The kids in my high school used to fling pats of butter into the air with the purpose of sticking them to the cafeteria ceiling. Every day we ate with butter constellations hanging overhead like greasy stars. The buzzing white room was thick with the smells of $1.25 lunch entrées: “variety of chicken,” “beef tacos,” or “ham and cheese on bun.” Given the menu, and the way one’s teeth could sink through the provided repast without striking anything remotely fibrous, the flinging of the butter was partly an act of revolt.
Sometimes I remind my homeschooled friends that actual high school life doesn’t manifest itself as television portrays. It is better, and worse. On TV, public school is a decisive social separator in which jocks turn out to be dumb, slow kids get picked last in gym, and the cafeteria stands as the locus of class warfare. Add to these semi-true pigeonholes the prevalent idea that public schools produce only Darwinists, like sausage machines produce new links, and you have, of course, bypassed a multitude of subtleties.
A lot of Christian kids went to my high school—a lot for upstate New York, at least. And every Wednesday afternoon at about 2:30 our cafeteria transformed. It took on a sleepy, clean darkness. The cafeteria ladies had washed down the tables and switched out the lights. Amid the ghostly, lingering scent of beef tacos, the Bible study met.
Five or 10 of us—or three of us, on a bad day—would draw the blue cafeteria chairs into a circle. One person brought a guitar; one brought a text. All brought different ideas about the conduction of worship and the right division of Scripture. We had a rotation of Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and non-denominationalists, each person reappearing at intervals.
That Bible study provided us with some of our earliest lessons in interdenominational unity. We were beginning to learn that everyone, even us, would sooner or later have to walk across the electric barriers of Christian custom. And as we did, we knew we had to be tender in our steps. I remember squirming during worship because I didn’t know how to close my eyes or raise my hands like the girl with the white-blond hair. And I didn’t always get the feelings the other kids talked about. At the end of prayer one day the leader asked, “Did you feel that?” I think he meant some flittering aura, or some motion of God that I, in my conservatism, was totally insensate to. I said, “No.”
Looking back, I see why we met in that cafeteria. We met because we differed more from the kids around us who did not know God than we could possibly have differed from each other. God had changed us. We wanted to invite our school’s jocks, slow kids, band kids, art kids—all the kids—into the change, too. Our missionary hearts were sincere, and our task grave. I cannot tell you what impact the Bible study beneath buttered stars had on our high school, or region, or world. God can.