A couple of weeks back I went to a barbecue thrown by evangelical Christians. If you ever have a chance to do such a thing, I highly recommend it. My younger cousin, whom I love dearly, is very devout, and when we have the energy we debate existence and God. I err on the side of atheism, so he has taken to calling me Screwtape, which is C.S. Lewis' name for the senior demon in The Screwtape Letters. Having discussions with serious Christians is not like having, say, a political debate with your neighbor. No — as Christians, it is their job to convert you. So even though they might seem chill and laid-back, open to your side of things, the entire time the circuits are turning in their heads, devising ways to get you to accept Jesus into your heart. It's like a poor drunken girl being chatted up about her fulfilling work with the elderly at a frat party: The guy seems interested, but really he just wants you to let down your guard enough to go upstairs with him. Little does my cousin know, though, that while he is doing metaphorical vodka shots during our talks, I am really just drinking water. I will never get drunk enough to see the Man Upstairs.
So anyway, I'm at a barbecue at my cousin's house, and every circle of people I introduce myself to is talking about how Jesus is working in their lives. A big guy is holding barbecue tongs in one hand and a Snapple in the other and talking about sin, which is my favorite topic besides the idea that the world is only 6,000 years old. "There is no such thing as alcoholism," he says, waving the tongs back and forth as if they were a Greek chorus of agreement. "It's just sin and weakness." Immediately intrigued, I ask if that means there is no such thing as a physical addiction to booze — or anything else, for that matter. He skipped over this and said that he used to be an "alcoholic," but after he found God, he quit drinking — so it's just sin.
I have been working on what I will say to him if our paths cross again. Lord knows I have been invited to their church in Walnut Creek enough times. But I wonder what it would be like to go to a bar and see everyone there as big ol' sinners. It's hard enough to be a young-Earther and be bombarded with people trying to tell you that the Grand Canyon is more than six million years old, that we evolved from apes, and that there is a biological link to the whole Adam and Steve thing. But people are drinking everywhere. All the time. You can't avoid it.
Last week I returned to an odd place in the Mission to encounter just that. I had eaten there a week prior, and found it to be probably the most tasteless, boring, and bland meal I have ever had in the city. Yes, I am referring to the Pork Store on 16th Street. It has a few things going for it, such as that you can eat breakfast at any time and you can sit outside —but you can say the same thing about my house. Another odd thing I noticed was the bar inside. When you walk in the front door, there is a big dining room on the left and some seats on your immediate right, but then in the back on the right there is a long bar that is stuck there like an afterthought. It's as though the place came with a full-bar liquor license so the owners said, what the heck, let's put one in.
I sat at a stool and felt very exposed. Maybe it was the "you are a sinner" stuff, but everyone who walked in glanced at me and the others at the bar (there were about four of us, give or take — there seemed to be some staff members on break). Maybe it was the juxtaposition of breakfast fare and alcohol that made it feel clandestine. That's the thing about sin: It makes you feel superguilty or super-turned-on, which explains a lot about the Catholic Church.
A guy and girl next to me seemed pretty far into some sort of bender, though this is not the kind of place you visit to do such things. Surely this was but a stop on their journey. They were quite affectionate, and I'm guessing not married. I will agree with the barbecue guy that drinking is a slippery slope that leads to still more sinful acts. But if running through the streets singing Robyn's "Tell Your Girlfriend" at the top of my lungs, bottomless in a parka with smeared lipstick all over my face, is wrong, then I don't want to be right.
The music was the same crappy reggae covers loop that was playing on my last visit, which meant that my time here would be even more limited. I thought that once I settled in I might feel more comfortable, but I couldn't shake the nebulous feeling that I was blocking an aisle on an airplane, or sitting at some raised dais, or feeling like a human ellipsis. Suspended, out of place, exposed.
I paid my tab and went back outside and headed to BART. I was immediately struck by all the addiction around me; folks who were "sinning" so bad that they had lost everything. I do see that finding Jesus or some other form of spirituality might help them. But I am firmly planted in the science and biology camp. We are animals composed of chemical reactions and neural transfers. How else to explain the man pissing on the side of Wells Fargo? When you gotta go, you gotta go.