The okay-ness

I’m surprised when Jackson tells me that officially the Buzz is Baptist. After seminary, he was struck by polls showing the abundance of people lacking a religious affiliation in the Pacific Northwest and, with the financial backing of a national Baptist organization, relocated here from Texas. At first he worked as the youth minister at a local Baptist church before striking out on his own about five years ago. Today, the ties to the national organization have loosened. It pays only a part of his salary and, of the 20 or so people on his staff, each one is responsible for securing his or her own funding, which comes from multiple sources. I wonder what it means about the future of denominations that I’ve had to work so hard to find one here.

When he asks me why I started my church-going mission, our conversation turns to the less material. “I’m trying to better understand spirituality,” I tell him. I’m surprised to hear myself admit this out loud, much less to someone I hardly know. Before I started this endeavor, I thought of spirituality like I think of ghosts—a phenomenon somewhere between fascinating and frightening, but of which I had no first-hand experience. When I imagined what it might be, I always pictured some object—chimes, trees, fabric—swaying in the breeze.

“What does spirituality mean to you?” he asks.

How to put it into words? I rarely have this kind of conversation. My None friends and I—we tend to lack the language. When we attempt to talk about these issues we turn into frustrated apes; we thump our chests and open our hands to the sky.

I know the official Christian answer would be something like “accepting Jesus as God and my personal savior” but I’m not sure if I can do that just yet even if I understood exactly how.

I tell him, “I think it’s being more like Jesus…like how he was day to day.” I feel as wobbly as a fawn taking her first few steps. “Jesus was aware of ordinary life and responsibilities, but he always kept something bigger in mind…an awareness that he’d be gone someday too, and an okay-ness with it that made the everyday more precious. It’s the awareness and the okay-ness…” I catch Jackson looking at me in a way that suggests I’m either saying something profound or profoundly incomprehensible.

I want to keep going because it feels good to try to talk about this stuff even if I’m not good at it. I need to say something about compassion because I know that’s a big piece of the spirituality puzzle, and the okay-ness is key because if we can be okay with the being here—and the not being here—then we might even be able to love ourselves and whatever force brings us here and then snatches us away.

I think about the atheist slogan: “I can be good without God.” I had thought I didn’t need help with that because the goodness they are referring to is about not breaking laws and making the right choices morally and ethically. But maybe it refers to something much more subtle, being “good” as in being “okay”—learning to be good to ourselves and others, gentle and kind, accepting of our own and each other’s foibles. The okay-ness is the root of this love, which we can only extend to others if we first possess it ourselves. I want to say all this and more but forming such abstract ideas into actual words suddenly feels too daunting. They dissolve into a sweet puddle like a clump of cotton candy on the tip of my tongue.

Advertisements

Neat packages

 

“What stood out most about your visit to my church?” Jackson, the young minister of the Buzz, asks me.

“The young, good-looking crowd,” I say. I realize that’s probably not the answer he was looking for, but it’s the truth and I’m relieved when he laughs. Apparently this youthful congregation has posed some challenges.

When I was visiting, before he started his talk on Nehemiah, Jackson mentioned his previous sermon series, which had addressed the topic of love and dating. He briefly reiterated to the congregation that while romantic relationships are healthy and good, the search for one shouldn’t be their motivation for attending church. Once he said that, I had to admit I was picking up a certain vibe I’d never considered: Jesus as matchmaker. The fact that services are held in the early evening may add to the romantic ambiance.

“…besides that, your literature is so….” I search for the best way to describe the difference between the leaflets at the Buzz versus those from many other churches.

I was struck by how artfully they were put together. It’s not just that the church has its own logo, it is how the text and the graphics were presented in fresh fonts and interesting colors on glossy cuts of paper in varied sizes with just the right amount of white space to make it all “pop.” Many other churches cram black words on a white 8.5 x 11 page folded in half. In fact, it’s the quality of the Buzz materials that made me think they must be backed by an organization with deep pockets.

“Slick” sounds too derogatory.

“….well designed,” I decide to tell him.

He explains that one staff member has a background in graphic design. It seems almost a requirement these days for an “emergent” church: minister and graphic designer. People who have grown up since the 70’s have such a keen eye. Almost no aspect of our lives isn’t tastefully presented, from websites to wine labels. Today’s average Joe is a sharp-sighted consumer—of Christianity and anything else.

But it’s more than just aesthetics. So much content is available to us in both design elements and words. We prefer it filtered and arranged. We want the main point, but we also want the option for more. We’ve grown accustomed to the way the internet works: stay with the headline and synopsis or click to go deeper. We decide. As consumers, we have grown accustomed to the ability to navigate the information and, in some way, to participate in its presentation.

It’s a new way of moving through the world, one that can permeate even the smallest tasks—like singing. At the Buzz, the band played one of the same Christian rock songs I’d heard elsewhere, Your Love Never Fails, but in a slightly different way. They branched out to more complicated verses, but they returned to the lines of the chorus—Your Love never fails/Your love never changes/You stay the same through the ages—so many times that even I was able to sing along easily. Depending on knowledge and comfort level, a person can dive into the verses or just stay with the simple refrain to which the band returned until we were all of singing it over and over again, in an endlessly comforting loop.

Yet, I wonder about the downside of information that’s presented in such neat packages. Does having the path you tread prepped and prettied diminish the sense of discovery? Are we singing along on autopilot?