I often imagine the pleasure I would feel if I walked into St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where I'm a member, after a few weeks' absence, and a fellow parishioner spotted me and said, "Jesus Christ, it's about time you got your ass back here. Where you been? Feelin' up the pretty nurses at the hospital again?"
Ahhh, I would say to myself, God is indeed good.
The fellow parishioner would have spoken to me in the language of love I know best. He would have picked on me, given me shit, made me laugh, and we would soon have been standing side by side, arms around each others' shoulder as he asked me sincerely how my health was, if I was getting better.
This doesn't happen at St. Mary's Episcopal Church. And I'm fine with that.
However, I'm part of a church where this does happen. I attend this church as often as I can, anywhere from four to six to eight times a year. This church doesn't have a building. Sometimes we meet on Scott's boat on Coeur d'Alene Lake or Pend Oreille; sometimes we meet at a Residence Inn in Lake Oswego or at the motel adjoining the Chinook Winds Casino; we've met on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River, at the Coeur d'Alene Casino for buffet, at Sharon's house, at my sister Carol's house; we've met at Wanda's up the river, at Diane's house in Vancouver, WA, on Sue's deck, the bowling alley, in the park at Kellogg, at Teeter's Field, Dirty Ernie's, Quinn's Resort, the Elks Club in Kellogg. A little over a week ago, our church met for hot dogs in the Costco parking lot in North Wilsonville. Then our group expanded and became a larger church at the Spindrift in Lincoln City, OR.
It's the Church of the Kellogg High School Class of 1972.
It's church the way I long for church to be. It's a church where we come with our broken and improving lives and know that we are in the company of other broken and improving people and so there is no pretense of any one being better than anyone else, nor any pretense of righteousness. Who could feel self-righteous in this church? Each of us has suffered, whether it's through multiple marriages, drunkenness and stupidity, mental illness, drug abuse, stupid sex, marital violence, cancer, shattered bones, disease, affairs, and on and on. I've been mean to people in this church in the past. Others have had their spats, periods of silence, times of conflict. If the church is a body of fallible persons, the Church of the Kellogg High School Class of 1972 is all of that, and proudly so.
What do I mean, "proudly so"? Our church doesn't put on the guise of sanctimony. We don't act pure. We don't expect purity or sanctimony from each other. We don't put on airs. We all know we have and will screw up. We own up and move on. I know I am more authentically myself in this church than anywhere else. In this church I am tender, vulgar, coarse, kind, reserved, loud, expressive, appreciative, profane, reverent, old school, new school, irreverent, sentimental, outraged, honest, touched, caring . . . and on and on. I laugh. I give people shit. I am full of shit. I tell the truth. I listen carefully and caringly. I pray. I enjoy hearing the views and experiences of those who are similar to me. I love hearing the views and experiences of those who are different.
It's not a theological church. Or a political one. Or a philosophical church. It's a church filled with spirit: a spirit that happens, that just is, without intention, without design. The spirit of joy, comfort, enjoyment, graciousness, profanity, friendship, history, nostalgia, pleasure, fun, laughter, reassurance, honesty, forgiveness, delight, union, playfulness, mischief, and affection moves throughout the Church of the Kellogg High School Class of '72.
At the Spindrift last weekend, I often went up and down the stairs between the rec room and the kitchen/living room level alone, just to listen to the spirit of our get together, of our church. I stopped more than once and soaked in the laughter, the boisterous voices, the story-telling, and, when I made it upstairs, I'd see that some of my friends had stepped out of the roar onto the quiet of the balcony or into the sitting area, and were having some time alone or talking quietly and more seriously.
As I've written before in this blog, I experience God primarily as spirit. I experience God where there is love, forgiveness, courage, listening, joy, acceptance, honesty, appreciation, friendship, etc., however profanely or politely, however roughly or gently expressed.
I get together with my friends from the Kellogg High School Class of 1972 and it's not, strictly speaking, a religious gathering. Nor should it be.
But, it's church to me.
And, in the company of these friends, God is everywhere.