Monday, December 25, 2006

Oh Ye Of Little Faith--My Relationship With A Church

This is a pretty nice photo of a church in Sebastopol, California. It is something like 140 years old and considered a landmark and is on multiple heritage listings in the area-- meaning societies have formed to come around and look at this building as an artifact and an oddity in our modern age. Weird people with nothing better to do than to admire old buildings go to meetings and talk about this structure and eat cookies and sip decaffienated coffee late in the evenings...


So why am I showing you this? This is as close to God as I have ever gotten.

I am serious!

Today for me is the waning hours of Christmas day and I got on the computer looking to buy a new computer and I was glancing through my collection of funny photos and saw a picture of a child seemingly giving fellatio to a priest in a stained glass depiction and it reminded me of many things that have nothing to do with fellatio whatsoever. It reminded me of the stained glass window I was instrumental in getting installed in this Methodist's Church, and that reminded me of the first time I worked on this church, and pretty soon I had figured out that there was some interesting things going on in my mind, and I better write them down lest I get conked in the head again and forget them.

God does work in mysterious ways!

This post could easily drift into my entire belief system, and why I am not a Christian and why my belief in God is hazy at best, and all the years and insights and searches I have swam through to get to my particular set of celestial indices, but I don't wanna go there. Not really. I'll just piss somebody off because I don't believe what they believe and then I'll have to threaten them with an arm wrestling match to see who was right (might makes right) and then I'll make somebody feel bad cause I always win...

I don't want to do that on Christmas. Not me. No way...

This post then, is gonna tell you about the effect I have had on this building over the years, and the things I got up to while somehow being called back to this building, again and again. Now that might sound a bit boring to some people... and to those people I say "Wanna arm wrestle?"

Let me explain. No wait. Here, read this first--
(From the church's very own website)

1979-1987 Rev. William Joseph Marx-- In 1981 our church was designated an historical building by the West Sonoma County Historical Society. It is the piece of property in Sebastopol that has been owned the longest by a single private owner.

For many years there had been water leakage around the south wall of the sanctuary. In 1980, the trustees, headed by Will Roberts, discovered that the wall was full of dry rot and unsafe. Some people felt we could not raise the money to repair it at an estimated cost of $100,000. In the end, due to the prodigious volunteer labor of Jim Henningsen, Charles Fellers and others, the repair was completed at a cost of $99,248. In March of 1985 the congregation was informed that the wood inside the dome of the bell tower, two pillars holding up the dome and the roof area above the bell were full of dry rot. The bell could not be used until this was fixed. $9,000 was raised to repair the dome, reinforce the bell supports and repair the plaster in the sanctuary...


They wrote about ME!

In March of 1985... all that was about ME! Woohoohoo! I am in that paragraph as a prime player, the number one ripper-upper and tearer-outer and fixer-upper in that whole paragraph. Me. Yes me. The Godless one. And I spent the money I earned from that on BEER and GIRLS! I swear I did! In Japan of all non-Christian godless places!

Oh what a world!

I was home from abroad for a Visa thing and a short shout to my family and I called an old Christian contractor I knew and this is what he had been asked to do and did I want to do it? You betcha! I was young and it was directly across the street from the Sebastopol High School and their girls were always the hottest in the county and I was going to be high up in the air which I have always been fond of and what do you mean the dome is about to fall over? With us underneath? Really?


So the two of us, Mr. Believer, whose name was Gene, and myself, armed with hammers and sledge hammers and cold chisels and metal snips and plenty of duct tape across the back of the knuckles, tore into that dome from the inside out. We beat up the stucco until it was a pulverized pile of sand and limestone memories three stories below us, and we braced up each "leg" of the four legged dome and removed the entire wooden contents piece by piece and knuckle bleed by knuckle bleed. Gene was a talker and a "social" worker and so he spent most of his time trying to get on the congregations good side while he left me to sweat and struggle and pound and tear out and saw and fit and rebuild. It took us probably eight days to have all the carpenter parts done, and then we called in a stucco guy to repatch our work.

We hired a crane and a driver to put me in a basket and move me around the outside of the dome, where I hung out of the basket or hung from its side and repaired all of the stucco cracks that were causing the leaks and rot to begin with. The dome is the third story of the building which sits over a story off of the street, so the crane we got was a lanky one, and the swings he made, were quite wonky.

The local newspaper photographer came over and took a few photos of me hanging out on this basket, and made me famous for an afternoon by putting the picture on the front page of our local newspaper.

The girls from the High School were starting to gather and flirt with me which made my days go faster but my work go slower.

And the whole time Gene and I were working on this dome, I was questioning Gene and his belief system, which was an interesting exercise in and of itself.

"What do you mean there were no Dinosaurs? What about all those bones?"

"Why would an intelligent designer put vestigial legs on whales? Mysterious? I'll say!"

"How could a guy get lost in a desert that you can mountain bike across in a day? What the heck was wrong with him? And God chose HIM? Whooboy!"

"How in the heck did they know Mary was a virgin? I mean, WHO checked her out?"

And other worksite perturbations from a young man not easily convinced of anything...

We got the dome rebuilt and inspected and as you can see from the photo, it is still standing twenty years later, which is less of a miracle than one would want to believe, as we really over-built those legs the second time around Can you imagine doing shoddy work on a church? Talk about guilt needing redemption...

And then 12 years after that, almost nine years ago, I was invited to a costume party and returned to a room underneath the school side of this church, where our local Junior College theatre department had rented space to house its costumes. I was invited to come and rummage through ALL of the costumes and pick one out I liked. Ever play in a giant room full of theatre costumes? Man oh man, is that a fun way to spend an evening. There were nine or ten of us, and we tried on so many things we were losing track of the clothes we came in with. I settled on one of the only costumes that fit me all over, and that was a costume of The Pope.

Yep. I went to a bar, got reasonably drunk, danced with a beautiful lesbian from France for most of the night while trying to hold on to my hat and keep the pious ones from kissing my ring, and then blessed everybody at the door as they were leaving, wishing them all safe journeys home. As my last act as Pope I staggered around back looking for my truck and peed in some bushes. I swear. Was that a sacrilege?

And apparently God didn’t get too mad at me, because he asked me back to that church AGAIN! To do more work. To make bodily sacrifices for the good of the people. To sacrifice my off time, my sleep and more of the skin off my knuckles and to make me famous again and put me on the front page of the local newspaper...

I swear to God!

This is a painting of a window done by an old lady who played a mean game of Scrabble, did a zippy bit of crossword work, was the mother to a bunch of nutter children and lived on a large bit of acreage that had an old vineyard on it that never quite got up and running like a vineyard should. Her name was Helen and I knew her because we held Folk music festivals on her property once a year for many years, and I was involved with getting the site ready, meaning her property.

She belonged to this church and was a regular Sunday visitor, and she painted this depiction of Christ and a bunch of kids, and donated it to the church to use as the design for their stained glass window, the focal point of the church.

Her husband Dwight was a microwave engineer still commuting and working down in Silicon Valley, and I got to know him as well, sharing bread with their family and helping out on some of Helen's tougher words when she got stuck. "Try zeitgiest... It fits? Cool..."

So, as the universe would have it, Helen designed the picture and her husband designed the frames that were to hold the new stained glass, and a stained glass artists was commissioned to do the work and all was well except that there were two sets of frames. One set fit into the existing arched window, and then the stained glass pieces each had a frame that fit into the pre-installed frames. This way, a frame could be made to be waterproof to the building and then the second frame could be easily sealed into the first frame, and yaddy yaddy yaddy. Who was going to install the first frames?

That's where I came in.

Everything had been scheduled way ahead of time, and the stained glass artist was flying in to install her windows into the frames I installed on a Friday. From there, she was flying out on Monday for Europe, to another job. Saturday was to be the unveiling and the ceremony for the congregation to come and thank Helen for designing the image, and the other woman for making the image in glass. Sunday morning all the church service regulars would get to OOOOh and AAAhhh and Hallelujah and stuff at the new window as they sang songs and sat in pews...

Dwight figured if I came in on Wednesday morning, it would give me an entire day to take out a bunch of glazed-in glass colored panels, and install the frames. I would have an additional day if I needed it on Thursday, and Friday was for the artist to install her work.

Here. Read this--

In the Spring of 1997, the large glass window in our Sanctuary was transformed into a work of art.
Stained glass artisan Susan Wagner was commissioned to convert renowned artist Helen Caswell's painting of Jesus and the Children into a beautiful stained glass creation. It honors and memorializes many beloved people of the church. Completed in the Fall of 1998, the window is a spectacular sight. In February of 1999, a dedication ceremony was held, and the community had a chance to meet both of the talented window artists, Helen Caswell and Susan Wagner.

Do you see anything in that that says the fucking frames didn't fit? I don't. I surely do not.

They didn't fit! The arcs on the tops of the wooden window frames are not perfect arcs. They are flat arcs. They do not stay a consistent distance from a center point. Do you know what that means! It means you can't take two measurements and assume you have an arc. You can't send a description of an arc to a metal fabrication shop and have them duplicate it when you don't have a frigging arc!

And I found this out at about three in the afternoon on Wednesday, after I had carefully and quietly gone about removing all of the stained glass panels and saved them for my sister (who does stained glass), and then carefully cleaned all of the grooves out, removing all traces of old glazing and glazing points. I even wiped down the wood with an oil varnish stain to hide all the scratches, and then picked up the first frame sitting there and holy mother of jesus! It didn't fit! Dwight had not done the simple thing, which was to make a copy of the space with paper. Instead, he made an ass out of his engineering self by assuming he lived in a perfect world where things that appeared to be perfect arcs actually were.

Not these arcs. I mean, they were too big by almost an inch! And there was no way you could remake or rebend the arcs. The glass had been made to fit a frame that fit perfectly into these frames that DID NOT fit into the 140 year old imperfectly arced wooden window frames.

Which was my job!

So now I had a day and a little bit to somehow remake the wooden frames and have them ready for the metal frames which were to recieve the frames holding the glass by the very busy and renowned glass artist. Thank God there was a Safeway supermarket directly across the street. I was gonna need sugar and coffee, and lots of it.

The window was about eighteen feet off of the ground, and then as you can see, the church sat on a bit of a small knoll, so if you were on the street, I was maybe twenty-eight feet above you. I had to do all the work while standing up inside the window on ladders, hooking my legs on the cross pieces and hanging out. The solution was not technical, but it required lots of patience and time. I had to hand router out the frames, then use some very sharp chisels to clean up my work and make a perfect arc where none existed.

I worked till two am the first night, and then went home and slept four. I came back and worked all the next day and into the night. Some guy stopped in the Safeway parking lot at about ten at night and kept taking my picture. I was hanging in this big window all backlit by the church's interior lights, and I imagined the shots he was getting. I hammed it up good for him, and one of my hammier ones made the next days' front page on its lower right hand corner. Woohoohoo. To get things right, I stayed up the entire night Thursday, and was in the window sanding and getting ready to re-oil and seal Friday morning when the female Pastor (priestess? Hell, I don't know!) came in and climbed up into the balcony where I was and looked up at me with her irate hands on her hips and asked-- "Are you gonna be done in time?"

I looked down at her all dressed in purple velvety stuff, looking like Hugh Hefner's chubby housekeeper, her arms akimbo and her face a grumpy chunk of chubbiness, and I said very earnestly-- "Oh, Ye Of Little Faith!"

Now I thought it was funny.

Everybody who I tell the story to thought it was funny.

This pious woman of God who writes sermons and tells people how to live their lives just looked at me with squinty icky eyes, her hands still on her hips, and asked-- "You wouldn't lie to me now, would you? I've got a lot riding on this."

"Yeah yeah yeah," I said. "The frames will be in in an hour. It'll be fine."

"Good." she said, and waddled off.

I worked with the stained glass artist all Friday to make sure her frames went in properly, and because the screws Dwight had designed into the frames were too fine threaded and impossible for her to get started without cross-threading. I missed the "ceremony" because I was exhausted and went out to the beach to take a nap on Saturday. I missed the Sunday service as per usual, and I have no idea what the female chubby Pastor said about me, or whether or not she put in a good word for me to the man upstairs or not.

The following Saturday I found Dwight and wrung his neck as a joke, and then he took me down to my favorite pizza pub and bought me my favorite beer, because he really owed me one.

And if there is a biblical or religious message in this somewhere I don't see it, but God does work in mysterious ways, or so I have been told.

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Hammer said...

What a tale!

I can just see the pope pissing in the bushes...

I would have thrown a hammer at the priestess. You must have a good disposition.

Anonymous said...

God does work in mysterious ways, you can take it from me.

He's a close personal friend... most of the time.

CapricornCringe said...

I wouldn't arm wrestle you, but I would invite you to a stare contest. I always win those. I never blink first. Never.

Nancy Dancehall said...

"This post could easily drift into my entire belief system, and why I am not a Christian and why my belief in God is hazy at best, and all the years and insights and searches I have swam through to get to my particular set of celestial indices, but I don't wanna go there..."

Oh, do. Please. I think I typed up those indices.

Great freekin story, as always.