On Pub Choirs and Wilderness Tables

I know Jesus as the carpenter who builds such tables in the wilderness.

They spoke against God; they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?” Psalm 78:19

Recently a friend and I took an Uber into the city on a Tuesday night to attend an event she’d bought tickets for as a birthday gift for me. Back when she bought them, we both admitted that this future Tuesday night would be a hard sell when it ended up coming around — I try not to leave the house after 4 pm on weekdays. But we pushed through and, after a rooftop dinner, found ourselves in a venue with 500 people, learning the lyrics and vocal harmonies to Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.”

This is pub choir, a spectacle that originated here in Australia but is sure to sweep the globe imminently. The first event went viral and is a regular part of my “inspiring videos to watch when I’m down” diet. There’s just something about being in a room full of strangers creating something together that didn’t exist before. Call it performance, call it art; either way, it was memorable, beautiful, and inclusive.

After a two-year hiatus, group activities appear to be back in style. I for one, haven’t bounded back into those packed spaces with reckless abandon. To be fair, I never did before Covid either, introversion being my excuse then, but there were just some non-solo activities that were a part of life. One, for those of a believing nature, was church, and I’ve written quite a bit about my own nonlinear history there. Now we’re a year out from the last lockdown and my family’s attendance on Sunday has been sparse since restrictions lifted — a fact about which my husband and I possess no small amount of ambivalence. Like most things that matter, the issue is … complicated.

Our two boys spent much of their early lives in children’s church on Sundays (one even bum-rushed the Lord’s table after returning to “grownup church” one week, providing an apt illustration of grace that I still cling to). They were baptized as babies in communities that we trusted and felt a part of. They have asked Jesus into their hearts and talk about God often, along with their ideas of what heaven is like (let’s just say there better be basketball). But Covid interrupted, for them (and us), what was a patchy level of attendance since we’ve arrived in Australia, the reasons for which I’ve discussed before. Our older son, being autistic (and his mother, having her own reasons), finds entering unfamiliar environments to be overwhelming. This doesn’t mean we don’t ever do it, but it does mean that we do so treading carefully, acknowledging his comfort levels. Entering an environment that is uneducated as to his neurotype (and, to be honest, doesn’t show a whole lot of interest in doing that homework) is a harder sell than a pub choir on a Tuesday night. I just finished co-leading a neurodiversity day at his school, so I have no problem providing resources for those who sincerely seek to understand and accommodate those with additional needs. But in my experience, beyond the perfunctory “let us know how we can help,” the church hasn’t taken much initiative in supporting the “different” in their midst. 

If Paul Tillich is right and the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, then my journey through such terrain has led to a deeper faith. The angriest people I know are also the most certain, and over time I grew tired of being one of them. God led me through singleness and New York and disability and Sydney and all sorts of geography I’d never planned to cover, and the traveling has led to more questions than all the answers I used to have — more honest not knowing than falsely confident knowing. Jacob wrestled with God and popped out a hip; I have hip pain too (thanks, middle age) but my own wrestles with God are evidenced in heart change, in an openness to ideas and people I was never willing to consider or approach back before God became my travel agent. 

Maybe that’s one of the most profound ways God loves us — on the other six days of the week — by showing us how our ultimate belonging resides in him, no matter where we are. I do ache for the sort of corporate worship that I know I’m made for — the heavenly kind — and, to some degree, its earthly form too. But until we find a church community (and maybe, as one pastor’s wife told me recently and graciously, that’s an if, which Whitney might call not right but okay) it’s hard for me to settle for a version that isn’t committed to whom the world calls “the least of these” (spoiler alert: there is no least about them). Like the group who showed up at the rooftop where my friend and I had dinner before the pub choir — ten or so disabled adults with their carers who shared dinner at a long table as the servers at the restaurant addressed their wants and accommodated their needs. I know Jesus as the carpenter who builds such tables in the wilderness, not just at the front of church spaces. The wilderness that will soon lead to the promised land. In the meantime, we can bum rush those (fully accessible) tables wherever we find them.

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One response to “On Pub Choirs and Wilderness Tables”

  1. Is there any chance that I may share this essay on the SIDE STREET GOD website (link below)? Of course, with full credit and live links to this page and Mockingbird and a bio.

    SIDE STREET GOD is about finding God along the side streets of life. The website has been active just for a few months with many contributing pieces along the way.

    Thank you,
    Peace & Light

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