I hate that title, because I usually try to resist the urge to anthropomorphise. I’m talking about a thing–a place–but the death of it seems like a more personal loss than the end of a thing.
One of the weirdest things about this situation is that it isn’t really dead.
The place is still there–same name on the door, same appearance. Different people inside, but to the unknowing or unobservant, it might look exactly the same walking by from one day to another. But to me, it is dead. I suppose I should note that disclaimer at the outset–this is just my perspective. I’m not trying to influence anyone else, nor speak for anyone else. Just me. This isn’t a professional statement, but rather a personal reflection on my personal blog.
In reporting, they focus on the 5Ws and H (who, what, when, where, why, how). In the law, we focus first on the existence of a duty, then a breach of the duty, then a causal relationship between the breach and a resulting injury–all of that before we ever get to the damages. And truth be told, when my friend started dying some months ago, I fantasized about writing this post. At that time, I lusted after writing in great and gory detail the happenings and occurrences that lead to the death. With the passage of time, my desire to focus on those issues has passed. I’ve come to realize that how we got here is less important.
The only thing I’m left with is where I’m at now, and where the community is at.
I came to know this thing several years ago. It lead me to meet nearly all of my best friends. It lead me to great adventures. It wasn’t really a friend–it was more like a group. Depending on what metaphor you want to use, it was a church–or an army. We participants went around proselytizing–or recruiting, if you prefer that metaphor–seeking others to join our group. I have a closet full of the vestments or uniforms that we utilized. (Writing in two metaphors grows tiresome quickly, so at the risk of offending someone, I’m sticking with the religious metaphor). We did everything we could to support it, and those who were close to it. We supported it with our money, with our sweat–so much sweat–and with our blood. Occasionally even our tears. We often put it before our own interests, in an way that in retrospect seems irrational.
Then, maybe something happened. I don’t know.
What happened or didn’t happen doesn’t really matter. I’ve come to realize that what matters is what happened afterwards. We all cast ourselves out. Those who labored at the church daily, they all left. All of them–every last one. Those of us who just came to pray at the church, and to volunteer from time to time, we saw the laborers leave and we left too. And now the place still stands there–it looks the same outwardly, but inward, it isn’t. Inward, everything is different. There’s a different religion inside these days.
The closet full of vestments that I have–I’m embarrassed to wear them. They used to represent something so dear to me–so important, so vital. Something I was so proud to represent. Something that I dedicated so much time and effort to, without any clear reward for the same. And now? Now I have to think twice before putting them on. Sure, I tell myself that the words on the vestments stand for the things that once meant something–the things that I worked for. But I’m scared that they don’t. I’m scared that they still represent the thing that died, that changed. It’s like some sort of crazy cyborg–it still looks the same, but the heart within is gone. It has the same physical components, but none of the memories, the spirit, the vitality. It’s just mechanical now. Just the things are left.
The things never really meant that much anyhow.
With the death of this friend, a new chapter has emerged in a lot of lives. The laborers are going on to better adventures. The clergy will be doing things that will have an incredible impact on the culture I’m a part of–amazing things that I cannot wait to share. But those of us who sat in the pews, those of us in the congregation, we’re still here. We just don’t have a place to pray anymore. We meet in the parking lot outside the place sometimes, and struggle to avoid eye contact with anyone inside. I suppose I needn’t say that I no longer tithe. I no longer engage in any relationship or interaction–nor will I. I’m now left as a member of a congregation with no church.
There was always a commercial part of the relationship. Peoples’ jobs depended on the place, and I certainly supported it economically. But it always seemed like something more–there’s more to what I took away than I could have ordered in a box from somethingdotcom. People don’t get religion delivered by UPS. They don’t join a congregation when their experience is buying from a nameless person over a counter. My religion was different. It was personal. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t understand it. I don’t have the words.
I don’t have the church anymore, either. It’s gone. It’s gone and has left a hole that I don’t think will ever be filled. I don’t think it will be filled because it was so improbable to begin with–the amazing synchronicity of intersecting lives and moments and companies and things and places and the thing it became. It was impossible that it could have happened once. It is impossible that it could ever happen again.
A fellow congregant suggested that I should write a eulogy for the church. But to truly eulogize, you have to write in praise, and share stories about all that was good about the thing that was lost, and I’m not ready to do that yet. Because of the cyborg, I worry that people will think I’m talking about the hollow shell of the church that’s still there. My church is dead, and I’m not about to start advertising for Hananiah. That yoke can carry itself.
So instead, I’ll just share that something beautiful, improbable, imperfect, and amazing has died. To those of you who have no idea what I write about, I apologize for being equivocal and ambiguous. To those who were a part of it while it lived, thank you for the shared experiences. Thanks for sharing the religion.
It really was something, wasn’t it?