One of the nicest scenes was in the movie “Ray” when Ray Charles, when he’s visited in his apartment by Atom Egoyen to discuss a record deal, asks him to hurry up: “You see I’m in church.” It’s this notion of church being where you find it and being a state of mind rather than a building or even a congregation that appeals.
I’m considering this after a couple days at the Rainbow Gathering near Warren, Pennsylvania. There were more dogs and fewer naked people than I remember from the 80s and early 90s. The road to the Gathering, like much of life’s journey, is long and arduous and full of many sideroads that lead nowhere you want to go. But it was on just such a sideroad I met some other Family members equally lost—actually more lost than I was since they’d been over the same mountain roads for 3 hours while I’d only been over them for 1—and we teamed up since 10 eyes were better than 2. While they gassed up their truck I found a local and she gave me back way directions to the site. We knew within 10 minutes we were on the right road, found Welcome Home, parked and unloaded their kitchen, and I drove on to a more remote spot and settled in for the night.
I stayed a little over 36 hours, far less time than I used to spend but enough for this trip. I’ve decided it is my final one. I had a good time, probably better than the previous 2 I’d attended in the early and mid-90s, and decided it was a good way to say goodbye. I was disappointed because I’d come in the hope of seeing people I’d known or at least would recognize from 20 years before, but that didn’t happen. It was early of course—most folks don’t show until around July 2nd or the 3rd—although I did see 1 woman from Wisconsin, which surprised me as I hadn’t known her for Family. But most of the men my age fell into 2 camps: the pale, big-bellied, t-shirt riding high on their paunch, desperate types and the stringy, rough-ridden types who’d been on the road for decades and forgot where they’d lost their teeth, and I didn’t care to be associated with either one.
But what really sealed it for me was a comment I heard someone say yesterday about another brother he’d been discussing. This brother was “one of those corporate types who gets all his Rainbow lifestyle 1 week a year and then heads back to his corporate life.” And I realized, in my Guggenheim t-shirt and my cargo pants and my New Balance sneakers, he could have been talking about me. It is a lifestyle and a good one but it’s a lifestyle for people 30 years my junior. Not only were there fewer people my age and the ones who were there unappealing, but some accommodations had been made for a younger crowd—Main Circle is only a mile and a half from Welcome Home, the shortest hike I ever remember; there were dozens more busses at Bus Village than I’d ever seen this early; also, harder drugs were easier to get, while people seeking out hash and smoke were offered meth and crank. One couple I met trundled in 8 pounds of dip and they offered it up for free, which was kind, but snuff is better than tobacco in the way heroin is better than ditchweed. Similarly, there was a larger black and Hispanic contingent than I remember 25 or even 16 years ago—true, smaller than in proportion to the general population, but the Rainbow Family used to be whiteout central and now there are dots darker than the tan that comes from lying naked in the sun.
But in the key of church being where you find it, being out in the woods with the hundreds of hippies and freaks I choose to call family was like the best religious experiences: short, intense, intimate, frank, non-judgmental, and welcoming. When I sniff deep I can still smell woodsmoke and incense and sage and ganja on my skin as if I’d been in a temple where it doesn’t matter whether I was worshipping or being worshipped. In these spaces, it’s easy to smell stale beer on people’s breaths and so I avoid them—I like my beer as well as anyone, maybe more than most, but I go to Gatherings so I don’t need to drink. Despite the harder chemicals people managed to find a way to carry in, alcohol is still the dominant nastiness at the Gathering and it still wastes people’s ambition and commitment to anything other than themselves. This is why the revolution will not only fail to be televised but will not be well-attended. Some churches are too hard to get to.