Ash and I went out on the town last night. Our plan was to have a drink and a bite and then see Poseidon. (We saw X-Men: The Last Stand on Friday and were hoping for a palate cleanser. Chad, you were oh-so right.)
Perhaps God was on our side, since we never made it to the theater to see Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell and Andre Braugher — my fourth husband — try to rescue helpless luxury-cruise-ship-in-a-tsunami victims. We got as far as the drink/bite, and got into a pretty intense conversation about church. (For those of you who know us, intense conversations about life, God, the universe and U2 and/or Petra happen about 63 times a day.) We were sipping our margaritas and people-watching at a bar on Main St. in Ventura, and Ash wondered aloud how many of the people passing by on Saturday night would be in church on Sunday morning. (This was mildly laughable, since Ventura is what some might call “pagan”…I think something like 14% of people attend church. Venturans are religious about surfing and spiritual about everything else.)
Anyway, I started off on one of my tequila-induced philosophical rabbit trails in which I unilaterally declared church over, we don’t need it, blah, blah, bloo-blee-bloo. “Look at us! We’re both Christians, and only 50% of us will be in church tomorrow.”
Just as I was working up a good head of steam, we were joined by Lorien and Gary, who came outside to have a smoke. We had not previously met them, but thanks to Ash’s sign and my diminshed inhibitions, we shortly made their acquaintance and found out all about them. Gary is a carpenter who has lived in Ventura all his life, and Lorien is an artist who spent her youth traveling the country, doing a lot of hallucinogens (“I tried this stuff from South America like 17 years ago, and I swear the sky has never looked the same.”) and finding herself. She has a pretty crazy story, and there’s nothing I like more than hearing somebody’s story, crazy or not.
We ended up hanging with Lorien and Gary for almost 4 hours. It was wonderful. They’re both remarkable people, trying to figure out how to live well and right. They have a deep love and respect for each other, and are dedicated to parenting Gary’s three young boys with that same love and respect. Lorien is learning how to be a stepmom and said, “Kids make you take your attention off yourself. They teach you so much because you have to see the world through their eyes if you want to really know and love them. You can’t be jaded.” (In my mind: Huh, Lorien…you sound kinda like, I don’t know…JESUS.)
As we were driving home, we continued our church conversation in light of our experience with our new friends. The thing is, Lorien and Gary don’t need church. They’re already paying attention to good things, Kingdom Things: loving their family, creating beauty, practicing hospitality, sharing with hurting people. Yes, Lorien and Gary need Jesus. But that’s the dumb thing about our current church system: we’ve set up church as the Purified Jesus Dispenser, and you have to come to church with your empty bottles and some dimes in order to get any. Or alternately, we come to you and hand out small, sample-sized bottles for free, and then invite you back to the Mother Well where you can drink real Living Water, portioned out in pre-packaged, chemically-treated, vacuum-sealed rations that ensure there’s enough to go around, nobody overdoes it, and nothing taints the purity of the product.
Well, I’m tequila-free this glorious Sunday morning, and I’m over it. Church, that is…of the Purified Jesus Dispenser variety. I don’t believe Jesus needs to be measured out and bottled up and stored in a cool, dry place. I kinda think he feels cramped. I think he’d like to get out once in awhile, maybe make a night of it with Lorien and Gary. They already have a lot in common, and I think they’ll get along great.