white light, by tj worthington
April 13, Saturday, I believe will be a date to look back at that pretty much blew my mind all day long. I spent the late afternoon with white middle class people here from other places at the Episcopal church in Sparta. I'd never been in an Episcopal church service. Popping up in my mind is a memory of something old man Tom Pruitt told me 35 years ago. He said a "palin" (paling) was a name for a picket fence. According to Merriam-Webster, the pickets are called pales. Among the old-time people who only knew the old-time Baptist way as the one and only way, no two ways about it, they heard of Episcopalians, but knew nothing about them except they were the next thing to a Catholic. Back then they called Episcopalians, "Pissed over the palin." I couldn't help but think of that driving into the parking lot and walking in the door, pissing over a picket fence. It amused me and put a smile on my face, when in another part of my mind I was involving myself in something entirely outside my comfort zone, surrounding myself by at least a hundred middle class white people from Away. It's not that I have a problem allowing them who they are. Not at all. The years of my working life and entire adult life since the realization that God Is has been among mountain people to the point that mountain culture is mine now. It's the mountain people I'm comfortable among. I had stepped into a house full of people of the culture that used to be mine, but I went native and became a naturalized hillbilly. Among the people of these mountains is where my heart feels at home.
White middle class culture from the Flatland is a very different culture from mountain culture. The only bridge is television, a culture unto itself, a culture both working class and middle class share, though they watch different shows. It's still pop culture. In mountain culture you don't over-enthuse about anything. In Flatland culture over-enthusiasm is the order of the day every day. I stepped apprehensively into the doorway of this place where I was greeted by over-enthusiasm so incredibly false it was over-enthusiasm over-done to the max by a hillbilly middle-class wannabe. I wanted to say, Settle down, I know you better than that. I was looking at what we call in these hills a silver-tongued rattlesnake, a nice way of putting it. She and I have what is called around here "history." I learned long ago, stay out of her strike zone. And there I was, walking through it. It gave me the shivers. I didn't blame the church. It's people like that churches are for. I was glad to see this church was so accepting. And this is what I went there for, what everybody present went there for, "the blessing of a lifelong covenant" between two men. The church bulletin for the service had printed above the picture of the church house, "A home to all sharing God's unconditional love." No kidding, I thought. I know a dozen or more people who go there, and I see in them light of the spirit. It tells me something is going on there that is rare in Christendom, allowing people to be who they are.
Though these, for the most part, were not mountain people, I was beginning to see that valuing individuals for who they are, not for what they are or what they're supposed to be according to a severely judgmental, medieval idea of God, is also the most highly valued tenet of mountain culture. In that way, I felt at home among the Sparta Episcopalians. This was what they called a "celebration." Before the service was over I realized the celebration was the acceptance of allowing individuals to be valuable as who they are. At least three times different women I know got in my face with hands flared out on both sides of their faces, "Isn't it a WONDERFUL day!" Of course, that ran all over my old-Baptist side suspicious of enthusiasm. At first, I took what they meant by wonderful was this opportunity to be so politically correct. But I caught on that what was so wonderful about the day was it marks a calendar date in everyone's life present, that a Christian church is actually embracing something as far-fetched as allowing human beings to be human beings. And more wonderful than that was a church house full of people from the church and friends affirming, embracing two guys everyone knew individually and together. I saw all around Gary and Allan the support that God's love, or simply love, is about. It sounds redundant to say God's love. It's the same as saying Love's love. The point is, God = love. The wonderful part of the day was that love was being celebrated by all present.
The air inside had the glow of love about it. I sat kind of reeling from being in a church that thinks unconditional love is something worth honoring with one's life, and actually practicing in everyday life. I was thinking this is more Buddhist than Christian. In Christendom, Peace amounts to a meaningless word over-used on Christmas cards. In Buddhism, peace is something practical in how you live your everyday life. The celebration in the Christian church was indeed of peace. Love = peace. I paused for a moment from the service and went within. I wanted to feel the place, feel if the spirit was in there. It was. Very much. It was a feeling of lightness, both in lightness like the weight of a chickadee in flight and the lightness of sunshine. The sun was out all day after a winter of cold with unpredictable ice, snow and wind. The women who were saying, "Isn't it a wonderful day!" meant it on so many levels that it became a truth to be uttered in awe. It's actually awesome for me to see a Christian church that is enthusiastic about practicing love in everyday life. They were celebrating the love between two guys on the soul level, or the higher self, allowing as love allows, as God allows. It told me things are changing in acceptance of a natural human condition that patriarchal martial religion rejected multiple hundreds of years ago, that aboriginal peoples all over the globe recognized, until slaughtered by Christians. It showed me a spark or even a candle flame of love as a focus of interest happening in Christendom. It's happening in Sparta. It explains to me the loving spirit I feel in the people I know who go to the Sparta Episcopal church. Allan and Gary, the two guys, included.
Fr Lin Walton is the spiritual guide in the church. I can't call him preacher or priest or father. I see him a man with this role. I've had curiosity about him since he was new here. I did the way I learned in the mountains, the way the people I came to know did me, waited and watched, assessed his character by what he does and how people receive him. Over the few years he's been here, I've seen the spirit come into the people I know who go to his church. It's actually been awe inspiring. I called him one evening a year or more ago to tell him that I've seen one friend in particular, Gary, my next door neighbor, begin to blossom spiritually. I attributed it to Fr Lin I've seen other such inspiration from. He is unable to see his influence in the people he sees regularly, like watching a baby grow up is seen more by people outside the house than people living in the house with the baby. I don't see Gary very frequently, leaving a span of time between our visits, so I see the baby crawling one time, and the next time the baby is walking, then the baby is gone and the little person appears. That's how I saw Gary's inner unfolding. He has the spirit. Allan has the spirit too. I've known Allan thirty years and Gary ten, as long as he's been with Allan. I've seen their relationship over the years grow into love, starting off with the spark of love and growing from there, to the point that both shed tears during the vows and Gary, choked up unable to speak, spoke out something he had to say, "I just love Allan." This moment told me the spiritual value of what Fr Lin has done, and I imagine mostly without him knowing what he's doing or how it's being done through him. It was refreshing to be in a church service where unconditional love is not just a pretty Bible verse to memorize for a gold star, but something to practice in everyday life, the fast lane to inner peace. Hooray for Gary and Allan, and hooray for the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Sparta, and Fr Lin for being who he is.