I’m about half-way through Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a novel from which I’ve gathered, if nothing else, that the French sure like their wine. They’ll stop twice for drinks on the way to dinner where they’ll drink again before heading to a drinking party. They speak a language of wine and liturgically share the communion of smashed grapes as a fundamental part of their lives. I was in Florida for the past week, and I’ve noticed how fundamental these shared communions are in holding us up –- binding us together.
Pinecraft, in Sarasota Florida, is a very unique place. You have hundreds, probably thousands, of very conservative Christians coming together in a very specific location every winter. One of my friends observed that it’s borderline cultish. Throughout the rest of the year, these people live within their communities as a very small minority in the country. You’ve got little pockets of people living, dressing, and existing in a way the nation as a whole finds very strange. Heck, I find it pretty strange. But then for a week or a month, they congregate into a new society, one where they’ve built the institutions and run them, where the world operates on their terms. They are no longer minorities but princes and citizens in a kingdom of about 10 sq. miles. An Amish boy walks down the street or sits in the bleachers wearing homemade clothes and rocking a bowl cut over crocks –- but now so is mostly everyone else. Temporary solidarity.
I think it’s something of an escape, but I don’t think that it’s wrong…I go down there every year. I think it’s a quaint little vision of heaven on earth. Still, whenever you have hundreds and thousands of people sharing time and space, there are necessarily differences and uniqueness. So then emerges these shared languages that I’ve seen.
After arriving in this pseudo promised land, I realize the air-chuck fittings on my bike’s flat tires were missing. So on Thursday I rolled it over to the driveway where a sign proclaimed “Bike rentals and repairs.” Inside the garage, which had been converted into a workshop, I found Sam and three other Amish people watching him work on a three-wheeler. Sam aired up my tires and then said my wheel bearing was loose and tightened it up too. I had figured on being there about two minutes instead of twelve, so I hadn’t even brought my wallet. (I also hadn’t asked him to tighten the bearing.) I shook his hand and peddled happily away. That night about 12:30 a.m., inspired by Hemmingway’s characters in the book, I left a thank-you note taped to a bottle of sparkling apple-cider on his front step. I chose Martinelli’s sparkling over money because that stuff is amazing regardless of what you believe about righteousness – and because I was humored by the idea of an Amish man opening his door to find a bottle that looked like wine. Money is perhaps the commonest of languages, and I could have left that. But it’s so tasteless. Gifting rich people with money is like paying a mechanic with a wrench – the only thing in the world he obviously doesn’t need from you. But a bottle of bubbly…
Sam fixed my bike in the afternoon. That night I peddled down to the park where the locals congregate until precisely 9:38 p.m. when someone turns off the lights and kills the party. I stopped by the basketball court and saw something wonderful and hilarious. It was a game of half-court, three on three. They were kids about 12 – 15 years old. But there, as one of the six, was an Amish man. He was probably 60 years old with a full beard, homemade pants, suspenders, and a green shirt –- ballin’ out. They weren’t talking much, only battling for position, raising their arms to call for the ball, driving to the basket, squaring their hips to defend, rebounding, laying it back up off the glass. And this old guy was holding his own. Sports are sets rules and objectives where very little verbal language is required, and it doesn’t matter what anyone looks like if they can pull their weight, do their job, play their position. You don’t need to hold much in common to share something. And if three on three is that something, then you ought to play.
*Rock n Roll.
The reason my friends and I go to Florida is mainly for the outdoor volleyball tournament that happens every year. It is the mother of all Mennonite/Amish gatherings with about fifty teams and literally thousands of people – playing, watching, milling around. I played on a team called the volley-llamas and had never met four out of five of them. But everyone there has mutual friends. The night after the tournament, I found myself crammed in a tiny living room with about ten friends, new and old, from South Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri. And we rocked and rolled to every childhood song we could think of. I’m not talking about singing along; I mean raise the neighbors from their handcrafted furniture jamming. It was pretty much the best night I’ve had in a while.
It’s crazy how much music we share in common in spite of growing up thousands of miles apart. It’s transcendent. When someone played TobyMac’s “Lose My Soul” in that cracker-box living room, it wasn’t like singing along to a vaguely remembered tune. If you were born when we were born, that song is something that made you who you are. And somehow you know every phrase, MR. FRANKLIN STEP UP TO THE MIC SIR, even though you probably haven’t actually heard it in years. Music is powerful in that I already share something with the millions I’ve never met but who’ve heard and loved Coldplay or Maroon 5 or U2 or Springsteen or Fountains of Wayne or whatever.
It can be tempting to disassociate with people because they look or speak differently than you do. But as long as Walmart sells Martinelli’s sparkling cider, you can still leave it on doorsteps. Where two or more are gathered, you can play half-court basketball. And as long as “Lose My Soul” is available on Spotify, you can pretend to be Kirk Franklin alongside anyone born within ten years of you. These are simple, deep languages binding us together. In 2019, I hope to remember that we don’t have to hold much in common to share something. And if we can, we really ought to.