Keep Church Weird

Austin, Texas is the only city I know of that takes being weird seriously. I am not sure if ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is the city’s official motto but it is a popular one. Apparently, Austinites have embraced their many quirks, so much so they are on a mission to make ‘weird’ fashionable. It would even appear that if you don’t have something weird to contribute to Austin you just don’t belong. Only in this strange city could a cigar smoking, Jewish cowboy named Kinky have a shot at the governor’s seat. Other strange people from Austin have also sought political office, like Leslie, who takes weird to a level perhaps too extreme for your average weirdo.

I had heard about Leslie but never laid eyes on him until recently. He was strolling down Austin’s infamous 6thStreet. I recognized him right off. From the neck up Leslie looks like your typical vagabond. His hair is long, wiry and disheveled. A mass of scraggly whiskers climb wildly out of his leathery face like tentacles. Admittedly, this does not sound terribly peculiar but believe me, it gets even weirder. Leslie has breasts. I don’t know if his endowments are the product of genetics, surgery or clever padding. I do know that he fills out the top of his T-shirt like a calendar girl. Please understand, I am not judging Leslie, I’m merely making a feeble attempt to describe what I saw. It is true, I saw a bearded man with breasts strolling down 6th Street wearing nothing but a T-shirt and thong bikini. My wife is my witness. Oh, how I wish she had not been a witness but she was, and that is the sad truth of the matter. My sources tell me that Leslie took 5% of the vote when he ran for mayor. Only in Austin!

 

I do not live in Austin. It is not that I am opposed to weird people; I’m just not comfortable with crowds whether they be weird or otherwise. Therefore, I live outside this bustling city, about thirty miles south of weird. I do not deny that I also have some odd quirks but I only contributed to keeping Austin weird for a few brief hours on September 9, 2006. It was the evening when Copeland played at Stubb’s. My daughter, Birdie, is a huge Copeland fan so we drove her and a friend up to catch their show. There was a long line of weird people waiting to get into Stubb’s when we arrived. They came in all shapes, sizes and colors. According to Birdie these young concert crashers are the ‘Emo’ crowd. I was grateful that she educated me in this area. My previous understanding was that Emo was a character on Sesame Street not a movement on 6th Street. I was tickled to discover that Emo and Elmo are not the same thing.

 

My wife and I did not join our teenage daughter at Stubbs. I regret to say that Birdie didn’t seem too disappointed by this. She has this idea that it would have been too weird even by Austin standards. This is quite perplexing to me; it is acceptable for a man with breasts to strut 6th Street in a thong but parents can’t be seen with their own flesh and blood at a Copeland concert. Though I have been accused of being weird myself it seems I have much to learn on the subject.

 

To kill time Christy and I ventured off to the luxurious Driscoll Hotel for a bite to eat. It is a very nice hotel with a very nice café. The Driscoll is not what you would typically think of as weird. However, as I have already noted I am no expert on the subject. Personally, I do find it odd that someone would pay three to four hundred dollars a night to stay on 6th Street. This tells me that some weird people have money. Lots of it! Then there are the less privileged weird people just a few short blocks away from the Driscoll. They have no money at all and spend nights on wafer thin cots at the homeless shelter. Weird knows no boundaries.

 

There were other strange happenings on that bizarre September 9, 2006. Ohio State was playing the Texas Longhorns. It appeared as though the whole city of Austin flooded to 6th Street to support their team. As a sign of loyalty, they were all color coordinated in orange. Now, this I found to be especially weird, that an entire population of people would dress alike and show up in the same neighborhood together. Perhaps you have to be a football fan to understand this kind of odd behavior. Many Texans are but I am not. That may have been a result of being raised by my mother with two older sisters, which would also explain why I find malls more exciting than football stadiums and buying new shoes more thrilling than touchdowns. Perhaps I really do belong in Austin!

 

We saw many weird people there that night: a wannabe minstrel who thought he could sing, a geriatric wizard balancing peculiar things on his nose and a young street urchin with a ‘fro the size of Texas. We saw drunks and punks and I think a few monks. Weird grew strangely familiar to us. As I thought about this something began to dawn upon me. The weird thing about Austin is the people who call it home. Other than that it’s just a spread of land with ordinary streets and your usual buildings, not much different from any other town. I’ve never known anyone to look at a map of Austin or pictures of Austin and come to the conclusion it’s an odd place. You won’t discover that until you start meeting its people.

 

This has caused me to ponder my own weirdness. I am a pastor but probably not what you would consider your typical pastor. On occasion I meet with other clergy in my community and I readily recognize that I am quite different. It is my impression that they can spot this as well. Most other pastors in my county have conservative haircuts; I shave my head. They dress in slacks; I wear jeans. They like dressy, button-up shirts, I prefer T-shirts. They were formally schooled in theology I am not. Not because I think it is a bad thing it’s just that I never intended to go into ministry. God called me later in life. Weird, I know.

Furthermore, it’s my conviction that if we are doing church right we won’t end up with a house full of people wearing the same colored T-shirts. It seems to me that the more we love like Jesus the more weird our churches will become. If we are truly demonstrating Christ-like compassion our churches will look more like 6th Street than Wall Street. They will be places of refuge where Jewish cowboys, Copeland fans and lonely street minstrels will find acceptance. And dare I say the doors would be open to the Leslie’s of the world too, so long as their pants were left on.

 

It is true, I am no theologian. I never attended seminary nor have I even taken a single class at a Bible college. But I have studied the gospels. I have examined all four intently and carefully, with the scrutiny of a true Berean. My studies have taught me something about Jesus; He surrounded Himself with weird people. All twelve apostles were complete oddballs. Mary Magdalene was like many of the girls you see on 6th Street. As for Zacchaeus, he was completely out of his tree! It wasn’t just the ordinary folk who were attracted to Jesus, the weird also adored Him. It would seem that all those who followed Jesus had this one thing in common: they longed for acceptance, something most religious leaders were in short supply of. Acceptance was a rare commodity in New Testament times. But Jesus was different. He accepted anyone willing to come to Him. No one was ever turned down because they were too weird.

 

As for Austin, it doesn’t matter to me whether the city remains weird or not. But speaking as a person with a passion for God this is my heart, ‘Keep Church Weird’. I believe this would also be the heart of Jesus who is Lord of the weird and Lord of all. The day we worry about who enters the church doors is the day we need to shut them for good.

From my first book “There & Back”

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