Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The House of Gabriel, Part 2 of 2
Gabe’s church was so Little House on the Prairie.
This place most likely doubled as a one-room schoolhouse well past the turn of the century. A dusty driveway led up a slope off the two lane road to a humble dirt parking lot. The tan earth of Oroville was highlighted by unending acres of dead, beige fields of wild grass and uninteresting species of birds. The cheery, morning folks migrated through the tidy files of trucks and cars towards the building. They were dressed conservatively, with an abundance of heel-length denim skirts and grey suit jackets.
Me and Gabe just spun around his mom Vicki like stringy, toe-headed satellites, distracting each other with stupid accents or faces, as Vicki obliged us to timid, limp handshakes to familiar churchgoers.
Gabe’s dad Roger was stoic and positive. For every footstep he made into the foyer, three other gentlemen in suits would make two towards him. Roger made the rounds in unison with his wife Vicki, who herself would outgreet the greeters with her awesomeness and praise Jesus-ness. She was always funny at church. She made the three of us laugh a lot, Gabe, me, and Roger. Roger’s eyes were always slow and open too wide. He was intentional with his speech and his movement, and if he hadn’t always smiled so much, fucking frightening.
I went to church with Gabe a lot, at least I think. Holes of childhood seem to disappear and fill up with quicksand pretty easily. I know that over the years that I knew Gabe, either living in Oroville, or visiting from Auburn (where I moved back and forth numerous times) I joined Gabe’s family at three different churches, each of which his family was incrementally more involved. This was the first and the smallest. The stage humbly held a simple bench towards the back, a dark wood pulpit, a grand piano, and an electric organ; All the tools you’d need for a good, old-fashioned church service.
This particular Sunday was not warming up to be anything other than ordinary.
Generally, I would usually commit the lost hour and a half to shouldering myself with all my might up against the door that boredom was pounding.
My standard practice for surviving the friend’s church thing was this: I would count down the minutes of the sermon that was undoubtedly over my tiny head anyway, and float along on the sweet thought of having an unending Sunday afternoon with a bicycle, a buddy, a video game, and a vhs rental. Gosh, that was a good thought. But until then, I’d have to worry about the rare catastrophe of neighboring people farting, me falling asleep and farting, or one of the old wooden pews making a noise that sounded like it was a fart that people would think was me. That fear kept me from falling asleep, but distracted me enough to not absorb the sermons.
We were past the first round of electic organ-led hymns. We had heard the announcements of someone giving away kittens, an update on a church barbeque coming up in a few weeks, and the status of a missionary couple in Romania. The pastor began his sermon.
On this particular Sunday, though, before I had even gotten used to the smell of strangers’ hairspray, a guest walked in.
A white man with loose clothes, a beard, and sunglasses saunters into view, and stops halfway down the aisle from the back of the church. He doesn’t mean any harm. He raises his hand, as if to ask a question, and graciously asks the pastor if he can say something to the congregation. He wasn’t shouting but he wasn’t whispering. I didn’t understand the tone of the pastor’s voice when it changed from addressing the sitting church to addressing a single person standing face to face with him.
The pastor called him by name, and after a defeated pause, verbally allowed this man to come up to the front. The man was already shuffling up anyways and commandeered the black and silver ice cream cone shaped microphone.
Had this happened before? Was this how they do things here? This guy looks homeless, though I can tell he’s not. Is he from a different church - like a biker gang church? I feel like Vicki and Roger got tense.
The man was emotional, and spaced out his phrases. He had been saved. There was not a way in hell that I was falling asleep during this. I had no idea what was going on, all I knew is that I was still at church, and I was all ears.
He was saved, he was saved, he was saved. Late last night, he had been in his truck, and he prayed to Jesus to free him. He was in bondage. He had gone back and forth with this bondage. Last night, he claimed, he was an alcoholic. But not now. He wanted the church to know that he was free from alcoholism and he was saved and he was free and he was saved and he was free.
The pastor took back the microphone, gently, and the guest speaker poured into an open seat in a front pew. The pastor used the man’s examples a few times in the seemingly short sermon that followed. I remember thinking that this was proof that they planned this and it made me so intent on listening to the rest of the message. So intent, I was, that I don’t remember a damn thing about it. Well, I was excited at least. This had been a fantastic and quick Sunday at church so far.
The sermon concluded and the music began. The electric organ was manned by the same older woman as before, peering into her hymnal. There was a younger woman singing falsetto into a mic on a stand on the other side of the stage. As the second song began, our guest, deeply swaying with the music and raising his hands in worship, sleepwalked up to the empty piano bench. He had lost his sunglasses, but his eyes were closed as he forced himself upon the keys.
The faces of the two women on stage were cement. This was more proof that this church had a very alternative way of ending service, and it was so clever to me. I cannot believe that they planned this all out - a cameo by the mumbling sub-pastor to accentuate the raw emotion of God’s word through music. What a pure and holy way to join in worship.
I was into it.
Gabe kept nudging me, but I thought he was just trying to be annoying. The music kept on, and I was moved. I had never seen such a personal outpour of one person’s own truth, on the dry and dusty wood floors of a small church stage. When it was finally over, Vicki and Roger pulled us out to the van without the usual hugs and well-wishes by fellow congregants.
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Later that day, I listened in disbelief as Vicki explained to us that our bearded shepherd was actually still drunk. He had slept in the parking lot of the church in his truck, after a solid Saturday bender. She even knew some of his family. They didn't go to that church anymore, but they were still in town. I didn’t really know what drunk was, other than you get silly after drinking piss flavored soda. I believed that he could have camped out in the parking lot, to prepare for his morning exclamation, but I absolutely did not believe her when she said he was still drunk. He had opened up to a captive audience to express his joys of the newfound freedom in sobriety. C’mon, Vicki, he wouldn’t still be drunk while saying that - the bars close at night, and once they close, you’re sober again. I didn’t understand why she was lying to us, but I acted like it was no big deal.