The Curious Case of Johnny Davis

I'm gearing up, today, to hang a bunch of my photos at my friends, Lauren and Bob's, restaurant in Manchester. That's something I haven't done in a while and looking at the framed work I have has made me itchy to travel. To see new people and new places. The stuff I have feels stale. To me, anyway. Coco and I are headed to make some visits in Greenwich and New York for the next few days, which should help. It will be fun to see what's happening in the city and to talk with my advisor at Fordham to see if I'm taking the right classes; find out if I'm on the right trajectory.

They're funny questions, whenever I stop to think about it... am I doing the right thing? Have I chosen the right the path? I just sorted out my housing for one of the classes I'm taking this summer: Death, Dying and Bereavement. I mean, come on. How could I have ever known that I'd be giddy with anticipation to take a class like that?

It's been almost a year since I began my preaching adventure, so I've been reflecting a lot these days. Last April I packed up my life and put it in a storage unit and started down a road that was completely unrecognizable to me. I had no map, no co-pilot, only a murky hunch and a willingness to say yes. And a small group of church folks who believed deeply in their community. Who took a chance on me.

When I arrived on the scene I had all kinds of ideas about how to do things and very little respect for how things had been done and were being done already. I believed myself to be some sort of harbinger of the winds of change. I learned pretty quickly that I needed to simmer down and to pay attention, to sit with people and to hear, even in the silences, who they were and what they needed. What they were worried about and what was sacred to them.

Needless to say, I have often wondered, during this past year, if I am in the right place, if I am doing the right thing.

Yesterday morning it settled all the way into my bones and I knew, as certain as a person can be certain, that I'm home, right where I'm supposed to be right now. And it's because of Johnny Davis. 

Which is kind of funny. It would make sense if I said that it was because of Bev and Turk or Enoch and Rosalie or Rod and Deb or any of the others who come to church week after week. Who work the church suppers and read the readings and bring the snacks and clean up the kitchen and remember the flowers and the cards of sympathy and thanks. It would make sense for me to say..."this loyal band of church-goers has given me the fortitude to keep moving through something I'm not sure I'm good at, something I don't understand all that well." Because they have and I adore them and am hugely grateful for that.

But actually the lightbulb went off in my heart because of the most unlikely among our fascinating and beautiful locals.

I had known who Johnny was before I moved back to town last year, but only peripherally. It's easy to peg him as the local talented musician who drinks whiskey and smokes cigarettes. The guy with the gruff voice and the cowboy boots who lives in a cabin up on the Winpenny's hill. It's way too easy to put Johnny in that box. 

When I started out last year I told Johnny that I wanted him to come and play his guitar in church. There are, after all, plenty of songs about drinking and Jesus and the devil and all that bad guy/redemption hoohah. I got the reply from JD that I expected: "Are you serious?" I told him I was, but we didn't get much further than that.

Then two weeks ago, late in the day on Saturday, Mark McChesney texted me and told me that "Johnny is all set to play in church tomorrow."

At first my response was..."Wait...hold on...we already have someone to play in church tomorrow..." And then I realized, for about the eight hundredth time this past year, what an ass I was being. 

So Johnny came to church that Sunday. And he brought his mom and dad. And he sang to a crowd of sober listeners, in a beautiful room filled with a hundred years of prayers and songs, of the cycles of births and deaths and weddings here in our little town. There was Johnny, adding to that marinade. And my damn heart nearly broke, it was so pretty.

And then, yesterday, Johnny came back, with his son and with his son's beautiful mom, Jessalyn. And they sat right in the front pew. And it was all I could do to not fall down and kiss the ground I've been wobbling on for the past year. Johnny Davis came back to church. And I knew right then that I was in the right place. That I've been in the right place all along. And that every goddamned thing I've done in this life has led me here, to Pawlet to be a preacher, today.