I continued to follow Highway 50 west, passing by the south end of Lake Tahoe and on into California. In less than 200 miles, the “Loneliest Highway in America” goes from a deserted 2-lane road to a clogged 8-lane freeway.
I stopped for lunch at an In-n-Out somewhere near Sacramento. Every single person I know from California has talked about the In-n-Out burger chain. They raved about how good the burgers were, and craved the food so much it almost sounded like they would move back to the west coast just so they could eat there.
The fast-food joint was popular, at least on this day, as I had to wait in line to order at the register. Most of the people there were teenagers, primarily of Hispanic descent, and I got the feeling they were pretty much all the “cool” crowd—or maybe that is just California in general. I studied the menu as they gabbed and gossiped in small groups.
I do have to admire a place where the menu consists of only hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, and fries. In-n-Out doesn’t feel the need to mess around with fancy stuff like chicken sandwiches or onion rings. It’s either a burger and fries, a cheeseburger and fries, or a double cheeseburger and fries.
After much deliberation, I decided on the cheeseburger and fries.
The food was fairly good, but not nearly up to its godlike reputation. The burger was quite similar to what you would get at Sonic, and the fries were probably not quite as good as Sonic fries. So, I’m not sure what the big deal is—though I do know of people who live in non-Sonic areas who also crave that food.
I had decided to go to San Francisco, largely because it is weird.
It has always seemed that way to me, anyway. Just different from what I was used to. Very liberal. Very flower-child. My friend’s sister lives there with her wife and two kids. That sort of thing.
And since I thought I would be getting to the bay area on a Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to check out a church, and see how it might be different since it resides in a different culture—a culture that is perhaps not friendly to many Judeo-Christian ideas.
Through an internet search, I found a church called The Highway Community with two campuses in the San Jose area. What better place for a traveler to go to church, than a place called The Highway? Their website listed a Super Bowl party that day, along with their regular service times. And, they described themselves in one place as being a “postmodern church”. I was curious as to what they meant by that, and was pretty sure that I would not like the answer. I have not exactly studied the subject, but from what little I do know about it, I am not much of a fan of postmodernism. It seems to argue that there is no set right and wrong, and that what is wrong for one person might be right for another. This makes the definition of “right” sound more like “convenient”. Plus, I simply do not like the name. “Postmodern”? “Modern” means “current”, as in present-day. “Post” means, in this context, “after”. “Postmodern” therefore means that which comes after the current time, i.e., the future. So how can we have a future philosophy already in effect? How could we even know what the future way of thinking will be? If someone is not smart enough to come up with a better name than that, I’m not sure I want to look to them to explain how we should think.
Though I did not make it to the bay area in time for Sunday morning services, I thought I might still drop in for the Highway Community’s Super Bowl party. At least I would have a place to watch the big game.
The Super Bowl has become something of a holiday in this modern or post-modern or whatever world. In terms of the number of people actively celebrating the event, it ranks well above holidays such as Presidents Day or Veterans Day, and probably not far behind stalwarts like Memorial Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Whereas most major holidays are rightfully about family, Super Bowl Sunday is more about friends. Folks, especially single folks, get together at a friend’s house or gather at a designated watch location, preferably one with a large TV. The traditions of the holiday include eating lots of junk food, watching halftime closely for any wardrobe malfunctions, and going to the bathroom during game play so that you don’t miss any commercials.
Most of my friends would be getting together for a large Super Bowl party at my church back in Dallas. Feeling a bit left out, I thought I would check out a Super Bowl party at someone else’s church.
“Mind if I crash your party?”
“Sure, go ahead!” the little old lady replied. I think she understood it as a joke, and probably assumed that I was part of the regular congregation, instead of someone who had literally just rolled into town on a cross-country trip.
I tried again somewhere else, looking for assurance that it was, in fact, OK for me to be there. I had assumed that a church with two campuses and a name like The Highway Community would be a modern mega-church, with hundreds of people, where I would easily blend in and go unnoticed. Instead, I found it to be a much smaller building and a much more intimate party, with maybe 30 or 40 attendees and only a handful of young singles. The kind old lady was obviously there to run the snack table, and paid no attention to the game playing on the two projection screens. I located a grey-haired man who also paid no attention to the game, and looked like he might be the pastor in charge of the event.
“Mind if I crash your party?”
“Sure! Everyone’s welcome. Grab some food!”
This I did, though sparingly, not wanting to deplete the stock for those who perhaps had more right to be there. I then grabbed a chair in the back row, near some other guys who looked to be my age. We exchanged pleasantries, but did not get into much detail, as the game quickly became quite interesting. Since most of us had no real reason to root for either team, we simply rooted for more turnovers.
Eventually, I talked to one of the guys enough that we got into a discussion of where we were from, and what we were doing. Once word leaked out about my trip, the news passed quickly down the back row. “You’re doing what?” one guy replied, and then, on the way to the snack table, he crossed paths with a 30-something man who turned out to be one of the pastors.
The pastor stopped by my seat and started asking about my trip.
“So, how long have you been in town?” he asked.
“Oh, just since the opening kickoff.”
“Well, this is the first place I stopped since getting to the bay area, anyway.”
“So you just now drove into town.”
“And you stopped by here to watch the Super Bowl.”
“Yeah, I wanted to watch it somewhere, and I don’t exactly carry a TV with me.”
“And you knew somebody here?”
“No, I just saw it on the website when I was searching for a church in the area. I thought it would be interesting to check out a church in the San Francisco area.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Yeah, I’m staying at somebody’s apartment in Fremont tonight.”
“Oh, so you have a friend in Fremont.”
“Yeah. Well, no, not exactly, since we’ve never met. We used to work for the same company, though, and they have a website for alumni to connect and find places to stay while traveling.”
“So you don’t know anybody in the area.”
“Nope, guess not.”
The pastor was impressed by my, whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
“Well, I think that is cool, what you’re doing,” he said. “You obviously have the charisma to go somewhere you do not know anyone, and talk with strangers.”
I talked with him about what differences there might be having a church in San Francisco, compared to the “Bible Belt” of Dallas. In particular, I wanted to know what they meant by calling themselves a “postmodern” church.
“Well, we definitely do not mean that truth is relative,” he replied. “We believe that the Bible is literally true. But we understand that we are living in a culture where people have different backgrounds, and maybe think different ways. So we try to meet people where they are at, and not make assumptions about what they already know or believe.”
All right. That’s a good approach to take, certainly, and is no different than what I have heard at many churches and ministries in Dallas. But I wonder if it’s not a stretch to take that and call it a postmodern church. Or perhaps I’ve just been going to postmodern churches and did not realize it.
I stayed the night with Kreshnik, a former Southwestern book-seller like myself. Kreshnik warned that he did not have an open bed at his apartment, and I assured him that I carried my own bed with me.
Kreshnik and his roommate had two girlfriends over at their place for steaks last night, friends named Sue and Kay. My family will know why I was able to easily remember those names.
Besides a place to crash, Kreshnik gave me some free sports drinks, which he sells through a website as his side job, and hopefully eventual full-time job. Southwestern bookmen, you see, are just naturally predisposed to shun the man and work for themselves.