I’m sitting at a pub in my little Oregonian home town tonight because a) it’s Whiskey Wednesday, b) my friend, Bubba, is working and can point neophyte me in the right whiskey direction (Basil Hayden Bourbon, y’all), and c) I’m trying to talk two of my favorite girlfriends — a pastor and a spiritual director — into running a spiritual formation retreat with me. It’s a good night, in other words, full of things that feel holy like water, whiskey and women who teach me how to love bigger and brighter and better and who think I’m awesome even when I fail completely at those things.
The music is loud in the pub — something with steady drums and the occasional tambourine, all ballady and wistful — and people in jeans and chunky sweaters are deep in conversation with friends, turned in toward each other and leaning forward to listen well. This place is community and it is a kind of church, too, in the Greek tradition of ekklesia, which was never about the building and always about the assembly of the people. A coming together for unity and common purpose.
My friends and I talk about the things we believe and how revolutionary and practical they seem. Like that we’re all unique and valuable, weird and wonderful, and wildly, desperately worthy of love. We perch on high stools at the rough-hewn wood bar, and we talk about calling and purpose and what it really means to love God and each other and how to invite those who have different ideas about God into our midst, to be our community, too, without the fear that we’ll try to coerce or convert them. We swirl ice in our glasses and talk about magic in the mess and finding God in the muck and mire and how we might reframe struggle as a worthy and rich place to meet Love and meet each other and meet ourselves.
At the end of the night, I pay my bill which is clipped to a clothespin. I thank Bubba for the whiskey, and I hug my friends. I walk away with excitement about doing a new thing, and reminded that my purpose is to be the pub to people. I was told as a child with my Christian friends that we needed to learn to be the church, and that’s true in the idyllic definition of it; that Greek definition, which is a gathering of people whose goal it is to love and listen well and allow Jesus to infiltrate our hearts and minds and souls. It’s just that it’s hard these days to think the church is doing that very well. So for today, I’ll keep this pub in mind and welcome strangers and lean in toward my friends, believing we’re not separate and are, instead, a wild, weird, wonderful community, worthy of great grace.
(Psst… more coming soon on the retreat! I’m over the moon.)