It was Facebook that delivered me to Liberty Church. A friend from college posted a video that caught my eye; it looked like a trailer for a Sundance short or a promotional video for a well-funded line of men’s accessories. I clicked, and was met with sweeping shots of the New York City skyline and two beautiful faces: Paul and Andi Andrew. They could be J. Crew models, but they are pastors, and the video was the story of their church, of how they left ministry positions at one of the most powerful megachurches in the world, Hillsong Sydney, and moved to New York, where they knew no one, because God asked them to.
I closed the video and wrote my friend an email. “Tell me about your church?” He responded immediately, because he is a good friend, and invited me to come check out Liberty for myself, because he is a good evangelical.
One of the best things about Pushcart is the variety; not just the variety of fiction mixed with poetry and non-fiction, but variety within those genres. The non-fiction, for example, ranges from memoir to essay to thought piece to the undefinable. And included in that is some real journalism, first-person investigations of things as diverse as an interstate rest stop, a gathering of Juggalos, and this piece on the Liberty Church of NYC, which in summer 2013, included in its ministry visits to Montauk dance clubs to invite partiers to worship at a “pop-up church” housed at the Wash Out Bar the next morning.
I find it interesting that my religious biography is very similar to Jordan Kisner, but with very different results: we both were ardent evangelicals for about five years in late childhood / early adolescence (she from age 9 to 14, me from 11 to 16). That’s where the similarity ends. She seems to have shed those years like a skin and moved on, whereas I still struggle with the trauma. Maybe her more gentle separation – she simply lost interest – is why her article, while factual and (at least as far as I can tell, since I can’t know what’s omitted) objective, is quite positive.
She explains that, as she was preparing to travel to Montauk, a number of happy coincidences fell into place: a house became available, as did a car for transportation, and a cop didn’t stop her for speeding. Then she reports on the church service itself, led by Pastor Green:
Imagine the way God loves you, he told us. You are completely and totally known. He sees the depths of your heart…
Right then, something happened that I wasn’t expecting, which is that I remembered what it feels like to be a Christian, or what it felt like for me. There’s a membrane between imagining God’s love as a thought experiment and experiencing it as absolute reality, and if you slip across it the entire known universe breaks open and then reorders itself to be more whole and beautiful than you thought was possible. I had forgotten. It’s a tragedy you can’t truly explain what this feels like, the safety and wonder and rest and joy and shattering humility and crazy peace, because when you feel it all you want is for everyone else to feel it too. It’s like you’ve been let in on the most magnificent secret and all you want is to bring everyone else along, because if everyone knew the secret it could solve every problem in the world. This is what Christians call, in a terrific understatement, “the Good News.” This is also called grace. Sitting in that converted bar, I got maybe seven seconds of a vivid memory of grace, and the echo alone was enough to remember why people who do wild things to spread it: they’re filled up with a love so great it demands to be given away.
First-person, experiential journalism. I understand that point of view. My experience has been very different. But it’s not my article.
“If you look at Jesus’s life, he did missional Christianity,” Jessi said. “He went where people were broken. It’s so cheesy, but what would Jesus do? I really do feel that Jesus would, like, be hanging out with the homeless in Union Square.” She inclined her chin toward me and smiled a little lopsidedly. “I think Jesus would be hanging out in the clubs.”
The Liberty kids spent most of Saturday on the beach, listening to the new One Republic album and getting tan. When I arrived, it was like I’d stumbled across a group of extras from 90210: Jessi, voluptuous and tan in her bikini; Jessi’s friends Gracie and Monica, bleached blondes with curled and lacquered eyelashes; Leah, with her waist-length hair…
Where’d the homeless from Union Square go?
I freely admit my own bias: an instinctive suspicion of both “cool, hip” religion and anything that smacks of 90210 and voluptuous blondes in bikinis. Yes, I have such a negative attitude towards organized religion, which makes my take on this article suspect. Yet I know some strongly religious people, and I admire them. What’s interesting is that I only found out they’re religious by accident, and we’ve never discussed belief at all. It’s just that they are people who embody grace in the sense I understand it: the bestowing of unearned kindness with no strings, just because that’s what they’re here for. It’s like they’re wearing a delicious perfume, one you can’t quite identify, and at some point you just have to ask what it is. And that, to me, is evangelism.