Attending the Church of None

This past Friday night I attended a church service of sorts at one of the many Church of Nones throughout the fine city of New York.  Such churches have been popping up more and more in the outer boroughs.  Whereas as a youth I would go to lower Manhattan for church I now find myself going to the northern reaches of Brooklyn where it is rather stinky and all kinds of cool.

Nonetheless, church was packed.  In fact, it was sold out.  The narthex/welcome area had overpriced craft beers that I had never heard of.  Though, they did have Yuengling which seems to be rarer fare these days as microbreweries make beer drinking so much more technical than I ever imagined it could be.  They even had pizza, though I wasn’t hungry enough to divulge myself on what was probably another overpriced item that has taken on a new definition of hip and chic.  No matter I could block out such vestiges of the newer lamer New York for the liturgy that was to take place in just a short amount of time of my arrival.

Thus, the door at the back of the welcome area gave way to the sanctuary which had its typical regalia.  A narrow rectangular room with a sound booth in the back, nestled away from the chaos and danger that would ensue in a few moments, a dance floor with a pole in the middle and, of course, a fine stage about two feet above the ground.

The band was setting up while the previous band was breaking down and more people pushed into the small space like sardines in a can.  These people had come to release the angst of their lives, to connect with one another physically and emotionally and to sing songs that had gotten them through their toughest days.  It was now time to take part in a liturgy of sweat, kicks, fists, pushes, jumps and whatever else the music would bring upon the soul.  Tonight I was just a spectator still trying to get over a terrible cold I had had for the past two weeks.  I would sing along but remain in the safer confines of the room.

A sign that things were about to begin was the prelude music that began to play over the sound system. It was the Clockwork Orange version of Beethoven’s “The Funeral of Queen Mary”.  This music could also be likened to the music that preps a people for an altar call.  It sets the perfect mood for what was about to come: chaos.  The music over, now comes the opening bass line followed by guitar and snare drum and the dance floor opens up.  Bodies are thrown, people rush the stage, the singer growls, and the people yell along as if their lives depended upon it.  Thus, there are the typical call and responses throughout:

A: World peace can’t be done!
C: World peace!
A: It just can’t exist.
C: World peace!
A: World peace can’t be done.
C: World peace!

In those opening moments a disjointed host of individuals from all over the NY metro area becomes a well oiled body of rage. A force that would scare the living shit out of any passer-by, particularly of the gentrified persuasion.  A voice is given to the frustration that so many intuit from the fragmentation and alienation of postmodern life. Here, such yelling and such rage is allowed.  Out there, it’s rude and unseemly.

As more a spectator for the evening I noticed something powerful.  As the liturgy moves from song to song with cries of “I just can’t get through to youuuuuuuu!” and guttural yells of “Overpower! Overcome!” they enter into a different arena.  Bravado and cynicism gives way to spiritual seeking and existential angst, we go from bumping to grooving, from yelling to singing to such words…

“Searching and searching for something real
You gotta know how I feel
‘Cause we been looking after the truth
Rejected those lies of our youth”

And one of my favorites,

“You come into this world
With nothing except yourself
You, you leave this world
With nothing except yourself”

What’s fascinating is the passion with which these songs are sung, a crowd seemingly malignant towards any sort institutional religion is knowingly, willingly and passionately singing along to themes derived from the Bhagavad Gita. Without a doubt, this is a liturgy, a work of these people.  A people giving vent to what they intuit within and around them.  Not everything can be reduced to a petty narcissistic materialism, a hodge podge of consumerist habadashery with the purpose of filling the gaps of our lives.  No!  This can’t be so!  This much we know and so we cry out.

And so this liturgy carries us onwards and it gets hotter and sweatier.  In effect, the sanctuary turns into a sweat lodge.  Maybe some have visions while others find themselves on the edge of blacking out.  No matter, a cleansing takes place, a baptism of sorts, sweating out the toxins of anger repressed, gratification denied, love rejected, and joy deferred.  Such is given expression in the blazing guitar and growling vocals.

After 40 minutes the Church of None is about to end its service for the evening but not without giving final voice to everyone in the room.  Calls and responses, the last opportunities to get it all out.

A: Notice everywhere there’s mass confusion and packs of lies
C: We gotta know!
A: We’re staring down our enemies in the eyes
C: We gotta know!
A: These are the days of the cheaters and the cheated
C: We gotta know!
A: But we’re not gonna bend you know we won’t be defeated
C: We gotta know!

And, of course, last but not least:

C: Hard times! Hard times!
A: Seems I’m being forced into a mold
C: Hard times! Hard times!
A: Forcing me and I’m growing cold

With that it spirals to an end with a long cry and the convergence of all the instruments culminating in a few punching explosions of strong notes reverberating one last time.  Instruments freed and let go for the evening.

“Good night! Thankyou! Peace!” says the singer.

Followed by applause and yells of appreciation church is over.  Some opt to stick around to hang out at the welcome area, maybe buy a shirt or some merch, drink beer or get their much needed water.  Others quickly leave.  The minute they step into the cold the steam rises off of them.   A sign of their visceral cleansing.  Toxins have been released and calm begins to set in as they head back into the world.  The Church of None has done its job.  It has fed, comforted and renewed those who gathered.

Until next time.


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