I go to the same mega-church almost every week. It has all the right doctrine, both evangelistic and social justice outreaches, a preacher with a PhD from Stanford in literature, and 5 services per Sunday with attendees numbering 4000. The music is excellent and professional and you can pick between a traditional (choir) and a contemporary service with a live band. I have always appreciated the pastor’s sermons and I am being mentored by the mission pastor. I also attend a divorce recovery workshop there. And, I don’t have to fight too violently to get my kids to come along. The only thing I miss is community. I don’t know anyone there and no one knows me. No one says hello to me except the greeters and I say hello to no one because I don’t know anyone either (accept the pastor, the mission pastor, and a few mission elders). Since I don’t have too many friends here who aren’t super busy, I crave for human community.
Once in a while I pop into a pub on Mercer Island where you might say the less polished rich people frequent, or those who have been rich and lost their millions, or for those who drive school buses but inherited great wealth from their parents on the Island. It’s a bar for the rich who lost their way. As with frequent clients of bars, many are loudly opinionated. The less they can back their opinion, the louder they are. I usually go to watch the game and just to be around people. After a while of being a bump on log type stranger, people will begin conversations with me. White bearded old Lou Summers an 80 year chap that looks like he stepped out of a geriatric form of an L.L. Bean catalogue was the first one to make my acquaintance. He tells me stories of growing up in Seattle while he whittles away at his martini and sometimes spills it on me. He loves to talk of his time as a marine when he fought in Korea. Born a Lutheran, he lost his faith when he saw American priests giving last rites to American Soldiers who were sent into unwinnable battles with the Chinese and North Koreans. He is often brought to tears as he recites the many war atrocities he witnessed on both sides. Whenever I engage Lou on philosophical or religious issues he will stop to ask me if I am writing a book on the characters in the bar. I say, “No, I am not writing a book. “Are you sure” he asks me? “I like you, but I think you’re up to something. You’re the one person in this pub who is not looking for somebody or something to save him.”
People tend to avoid Lou because they’ve heard all his stories before so when I enter the bar a shuffling of chairs takes place and suddenly the only chair left at the bar is next to eighty year old Lou. Behind me is Ward,a six foot seven, former Canadian Football player and millionaire who drives a hummer and is throwing darts with Burke. Ward never gave me the time day until he found out I was a dyed in the wool Neil Young fan. I sort of avoid conversation with Ward as he is a handsome male athlete in his mid 40’s who uses his spare time to drink and engage in the conquest of women as a hobby. I am not sure he would appreciate my perspective on that. Burke, his dart-loving friend, on the other hand is another large man but much more rotund and graduated from High school in 1971. Balding on top with salt and pepper stubble and the sides, he is handsome man who is in the construction business but has no work going at the time. His wife divorced him and took everything. Ward took him in and he camps out on Wade’s couch. Burke is a Catholic and goes to church. He is especially open and friendly with me because he grew up in Stamford and I in Darien. We both grew up Catholic. He attends church and has an appreciation for God but has few Biblical values, or least conflicting ones. His habits with women and alcohol consumption don’t seem to conflict with his faith values. Maybe he holds them in tension well. He would be right smack dab with the conservative right if it weren’t for the abortion issue. What he has going for him is that he is a good natured fellow who is quite likable.
On occasion, I will get a spot next to Van. Van is about 70 and was Special Ops for the Russian Navy. He is brilliant pool player and understands culture and world politics very well. The bulk of my in depth conversations take place with Val. He served in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and had many stories tell. For special Ops, he is a gentle man who likes to discuss religion. He told me, if anyone could possible convert him to the faith, it would be me. His atheism is dissolving.
Behind me would be James, former US Secret Service. He orders his glass of house wine and talks a seat at a table in the back and just observes. He rarely says a word unless someone joins him at his table. He was the one who told me the pub was owned by the Chinese Mafia!
The Barmaid would be Tracy, who is now about 27 but immigrated to America when she was 7. She is totally acculturated and she is beautiful and her pop culture quotient outweighs any other knowledge she may have about anything other than mixing drinks, pool, or pop music. She works hard and has fun too, even takes the occasional sexual harassment like water of a duck’s back.
Bruce, sporting dirty blond hair and always a day’s growth of stubble comes in about 5 pm, riding the bus from Seattle wearing a trench coat with the Seattle times under his arm. He’s a brilliant man who was born wealthy but somehow lost all his wealth along the away. Now he works for a large hotel chain doing IT work which he does not enjoy as people younger than him who are over him treat him like he knows nothing. He travels around the Seattle on a trivia team as a hobby when he isn’t playing pool in pub. He and I have had some deep conversations, many times around Christian ethics and values. He parades his values as compassionate but I challenge him that his cynicism is a mask just to protect his real indifference toward the plight of the world. He often says, “Why those #%$#X&@)* Christians, blah, blah, etc., when he is actually referring to the Religious Right and their abuse of the abortion and gay marriage issues to cloud other important issues of unjust wars for oil, poor education, 13 million American Children living in poverty, poor health care, no insurance for many, the poor and the working poor, and the plight of the poor in other countries, and the marriage of corporate conglomerates and the government. He has a good point here but misses the fact that abortion needs to be included in the quality life argument too, even if it used unwisely as a smoke screen at times.
The fun apart about the pub is I can talk deeply with people about critical issues of faith and culture. I can’t find a venue at church to do that. I have two great landlords that fall on the side of the being very conservative religiously and they change the subject when I ever get to close to a ‘liberal’ or ‘moderate’ agenda. In the pub, if I approached a sensitive topic with some friends, they might curse and swear but the conversation would continue. Other than having a couple beers, I have not compromised my integrity and at times have even given inebriated customers a ride home.
By no means is a bar going to become my new church or regular group therapy but it may become some sort an occasional community where I can explore in depth issues of faith and politics which is taboo in many churches.