I can’t church.
I churched a lot during the first few decades of my life. Allow me to define “a lot”. Five hours a week in structured congregational meetings, another three hours at least in fellowship before and after said meetings, an additional three to five hours studying for those meetings, plus anywhere from two to (more usually) twenty-five hours each week in public ministry. And that’s not even counting the annual assemblies and conventions that could be from one to five days in length. (Where my j-dubs at? Can I get an Amen?)
So, yeah, I’ve done some churchin’.
For a while, the Kid was into learning more about the Lord, and so we churched a bit while I lived in Arizona. Found a minister whom I adored, another I still adore, and a congregation with some kick-ass folks in it. Maybe also some folks who could stand a little ass kickin’, but that’s to be expected when you gather humans together, right? Either way, it was a positive experience, but I moved away so that’s over.
Churching is not for me, but I have always been into the whole ‘disciple’ gig, so I’m trying to sort it out. I like studying. I like learning. I love my life. I love my people. I love the Lord. I pray. I’m pretty convinced that I’m on the path I’m meant to be on – and if I’m not, it’s an honest mistake I will fix as soon as Someone lets me know I need to. Meanwhile, I’m on the lookout for ways to pay more attention, things to study, things to learn.
The time I used to spend churchin’, I now spend in a bar. Working shifts vary between five and sixteen hours, six or seven days a week. When I have time off, if I have any sense, I’m home. I rarely have any sense, so as often as not… I’m in another bar. (And I am not mad about it, because last week I went out to a random new bar I’d ever been to before and discovered – *gasp* – Bird Dog Strawberry Whiskey. Holy Mother. That shit was AMAZING. Mixed it with a bit of ginger beer and I was indeed the happiest of all the campers. YUMS.) In the old days, I was taught that this was exactly the sort of lifestyle the Lord does not tolerate. There is only evil in such a place, and good Christians stay away.
I do not find this to be the case. Is there alcohol? Yes. Do we sometimes overindulge? Not that I’ve seen. JUST KIDDING. Of course we do. We are people. People are ridiculous. It’s a whole thing. Nothing to be done for it.
The shocking truth, however difficult to believe, is that it is actually not all devil and depravity. I see so much love in that place on a daily basis, it fills my heart. I work in a neighborhood bar. There are new faces, but mostly it’s the same faces I saw yesterday and the same faces I’ll see tomorrow. In this situation, we move through a helluva lot of circumstances together. The whole roller coaster. Life and death, love and hate, fear and courage, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I saw support back in my church days. I won’t pretend I didn’t. There was love. There were people in there doing their best, I suppose. What I love about the bar, though? At the bar, I see forgiveness up close and personal on a daily basis like I never saw it in church, because in church we were all so busy trying never to screw up – or to pretend we never did – that forgiveness was this weird decorative item that sat up on a shelf behind the stage, but no one was ever allowed to actually take it down and use it. At the bar, we use the forgiveness all the time. For real. All. The. Time.
The rude things we say, intentionally or otherwise? The selfish ways we behave? The way our tempers get shorter and shorter when we’re going through some shit or we’re tired or we’ve just had enough of each other’s faces? We cannot make this thing go without forgiveness – the real kind. The kind you actually use. Do you know what a thing it is to genuinely screw up, to just be a complete and total asshat, no excuse whatsoever for your stupid behavior, and then to be forgiven? It is profoundly beautiful. Sometimes I look at the people around me and think of the days I’ve brought my bitchiest bitch face to work and pointed it straight at them and they did not like it one bit, but they forgave me and we are right back to the way we were before, and I can’t even begin to say how much I love them for that.
There is so much space left for imperfection, I can now see how I suffocated without it all those years I was preaching forgiveness while trying to be church-perfect. Actually using forgiveness while being pub-perfect is so much nicer.
What is pub-perfect, you ask? Please, allow me to illustrate.
“Audrey, what’s going on with you? You’re not yourself,” says one of my most dearly beloved.
“I’m sorry. I’m grumpy.” No excuses, that’s all I’ve got.
“You know what,” he tells me, in his beautiful, lovable, no bullshit way, “we just call it what it is. YOU ARE BITCHY. There is no shame in it. You’ve earned it. Everybody gets a bitchy day here and there. Go for it.”
That is pub-perfect. Reality. Recognizing that even when you are doing your very best, that best is going to be a little different every day, and some days every one else can see it, and it is okay because it has to be okay, because it is just a fucking fact.
However, I also find, for myself, relationshiping with God is tricky without churching in the equation. In the churchin’ days, I had a very proactive stance when it came to my relationship with God. I knew (or so I thought…) exactly what He wanted me to do, as well as how, when, and with whom He wanted me to do it. Now? Now I know nothing. I have no what, no when, how, or with whom. All I’ve got is why, but even that gets a little screwy sometimes. It’s a blank canvas when I’ve only ever colored-by-number. You love God? Do this. You want God to love you? Do this. You want some blessing in your life? Do this. It was static, structured, even scripted. I’m just hanging out out here with nothing and I’m moderately confused except for when I’m completely lost.
Now, instead of having some dude tell me how it is from a lectern on a stage, I’ve got to try to learn it myself from my own life.
I’ve heard tell that I am a spiritual being, made in the image and likeness of God.
I have also heard that God’s name has a meaning. I Am. I Am That I Am. He Causes to Become. My favorite? I Shall Prove to Be What I Shall Prove to Be.
If God is God, and these two things are true, then there are times when I can learn a thing or two about God from observing myself. Neato.
I grew up never wanting to ask for things. Asking for things was selfish. Get it yourself or do without, says my goofy little independence mindset. I know other people who do this as well. The trouble is, you never really do have everything you want. You just don’t. We want all the things. It’s the nature of humans. So, if you’re not asking for what you want, but also you’re not Buddha, the odds are, you’re acting out about it somewhere in some passive-aggressive way that you think is subtle and clever but everyone around you knows is a giant and obvious pain in the ass.
Example: There are a handful of bar patrons who are so laid back that they legitimately don’t give a shit. I already know what they want when they walk in the door, and they know I’ll get it for them as soon as I see them sitting there. Words need not be exchanged. When their beverage is empty, cycle begins again. If I don’t notice as soon as could be wished, they don’t mind. They just sit and wait patiently. Sweethearts, the both of them.
Most people aren’t quite that content, and that’s fine. Personally, I am very accomplished in the ancient art of Absent Airhead, so if you’re 100% down for waiting quietly, you could end up waiting a long-ass time. I am not going to get angry at people who speak up. However, as a spiritual being created in the image and likeness of a God who Shall Prove to Be What He Shall Prove to Be, my reactions to the manner in which you speak up have become very interesting to me.
There are those who flat out ask for what they want. My natural inclination toward these folks is to immediately do whatever is in my power to accommodate their request. If the manner of asking is polite, I accommodate more smoothly, but interestingly to me, even where the manner is gruff, if the thing is straight-up requested, the reaction is pretty much automatic. I may not feel as soft or sweet toward them as I do it, but the basic movements are the same.
There are others who cannot directly request service. They look for little ways to draw attention without directly asking for it. They rattle glasses. They slam. They snap. They cough. They stare. They drum. They wait, but restlessly, and only because they must. Generally speaking, these same folks will then do everything in their power to avoid directly communicating what it is that they want when finally noticed. (Let the record show, under these circumstances, I almost always notice them before I let on that I’ve noticed them, because this shit is so FUCKING ANNOYING that I have to give myself a moment of calm separation before I walk over to them just to ensure that I don’t shank them with a cocktail straw.)
“Now that you have my attention, Sir, what is it that you need?” I am so goddamn professional.
Do they respond with words? Certainly not. Words are beneath them. They respond with points, nods, grunts, random stupid gestures that LITERALLY MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL TO ANYONE ANYWHERE.
Fun fact: My gut reaction to these folks is literally to throw things at them. Always. Every time. Small things, big things. Lightly tossed, violently hurled. That part varies. But always I want to throw things at them. Always. I don’t (thank heaven for self-control…), but I want to.
There are others who wait. They wait until they feel certain that I am within earshot, and then they loudly complain about whatever it is that I have not yet done to their satisfaction. They are dying of thirst. The lighting is too bright. The lighting is too dim. The music is obnoxious. The music is too loud. The music is too quiet. The television program is pathetic. They can’t hear the tv. The closed captions are too distracting. The drinks are too expensive. The flaw in this, the intolerability of that. On and on, hour after hour. All the days, this is what they do. My gut reaction to this manner of “request” is immediately and always to give them a shit ton more of whatever the fuck they are complaining about – EVEN IF I HATE IT TOO.
You don’t like the music? LET ME TURN IT UP FOR YOU, A-HOLE.
The tv program is boring you, Princess? THANK GOD I JUST FOUND A MARATHON.
Something in your vicinity doesn’t meet up just exactly to your vague and arbitrary standards? PLEASE HOLD WHILE I IMMEDIATELY DESIST FROM ANY ATTEMPTS TO MEET THAT STANDARD IN FUTURE.
Not everyone is consistent in their behavior. You’ve got the folks that are patient one day, passive-aggressive attention-seekers the next, and a week later they’re bitching and moaning through the afternoon. In those cases, I notice, I do not react to the person. I react to the chosen behavior.
This realization has completely remodeled my prayer life. I think I used to not want to ask God for things, you know? I am grateful for my life. Incredibly grateful, as I should be. I have to be careful not to start absent-mindedly counting my blessings in public, because I will start crying every time. My life is fantastic and it gets better by the day and what kind of JERK needs more than that!?! But if I’m honest with myself, I’m not Jesus. I’m not the Buddha. I am just not chill enough to be one of those people who sits there legitimately not minding if or when things get taken care of. There are certain categories of life where I can do this, but there are certain categories where I just can’t. It’s embarrassing, but it is just a true fact of Audrey. Might as well accept it and ask for the things. Because you know what happens when I don’t? In stupid little asshole, obnoxious ways, I start metaphorically tapping my glass on the counter, or clearing my throat unnecessarily or whatever the fuck other thing I can think to do in my attempt to annoy God into noticing the fact that He forgot to make me skinny or spontaneously repair my health or, ya know, find me a boyfriend, or whatever.
Really, Audrey? REALLY???
And then when THAT doesn’t work (BECAUSE WHY THE FUCK WOULD THAT WORK??????), I devolve into the complaining behavior. Waaaahhhhh, I’m not happy, boo hoo hoo.
Oh, shut up, woman. You disgust me.
And then what? What happens? Don’t I get more of what I don’t want? Doesn’t it seem like, whenever I slip into this mode of being, that random things start getting thrown at me? Now all of a sudden I have REAL problems?
I’m not trying to say that GOD does that. I’m just saying I sure would if I was Him.
The other thing that is interesting about the people who straight up ask me to do for them whatever thing they would like me to do for them is this: Even when I tell them No for some reason or other – No. I’m sorry, but we ran out of your preferred beverage and we won’t have it until Thursday. No. I’m sorry, someone else actually requested the program on that television five minutes ago and I can’t change it just yet. No. I’m sorry, the music that is playing is coming from the jukebox and someone else paid for it, so we’re not going to turn it off. No. There are five people over here currently waiting for a drink and I do not have an extra minute to do the superfluous thing you are asking me to do. No. I have no desire to sneak into the walk-in cooler and make out with you – THEY ARE HAPPIER FOR HAVING ASKED AND GOTTEN IT OVER WITH. The request transaction has happened. It is complete. They now know what is available and what is not, and they can readjust their expectations accordingly and we all move on. They are not spending hours in purgatory waiting for me to notice some half-secretive/half-obvious dumbass behavior that I am deliberately pretending to not notice. They are not grunting unintelligible nonsense hoping I randomly settle on the correct interpretation. They are not bitching and moaning for hours and hours to no purpose.
They’ve asked. I’ve said Yes or I’ve said No. I’ve set to work on it, or I’ve given them space to make a new choice. The thing continues moving forward. More importantly, I AM NOT THROWING THINGS AT THEM. This is appreciated by everyone.
So, yeah. That’s a thing I learned this week in life/church.