Here's The Steeple
I drove south on Monday night for the final time, my term as a member of our Session (the governing board of a Presbyterian [USA] church) over after three years.
I had some issues with structure, coming as I do from a self-employed-forever perspective. Committee meetings don’t only feel useless, but offensive, an enormous waste of time and energy, apparently mostly devoted to producing a record of the meeting. Someone takes minutes, types them up, and passes them around. Everyone feels a sense of accomplishment. We have a done a meeting!
I’m way too biased and judgmental about this to be objective, obviously. People get stuff done in meetings, of course. That’s how the system works, if a little (I suspect) sluggishly. But good Lord. I have enormous sympathy for you people who have to suffer through meetings.
And we’re talking about meetings with people I like.
I got a phone call when I walked into church on Monday, rare enough. I listened to Alan Alda interview Carol Burnett for his Clear&Vivid podcast recently, and Carol made the observation that people don’t talk on the phone as much as we used to. This is true, although it sounded as though she felt she’d come up with this epiphany on her own, and that it hadn’t been the subject of much cultural commentary over the past few years.
Since Alda’s passion is communication, it was interesting to see him push back on his old friend. Talking on the phone always made him nervous, he said, and he much preferred written communication.
I’m with him. I thought Burnett was stereotypical in that she was parroting a clichéd old-person thought, things are different now and isn’t it a shame. It’s not a shame. I feel the same way about phone calls as I do about committee meetings—there are more efficient ways to do what you need to do. I make phone calls when I want to hear someone’s voice, when I want to touch base with friends or family on a personal level. If I want to exchange information, it’s way better to write it down. Nothing personal.
If you want to be amused, read some history about how many people reacted to the invention of the telephone. Things are different now and isn’t it a shame, indeed.
Anyway, I got this phone call when I walked into church. It was short, and it made sense; a quick question that needed a quick answer, not a whenever.
I didn’t mention that I was in church, or even away from home. It didn’t seem germane, although the guy on the other end knows me well enough that it wouldn’t have registered much. And he has his own church stuff.
It might have helped explain why I was a little distracted on the phone. I was standing in a dark-ish kitchen, trying to unpack a shopping bag of snacks, my last responsibility. I’ve prepared meals in this kitchen many times; I know it almost as well as my own kitchen, and so finding utensils and serving plates, etc., wasn’t a problem, just a job.
At the same time, preparations were being made for visitors, June being a month in which our church hosts a group of men currently experiencing homelessness. This is a well-organized and –structured group of around 20 men, most of whom have jobs in the morning, just no place to live at the moment. Tables and chairs were already set up, and people were starting to come in to prepare evening snacks.
It was bustling, a little, and not unusual at all. No one was earnestly talking to the Man In The Sky about how horrible gay people are, or whatever Bill Maher might think we do. It was just boring taking care-of-others stuff. Somebody has to do it.
I told my colleagues at our local journalism lunch a few weeks ago, as we gathered to see if I still had column gas in the tank after 18 years, that I’ve got something to say about the current state of religion in this country, in general.
It interests me. For a good chunk of my life, I wanted nothing to do with church. I’d get a little nauseated, in fact, just thinking about going inside one. Bad experiences, careless philosophy, lack of imagination, biases. I was younger. It didn’t matter. When it began to, I was already there.
Reluctantly. Responsibly, really, just trying to be a parent and husband, trying to understand and be supportive. If it’s not for me, I can at least try not to judge as much.
And eventually I understood. I get that people aren’t interested. It would never occur to me to try to get someone interested, although I’d probably make the suggestion to the right person under the right circumstances. Finding community of any kind can change your life.
I also don’t care about judgment. I don’t go to church to get in your good graces, nor does anyone else I know. I can’t imagine any of us spending more than a casual moment or two thinking about the opinions of other people.
I’m just sort of fascinated by people who hold opinions about this who never walk through the door. Who make assumptions on the fly, dismissive and smug as shit. So if God created the cosmos in six days, but he didn’t make days until the...and they prattle on, constructing various straw men as if it we hadn’t heard this a million times before, while we sort of weakly smile and wonder if the conversation can get duller.
Anyway, I wonder if I can write about this. It crosses my mind, as it did the other night. There was nothing churchy at all about it, just preparing to feed hungry people, by which I mean of course it was churchy. Just maybe not what some people think.