As the chat window faded away we stumbled across the grass in silent shock. Had we really just fallen through our computer screens? A butterfly fluttered in the corner of my vision as, with a shriek of joy, Ree jumped forward to knock me sideways with a hug. Thankfully the grass was soft. The nice thing about virtual enthusiasm is it doesn't leave bruises.
A picnic had been prepared beneath a tree in the middle of the large meadow in this alternate space. Convenient. I poured chai out of a flowering teapot as Ree sampled a dark-chocolate-drizzled shortbread cookie, and grinned in appreciation as the butterfly landed on her hair. Sunglasses on a butterfly? She offered it a crumb, which it accepted politely, then took another bite of cookie.
"I want your opinion," she said, with her mouth closed ... because she was chewing. "A couple times I've had friends tell me about some hardships they're going through and there's a judgment component because of the church, or family traditions and such. Worries they'll be rejected by those they love ... well, not accepted? Maybe not rejected."
She sat down and took the teacup from mid-air, where I'd left it for her. "I say, 'God is God, the church is the church. ' Getting to know God is an ongoing process and we have logical fallacies ..."
"Oh, don't we just!" I exclaimed, nearly spilling my tea.
"... that have given lonnnnngevity," her hands waved toward the horizons in an expansive gesture, "to some beliefs."
She laughed at me, then sighed. "Ah ... that's harsh to say, isn't it? It's all technical, how we look at God ... and not about the spirit of him."
"That's just true." I grinned. "And it's the nice version, too, since I would say the church as a whole is just as clueless about God as the rest of the world ... the primary difference being they claim to know an awful lot."
"Now individuals who love like a church would if they meant it?" I took a bite of cookie, thankful for the perfect flavor, and that there were no crumbs to make a mess. "That's a different story, even though some of them don't think they're in the church at all. I'm not talking doctrine.... I'm talking living from relationship with a being who designed relationship."
Ree nodded and the butterfly took off across the field, its sunglasses shimmering in the sunlight. "I'm looking at it like ... 'churchy' people have the drive to have God as a proclaimed focus, while those who ... you can see his spirit in them will show that whether in or out of 'churchy' contexts?"
I shrugged and offered a sip of my tea to a nearby rabbit. "I think you see God is present and alive in connection with someone ... because it's always clearly visible when it's there. But the people who talk the loudest are like the Pharisees and I have trouble believing high-volume claims."
"I know." She hesitated for a moment. "Judging hard."
"Well ... you know ... God uses them, too." I watched the rabbit dump the tea to examine the cup's label and wondered how this environment added to our conversation. "I guess ... I can't imagine a God who is big enough to keep everything running, and who promises it will turn out good, being out maneuvered. So ... that presence is there even in the people who don't have ... an obvious light. How can I say it ... it drips through even the tightest cover, because our facade is always broken."
Ree jumped to her feet with a shout, startling the rabbit into breaking the teacup. "Ahhhhhhha! I think something clicked. I was feeling bad. It felt like I was ... uh ... undermining the church, and that I was telling my friends to not sweat the incongruity. But it is just what it is ... and it's like having different shades on the same flashlight."
I laughed. "You know those ones with the tiny holes? Like, a blackout flashlight? Maybe that's why we're told not to hide our light under a container. People say ... 'I'm the light!' ... when we're the container. And it's the cracks and openings where the light pours through, you know?"
"And they make people think, 'If that's the light I'm still in the dark.'" She took the teacup fragments from the confused rabbit and gave it a cookie instead.
I stroked the petals of the rose blooming out of the teapot. "When changing language redefines the actual thing a word refers to, nobody will be aware of it in the next generation. You might call a rose a cabbage and a cabbage a rose. While people will no longer want to smell the roses, they will find cabbages appealing. The old sayings, taken literally, will no longer make sense to anyone."
Ree smoothed the edges of the cup and held them together gently as the ceramic melted together again. "So ... it was okay? What I said? I just have to clear up that I'm not discrediting the church. I'm just saying that the aim to understand completely is way above what people can do."
I took the rebuilt cup and refilled it. "Hon, I say far worse, so asking me is like ..." I hesitated, then took a sip of the tea, unable to come up with a suitable phrase.
She laughed. "That's why I wanted your input."
I set down the cup and stared at her mischievous expression. "You do realize I'm not the best example. I try to be reasonable, but I do speak from a place of pain."
She grinned. "But that's why you're a good example!"
I couldn't help but laugh.
"You were tested." She bit her lip. "You are ... still.... We all get ..."
The butterfly drifted between us, its sunglasses glinting like tiny computer screens as it rode the breeze.
I nodded as the scene faded. "Well, I still have the rest of my life to clarify the matter, so we'll see."