Um, can we talk?


 

It’s been a while since I went to church.

 

When I did go to church,

I got all dressed up and we all met in a magnificent building with our beautiful clothes on. Style and chic abounded.

 

Now I dress for comfort. I meet people online who also dress for comfort.  We can’t see our outfits so there is no parading.  We just look into each other’s eyes and connect one-to-one.

 

When I did go to church,

I walked in and sat in a pew.  All of the others did too. We all sat there.  We made polite chat with people next to us in hushed tones lest the priest frowns at us like a librarian. God was way up there by the altar in a candle-flame behind red protective glass.

 

Now I get into a Zoom chat with my closest friends and we compare our cocktails. We tell hilarious stories at the top of our lungs and God feels like God is around and within us. Laughing.  Loudly with us. We don’t miss the scolding priest or librarian.  We get our spirituality and our books in other ways now.

 

When I did go to church,

I listened obediently to the way one person interprets scriptures.  I saw it all through their stories and their lens.  I let them tell me what was “orthodox” and what was “heresy.” I was obedient.  I never disagreed with the idea, for example, that for Jesus to be Holy, he could not have been born from an un-sanitized, sexual mother.

 

Now I read books and I have an Audible account.  When I put my earbuds in, I can listen to any theology I choose.  I can even listen to theology and spirituality while walking in the woods or digging carrots from the earth for supper. And If I don’t agree with the author, I can return the book or perhaps the challenging voice is valuable.

 

When I did go to church,

I sang hymns which praised God as if God had some huge inferiority complex and it was our job to give God a bit of a boost in the self-esteem arena. Which always felt a bit forced unless I liked the hymn; which was sometimes.

 

Now I grab my cell phone and click Pandora so that when I am in the mood for chant, I listen to it.  When I am feeling sassy and am in the mood for Mozart, I blast it- even a requiem!  When I want to listen to compline from Westminster Abbey at 9:00 am with coffee and a sticky bun in my pajamas snuggling my dog, I do. When I want to sing a love song to my God, I light a candle and my single, human voice makes its offering to Her while She circles me blowing into my neck from time to time.

 

When I did go to church;

I took the bread and the wine and I acknowledged that I am not worthy even to eat the crumbs falling from the table – glad to be saved.

 

Now I am wondering, saved from what exactly?  Is the earth so bad, so evil?  Am I so evil? Is everyone? Is Satan real? Or was he designed to keep us afraid and paying our tithes? What if the salvation-transaction is meant to make me obedient?  So now I bake bread at home.  I have time to mix and wait and kneed and wait and kneed and wait and bake.  And I eat the hot bread with wine at night but in the morning – especially Sunday mornings, I eat the hot bread with salted butter made by Irish people and cows with raspberry jam which reminds me more of blood than the wine ever did. Or my sins.

 

When I did go to church, I went down hallways and into cinderblock basements to drink stale coffee and cheap pastries, exchanging conversations with people I largely did not know or I stuck with my friends with my back turned to new-comers. The conversation that never came close to real sharing of pain and joy, of failure and success that those same people expressed in my home after a Thai dinner and a bit too much wine.  Just a bit.

 

Now I meet friends on my porch or my pasture with chairs six feet apart and we laugh around the candles and the fire-pit and we share our deepest longings, fears, and the titles of books by authors who help us.

 

When I did go to church I paid the church the same “average pledge” as is the average in the Episcopal Church.  I paid my $3,800 pledge in monthly installments.  Sometimes I paid double that.

 

Now, I am thrilled that are hungry to go back to churches. Go. Gather in the hundreds and sing right at each other. I however, am content to get my needs met in other ways for now. I believe that everything is perfect, just weird. I believe we might learn “a new thing” in this time, because perhaps God is busy doing “a new thing.”  I am content to gather with non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists on six-foot-distanced walks in gardens with Bibles or cigars or picnics. I believe that humans busy searching for God is about as intelligent as a fish busy searching for water…perhaps they and we might relax a bit and look around, and within. I believe I am in God and God is in me and in this time away from church buildings, God and I have been forced back into the Garden where we are learning to walk among trees naked, like in the old-days before the whole apple fiasco.

 

Now I am busy writing checks to homeless shelters.  I am writing checks to food banks.  I am writing checks to dog kennels.  I am checking online to see who deserves the money.  And whereas the church spent 80% of the money on salaries for clergy and their bishops, I am now investing in charities which spend 18% on salaries and 82% on people who have basic human survival needs being met. People about whom Jesus spoke tenderly and with whom Jesus actually chose to spend time.  Perhaps it’s time clergy got jobs – like tent-makers of old.

 

When I did go to church, it was the training-wheels of my spiritual life.  It was the kindergarten and (usually) the high school of my spiritual life.  But really, I hated high school the first time.  So now, grateful as I am for training wheels and desks all lined up facing teacher; I am ready to walk in a garden rather than down an isle.

 

Now I am living my life in God rather than going to visit God.  I learn from authors and friends, not just salaried clergy. I am giving my money to the poor and marginalized and not to keep an empty building heated and clergy paid six days a week. Now I am of the opinion that I am full of demons and angels; but no longer need to bow and scrape in front of a wooden cross of blood. Now, I sense that if Mary and Joseph had crazy-great-loving-seven-hour-long sex that got Mary pregnant, I’m actually cool with that. High-five God.

Icon by Kostos Zouvelos, a friend of the author, written for him because Charles’ birthday is August 29th, the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, irony notwithstanding.

 

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