Dear Friends of Second Church,
Maybe you need to be a regular Putnam Avenue pedestrian to have noticed the cigar lounge that has opened just next to the neighborhood diner. From the website, it looks like a classy place — dark walls, leather couches, dark-shaded lamps that define the space with pools of golden light, big tumblers with artisanal ice and the merest suggestion of a heavy-handed pour — it’s almost the memory few of us actually have of the smoking car of an old train, hurtling west across the nighttime prairie, with conversations between strangers unfolding over hundreds of miles.
It was said that the notorious nineteenth century atheist, Robert Ingersoll, perfected his arguments in the smoking cars of the first transcontinental passenger trains. It’s also true that Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur (the runaway bestseller of Christmas 1880), decided to write his novel bringing the story of Jesus vividly to life, having listened to Ingersoll in a smoking car somewhere between New York and Chicago. Wallace heard that perfected speech and knew right then and there that something had to be done, and so do it he would.
I can’t say if that’s the level of what’s happening today in the Cigar Lounge next to the diner. Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?
But even if it isn’t, the lounge must be the right place for a particular kind of person, or maybe a particular kind of occasion, and the word on the street is that it’s doing o.k. so far. People in search of such a place are finding it there.
Meanwhile, just two doors down, the Smoothie and Fresh Pressed Vegetable Juice place (“Try Our New Kale Detox Cleansing Smoothie!”… “10 Day Juice Regimen Gift Packs Available!”) managed to live about as long as the average mayfly.
I’m not exactly sure what that says about our town or our times.
Could part of it be that we’ve started to have enough, not of health, but of convenience? That our food has finally gotten fast enough, that the debit-swipe-bag-it-and-go ethos of a bedroom community may get us what we want when we want it, but leaves us wanting something else entirely? That audiobooks in the car are better than no new stories or ideas or images, at all…but ultimately, not better enough? That we’re sick unto death of all the rushing?
If so, then maybe the cigar isn’t just a cigar. Maybe it’s about slowing down…about conversation…about encounter…about all those things that communities are supposed to be about and now seem to offer all too rarely. Maybe it points to the deep need we all have to know and to be known, to let connections develop over time, and to find ways to agree and disagree but still feel bound together somehow as we travel on this journey.
Likewise, surely we all know that there’s more to a church than simply “being a community.” We’re called to be a certain kind of community—a community shaped by its commitment to the Gospel, and to living it, as well as sharing it. Yet it’s important to remember that we’re never allowed to let ourselves be less than a community. After all, a spiritual filling station that’s only truly open an hour a week isn’t the kind of community we’re called to be. We need to be about slowing down, conversation, encounter, knowing and being known.
Is it convenient? Not on your life. But we understand God’s Spirit to be lurking in the details, the messiness, and the inconvenient truths we encounter in our common life. Thus, we bless and give thanks for it.
And our work and our prayer must always be that, like the cigar lounge down the street, people in search of such a place will find it…here among us.