Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quest for Fire

Rule #1: You do not talk about Pipe Club.

Rule #2: You DO NOT TALK about Pipe Club!

Rule #3: If you absolutely love Pipe Club... you have to write. (The last one is self-imposed).

The Pipe Club at Holy Trinity has a mysterious and elusive "inner circle" comprised of "charter members" of the Pipe Club. It has never been explained what the benefits are to being a "charter member" other than the obvious bragging rights. Nevertheless, such is the status of charter members that those who are not "charter members" seek how they might become one. Unlike most clubs wherein the status of "charter member" is bestowed only upon those present since its inception, the Pipe Club is much more inclusive, with the charter members willing to receive into their ranks a candidate that has offered an acceptable bribe.

Among the grand tails carried on and recounted by the old fellows, stories of past bribes hold the importance of tribal mythology. It was suggested once that these be collected in a written anthology, so that they might be remembered accurately. This, however, was quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding of oral tradition in primitive cultures. Indeed, each time the charter member spins the proverbial yarn, how they presently tell it is as important as the kernel of history behind what is told. The hearer is not to so much be curious about what "actually happened" as they are to be enthralled by how the "elder tribesman" recounts it now. For this reason, last night's "bribe" will undoubtedly find its place in the canons of charter membership lore - the event swelling in grandeur upon each subsequent telling.

On this occasion, the "bribe" was an outdoor, portable fire pit. While it had the pragmatic benefit of warming those scooted up close (temperatures had dropped considerably last night), its value was far greater than could be detected by outstretched hands. It had the effect of gathering men into one circle than normally might stand around in several. We sat facing one another, the dancing flames illuminating the wide eyes and full smiles. One man thoughtfully nurses his "Manhattan," considering the words of the peer to his right, while another man throws his head back in boisterous laughter due to the joke told across from him. This indeed was a good "bribe," and the one that brought it was inducted by unanimous agreement of the charter members present.

Consider how much deeper meanings of the oft misunderstood term "fellowship" are on display when encircled around the open flames. Is it merely the heat on a cold night that draws the men into such a tight ring around the fire pit? Can the temperature alone account for the shoulder to shoulder dialogue, the raised glasses and nods in agreement? I question whether the need to warm up can solely explain why the fire pit became the center point of the gathering.

As the flames perform their hypnotic "dance," the men gather around to pay homage. Mesmerized by the beauty of it (and perhaps aided only slightly by our drinks), the stories spill forth with manly exuberance. There is something ancient, primal and attractive about the fire. People groups of all times and places have found it a center piece of community. From the prehistoric hunter-gatherer to the Texas Aggie (No, Longhorns. Don't even say it! They are not the same), there is a drive, a quest, to build the fire that gathers the tribe, the fraternity, the community. The medieval bardic fires share common dynamics with the fire pits of the camp retreat. Such fires are lit even on hot summer nights when the heat is not necessary. The light attracts. Its "dance" hypnotizes.

Consider the roles of fire in biblical literature. Yahweh calls Moses to hear from him as he speaks from a burning bush. The Lord later will call the Hebrews to follow him around the wilderness while appearing as fire. Fire is his response to decisively settle the issue on Mt. Carmel. Fire consumes the sacrifices offered in worship. It's departure signals to the Israelites that the Lord has "left the building." It's return over the heads of the Apostles sends the corresponding signal of his return to them. Rightly do we adorn the church with red cloths, and our clergy with red vestments to celebrate matters pertaining to the obvious work of the Spirit. Fire is a motif so frequently used by God to perform his work to, for and among people, we are left with the reasonable conclusion: fire is spiritual.

Whether it activates something mystical in the human spirit, or it conducts some mysterious work of God's Spirit, fire is spiritual. For this reason and more, the "bride" offered to the Pipe Club this time was deemed "worthy." In our quest to capture and celebrate all things so inexplicably masculine, fire was good - fire was our friend. It was a gift that will reap untold future benefits as the men gather around the dancing flames to relate in elemental fashion once more.

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