I heard a big bell clang outside. I ran to my peephole.
It was the church!
I recognized the steeple and the cross. The big bell was swinging and ringing. I recognized the stained-glass angel with its sword. The pastor grinned at me from the vestibule. I knew his mustache and his little cap.
In the sanctuary window, somebody’s shadowy torso crawled over the organ keying out bright hymns. New hatchbacks crammed the parking lot. Blonde children played in the sandbox, balancing colorful plastic buckets between their knees.
Even the rhododendrons had come along for the ride. Their heavy scent mixed with candles, fresh laundry, coffee, hymn books, and bleach. All the smells of church.
When I opened my door, church poured into my kitchen, with its dresses, piney colognes, politesse, jangling jewelry, and promises of a better life, an afterlife.
Out of everyone in the crowd, I only recognized the pastor. It had been too long. Old congregants had died (my parents included) and middle-aged congregants grew frail. The younger generation mostly didn’t go to church anymore, what with the climate collapsing, mass incarceration, job insecurity, privatized health care putting each of us one serious illness away from bankruptcy, etc., etc.
Why face the void on weekends, too?
I guess that’s why the church was so proactive. Visiting my house instead. I’d been temporarily furloughed at work so I wasn’t hard to find.
Pews scraped into my living room. Old ladies lowered themselves, grunting onto their personal satin cushions. The pastor’s wife plugged in a coffee maker on the kitchen counter next to a middle-aged guy with faded tattoos who was spreading peanut butter over crackers.
On the ceiling, a weird pink cloud swirled past the chandelier. Light through the pink cloud turned our hands pinkish. It gave off a sweet smell.
The Holy Spirit, said a congregant, pointing. Look!
After the opening hymn—How Great Thou Art—the pastor took off his little cap. His baldness shone in the Holy Spirit’s rosy light. I was sitting in a front pew, shoulder to shoulder with a grandfatherly gentleman who smelled of sour milk.
Apostasy, the pastor said, looking straight into my eyes. What does it mean to you? He cleared his throat. I sat up straighter.
Two teenage boys had sneaked into my bathroom, and I could hear them fumbling toward some kind of ecstasy. They were probably too busy to steal my pills. I hoped they left my pills alone.
I don’t know, I said.
Around me the congregation murmured.
The pastor said, Apostasy is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.
I’m not an apostate, I said. It’s just, I’ve been very sick, and I couldn’t come to church, like, physically.
I was lying of course. On Sundays, I watched woodworking videos on YouTube. I’d gotten rather skilled. I’d been carving a dead backyard tree into the shape of a bear holding a chainsaw. The bear reared on his hind legs and roared and yanked the pull chain. I would polish the chainsaw’s blade while my rich neighbor leaned over the fence to watch me work. A few weeks back he’d called me a rare talent and winked.
Would an unhealthy individual, sick as you are, be able to make a statue of a bear holding a chainsaw? the pastor said. The Holy Spirit slithered around his temples, whispering in his ear.
Oh, the bear came with the house, I lied.
The Lord hates a lying tongue, the pastor said.
Me too, I said.
Somebody passed me a peanut-butter cracker. It tasted great. Salty and creamy.
You’re a believer? the pastor said. You haven’t forsaken the faith?
No, not forsaken, no, I said. There’s the Holy Spirit, in my house?
The pastor said, The Bible says we should attend church on Sunday. Hebrews 10:24: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
That did not say go to church every Sunday, I said.
Then answer me this: What do you think the Day, capital ‘D’ in ‘Day,’ drawing near is? I’ll give you a hint: It’s bad news for sinners.
The apocalypse? I guessed.
Yup. It’s the apocalypse, all right.
We sang Come Now, Lord Jesus. Halfway through the song, the teen boys stumbled out of my bathroom, tucking their dress shirts into the waistbands of their dress slacks.
We shouted Amen and clapped politely. The pastor gave me his business card and said, Come back when your heart is ready.
I ran out to see the church off. I waved. The little cross atop the steeple bobbed wistfully over the hill.
Apparently the Holy Spirit really, really liked my chainsaw bear. The Holy Spirit circled the bear’s head during the day, and at night the Holy Spirit snored in the shed.
A year has passed since church came over. I traded the chainsaw bear to my neighbor for two gold bars worth $50,000. It was his idea, and I didn’t argue. Can you believe my profit? Lucky because my job canned me.
It’s an El Niño summer and we’re breaking heat record after heat record. The sun looks old. Sparrows fall dead from the sky, and I rake them into lawn bags. The pastor was right about the end times. My rich neighbor sits in a camping chair drinking a protein shake next to his chainsaw bear and the Holy Spirit. They watch storms roll in off the ocean. What a threesome!
Whenever I mow the yellowing lawn, my neighbor shouts and flashes me the thumbs up. I love my rich neighbor. I mean it. I love my neighbor as myself. I’m just so grateful.
What I’m trying to say is: Have you ever made $50,000 going to church? Not unless you’re a pastor.
Anyway, I’m glad the church visited.
Sometimes you need to see a thing just one more time before you can let it go forever.