I love patterns. As a little girl, I used to gaze at the wallpaper in my room, tracing it with my finger, each section an exact replica of the one beside it. My cat had a similar swirling pattern on her back. No one printed her in a machine, I thought. Or the ladybugs' wings either. Bright red with black spots. Not necessarily as symmetrical as my wallpaper, but nonetheless fascinating. Every summer they would mate at the roots of a particular maple in our front yard, swarming up and down the stiffly rippled bark. There was some information they had that told them to come there year after year. I would watch for them with anticipation and wonder.
There was another pattern I grew up looking at, too. Every Sunday it would recur:
Hang up your coat;
Shake hands with the pastor;
Sit down in the pew;
Listen to the sermon;
Go out to IHOP after it's over.
It was nice, actually, to know that I had a place to come to every week with people who knew my name and had a smile for me. It was comfortable.
I remember the year I turned seven. My pastor sent away a single mother and her unkempt and unruly children, explaining that he was very sorry but there was no way he could help her. "I guess this must be part of the pattern," I thought. I didn't say anything, but something in me was disturbed.
Another time several years later, a man stood up in the back of the sanctuary and started speaking when, all of a sudden, the ushers grabbed him and dragged him outside before anyone could hear what he was saying. "Oh, so this is how God is..." My little mind reasoned to fit this one into the pattern.
But somehow it didn't seem to go along with another pattern deep inside my heart. That pattern inside of me made me ask, "Is this a kind and good act? Does God prefer that we keep quiet?"
Would I ever get the courage to ask my questions? Would anyone have the courage to answer them? If anyone else had questions, they certainly didn't ask them in front of me. And no one tried standing up in church again, either.
There was definitely only one person allowed to speak like that: the preacher.
Many years later I was invited to an open forum at a cafe in Vista, California, called The Yellow Deli. The warm atmosphere of the room was almost touchable -- every aspect from the soft, amber glow of the lights to the tea and cookies set out for us on the table, but especially the kind smiles of the men who were there to guide the discussion. They began reading to us from a verse in Luke 14, asking, "What did the Messiah mean when he said, 'Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple'?" At first there was silence while the men gazed around, eagerly and expectantly, at our faces.
One by one, we began to speak. It was a little miracle. I remember looking around and being in awe that we were actually speaking our hearts about something deep and spiritual. We weren't talking about movies or gossip. We were talking about truth, and I realized that these men longed to hear what was in our hearts. They listened to each one, considering what each one said, adding something or posing another question.
Some people in the room said challenging things; some people denied that what the Messiah said was valid; others said it was an impossibility to be obedient to it nowadays. But these men were never threatened and never intimidated to speak what they believed was true. They encouraged the more quiet ones, beckoning them to share their thoughts. Because of the value that these men placed on the little each one gave, the stronger ones learned to listen to those that didn't always have much to say.
This was a different type of pattern than the one I had seen going to church on Sunday. What a relief! There is a different pattern! This new pattern I was witnessing must be the true one from our Creator. It wasn't empty and meaningless worldly conversation. It wasn't oppressive religious rigor. Nor was it mere emotional zeal. It was simple and genuine. We looked at one another. We listened. We spoke what was in our hearts.
How could I ever dream of going back to the other pattern? Every week I was falling more in love with this new pattern. One week I found out that all of those that worked in the Yellow Deli actually lived together like a family. They shared all their possessions and income. They raised their children together; they worked together and rested on the Sabbath together. They gathered twice a day, every day, in the morning and evening to worship their Creator and talk about His great purpose for mankind.
As more of the pattern was revealed to me, I saw there was a whole life behind it. Something, some entity, some force was causing them to want to live together and share everything. Living together was not a burden or a labor to them. It was a deep desire fulfilled. Sharing everything was not an oppressive law. It was a manifestation of their love and care for one another. Just like the ladybugs, they had a source, and that source was informing them of the way to live and flourish.
They invited me to come and be part of their pattern. "Me? Part of the pattern?" Secretly, I had hoped they would ask. I was so good at watching patterns, studying them, but to be part of the pattern was quite a different pattern for me. I really did love their pattern. I loved to watch it, study it. It brought quietness to my soul.
"What do I have to do?" I asked. The answer was so simple. I just had to give up the old pattern and come to the new one. That sounded like such a good idea to me. More than that, it sounded like life and peace.
So I gave up everything. I was washed of the old pattern and baptized into the new one. Now I live every day with my friends. We are restoring the pattern to the way the church was when it was called the Way. As it turns out, the church in the first century actually started out with this same pattern, but somehow it got distorted along the way. It was copied wrong so many times that it became something unrecognizable.
Now is the time of the restoration of the original pattern. And in case you were wondering, we are not just trying to keep it all to ourselves. You can come and see it. You can even be a part of it, if you want to. We would love to meet you!