otherwise you’d wait until they’re posted on a website (another screen).

This bothered me for two reasons: 1) My cell was in my car and 2) where’s the fun in that?

I get it. Everybody has a smartphone and everybody uses it and everybody loves convenience and QR codes and swiping and beep beep bop boop there it is! It’s personal, because it’s your phone and your moment with no one around you. But that’s the problem: there’s no one around you.

I can’t be the only one who likes the scene of people shoulder-to-shoulder bending for room to find their time. I still wouldn’t call myself “a runner” the way some of these others are, but I think I have an understanding of the culture a bit. Runners have built a community with certain traditions, and I guess I’m surprised at how much the tradition of finding your time on the wall was missed today. I have no way of knowing if anyone else — a “runner”, perhaps — felt this way, but my guess is yes.

And it’s not like I’m clamoring for the old days of stop watches, no ear buds and hand-written results. Chip timing and ultra-light shoes are great because they are improvements of the culture with more accurate times and less painful feet. Neither of those improvements come at the cost of the culture (unless someone misses foot pain).

Having the technology to do something doesn’t mean the reason to do it is there, too. I don’t just want my time. I want to see the faces of other people when they find their time. I want to hear their conversations about what they think they did, how happy they are that they did it, and completely unrelated topics — humans being humans.

I’ll let the good people at PCR Timing know my opinion and maybe I won’t be the only one. Maybe nobody noticed. And maybe that’s the worst part.

It’s 4:07 p.m. and the results are still not posted. Not sure how they can post them instantly to an app but not to the website. However, just saw my results from the 2013 race; I clocked in at 40:05, meaning I ran 8:01/mile. I think I was a bit off that pace today, but I guess I’ll find out later…

It’s 4:17 p.m. and the results have been posted. I finished in 42:44.7 with a 8:33/mile average. A little disappointed now that I compare it to 2013. Must be gettin’ old. However, so are the people around me, because both years I finished 50th in the 30-34 age division. At least I’m keeping pace with my peers.