Last week I left a minister speechless. It wasn’t intentional. He only asked me a simple question and I answered him as honestly as I could. But he didn’t know what to do with my reply.
Some background here…
Forty years ago I was a seminary student, training to be a minister through music and youth work. For ten years that’s what I did full-time. I continued to work in church music and youth ministry on a part-time basis off and on until about ten years ago. I also went back to school and became a Licensed Professional Counselor, which is the way I now make my living.
There was a young woman who was in the youth group of my first church who died at the age of 47 a couple of weeks ago. I attended her funeral and afterwards the family asked me to stay for lunch with them. That’s where I meet the pastor who officiated at the service. He did a good job for the most part.
There were six of us at the table. We ate and talked and got to know each other a bit. When the minister was leaving he asked, “Where do you go to church, Randy?” With nary a thought I said, “On The Balcony above City Grocery.” He looked bumfuzzled. “Do you know City Grocery?” I asked. He said he did. I continued, “I call it the ‘First Conversational Church of the City Grocery Balcony’.” Now he was the proverbial deer in headlights. He spoke not a word as he turned and left.
I looked at an old friend and said, “I hope I didn’t offend him. I didn’t mean to. He just asked me where I went to church and I told him.”
So let me explain…
I’m not against organized religion per say. There is much good in it and I have had many good experiences in churches. I just don’t do it anymore. As my spiritual beliefs evolved I was growing more and more uneasy about saying what I truly believed in the context of religious institutions and the fallout thereof.
A few years ago I went through an extremely tough period which left me flat on my face in the mud—more broken than I had ever been before. When I began to pick the pieces back up, there was one thing I decided to leave behind—the mask I’d been wearing.
The Balcony became a refuge for me. As I made more and more friends I began to realize the joy of the freedom of being my authentic self without fear. The Balcony became holy ground for me.
The vast majority of people I meet on The Balcony are open, friendly, caring, and lacking in pretense. And what I experience on most Balcony days is love. Pure and simple. And love is the heart all of the world’s major religions.
Hardly a day on The Balcony goes by that I don’t meet someone new or deepen my connections with those I now consider family. They’ve seen me through some major ups and downs. They’ve cried with me and they’ve laughed with me. Sometimes they laugh AT me. I’m happy to laugh along.
From my crow’s nest I get to see the flowers bloom and the rain fall. I get to swelter under the scorching sun and huddle against the piercing winds of winter. I see people in all states of life: young, old, happy, sad, sober, and over-served. And through all of this, of all Balcony dwellers, I am most greatly blessed.
So I go to the First Conversational Church of the City Grocery Balcony—every chance I get. Like the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) we don’t have a pastor or a priest or a rabbi or an Iman or a Zen master. Love and kindness are the top things on the menu there.
(We don’t pass the offering plate either, but we do make sure we tip well.)
…and that’s the view from The Balcony.