Yeah, you’re right, the air guitar is not often invited to church. Especially on the eve of Christmas Eve when special music and invited singers are noted in the bulletin. A little more ceremony and a dash more solemn are both on the schedule during holiday Sundays when visitors are in the house of God and everyone is feeling His presence more deeply as the celebration of His birth is near.
The funny thing is that right during the fancy music is when it all happened.
I’m not kidding. It might actually be one of the very best things I have ever watched unfold…in my whole life. In a world that breathes with intolerance and in a world that spends an excessive amount of time in search of perfection and conformity, a display of absolute imperfection stood right up in the front of our church without any hint of apology given or asked for. AND I MEAN… RIGHT UP FRONT.
I was raised in a church with a label. A lot of them have them and it’s not a bad thing but labels can be confining. Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Methodist are just a few of the labels that come with separate rules the members have to follow depending on the expectations of the label they sit beneath. Not bad, like I said, just confining. Today I attend a church without a label. Not crazy stuff at all just not specifically labeled. It looks a lot like the Baptist church I was raised in and they act a lot like that too but it’s not labeled that way. People truly “come as you are” and some people raise up their hands in worship and some keep them down low. You want to sit? Sit. You want to stand? Stand. You want to raise your hands up and lock your elbows in praise? Go for it. There are general rules and people don’t interrupt the pastor but this room of worshipers doesn’t hold the rules in stone.
And, truthfully, maybe that’s why the miracle happened.
It was right after a regular hymn played and a special holiday performance was just setting up for their song. The pastor introduced the couple and told the congregation they could sit while this couple sang but could also feel free to stand or kneel or express their praise how they saw fit. He was sure we would not sit for long because he assured us this music was pretty soul stirring. I don’t get that stirred. I am pretty self conscious that way. My hands don’t raise up, I don’t kneel down and I certainly don’t step out into the aisle to praise God. Good or bad, I was raised in a quiet, non gesturing church growing up and that is kind of instilled in me. Nonetheless, I appreciate those that are freer in their worship than me.
A few quiet moments later, as a seated congregation looked on and the woman’s voice began to be heard for the first time, the miracle happened.
Did I mention the whole congregation was seated? The pastor was right, it was some soul stirring music and not two breaths into the woman’s song, a boy in the very front row, actually front and center in the entire church, stood up. He is a very tall boy, actually a young man nearing twenty, and there was no way you could miss him. Right there, not five feet from the couple singing, he stood up tall and with both arms fully extended and animated, he played his air guitar.
Let me tell you, the boy had skills. This was not his first round on air guitar. He was a pro at air guitar and he stood there for several minutes and he played with his whole heart. He never turned around to see if anyone was watching, he never asked if it was okay, he simply stood and played his air guitar. He was praising God in his way, appreciating the beautiful music and sharing with us all his own very well played air guitar. His gift to God.
At first I got nervous. As a mom of a special needs child, I have had to run interference with my own child in church before. I know the instant moment of panic, the cringe worthy moment, as your child draws the attention of the whole congregation when their behavior runs against the grain. The boy who stood up is more profoundly disabled than my own son and I immediately went into protective mom mode.
But, here’s the thing….after my momentary cringe faded, I realized this was not one of those moments. This was an entirely different kind of moment and it was even a moment like I had never witnessed in my life before. You see, not one person hushed the very tall young man standing up in the front of the church. His parents, in the very front row too, did not force him to lay down his air guitar and sit back down. The pastor of the church with no label, standing before the congregation and watching most eyes land on this boy, did not use his authority to demand obedience and conformity. I could see the two women in front of me point and smile but they smiled with joy on their faces and not disapproval or discomfort. In another moment, without a sound being heard except for the singer, I began to tear up as I realized, this was a miracle moment.
They loved him. They accepted him. They believed in Him. No matter what, they were his village and he belonged.
And the boy played on. And no one in the whole church stood up.
An entire congregation came together in love, in those moments, not only to worship God but also to love their fellow man, perfect and imperfect, with tolerance and equality for all. They came together, as a village, to be their brother’s keeper, to support other families unlike their own and to love everyone as God teaches, right where they are at. I think God was there too. If I were God, I would want to be there because I believe this is the kind of church God envisioned. A place where love, acceptance and belonging are for everyone in the village.
The boy, after a few minutes, sat down and, a few minutes later, he stood up again. This time he raised his hands up high in praise, among all the seated worshipers and he worshiped God in his own way and that was okay with everyone in that village church. Who he was, different and yet equal…was perfect. He was simply God’s child. In another moment, he raised one hand high and shook his fist with his other as his body became overwhelmed with his love of God. In another moment, he sat back down.
Beauty and goodness were defined right in front of me, in the front row of a simple church without a label where a young man, one of God’s equally valued children, brought an unexpected air guitar to his church on the eve of Christmas Eve. It was truly one the most beautiful and spontaneous moments I have ever experienced. As a mom of an autistic child, I have seen enough unkindness and intolerance to paint an entire town black. Perhaps that is why goodness, kindness and the embracing of differences warms me so. It’s not an everyday thing, not everyone is capable of it but in a place that breaths with tolerance and acceptance of differences, these things can and do happen.
And that is when I realized that in the Sparkle Village, on the virtual street I share with the wonder souls, where we paint our boats with stripes and polka dots and we sit each night and unwind with parents who are kind and tolerant and accepting of different, where it is okay to not conform to perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes and not hit benchmarks at the appointed time, this is the kind of place, church or not, that us parents dream of. The kind of place where our children are wanted, loved, embraced, tolerated by the whole village….for being exactly who they are…perfect or not. This is the kind of loving world our children, and we as well, want to be part of.
Thankfully, this church is already a reality. Inside this very simple church, in a simple and small town where I live, a group of people stood up for a child who was not perfect at all and they became this miracle. I witnessed an entire church tell the world, and each other, that all kids matter, all kids are equal and different is not less. Different can even be spectacular when you let it because it was absolutely spectacular that morning when he stood up and he played his air guitar while the church watched him show his love for God and they loved him right back.
That is what I want. Every single child deserves a village that believes in the deepest part of their heart that perfect is not best and different is not less and air guitars can make our lives better if tolerance reigns supreme.
That is what I want. How about you?