A small group of people accepted my invitation to spend Tuesday evenings at the Bobcaygeon Inn discussing a book by Don Miller called “Searching for God knows What”. A member of the Church Council declared that it was disgraceful that a group following Jesus would meet at a pub. What was worse, I chose to call the group “God and Guiness” (stealing the name from another United Church group meeting in a licensed establishment).
On three Tuesday evenings in February a couple of tables full of people sat around drinking Guiness, coffee and tea and talking about our journey towards Easter. Donald Miller has a funny quirky random-thought approach to profound subjects like God, original sin, Jesus, faith and the Church.
I don’t know whether it was Miller’s out of the box approach, or whether it was the fact that we were not meeting in a church, but right away members of the group had no problem in broaching all kinds of heretical questions.
There is something profound about dealing with sacred subjects in profane settings. In our sacred settings we don’t always take an objective look at profane subjects do we?
Of course Jesus, the guy we’re trying to follow through the muck of Lent, did most of his work in places, and amongst people, of ill-repute. His appearances in temples tended to not end well – to put it mildly.
Here’s Freddie Buechner’s take on the sacred work of profanities…
“A wedding. A handshake. A kiss. A coronation. A parade. A dance. A meal. A graduation. A Mass. A ritual is the performance of an intuition, the rehearsal of a dream, the playing of a game.
A sacrament is the breaking through of the sacred into the profane; a ritual is the ceremonial acting out of the profane in order to show forth its sacredness.
A sacrament is God offering holiness to humanity; a ritual is humanity raising up the holiness of their being to God.”
(I think I’m a disciple of Buechner. I wonder if we get T-shirts?)
So, it was an interesting part of the experience on the last Tuesday night of February to get kicked out of the pub. I arrived late and found our group members standing out in the frozen parking lot.
They told me the pub owner was worried about us hearing other customers swear. Turn that on its head and you get the truth of it I think. She was afraid of her other customers hearing us talk about Jesus. It seems that religious persecution is not a thing of the past.
Is this why we call our places of worship Sanctuaries? Is this why so many of them look like fortresses?
We ended up in the home of one of Jesus’ friends. Even in this warm and cozy setting we continued to pull apart the Jesus story and let the cold questions in. Someone new to the group said at the end of the night that she found it refreshing to hear a clergy talk about doubts and struggles instead of defending some high and holy ground.
“Yeah” I replied “I really don’t have a clue.”
That got a laugh.
Afterwards I felt a bit guilty. Did my casual remark undermine anyone’s faith? Isn’t a spiritual leader supposed to know the way? What was I trying to say?
I find that the way of Jesus is impossible to follow. The harder I try the more I fall behind. How can I follow Jesus walking across the waters of the Sea of Galilee? It’s impossible. How can I see what the man born blind sees at the touch of Jesus? It’s impossible. As a privileged white boy how can I feel the unconditional love that the Samaritan woman at the well felt from someone she was sure was against her? How can I be called back from the dead like Lazarus? Impossible.
The only way I can take another step in the direction of the cross is with the impossible gifts of God. Choosing to work towards an impossible kingdom; choosing to hope for the best from humanity is not enough.
Without the impossible gifts of sight, of grace, of life reborn I soon sink in the deep waters beneath my feet and am lost again. I think I’m swimming along just fine but there’s no shore in sight and eventually I tire.
Drowned, blind, self-absorbed, sure that life is against me, the Holy Spirit comes and makes me a gift – just what I needed – just what I always wanted. And I walk on water another few steps.