My maternal grandmother was born in 1896. Her name was Annie Boone. The day of her birth took place in the horse and buggy era. The automobiles we consider so normal today were unheard of in her time. A moving vehicle would be viewed with fear like it was a UFO to those who first saw them.
Growing up in America in the 1950’s, my grandmother used to call our family car a “Machine” - not a car or an auto or the Oldsmobile we owned, but a machine. As a young kid growing up in a car-centric culture this never did make sense to me. It wasn’t until my grandmother told me the story of her first experience seeing an automobile that I understood her choice of words.
My grandmother shared about a night on her East Texas ranch when the family was sitting on the front porch after sunset. It was summer time and the humid warmth of the evening still hung heavy in the air. Their porch lamp was the only light in the dark countryside.
These people had never seen an automobile before – ever. They had no pictures from a magazine. There was no Internet. Their lives were really no different than any other isolated family living on the frontier. Their lives contained outhouses, wells where you went outside to pump water and a good horse and wagon to get into town for supplies. It was a simple and hard life.
That night as the family sat on the porch, out on the distance horizon they saw two headlamps. They did not know they were headlamps of a car – they had never seen anything like this before. It looked otherworldly. They only saw two orbs of light floating in thin air. They did not understand these two bouncing lights were connected to something called an automobile. As the car bounced down the rutted country road the lights flashed up and down into the trees and brush that lined the road adding to the supernatural element of the experience.
One of the older women let out a scream and ran into the house. The kids started crying and the men went inside the house to get their shotguns. These dear relatives of mine were experiencing something equivalent to seeing an alien force of UFO’s landing on earth. We look at this scene today with a sense of comedy. These people thought the world was coming to an end.
Shotguns in hand, the men and family watched from inside the house as this horrible machine “flew” up to the front of the ranch house and stopped. The men pointed their shotguns out the window towards this strange contraption that had now stopped and turned off its lights. The family continued to experience terror until they saw a man walk out of the shadows up onto the porch asking for directions.
The directions had to wait that night until this man explained what had just happened and what this strange machine was all about. After a long explanation, directions were finally given and off the man and machine went into the night.
We can look at a story like this, and in our urbane and knowledgeable way, look down at these quaint and seemingly naïve people and miss an important truth. When something is new - really new – out of this world new – it can take on the appearance of a “machine” driving down an East Texas dirt road 100 years ago. Some things are so far outside our realm of knowledge and experience that we are left speechless.
There is not much that we can truly call “new” in our world. We get enthralled with the newest software or the newest iPhone iteration, but rarely do we get so dumb-founded that we let out a scream and see the menfolk run into the house to get the family shotgun. We have been numbed because our “new” is not profoundly new, it is simply the progression of something that already exists.
The only place this kind of amazement has the possibility to exist in our highly developed world is when God shows up and does something so extraordinary that it takes on the appearance of a visiting alien. This is alien, not as a new life form, but alien to our current level of understanding.
The Books of Acts tells us of events – mostly supernatural healings – that put entire cities in an uproar. When these events took place the commerce of a city was put on hold while the signs and wonders of God were pondered. Even civil government was shut down while the participants in these supernatural events could explain themselves, much like the man who stepped from the shadows one night in East Texas 100 years ago to explain the existence of his machine.
This is what I am waiting for in my world. I am hungry for God to do something that defies my labels. Most of us who “do Church” can do church well. We have implemented many good things to help people enjoy their worship experience and we are exploring ways be a positive presence in our communities, but in the long-term this kind of lifestyle can become a flat-line experience with God and can have us sitting on our religious porch enjoying the evening together and not expecting more. I am hungry for God to drive down the road of our culture toward our religious ranches and shake us up in a good way.
When this happens I wonder what label we will put on our experience?