I heard these words at the old Khyber Pass in Old City. I was there in the company of a friend/parishioner to see the venerable and awesome New Model Army. The band’s sound check had just finished up and from across the room I saw another one of my parishioners waving at me. After a hug and an introduction to her boyfriend, she said, “It seems that you see me more in bars than in church.” with a kind of sheepish laugh. Although her statement wasn’t entirely accurate (between my kids, meetings, and just being tired I don’t get out all that much), I started to wonder what she was really trying to say. The implication seemed to be that because she went to bars more frequently than she went to church that she had something to apologize for, or even be ashamed of. It got me to thinking, just what is it about the interplay between bars and church? For many people these institutions are bitter rivals. But do they have to be?
Human beings tend to divide our lives up into two distinct areas: the sacred and the profane. This is a false dichotomy and we need to stop buying into it. All of life has the potential to be sacred (indeed all of it has been both created and redeemed by God) and so all of life is an opportunity for God to be present, known and active.
To that point, as I sampled some of the nice selection of drafts (Troeg’s Nugget Nectar is a hoppy delight and Laugunitas Lumpy Gravy was complex and very flavorful) I could not help but notice the fact that God was already present in that place. Present in the camaraderie shared by friends, present in the energy of the music, and even present in the fellowship of the mosh pit (more on that in future posts).
But even more than this, what I saw that night was an incredible opportunity… opportunity for God to be even more present and active in that place and in the lives of those assembled. I saw it in the desire for companionship, understanding and intimacy that motivated many of the patrons. I heard it brilliant and uncompromising lyrics of the band, that expressed a deep longing for meaning and purpose (in addition to taking frequent shots at the hypocrisy of the Church). Yet no one was there helping these folks make the connection between their needs and the presence of God that was already in their midst. Instead, many of them, like my parishioner, probably felt that God was far away from that place, if they thought about God at all.
Not surprisingly, I expect few of the people there that night would turn to the church to meet these very basic spiritual needs. No, when they want to feel connection and fellowship they go to the bar. The Church would do well to wake up and recognize the reality; that these needs and opportunities surround us… at the show that night and every night at the hundreds of bars and clubs across my city, the country and the world, people are looking for the sacred and many times, they are finding it, even if they don’t use those words to describe it. And so my parishioner did not have to feel ashamed or apologetic for being seen in the bar by her priest. Despite our preconceptions, God can be found at the bar almost as readily as in church. And if we want to find meaning or purpose, if we want to find the presence of God in our lives, all we have to do is open our eyes to sacred reality that is already all around us.