Friday, March 15, 2019

Revisiting 2015: Dorris, San Ysidro, Big River, and Ferndale (California's Compass Points)

In 2015, we planned to visit churches all over California. To get the year off to a big start (and incidentally to find out how we felt about spending hours and hours and hours in a car together) we decided to visit the furthest north, south, east, and west churches we could find in California. Each weekend that month, we drove up 10 hours (each way) for Sunday morning worship services. Here's what we wrote about that month's experiences.

GPS and us 
Garmin and I don't always agree. Not as smart as some GPS systems, Garmin doesn't know about road construction or traffic snafus. Garmin doesn't always understand that we want to see the ocean or the trees. But there are times when we do what Garmin says without question because we have no idea where we're going. Garmin usually comes through.

We'll be relying on Garmin a bit more this year as we begin a new adventure. We're taking our Church Pilgriming on the road, out of Sonoma County, visiting churches throughout California. Just to show (perhaps most of all to ourselves) that we're serious about seeing variety in the state, in the month of January we'll be going to a church as far north as we can, and then to a church as far south as we can go, then east, then west. And we'll be listening to Garmin on those weekends. Not always obeying, but listening.

In this New Year, we'll all be looking for direction one way or another; perhaps for vocation, finances or relationships. Or you might be looking for spiritual direction. You might be looking to grow in your relationship with God. But, of course, there's no spiritual Garmin.

Or perhaps there is. God's "Garmin" tools include Scripture, prayer, meditation, and counsel from wise friends. Perhaps even finding a good church where God speaks to you. Just a friendly traveling tip for the New Year: God's direction, unlike Garmin, always gets you where you need to be.

First Baptist Church of Dorris
Our plan this month is to go to churches at the far points of the compass, and this last weekend the compass pointed north. We didn't go "North by Northwest" as in the Hitchcock film or just "North" as in the Rob Reiner film that Roger Ebert wrote he "hated, hated, hated." No, we went northeast-- to the small town of Dorris, just below the Oregon border.

Coming out of the Christmas season, images of the North were fresh in mind; especially the North Pole populated by Santa, reindeer, elves, etc. We were pleased that there was, in fact, snow in the mountains and along the road to conform to that northern imagery.

I was curious about the imagery of "North" in the Bible and discovered that though it is often used as a direction (as one would expect from historical stories of battles and travels), it doesn't have a consistently positive or negative connotation. In Job 37: 22 we find "out of the north comes golden splendor, around God is awesome majesty." In Isaiah 14:31, however, "smoke comes from the north," and it's not a good thing. Of course, when the nation of Israel was divided, Judah became the Southern Kingdom. Israel was the Northern Kingdom and the first to fall.

As far north as we could go, ecclesiastically, in California, we found the First Baptist Church of Dorris. We mentioned to the pastor before the service the reasoning (such as it was) that brought us there, and he (and, in another conversation, his wife) was quick to point out that their congregation was actually part of their denomination's Northwest District in Oregon. But the church was still south of the California border, which is what mattered to us.

The sermon that morning was taken from I Timothy chapter 3, which begins with a discussion of the people of the last days. The pastor pointed out that we were now in "the future" of the Back to the Future films, wherein Marty McFly travels from 1985 to the hovercraft-filled time of 2015. I, at times, felt a sense of time travel in the service, but back in time to when I attended the Wikiup Evangelical Free Church in the 1970's.

At the beginning of the service, birthdays and anniversaries were recognized -- just as we did at WEFC back in the day, with the honoree putting money in a special offering box in the front, followed by a chorus of "Happy Birthday"(with a bonus recited blessing from the whole congregation). Many of the songs (led by the pastor's wife and accompanied by piano) were songs we sang when I was a kid, such as "Victory in Jesus" and "Wonderful Words of Life." There was a sense of family in the small congregation like that I'd felt as a child.

Before the service, during the service greeting time, and after the service, many people welcomed us warmly. We also saw the regulars greeting each other happily, with particular attention paid to the young children (who departed to their class after a few songs with the whole congregation). The bulletin included a word search to occupy kids while they were in the service, but most of the kids we saw looked a bit young for word puzzles.

We noticed drums in the front of the sanctuary, which went unused throughout the service. We don't know if there is a worship band in the 6:00 pm service, the Wednesday evening service, or in the Spanish language service that meets there on Sunday afternoons, but during while we were there, the only musical accompaniment besides the piano was recorded tracks to accompany a couple of choruses. The choruses were printed on the back of the bulletin, while the other songs were sung from one of the two hymnals on the back of the pews.

During the service a couple of different congregants -- possibly both were deacons -- were called on to pray. The pastor was the only Scripture reader. The sermon was a solid encouragement to read and follow God's Word in the New Year, buttressed by a testimony from a couple who has a ministry of giving out Bibles to the homeless.

Mindy and I were made to feel quite at home in the far north this Sunday morning.

Service length:                        58 minutes
Sermon length:                       23 minutes
Visitor treatment:                    There were no visitor's cards or other means to register our attendance. Visitors were not acknowledged in any special way during the service. But we were greeted by many before, during and after the worship service.
Our Rough Count:                  34
Probable Usher's Count:         40
Snacks:   No sign of 'em, but we don't know if coffee and/or treats were part of the earlier Sunday School hour (we think there were at least two adult classes).

"Victory in Jesus"
"Brethren, We Have Met to Worship"
"Wonderful Words of Life"
"We Have Heard the Joyful Sound"
"Ancient Words"
"Above All"
"Have You Been to Calvary"
Miles Travelled to Dorris:       312

The Rock Church, San Ysidro
When we arrived at a quarter to for the 8:00 am service at The Rock Church's SanYsidro location, there were many more volunteers and staff in view than attendees. San Ysidro High School (where the newest congregation of The Rock meets), hosts the southernmost congregation in California, at least from what we could figure with internet research. There was good signage when we got off the freeway, directing us to the church, and large signs and banners at the high school. A friendly volunteer in an Oakland Raiders sweatshirt under his safety vest directed us to a parking spot.

Entering the school theater that acts as the sanctuary, we were greeted by folks in black t-shirts reading, "Hello." A woman at the door handed me a bulletin and asked me if I needed a pen. "I know he's going to have you take notes," she said.  

It's a nice theater, capable of seating about 400 people. I assume the 10:00 am and noon services at the same location are better attended, but for the 8:00 am worship, the room was only about a quarter filled. Announcements flashed on the screen and a chiefly youngish crowd of mixed ethnicities leisurely filed in. 
We noticed the clock on a screen on the back wall, counting down the minutes and seconds until the service began. This is something we've seen in a lot of churches. Unique (in our experience, anyway) was the countdown that continued during the service for music sets, announcements, and even the sermon. There was a good reason for this.

The Rock is one church meeting at four locations (plus "micro-sites," which we forgot to ask about) throughout San Diego County. Combining the campuses, Rock Church is one of the largest churches in the country, with a weekly attendance of over 15,000 people in 18 weekly services. The church began in the year 2000, meeting on the campus of San Diego State University (my alma mater). The San Ysidro campus is the newest, begun in September of last year, and the church plans to begin services at yet another site in a few months.

Right at 8:00 am, we were welcomed (on the screen) by a youth pastor from another of the campuses. A little later, the "Campus Pastor" gave some announcements, live. He encouraged people to join small groups called "Life Groups," which meet in various homes throughout the week.  He said, "It's important to connect, so you'll be connected and stay connected." So, I've got to agree, thumbs up to connection.

A live worship band of three singers and four musicians didn't always follow their assigned time on the back screen, occasionally going a minute or two over. We found it interesting that there were no women in the band, and no women on stage or screen all morning (though women made up a fair percentage of the ushers and counseling team).

The congregation joined in enthusiastically with the worship, and it certainly wasn't a morning where the singing and performance of the worship band was the focus. We sang one verse of "Amazing Grace" in Spanish as part of the "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" medley. (During the second two services of the morning, Spanish translation was available, but not for our 8:00 am service. During the sermon, the pastor mentioned he was working to learn Spanish.)

Miles McPherson, a former football player with the San Diego Chargers and MDiv grad from Azusa Pacific University, appeared on the screen (as I assume he appeared in two other campuses, but one live). He preached from Esther on the need to seize the Kairos Moments God gives us (a topic of a series we heard at another multicampus church, Santa Rosa Methodist, last year). McPherson is a quite appealing personality (though I thought of my youngest daughter's feminist sensibilities when he illustrated the story of Esther's beauty regimen with remarks about his wife's moisturizing).

There was an altar call at the end of the sermon for a commitment to Christ or a recommitment, and seven people came forward. This was introduced by McPherson on the screen, but the campus pastor prayed and instructed those who came forward, shaking their hands and facilitating their meeting with members of a team wearing "Altar Call" t-shirts.

After a closing song, there was an announcement about giving. Plates weren't passed, but we were encouraged to give in one of three ways: drop off money in a box in the lobby, give online or give via text message.

A missionary friend of mine once said, "If you can't plant a church in Southern California, you can't plant a church anywhere." Whether this statement is fair or not, it looks like this four-month-old plant is off to a good start.

Service Length:                       1 hour 17 minutes
Sermon Length:                      36 minutes (counting introductory prayer)
Visitor Treatment:                   We were greeted warmly by a number of volunteers, but no special attention to visitors. There was a form in the bulletin for updating information, but no mention of what to do with it.
Our Rough Count:                  106
Actual! Ushers' Count:           112 (we overheard one usher telling another)
Snacks:                                    We saw a room with coffee and (we think) snacks, but it seemed to be for the volunteers. With the rainy weather, a variety of things like the bookstore had been moved inside, so possibly coffee was normally available outside.
Songs:                                      "Our Father"
                                                "You are Faithful"
                                                "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"
                                                "We Glorify Your Name"
Miles to place:                         566

Big River Baptist Church

If you drive twelve hours to go to a worship service, you don't want to be late. It's especially frustrating when you were really there in time; you just didn't know it was time. This last weekend we were going to the furthest east church we could find, and that was part of the reason we were late.

When I thought about "east" in Scripture, my first thought was Genesis 4:16, "So Cain left the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden." Steinbeck used that verse to name a novel, of course. It makes one think of "East" as being away from paradise and away from God. Some travelers in the Mojave Desert of the eastern edge of California might have thought that was appropriate, but it's not the case when one reaches Big River -- not an incorporated city, but a beautiful resort spot on the Colorado River.

Anyway, again, the Big River Baptist Church being east is really why we were late for church. During the week, Mindy called the church and left a message asking about the worship time. And the pastor of the church kindly returned her call and let her know that Sunday School started at 9:00 am and the worship service started at 10:00 am.

We spent Saturday night in Needles, about an hour away from Big River, because the only motel in Big River was closed for renovations. We enjoyed the drive through the desert and arrived to see people pulling up to the church at 9:00 am (we assumed for Sunday School, and were happy and impressed that so many were in attendance). We decided to walk around the town and look at the river before church. We should have gotten a clue from a sign for a community event that posted the time of the event with the words "Arizona Time" in parentheses.

We went back to the church at quarter to ten and heard music inside. "Oh, they sing during Sunday School," I thought. But we went down to the sanctuary and looked inside. The pastor was approaching the pulpit to preach. We snuck into the back row of the reasonably full sanctuary, and it became obvious to us it was the worship service, not Sunday School, especially when the man next to Mindy offered us his bulletin.

After the service, we learned that even though the church is in California, it goes by Arizona time (which, in the winter, is one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time). The Colorado River, which is the border, is almost within sight of the church, and driving to the bridge which crosses the state line takes about five minutes. The 10:00 am starting time was 9:00 am California time.

According to the bulletin, we missed opening prayer, the welcome, announcements, two hymns, prayer time and the tithes and offerings. Since that all took 45 minutes, my guess is (partly based on the many requests listed on the back of the bulletin) they spend a good deal of time in prayer.

But we werein time for the sermon, so I'll talk about that. The title was "Ashamed of the Gospel" with Romans 1: 16 & 17 as the opening text. The pastor argued that being hesitant to share the Gospel is equivalent to being ashamed of the Gospel. He said we must present the true Gospel, not one of the false Gospels floating around these days. He mentioned the false Gospels of Religion, Materialism, and Liberalism. (Talking about the Gospel of Liberalism, he described it as the Gospel of "I'm okay; you're okay, so God must love me. But He doesn't -- God hates us as we are. Our sin turns His stomach." I think I understand what he was getting at, but that's not how I'd phrase it.)

He presented the true Gospel as being through faith in Christ's death on the cross. And the sermon ended with an altar call, either to trust in Christ or commit to the church. We sang the first verse of "Trust and Obey" during the call, but no one came forward.

We had a very nice time talking with the pastor and his wife after the service. After discussing Pacific Standard vs. Mountain Standard Time, we discussed the demographics of the congregation. Many of those who attend during this season are "snowbirds" (retirees who come down for the warm climate during the winter.) A different crowd populates the area for river recreation during the summer, and attendance usually suffers, often dropping by half (but the pastor said it is getting better).

The pastor and his wife said they'd like us to visit again. That is one tough thing about this current gig we've undertaken. Whenever we're invited to return, we know it won't happen for a couple of years -- though we would like to be there for a whole service.

Service length:                          1 hour 30 minutes
Sermon length:                          35 minutes
Visitor treatment:                      We were greeted warmly after the service, but we, of course, don't know how guests might be treated during the service because we missed much of it.
Our rough count:                       45
Probable ushers' count:             50 
Snacks:                                      None that we knew of
Songs:                                        "Our God Reigns" (choir)
                                                   "Send the Light"
                                                   "Sweet, Sweet Spirit"
                                                   "He Touched Me" (solo)
                                                   "Trust and Obey" 
                                                   "The Bond of Love"
Miles from home to church:          690

Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Ferndale
 In Acts 1:8 we read Jesus' command to his disciples to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth." I guess you could say one of those ends is Ferndale, CA. But this week, we didn't just visit the furthest west church in California, but the furthest west in the contiguous United States.

The pastor greeted us (as he was greeting everyone) on the front steps of the church, and told us he was excited about the morning because there would be a baptism with a great family. Mindy and I hold to believer's baptism, wherein the person being dipped or dunked or in some way made wet knows what they're doing. We had services of dedication for our children rather than baptisms. But there is no denying infant baptisms are fun (and usually boost the morning attendance a bit,) 

We had heard good things about the church the night before, after eating at Ferndale Pie Company. Mindy asked the man behind the counter for directions to the church. He told us it was a place his family went to at times, and that his parents always went to the pastor's other church in Fortuna. The pastor, Paul Demant, leads the 9:00 am service in Ferndale and then goes to the 11:00 am service in Fortuna. He also said to stick around for the hearty lunch after church.

The pianist was having fun with the prelude, riffing on hymns and choruses, keeping things lively. As we walked up to the church and again before the service began, we heard the bell in the church tower chime. It chimed again after the first songs; according to the bulletin, this was to let the community know that we were at worship.

The baptism was fun, of course, 'cause babies are cute. It was interesting that the congregation was asked to support the child and her family with a responsive reading using the Apostles' Creed.
The Scripture readings were fishy, in a good way, taken from Jonah 3 and Mark 1. Both were calls to God's people to proclaim his news: Jonah after being thrown up from the sea to the Ninevites and Jesus' call to His new disciples to be fishers of men. This was the topic for the children's sermon, and each child was given a stuffed animal (fish or whale) to remember the Scriptures. I can support this kind of bribery.

The sermon was based on those two texts, a call to evangelism. But the pastor seemed a bit overly concerned about people hating the very idea of evangelism, implying that if people knew the topic they would have skipped church. He assured the congregation that they weren't called to go door to door. He did encourage the congregation to consider two simple forms of outreach. He made available tins for people to fill with cookies to give neighbors. And he encouraged people to invite others to their monthly country/western service.

I appreciated the concrete suggestions, but I think he gave fear of evangelism a bit too much credence. Not everyone needs to be Billy Graham, but there are times all of us can share what God is doing in our lives with those. We can let people know we'll pray for them when they're in trouble. Jesus let His followers know they might face the cross; it's okay for us to let people know they might be called to share their faith. But again, his two suggestions weren't a bad start.

The service continued with communion and then, after the closing hymn, announcements. There were a number of activities offered - men's and women's Bible studies, Bingo, quilting and a Super Bowl party in the fellowship hall. And the guy at the pie shop wasn't wrong about the lunch spread offered after church.

Inviting others to this church wouldn't be an embarrassing thing.

Service length:              1 hour
Sermon length:              18 minutes
Visitor treatment:           The pastor greeted us before church, and a good many people asked us to the meal after church (at which people were quite friendly).
Our rough count:                       71 people
Probable usher's count:             80 people
Snacks:                                    The potluck brunch included chicken, mac & cheese, franks and beans, sausage and biscuits, sandwich makings, dessert and more (including coffee upon entering the room). Happy eating.

Songs: "Keep Your Lure in the Water"
            "You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore"
             "Here in this Place"
             "Children of the Heavenly Father"
             "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"
             "Softly and Tenderly"
             "Onward Christian Soldiers"
Miles to church this week:         196

Total California miles for the month: 3,531


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Revisiting 2016 (and 2018): Texas (and California)

Even before we began 2016's epic road trip, we'd heard of the Alamo Draft House chain of theaters and wanted to visit one -- and San Antonio seemed like the right place to go. We didn't actually order drinks while we were there (spoilers!) but the experience was still noteworthy. A couple of years later, in Fresno, we did manage to buy a drink at a movie theater bar, but it just wasn't the same. We thought you might like to revisit these two bars today (and tonight, we'll be going to another theater here in Seattle to watch Captain Marvel -- we'll probably eat some chocolate popcorn, but I doubt we'll be drinking)
Alamo Drafthouse, San Antonio, Texas
When we lived in Healdsburg there was a big to-do when the local movie theater, The Raven, began to sell alcohol, even though it was in wine country so selling wine made sense.

This week we visited one of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in San Antonio, Texas. They offer dozens of local and imported draft and canned beers, mixed cocktails, and wine.

In the past, they've offered signature wines with movie themes such as "The Battle of the Wits" line to honor The Princess Bride in 2012 and The Silence of the Lambs Chianti and Pinot Grigio in 2013.

You can order from the bar and drink in the lobby or order from your theater seat. Quite the moviegoing experience.
 (We wrote more about the theater in our movie blog.)

Edwards 22, movie theater, Regal, IMAX, Fresno, California
Edwards Fresno Stadium 22 and IMAX
“It’s not the worst thing spilled on our bar,” one of the servers said about the drink that didn’t stay in the cup. “I’ve had a lot of popcorn there, and we don’t even sell it [at the bar].”

I wasn’t sure if she was slamming popcorn, but I’ll admit damp popcorn is not a pleasant thing, and it’s certainly messy to clean up. You expect to find popcorn at a movie theater, of course, but why can’t there be cocktails, too? We went to the bar in a Regal Cinema (Fresno’s a Regal Cinemas town, so we can’t maintain our former prejudices against the chain).

We’re all aware we live in a deeply divided nation. Everyone seems to need to choose one side or the other, and people often treat those on the opposing side with spite and derision. I try to stay away from polarizing topics in this blog, but I guess I need to be open about where I’m coming from.

In the contest between DC and Marvel, my family has been on the side of Spidey and Wolverine. I’m proud to say, “Make mine Marvel!” We take every opportunity to see a Stan Lee cameo, so we went to see Black Panther on the eve of the official opening. Our son Bret, who came with us, graciously agreed to guard our theater seats (they’re not assigned at the Edwards 22) while we went to the bar.

Sarah, our bartender, asked to see our IDs (always flattering) and strapped on our wristbands. “We’re new, so we need to stick by the rules,” she said. Law enforcement and ABC regulators apparently keep a watchful eye.

I overheard another bartender tell a patron, “The camera is always watching.” With the wristband, you have a three drink limit, one drink at a time. You can’t order a drink for anyone else, but you can take a drink to the theater, so…remember, the camera is always watching.

The lighted menu above the bar was helpful for an overview of the drinks available, but it changed pretty fast, so we asked for one we could hold. I ordered Vanilla Whiskey and Coke; I knew I’d made the right choice when the bartender asked, “Do you want the whipped cream and caramel on top?”

Mindy ordered a Sweet and Smoky Old Fashioned. The bartender said she liked it, and also mentioned that it was one of the few drinks that couldn't be made by the Smartender, an automated cocktail dispenser. Instead, the bartenders put the drink together from scratch. "Handcrafted with love," Mindy said.

Sarah, one of the three bartenders working during the pre-movie rush, said people were “so happy to have a bar here.” (I can imagine the relief of parents dragged to, say, The Emoji Movie, to know they could order a drink. Or two. Or three. No more. Those are the rules.)

Two other couples came to the bar to order before their movie. The guys were ordering, I believe, rum and cokes. Both men said, “I prefer less coke.” One of the women asked about our cocktails. After we told her, I asked what movie she was seeing. I wasn’t surprised to find that her group was going to see Black Panther as well. (The film will probably take in over $200 million over the three day opening weekend, so the six of us at the bar were definitely not alone. Turns out their kids were saving their theater seats, too, so there’s something else we had in common).

When we asked if she would be willing to answer our bar questions (“What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”), Brandy (quite the appropriate bar name) agreed. She said it was “definitely the bartenders” that made a good bar, and we all agreed that the women tending bar at the Edwards 22 were doing a fine job. “And the options,” Brandy added.

She said a good church relied on “the leading pastor. And a diverse community. A nonjudging church.” She answered our questions thoughtfully, but also quite quickly and succinctly, because she -- like us -- had a movie to get to.

We also had an opportunity to ask Tori, one of the bartenders, our questions. She said a good bar relied on the atmosphere, as well as good drinks. I asked what made a movie theater bar different.

She said a regular bar was more laid back. If it took ten or fifteen minutes to get a drink, that was fine. In this bar, drinks had to be served very quickly because people needed to get to their show. As for a church, she said, “Atmosphere, that’s my thing. Friendly and open, not judgmental.”

During the movie, T’Challa drank a beverage that gave him superpowers. Another drink took those powers away. Neither of those drinks was on the menu of the bar at the Regal, but the cocktails we ordered were tasty and served with alacrity -- which was super enough.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

2016 Revisited: A bar in Texas that's not what it seems

When our Texas friends told us The Barber Shop should be our bar for the week, we were confused. Turns out, a lot of other people were too, but it didn't seem to stop anybody from going to this local hangout. This was a night of bar firsts: the first time we saw a dog in a bar, the first time we saw a kid in a bar, first time we hung out with the smokers, and best of all, first time we went to a bar with friends during our 2016 trip through the country. This bar even made it into Cheers and Amen, the book about our adventure. 

We thought you'd like to read about it. This was originally posted January 23, 2016

Before the trip began, when we told friends we'd be going to a church and a bar in every state, someone told us, "In Texas you'll see the same people in church Sunday morning as you saw in the bar Saturday night." Turns out that was quite the accurate prediction, since Dan and Julie Poirier, the folks we're staying with, recommended both this week's bar and this week's church and are joining us for both.

The Barber Shop got its name because that's what it was for 25 years. Before that it was a garage and gas station, but now it is a brewpub -- and quite a popular one at that. When we arrived on Thursday evening the spaces nearby were filled up ("Some of the hardest parking ever," said a local. I have seen harder, but San Francisco and Chicago are very different places.)

Mindy and I heard a great many opinions being expressed by a group of guys outside the bar, having a good time amongst themselves. When one of them walked out toward the street and a car whizzed by, they loudly let their displeasure be heard.

"Speed limit's 25 miles per hour, dude!"

"It should be ten."

"They should patrol more here on Mercer. They don't need to in other places."

The Barber Shop is a popular local hangout. The Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce named it best business a couple of years ago; it has wonderful kitschy decorations, from the barber pole in the front to the glowing Budweiser Texas light in the back, with deer heads in between. I enjoyed watching people's struggles with the front door, which has a knob that demanded just the right amount of pressure before pushing to open. A favorite running gag for the bar is a chalkboard noting the number of people who come actually hoping to have their hair cut.

Many bars claim to be welcoming to all, but here that "all" seemed to really mean all. We saw a couple of children in the bar (which is apparently okay as far as local law was concerned) and dogs were made welcome as well.

Mixed drinks and wine weren't to be seen on the menu, but Mindy and I tried the ciders. (Mindy enjoyed my choice of Strongbow Gold Apple over her Austin Eastsider Original. Don't tell anyone, but mine came from New York.)

We did have our two questions to ask, and we figured a good place to start would be with the group of far from shy guys outside in the porch area in front of the bar. They quite amiably let us interrupt their conversation.

So we asked, "What makes for a good bar?"

One guy's answer was simple, "Cold beer."
Jackson answered, "Depends. Are you looking for a party bar or an after work bar? This is a good after work bar."

Another guy in the group, Kyle, said, "Good company. I came here because I knew I'd see people I'd want to hang out with. I didn't know the exact people that would be here, but I knew there would be people I'd like to be with."

Our second question, "What makes for a good church?" was met with a quick response as well. In fact, some of the guys started their own conversations about religious and spiritual issues.

Brian said, "I'd look for some small, out of the way church in the middle of nowhere, because they'll be a tight-knit group and that'll make you feel at home."

Jackson agreed with that and said, "I like the cowboy churches where you sing and pray and then you might get something to eat. They don't judge you like the Baptist or Catholic churches."

I talked for a little while with Kyle, who told me a bit about his religious background and upbringing, "When I was a kid I went to a lot of different places, Mormon and Catholic, because I moved and was with Child Protective Services. So one time when I was 15 I was in a group and they were going around the circle and asking who wanted to go on a mission trip, and everyone said 'Yes' but I said 'No' because I was finally with my father and mother again, and they were working things out. So I felt really alienated out. I think a church should be good people coming together who don't want to be negative."

He talked about how church shouldn't be about rules, and I agreed with him, suggesting church should be about relationships: with God through Jesus Christ and with each other.

About that time, Mindy went inside to find that our friends Julie and Dan were already there. We joined them and had a good time talking. Then Julie and Mindy proved again their generous and gracious nature by letting Dan and I stay to talk while they went home to work on dinner. As Dan and I talked, I noticed the bartender doing a great job of cleaning up glasses and cans while also taking care of what was at times a long line of customers.

When she seemed to have a moment free, I introduced myself to Alisha the bartender. She seemed amused by our quest of a bar and a church in every state and cheerfully answered my questions between drink orders. In response to what makes for a good bar, she said, "A good bar should make you feel at home. I know the name of most everyone who comes in here, and I know what they drink, so I'll have it waiting for them. Oh, and beer. We have a lot of choices in good beers."

As for what makes for a good church, she said, "What would make me want to go to church? That's a hard one. Maybe if it was open minded and let you share your thoughts and feelings without being judged. I lived in Utah with the Mormons and New Mexico with the Catholics, and I've been with Baptists. If you'd convert to be like them they'd be all over that. But I wanted them just to accept me for me." I could be wrong, but I think Alisha was saying she would be interested in a church that welcomed people with the same grace and friendliness she showed people who came into the Barber Shop.