Rooftop 519

I Got Some On Me. – ramblings on religion and my experience at The Exodus Experience

“Think I’m going to head to San Francisco in the fall.” a missionary friend told me, years ago.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I need to get some of that on me.” His wording was often odd like that, but it was never forced – not like he was trying to be alternative when the term was first becoming fashionable; he was just genuinely different than most people. San Francisco’s beautiful, but it’s also dirty, and the homeless pee on the sidewalks. “Get some on me” sounds like the last thing I’d want to do there. Stroll the streets, see sights, be cultural and cool – that all sounds great, but get it on me?

Many years later, I think I understand better what he meant. He didn’t want to dabble or fake. He didn’t want to be bogged down with behaving the way he or others in the church or missions community thought he ought to behave. He wanted to be part. He wanted to become immersed in what God was doing in the heart of San Francisco.

When someone asked me recently whether I was going to attend Rooftop 519’s Exodus Experience, my heart circumvented my mind and spoke up for itself. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna get some on me.” So I went and got some on me, and now I’m putting it on a page to share with you.

More than 600 people came through Pioneer Park in Puyallup, Washington on August 30th to capture awareness and support for the charity, Rooftop 519. Titled the “Exodus Experience”, the event was named in honor of Rooftop’s first child-patient, Exodus – a burn victim from Liberia who was flown to the States, where a surgeon applied skin grafts to her scars and a host family demonstrated astounding generosity by opening their home and their lives to her. She’s now back with her family in Liberia, healed more deeply than a simple medical procedure could ever achieve on its own.

If church were more like this, I thought as I walked around The Experience, more people would go to church. The people sponsoring the event were Christians. The musicians and artists who donated their time and talent for the event: Christians. Christians were everywhere, just like church. But it wasn’t like church. What made it different?

When people go to church, I think they spend a lot of time worrying about what others in the church think of them. If you are new in church, you worry whether you will be liked and accepted. If you’ve been going to a church for a long time, you worry whether you are living up to the expectations of what other church goers think you are supposed to behave like. If you are pastor of a church, you worry about whether your message is packaged in a way that makes it current and appealing and whether your worship music is cool, because the health of your church is most often determined by its numbers, so you worry about attracting and keeping members.

At the Experience, I didn’t worry about any of those things, and I got the feeling nobody else there was worried, which is notable, because several were artists, opening their insides for the world to see –

some audibly…

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some with paint and brush…

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some with design

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Freedom was in their work, born of a lack of preoccupation with the judgement of wORTHY eyes – their work on display, not for the glory of their own names, but for concern over broken-hearted children and families – energized by inspiration that comes from the love a Father.

It is a trend in the modern Evangelical church to advertise its aim to toss religion aside in favor of relationship – relationship of a closer, more authentic type with Christ, and hopefully with other people. Maybe this mission has been accomplished in certain ways, but lately I can’t help but feel like the modern church has sacrificed one sort of religious behavior for another. We’ve forsaken the organs and hymnals for electric guitars and catchy chord structures, but has this resulted in more intimate connections in our worship? Pastors have put away their suits and ties in favor of polos and blue jeans, but are they more approachable? We’ve all become less formal in our approach to church, but are we losing sight of our primary calling in favor of trying not to look religious? Are we forgetting to love people?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible to avoid religion. Atheists and agnostics claim they do, but I find few things more religious than spending energy ignoring God’s existence or the capability of knowing such things. Certain faith bodies try to step outside religion by centering on community and trying to live missional lives, and this seems to work pretty well until they meet in groups of greater size, where they tend to fall into many of the same patterns they aimed to avoid.

I bumped into an old friend at The Experience and got to expressing some of my recent disillusionment with church. She shared similar frustrations, and I joked that we could find all the other frustrated people and go start a new church and do it the way it ought to be done, but of course, it was only a joke, because we’d be recycling the same stupid pattern that countless others have played out.

So what’s the answer? Stop going to church? I don’t want to stop going to church. I genuinely like the people there. And for all their flaws, I think most churches are doing at least a few things that are good for the community. But maybe we’re all trying too hard to not be a certain way.

The book of James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Let’s face it: the Western church has not done well in either of the categories outlined in this verse. We’re effective at separating ourselves from the world, but we are nearly as polluted by the world as anybody else; we’re just less honest about how polluted we’ve become, even as we’ve lost sight of sin as the pollution rather than people. As for “orphans and widows”, I believe they are welcomed with open arms in most Evangelical churches, but it doesn’t seem there is great emphasis on seeking them out, and I think the church is to function as an extension of Jesus – the greatest seeker and rescuer in history.

I wonder if James was strategic with the way he ordered things when he wrote about orphans and widows and pollution. Maybe, if the church fails in its function to reach out to the broken and needy, it will fail in its attempts to remain pure in a polluted world. I guess my heart sensed this when I was at The Experience. All around were people supporting what the Bible states to be religion’s most noble cause – to comfort and provide for children who cannot help themselves, victims of geography, born in places where even common ailments lead to death. Like medics sent onto an open battlefield, supporters of Rooftop’s mission are sent by Christ’s hand to bind wounds and share His love and compassion in a world largely devoid of these things. I don’t know if Rooftop 519 is being less or more religious in doing what they do, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Either way I find it liberating because exposure to its mission is a reminder that life is not a story about me.

So there it is. This is what I “got on me” at the Exodus Experience. Someday soon, I hope to get some more on me. If you’d like to learn more about Rooftop 519, visit – Rooftop 519. Maybe you’ll get some on you, too.

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42 replies »

  1. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take all of the “Worldly” worries away when it comes to Church. That’s why I quit going in the first place. Now I don’t care about that, and many of the people at my Church don’t either, so it’s fun to go. Thank you for this.

  2. This is a great post Luke on so many levels… the song by Casting Crowns “if we are the body” and many of their other songs came to mind when I was reading this…

    I think sometims unintentionally, we get caught up in the whole religion thing because poeple think we are supposed to look or act a certain way…when really the message of the cross is Love. It is so easy to point out the wrongs of others while ignoring what we were called to do…

    I like how the book of James defines religion…pure and undefiled- looking out for others.

    Thanks for this post Luke

  3. Hello legionwriter,

    I found my way to your blog the other day and saw that you had some interesting things to say. I didn’t comment, but I grabbed your feed.

    The disillusionment you write of is pervasive and I include myself in that group. To simply stop going is not the best alternative, but it is the default response.

    As a Catholic, I’ve been provided with ample reason to feel the way that I do. The church’s stance on a number of issues are irreconcilable with my sense of what community means. But that’s no excuse to not participate in good works. My experience with Habitat for Humanity years ago is an example of something that an individual can do to reaffirm his or her spirit of community. Just pick up a paint brush — religious reasons are optional.

    “If church were more like this, I thought as I walked around The Experience, more people would go to church.” <– Absolutely.

    Ray

  4. I always enjoyed going to conventions than traditional church. I’m not really that Christian now, I just kind of lean toward being spiritual.

    Glad you had fun though! 🙂

      • well I was raised to believe in the Judea-Christian God, but I truly believe that all roads lead to some sort of nirvana (heaven).

        Thanks for thinking I’m more aware. I try to be. I’ve always been open-minded when it comes to religion.

  5. Could not agree more. Glad you shared this. I could go on for hours about how ‘the Church’ is at risk of losing its significance. If only we followed the great commandment, what a impact we could have.

  6. Hey Luke, awesome blog post. i was wondering if you would you be able to send the picture you took of the Ephemeral Youth table to my email (ephemeralyouth@gmail.com) , I’d like to share it on the fb page.

  7. Great post! I have had similar struggles with religion. My sister is also a Catholic foreign missionary and has many experiences offering medical aid to those in need. Sometimes sharing your faith can be showing others that you care, that someone cares about them because it could open their eyes to the greater work that’s going on in the world. When people feel cared for and get the help they need, their basic needs as a human are met and they will be more able to turn to faith if they so choose. Thanks for this!

  8. A very commanding post and a interesting blog. You give people something to think about. You certainly did that for me. Thank you for the visit to my blog and I will look forward to more great post from you.

  9. I think church is where you find it, in the simple things done for someone else. Things done quietly, with no notice, no heavy organization, no committees. I realize that great efforts like Habitat do need organization and it is fitting there.

    I don’t have a God problem; I have a church problem. I quit going to church years ago when it became a matter of being asked to be on too many committees/teams/groups etc. I got tired of feeling guilty or deficient somehow whenever I said ‘no’ to joining some group or another. Somehow, all the extracurricular activities sucked the life out of what church was supposed to be, for me at any rate. And I do agree about the large-crowd, jeans-wearing newer churches; I admit I haven’t gone to any but looking at televised services turned me off. Too much hoopla; just my personal opinion.

    Great post, Luke.

    • You hit my hot button with all the committees, etc. A friend told me the other day that she hasn’t been to church in over a year for those same reasons. She was tired of feeling guilty over not being the way church expected her to be. Ugh! My current approach is to just keep going, keep doing what I feel God moving me to do, and do my best to not give a shit whether people are pisses about what I don’t do. Thanks for reading and the thoughtful comment!

      • As long as the essence of community within the body of Christ, then I agree with the sentiments you’ve shared. Leslie Newbigin said, “what the Lord left behind Him was not a book, a creed, nor a system of thought, more a rule of life, but a visible community.” Are you a part of a visible community? Hebrews 10:24 addresses this really well. It’s important when we get angry that we don’t just shape a vision that is the oposite of what we’ve done. Take the best parts of the church, the vital relational building blocks, the sense of purpose, calling and belonging, and live that. Be the church. Be the community of believers.

  10. Bible says when you pray go into your closet, my closet is my church where there is actual teaching of God’s word and you can feel the Holy spirit. I have started a new walk with The Lord just this year, for I had lost my ability to stomach “religion” and the hypocrisy 30 years ago and left it to commune with God my way. Then a yr and a half ago I lost my oldest daughter she was murdered by a man professing to love her I hated God for letting that happen I started my blog to relieve the emotions I couldn’t seem to control. Now I am in a church where my “religion” is the praise and exalting God is done

    • Oh dear one, thanks for sharing your story here. I am thankful God brought you to a place where you could begin to heal after such a horrific tragedy. It sounds like you found home in a church that is safe in the right way. Too often, I think churches choose the kind of safety that comes in choosing above all else not to offend. The safety you found – the safety to grieve and heal in community – this is one of the primary functions of the church. Thanks again for stopping by and for your courage to share.

  11. Nice of you to be able to get away from and get some perspective on what the hierarchy and organization of any church does to faith. I think it’s just human nature that any effort where people work and gather together ongoing is going to divide people up and demand some conformity and squelch individualism. Sounds like you had a great time up there, awesome.

  12. Great post! I’m religious, and I have been all my life. But honestly, I’m not sure you can experience what ever you believe in fully unless you have doubts, because after, it’ll be proven to you that there is a higher being. I don’t know if that makes any sense. And the community of Church is wonderful, I have enjoyed it, and have life long friends from going. Though, the politics as people have mentioned, suck. LOL

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle. I have a question – answer is optional. You mention that you are religious. Do you ever get frustrated that God hasn’t healed you? Sorry if I’m prying.

      • No worries!! Yes, I am religious. I grew up in a religious household and went to religious schools up until college. I absolutely struggle with my faith. I not only wonder why am I not healed, but why was I chosen to be sick in the first place? And why *this* sick? Then I really have struggled after I was raped/sexually assaulted for the 4th time. Its actually happened five times now, but I thought three would be a nice round number! LOL I ask, why me? Don’t I already have enough going on?
        But I have to have faith that He has plans for me, and all this has not happened in vain. Its very hard, some days more than others. But if I don’t have faith, then I’m left with very little. He has to have a bigger plan for me. I just can’t see it yet. And they must be freaking HUGE, haha!!!

      • Oh my, such hardship on hardship for one person. I agree that the story of Michelle is far from over. Here’s to you seeing yourself in the future of futures, shimmering you!

  13. Your friend as you spoke of in the introduction seems to have a beatnik soul. I rather like him, and the impact he seems to have had on your perspective.

    My husband and I wrestle with this same resonating theme; it’s as if we sense the greater stirring in the Holy Spirit, and we recognize that a dynamic shift is beginning to take place. All but one of our local churches seems to be missing it. Hard to stomach.

    I offer this: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=b-2dKOfbC9c

    …I had to watch it twice before the depth of it really sucker-punched me, and it hits pretty freakin heavy the first time. If you have a minute, watch it twice. 🙂

    • That is so powerful. It was hard to watch really, because it hits too close to home. I think most of us fall in line the way they do in that video, but there is that occasional revolt that several of us exhibit. It’s getting harder and harder to inspire others to pay attention.

      • That was powerful. I love to see the revolt that is happening in many peoples’ lives. The love rebellion. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with the director of the Justice Conference. They’re expecting around 6000-8000 people in Philly this Feb. Rooftop will be there, along with our friends from AIA. I’ve gotta go get some of that on me 😀

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