To Blair Frodelius, it makes perfect sense to talk about God in a bar. After all, he says, Jesus turned water into wine. “There is something about sharing food and drink with others around a table that allows the conversation to flow freely,” says Frodelius, worship pastor at Sojourn, a Methodist ministry in Syracuse, NY.
Frodelius leads a Wednesday night discussion group at the Blue Tusk Pub in Syracuse’s trendy downtown district Armory Square called “Jesus in the Postmodern Matrix,” a group aimed at providing a non-threatening venue for people of all denominations to come and discuss their journey with God. They’ve met every Wednesday since the first week in May of this year. The Matrix has approximately eight rotating regulars who are joined by others who come in via word of mouth or are inspired by advertisements that Frodelius has posted in several local publications. The group–whose ages range from 18 to 68–gathers in a candlelit and comfortable back room, away from the more raucous space near the bar. All are welcome, as long as they don’t push an agenda. “No one has a monopoly on God,” Frodelius says. “Religion is like a multi-faceted gem; each [side of the gem] reflecting one facet of God’s truth.”
Come As You Are
Eighteen-year-old Tashina Schuyler is one of the Postmodern Matrix’s regulars; she drinks coffee and adores the semi-sweet sprinkled chocolates brought in by Carol Adriance. Schuyler calls herself a spiritual person who believes in the Christian God, but says that she has been pushed away from the church because of a lack of dialogue on differences of opinion about faith. She doesn’t feel comfortable going to church, but she feels comfortable here: “Jesus said come as you are. I feel like I can do that here.”
Schuyler’s mother, Amy-Beth Pezzolesi, also comes as often as she can. In the past she admits that she has also felt intimidated at church, so she enjoys the collegial atmosphere that these Wednesday nights afford her. Tonight, her jovial one-year-old daughter Soleil is draped around her neck. “I need this night for me,” she says. “It’s one of the only times all week I can relax and contemplate God.”
Inklings and Inspirations
Raised a Catholic, Frodelius was a member of a conservative Baptist church and then the leader of a contemporary service at a Presbyterian church. He says that he started “Jesus in the Postmodern Matrix” because he too needed to find a more universal setting to discuss his ideas about being Christian. His inspiration came from the Inklings, a group of authors including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien whose fantastical books chronicling Narnia and the life of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins are often interpreted as Christian allegory. The Inklings frequently met at a pub in Oxford, England.
This Wednesday night’s discussion at the Blue Tusk is entitled “Sacred Spaces;” the group talks about where they feel closest to God. The conversation begins with the reading of four questions that Frodelius has posted on the group’s weblog, and that he would like to tackle before the end of the evening. Tonight, Adriance reads them. Number one: “You probably have a few sacred spaces in your home. What might they be?” Frodelius says that he has created a sort of altar in his bedroom, with a dish full of stones and sand collected from the Pacific sea coast and a piece of bark that his wife collected while camping. Schuyler is most comfortable while in front of her computer, listening to music on headphones, writing poetry, away from the world for awhile, just her and God and her words. Dan Colon thinks that having a place at all makes things harder. He finds that spiritual closeness with God comes randomly, usually never in the same place. “I don’t want to feel pressure about spiritual things,” he says. “I use to think of meditation and prayer as a means to an end, I wanted to get something out of it. Now I realize that that caused more stress. I needed to grow up.”
Pass the Coosh
Past discussions have been varied; tonight’s regulars are hard-pressed to pick their favorites. One that is often mentioned was an October conversation on individualism and connectedness that became so intense that a multicolored coosh ball had to be passed around as a sort of marker- only the holder of the coosh was allowed to talk. Facilitators Frodelius and Adriance have come armed with the coosh ever since. Most recently, the group talked about the pagan and Christian practices of Halloween. Other talks have focused on such topics as religion versus spirituality, what is prayer, spiritual risks, and even Islam, a discussion which Frodelius called eye-opening. “We can all learn from other religions,” he says. “And I have respect for all religions, as long as [the faithful] are seeking.” Frodelius does believe, however, that one day, the “faithful” will all have to come to terms with Jesus Christ.
Around 9:30, as conversation begins to wind down, Blue Tusk owner Mike Yorton, an old friend of Frodelius and Adriance, joins the group that is already a bottle of wine and several Brooklyn Chocolate Stouts into the evening. A self-described “dreadlock” even though he isn’t convinced that Christianity is for him, Yorton is more than happy to lower the music in the back and offer up a second bottle of wine to the group, on the house. “I’m all for good people having good conversation,” he says, as he goes on to explain how all religions fascinate him, and how he believes that religion does have some sort of merit. He’s just not sure exactly why.
By the end of the evening there’s a lot to be unsure about, a lot to reflect upon. Dan Colon’s open question to himself and to the group seems to hang in the air: “You know, I’m not even sure what the sacred does for me. I do know that I can’t get it away from me. But what does it do?” A good topic, perhaps, for next week’s meeting.