Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pub Theology and the Politics of God

Last Night we met at The Old Spot once again. There were eight of us for this discussion on "The Politics of God." It was heated but friendly, and eventually redirected to consider what God wants from us personally. A good time all in all, and Mary saved us from looking like a good ol' boys club.

You can read more on the interactions at one of my personal blogs Square No More.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Three Days with Pastor Phil

There are no typical weeks at The Gathering. Salem, MA is a wonderfully diverse, and uniquely strange community, and every day provides the opportunity for little adventures. As an example of this uniqueness I thought that I might tell the mini-stories of three consecutive days and the encounters I've had. These days are not regular events, but perhaps they do illustrate the uniqueness of our city, and the remarkable opportunities for service which it provides.

Day 1

I began my workday at 5:45am at a group home for 5-12 year olds in Beverly, MA (the city just over the bridge from Salem) It's my job to wake them up, and get them off to school (or summer camp) two days a week, and then to act as a liaison to the community and the Department of Social Services. The morning was uneventful as we woke the children up, and encouraged them through basic hygiene, cleaning their rooms, and played a few games together while attempting to teach basic lessons of life to these children who would be homeless or abused if not for the state's intervention, and the group home's involvement.

From the group home I drove to the offices of an owner of a number of local Domino's Pizza locations. He and I get together once a year to plan the logistics of an Annual Halloween Children's Day, which we sponsor as a city event on the Salem Common (a city park in the middle of town), and we made plans for the event on October 18th this year. Our concerns were the entertainment, finding a new resource for vendors, and creating some opportunities for helping under-priveleged kids experience the day for free.

After leaving the group home I ate a quick lunch at home, and arrived at our meeting place - The Vault. Carlos and Chris were working our "Sacred Space": an afternoon spiritual soul retreat open to the community inviting them into The Vault for sacred music, prayer, and meditation. Often it turns out to be a commercial for the church, as people come in and out wondering what we are about.

During the afternoon a handsome, well spoken, nomadic man in his early 40's came by for a visit. He had just rolled into to town from Maine, via North Dakota, having wintered in these very cold locations. We talked. He told his story, which included leaving home at 15, traveling for most of his life, and having been a Satanist - having all the tattoos to prove it. He opened up and shared his frustration with some of the choices he had made, and how difficult it was to get along in society. We talked philosophy. We talked theology. We made friends, and I encouraged him by letting him know that God had blessed him with a powerful gift of communication. He nearly cried at one point, and we have been seeing him pop in and out since that time.

Day 2

Once again I worked at the group home in the morning helping the children in the beginning of their day. Coming from abusive backgrounds, they often exhibit destructive behavior, and we need to teach them better ways of handling themselves, and treating others.

Later that morning, I arrived at the church. I had made plans to help a local homeless man (who had just found a room to rent) get his clothing washed. This young man usually smells so bad that he is regularly asked to leave restaurants, and has even been kicked out of homeless shelters for refusing to shower. I met him at the laundromat, and we got his clothing in the washing machine, and I gave him a laundromat card with enough money to pay for the drying too. I tried to get him to put a filthy jacket he had tied around his waist into the machine, and explained the necessity of washing his clothes to keep from leaving long lasting smells from getting into the upholstery of other people's furniture, but he did not want to wash his coat. I hoped maybe I could get the jacket washed next time.

Once back at the church, a young man I have known since we first moved to Salem nine years ago came into The Vault. He wanted to talk to me about Wicca. He had been looking into this variety of Witchcraft for awhile, and wanted to get some opinions from friends. We talked for about an hour. I walked him through the history of the movement - which although it is believed by many of its followers to be ancient is in actuality only been around since the early 1950's. We talked about the differences between Christian and Wiccan beliefs, and I told him these things without ridiculing his interest in Wicca. He opened up, and shared his reservations about some of things Wiccans believed, but also related some spiritual experiences he has had, which Christians have judged as weird, or even demonic. I related stories of the early church and medieval saints which mirrored his experiences, and suggested that Christians should be pursuers of deep mystical experiences with God. He wanted to keep in regular communication about these things. I have found this young man's search for an authentic mystical experience is exhibited by many who leave the pews of the church for the woods of the contemporary Neo-Pagan experience.

After this encounter, Carlos and I visited the Chamber of Commerce. Rinus is from the Netherlands, and runs the chamber in Salem. He has been good to us. He offered to open the list of his vendors to us, so that we might be able to increase the number of vendors on our Children's Day event. This was an answer to our need for the Halloween Children's Day Event.

After going home and having dinner, Carlos and I met once again. We had been invited to Pagan Pub Crawl. Once a month some of the Witches in town gather for the Salem Pagan Pub Crawl. I usually get invited, because many of them are my friends. Carlos has been to a couple of these gatherings now, and is making friends as well. The owner of the new tattoo parlor in town was there. He is not a Witch, but he considers himself a Thelemite (you can look that one up on Wikipedia if you like). We meet a couple women from Pennsylvania who visit Salem often. We saw many friends we've known for some time. We talked about how people had become Witches after being raised as Christians, and we discussed the resurrection myths of ancient religions comparing and contrasting that to the resurrection of Christ. I suggested that Christianity perhaps did not steal the idea of resurrection, and death and rebirth from other religions, but that it might well be that the appearance of this mythology throughout many different cultures is a prophetic retelling of the story found in Jesus Christ. All in all it was a fun evening, but a long day.

Day 3

As part of my job with the group home I went to a Provider's Fair at one of the many Catholic Churches in Salem. I was hosting a table for the group home among about twenty-five other tables in the room. I met other social service providers who worked with addictions, poverty income level families, and at risk children. I met some of the local DSS administrators, and made some wonderful contacts.

I offered to help with their events in the future by providing our church sound system if they needed sound. The PA at the Catholic church was not sufficient for music, but they gave it a try. I told them that we would like to set up a Provider's Fair at our Halloween Children's Day, and that I was working on getting a number of free tickets for under-privileged children. They were excited. I had my guitar with me, and allowed a woman to play my Martin (you guitar players will know that that's a big deal), and she performed. I performed a few songs as well, and made some great contacts both for the group home I represent, as well as for The Gathering and our Children's Day event. This was a second answer to our needs for Children's Day.

It was a long day at the fair, but worked out to be wonderful for new contacts in our community.

In the evening we showed a surf film at The Vault. Every Friday Night is $1 Movie Night, and we have visitors who are not a part of the church. Some of them are regulars to movie night, and we are there to make friends with them, and to allow them to feel comfortable in our space.

These three days represent a variety of things which occur both in our church location, and around the community in Salem during the weekdays. As you can see, we are involved in social action, relationship development, and sharing our faith on a regular basis. This is Salem, and we believe it is one of the most vibrant communities in the US - even in regards to how open people's hearts are for a true and deeper spirituality.