Have you ever heard of the Lemon Drop? If you live in Indiana, (Anderson to be exact) and are a novice “foody”, your answer is, “yes!”
Jutting out from the middle of nowhere, you’ll miss it if you blink, this old fashioned greasy spoon and hand-pumped flavored soda shop appears to be one of the only remaining businesses still standing in the shadows of the now boarded-up shopping mall. Painted happy yellow, although a bit scuffed by the seventy years in service, is hemmed in with an array of cars, work trucks, and motorcycles in its parking lot…ALWAYS!
What is it about a place that is so proud of its heritage that it defies the adage?
“All things must change to something new, to something strange?” (H. W. Longfellow)
Yet this place, the worn out yellow cinder block café’ is kept, loved, and sought-after because…
It. Is. Familiar.
Familiarity, the quaint quality of being known from past, personal, and positive experiences.
Walking in its single framed glass door is like walking into a family reunion. Everyone smiling like they know they know you, but maybe not and that’s okay. You’re related somehow but it doesn’t really matter because you feel like you belong. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder because there is only a walk-up counter with ten spinning red stools or your pick of five slide-in booths. The whole kit-and-caboodle is not more than a 30 x 30 square foot room; kitchen included.
We treated our children to lunch. Boys at the counter, girls in a booth. The walls proudly stamped with famous faces. And then the revolving door. People of all ages. A young mother and her daughter smiled as they managed atop the swivel seats. Street workers in and out grabbing a burger-to-go. (On a toasted bun because that’s their thang.) Two older ladies hunched over and together in the side booth cackling about something worthy. A man in sharp business-wear “Anderson University” tag on his lapel. And, in the far booth, on the same side of the table, an elderly couple leaned into the same air sharing a plate full of fries.
And then he came in.
His head was bald and his body bent and twisted from the years. His face firm and determined. He wanted to be here. The place was packed. Standing room only. Well, except for the one swivel seat right in front of the cash register. I watched him will himself to fit and balance onto the stool. He did. He managed, because he wanted to be there. The gal met him with a smile and said, “Your usual? Hamburger, fries, and vanilla shake?” I didn’t see his head move but he must have given her some sort of secret signal. “You got it!” she said with a wink and a grin.
I looked at my daughter and she smiled back at me. She knew too. This man belonged. And he felt belonged.
Then came my tears. I was surprised by the emotion but it comes with qualification.
Over the past several years, David and I have noticed a trend in the church. It is fair to say that we probably see it more magnified than most because we come and go. Like when you see your friend’s children only every other year and all of the sudden, they look like completely different humans. We see massive change in the church, both good and some extremely concerning.
To be clear, I’m going to stay in one lane for this writing. I’m steering away from the blacked-out sanctuary and strobe-light, disco ball on top of The Lord’s Table (Communion Table) situations. That is if the Communion Table hasn’t already been donated to the Goodwill; I’ve seen three so far and they’re going for $15 each.
I’ll simply focus on belonging.
Our oldest daughter, attends a private Christian university. She has been raised in multiple churches as she has grown up traveling and singing with our music group her entire life. We’ve been privileged to be hosted by several types of churches, mostly healthy, well-rounded and are generally non-segregated. Segregated, meaning one type or style of worship, typically either staunch traditional or radical contemporary.
For clarity, the non-segregated church, you know, is the one who embraces corporate worship: an intentional beautiful blend of hymns, choruses, and fresh, new (theologically correct) contemporary worship music. We like it ALL when done well. And we’ve experienced such.
During Emma’s first several weeks at college, she went church hopping. It came down to two; a blacked-out theater type, which she said made her sleepy, and a church who has made it their mission to overhaul the old and plow into the new. And new is good and necessary. And sometimes, can inadvertently birth isolation and loneliness…in some.
At the church Emma was visiting that Sunday, the pastor, with great pride and adoration, asked those who were “60 and over” to stand to receive an applause for “being among those who stayed.” And, she said, they didn’t look particularly thrilled, but then, who does when asked to haphazardly stand for the stares. But it was her words that followed which ignited some truth that is necessary to consider. An observation. Her heart:
“It made me sad. I don’t understand why churches only want to cater to the young. I like going to churches who have all ages and where all ages have a voice and a life lesson to share, AND, I like older people! They make me feel loved, they remember my name. They always smile at me and I learn so much from them and the stories they share.”
And here is where I go down a rabbit hole…
A large part of the foundation of my faith was fashioned by the saints of my childhood. I would watch and listen to them sing testimony songs. Songs like, “I Would Love to Tell You What I Think of Jesus” and “When We All Get to Heaven.” Their faces would have this supernatural glow and their eyes danced with delight. They would share about their lives and how God led them through great trials. They were wise and there was value in listening to what they had to say. Job 12:12 (NLT) says it well.
“Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.”
They knew my name and were present and active in multiple ministries of the church. They were recognized, honored, and sought-after for advice and counsel because they were, weathered, wise, they mattered, and they belonged and wanted me to know that I belonged.
Here’s the heavy. The truth is, in the church of today, many seasoned saints do not feel connected. Some churches have dramatically changed and perhaps, inadvertently wiped out familiarity.
Our teenage children LOVE to check out every new church we sing at. They jump off the bus, go inside for a quick survey, and return with a report. Here’s a high rated review:
“Guy’s… it is beautiful! It looks like a church! Stained-glass windows, baptismal” (very important, because, well, they’re just plain fun), “a hanging cross, altars in front, a real pulpit, and of course, the communion table.” (Extra points if it is tastefully decorated.)
This, in the eyes of a teenager, is familiarity. I’ve also heard them comment, “Well, it looks like a theater not a church, I like for it to feel like I’m going to church.”
To qualify even more, there’s this odd exchange Emma experienced in an Art Appreciation class she took at a local COMMUNITY college. The professor projected a picture on the screen of a church sanctuary. She said, “This is how the church I used to attend looked before they changed everything. Now, (she continued) the walls are all black and many church symbols are removed. What do you all think about this?” Now Emma was stunned. This, she wanted to hear. A secular college classroom full of students mostly seventeen and twenty-two years old:
“Yeah. That happened to my church too. I don’t really like it.”
“My church changed and I wish it still looked the same.”
“Our church feels dark and boring without all the light coming in.”
“It’s not the church I remember as a little kid, I’d rather that one.”
Familiarity. It doesn’t mean that nothing changes. After all, “Change is the evidence of life.” (Evelyn Waugh) but when we scrap it all and ride the waves of trend, we lose connection, disarm the power of tradition, and sadly, alienate, quite possibly, more than just 60 and over.
In a recent article, “Dying to Belong: The Importance of Familiarity in Later Life” it says that up to one-half of ALL older adults feel lonely on a regular basis. And they associate loneliness with the loss of familiarity and connection to community.
Eastern cultures severely regard the aged. They are deeply respected for their wisdom and are routinely consulted when important decisions need to be made. The verdict is flapping in the breeze of complacency on whether the church-worship world really cares what they think. Yet Leviticus 19:32 (NIV) calls us to care.
“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”
And perhaps it is not just the old who feel lonely and misrepresented. Maybe that’s the missing link for many churches teetering on the brink of change or sadly, collapse. There is much to learn from community, corporate worship, and togetherness. The weak and the strong, the old and the young, red and yellow black and white they are precious in His sight… ALL of God’s children. All ages of souls worth the saving and keeping.
…His head was bald and his body bent and twisted from the years. His face firm and determined. He wanted to be here. The place was packed. Standing room only… I watched him will himself to fit… He did. He managed, because he wanted to be there. He wanted to belong.
Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. “Dying to Belong: The Importance of Familiarity in Later Life” (L. Carragher, PhD and C. Ryan, PhD), ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Age Friendly Ireland. (2020)
“Positive Quotations.”Compiled by John Cook. Gramercy Books. 1993 Rubicon Press.
“All Authors.” Evelyn Waugh. allauthors.com