By Brett Younger
The parking lot has several versions of “Co-exist” and “God loves the whole world no exceptions” bumper stickers, a “Leslie Knope for President,” and, on the same Prius, an “I’m too poor to vote Republican.” The sign on the sanctuary door says, “Leave your cell phone at home.” More recycling bins than you knew there were types of recycling line the wall.
Sixty gentle people gather in another church’s building on Sunday afternoon. They could be dressed for a picnic — hiking sandals, Buddy Holly glasses, turquoise jewelry and wooden cross necklaces. The congregation includes men with gray ponytails, a few Mennonites, a Jewish guy, a philosophy professor, three potters and the carver who made the communion plates.
The chairs are in a circle. Banners cover the walls. Candles, at least one of which is amber vanilla, sit on the unused piano. Three guitars lean against the organ that has been pushed to the side. They had a canvas labyrinth for a while, but then they had to return it to the Episcopalians.
As worshippers enter, they are given prayer stones, which were regular stones an hour ago.
The chiming of the hour is on a dulcimer. The music is James Taylor, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Mumford and Sons before they went electric. Sometimes they sing a stanza in Spanish with bad accents. When the hymn is Softly and Tenderly they change “O Sinner” to “Beloved” — which does not quite work.
The prayers of the people take 20 minutes because someone has an epic poem to share. They pray not just for cousins with back trouble, but for those on death row, the hungry and victims of war. They pray for the city council meeting where the church’s political action committee will be arguing that homeless people should be allowed to have camp fires during the winter. The congregation takes the chaos of the world so seriously that the worship includes silence. When a child dies, words are insufficient.
Several women knit throughout the sermon, which is a call to live against the grain. Christians are to “tell the truth in a world that lies, give in a world that takes, make peace in a world that fights, care for the environment in a world that feels little concern for creation and carry a cross in a world that crucifies those who love.”
The children take the gluten-free body of Christ first. There is both non-alcoholic and real wine blood of Jesus.
They pass the peace with gusto. “The peace of Christ be with you” sounds like “I love seeing your face.”
When the primary worship traditions in the United States are named, the list usually consists of “Liturgical, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Contemporary.” Some of Jesus’ favorites are overlooked. If the Yellow Pages still exist, they still do not have a category for “Churches — Hippie,” but they should.
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus loves hippie churches. Jesus walks everywhere. He travels with a band of troubadours. He hikes in the mountains. He talks to God.
Jesus does not work in an office. He spends time with social outcasts. He has strong words about hypocrites. He criticizes the establishment.
Jesus loves birds and flowers. He says that peacemakers are the children of God. He would fit right in at a drum circle.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sounds like the preacher at a hippie church: “If you decide to live for God, you won’t need a steak on the table or care whether the collar on your shirt’s frayed. You won’t get caught up in trivialities like diamond rings. Blue jeans are plenty comfortable. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, singing their songs, care free in the love of God. They don’t worry about climbing the corporate ladder and yet God cares for them. No matter how many nips and tucks you get or how often you have your hair highlighted, you’re wasting every minute you spend in front of the mirror. Instead of walking through Saks Fifth Avenue and looking for what’s in fashion, walk through the fields and look at the scarlet poppies. They never primp, but have you ever seen colors so beautiful? Bradley Cooper looks like a Baptist minister when compared with wild flowers. If God gives attention to flowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think God will care for you?”
Jesus loves congregations filled with peaceful souls who are willing to walk out of step from the crowd. We need more hippie churches, because most of us are too at ease in the world. We are not nearly uncomfortable enough with the way things are.