Mystic Mondays June 18, 2016
I think I did a big No No yesterday. But I couldn’t help myself. It was Sunday morning in downtown Portland on the only Sunday during the biannual General Assembly meeting of the Presbyterian Church. Listed in our agenda for the morning were some 25 or so Presbyterian churches we could attend for worship. Of course most of the commissioners and visitors from around the United States had flown in. Transportation would be an issue. Our fine planning team from Cascades Presbytery (the local host) had arranged for vans and buses to take good Presbyterians to any one of the more than two dozen choices.
But I chose my own church this morning. While hundreds of attendees sat in the pews in our local churches I strolled through the expansive front doors of Portland Waterfront Church. Inviting me in were the towering green spans of the Hawthorne Bridge famous for its 25,000 cyclists that cross it every day on their way to work. I strolled briskly (as my body demanded) after sitting twelve-plus hours in plenary sessions, informal table dialogues and sit-down meals the day before.
I want to be very clear that I honor the choices of my brother and sister Presbyterians who kept asking me, “Which church are you going to this morning,” unaware that I was already hearing my body say, “You need to move. Your body needs to worship. You have to get your butt off of all those damned chairs.” Pews were not what my body was screaming for.
Funny thing was that I wanted to worship just as bad as all my PC friends. But my soul was begging for the cool air of the morning. I couldn’t look at four walls anymore. I wanted to follow a liturgy, but it wasn’t the liturgy of the bulletin; it was the ordered and spontaneous liturgy of Portlanders celebrating a beautiful late spring Father’s Day right there along the Willamette River. Casual cyclists swooshed by me on my left in their tight outfits. Runners wove their way in and out pedestrians, tricycles, and older couples out for a Sunday stroll.
I stopped at the railing of the river when I spotted a Native American woman performing some sort of dance before the water as if she was at the altar acting out the Creation story in liturgical dance. She was either oblivious to the stares of others or maybe her soul had just retrieved a deep memory from her past and she couldn’t help but to act it out in front of the sacred river.
Ten minutes later I found myself as deeply in worship as I might have been in one of our great sanctuaries. A People’s Memorial had been set up and dozens of ten-foot panels with red hearts and the words, “Love Orlando” were painted across them. It was clear that when the memorial was completed it was to be full circle with “doors of love” placed on each side for people to enter to pray and worship. A handful of people were meticulously and lovingly pouring out messages in colored markers expressing their grief and love and anger for the horrific tragedy of Orlando.
Around the people’s memorial was all the diversity (such as it is in Portland) of this city that has earned the “Keep Portland Weird” motto. Gay and lesbians couples, homeless men, well-to-doers, children, white and black-skinned, purple-haired and bleached blonde all gathered around this sacred space. We were one family, even if for a brief moment and in a limited space, united by our grief, pain and hope.
If I had been a good Presbyterian pastor and commissioner I would have gone and celebrated with my brothers and sisters in the pews this day. It’s not that didn’t want to. But my body just said, “No! Take advantage of this sacred Sunday morning time and worship me with your body. Move a little. Breathe some clean air. Feel the sun. Watch the hypnotic movement of the water. Soak in the energy of runners, strollers, cyclists, and children darting back and forth along the river.” I heeded the call.
My body took me away from church worship yesterday morning. But what I discovered is that I walked through the sanctuary doors of another kind of church—out in the open, welcoming to all kinds of people, pitching my heart toward the sacred and worshipping with brothers and sisters around a People’s Church that emerged out of the tragedy of Orlando and the souls of the people of Portland.
I was supposed to join my Presbyterian family in worship today. Instead, my body rebelled against more sitting and walls. But I discovered that the Portland community had also been drawn by some Spirit to worship, to re-create, and to pray and to love in their own unique way. On this Father’s Day Presbyterians and Portlanders both were all worshiping—some indoors and some outdoors.
We are all one. All that separates us are a few thin walls.