Could this be Cabaret Church?

(The Amanda Palmer House Party Experience)

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by T Palmer

People often ask me how I ended up being a minister– which is a long story, but always begins the same way–I was fascinated by the whole idea of church. I loved that there was a place we went to be inspired to become better people. I was intrigued by the sense that being human is a kind of project that we can work on together. This started when I was very young, maybe four or five years old, yet last night at the splendid Chicago house party, when it was Amanda Palmer asking the question, that fascination is still where my answer began.

But before I get to that, I have to admit that the night did not begin as I hoped. If you know anything about me, you already know that means we were late. I hate being late. In spite of the fact that I woke up at 4 a.m. feeling like it was Christmas morning, and we fretted and timed everything  in order to arrive right on time and before Amanda, a number of things (including Chicago traffic) conspired to make us almost an hour late.

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by T Palmer
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by T Palmer

Even so, we were greeted by our gracious hosts and given directions about how things would work. People were already spray painting on a giant canvas and filling their plates from an enormous table, and I hurried through the crowd to add our food the the potluck.  I was frazzled and rushing; not at all how I wanted to be.

As I was trying to navigate the crowd, I saw Amanda and she looked up and broke into a big smile. I was unprepared  to be recognized. I had been carefully managing my expectations and practicing casually telling her my twitter handle and explaining who I was. To be suddenly face-to-face with her and to be known was a complete surprise. I managed to give her a startled look and a freaked-out smile and scurry away.

After getting my bearings and taking care of the required details, I worked my way back to  the food. As I stepped into the garage (where the feast was laid) there was Amanda. She smiled and said something like, “Hi! I want to sit my ass down next to you and talk.” I sputtered out, “Okay, that would be great,” and added, “Give me a couple of minutes to get through…this…” My words trailed off.  How does one name the profoundly strange combination of anxiety and joy that makes your entire vocabulary disappear? Luckily, she seemed to understand.

After we got our food, we found a place to sit in the grass and talk. I told her a little story about the last time we’d met and how I forgot to look at anything but my shoes. That led to a moment of intentional eye contact. And then, amazingly, it wasn’t awkward any more. That’s when she asked me how I became a minister. Or did she ask how I became me?

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by T Palmer
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by Carl Frederick

All I know is that I unwound the  strands of my story, laying them out in rows, trying not to leave too many  dangling or  tangled. Amanda listened and  I felt a genuine connection, not to Amanda-Palmer-the-rock-star, but to Amanda-Palmer-the-human-being.  For those few minutes not one person interrupted us–not with words or bodies or impatient eyes–and I felt like we were inside the fairy circle in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, protected by old magic. (Ocean is the most recent  book by Neil Gaiman, who is married to Amanda, and it is a book I already cherish. A post about that will happen when I can find the words.)

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by T Palmer

When it was time to move on, I ended up with the task of keeping Amanda’s kimono from harm, which somehow felt important. (It was the very same kimono featured in her recent musical retort to the British tabloid The Daily Mail.) Later, when she needed the kimono for photos, she asked me to hold her phone and take some pictures. That led to me becoming the “official” cell phone photographer, trying to capture candid moments happening before, after, and around each person’s formal picture with Amanda. I had great fun balancing two, three, and sometimes four cell phones, trying to catch the sweet, poignant, and happy moments of connection between Amanda and her fans.

Watching those connections allowed me to notice and observe the spirit of the night, quietly and beautifully shaped and guided by Amanda: a transcendent mix of art, conversation, hugs, tears, and courage.  In a recent blog post Amanda wrote about the power of  the house parties and the atmosphere of pure connection that pervades them. Last night, fifty strangers chose trust over fear and created something real together. What we created was the very thing that fascinated me as a child and started me dreaming and writing, curating and creating Cabaret Church. 

Even now, long past childhood, I am fascinated by the possibilities of the human project I first saw in church. I still long for a community where people support and challenge each other to break free from a culture that wants us to exhaust and anesthetize ourselves with conformity and consumerism. I’m still determined to spend my life trying to create and support spaces where people can grow and become more authentic, courageous, and kind. I saw that happen last night, around and within me.

There’s a lot to be learned from these amazing gatherings that could help make church more relevant, meaningful, and fun. And there are and will always be things we can learn from old spiritual wisdom, tradition and practice.  As Amanda told me last night, “We suffer from the separation of church and art.” Maybe it’s time for a reunion.

Special thanks to Andy, Siouxi, Dave, Kate, Amanda and all the other wonderful people who made last night possible.

5 thoughts on “Could this be Cabaret Church?

  1. It’s frightening how you idolize this woman so much. Your twitter feed and your blog posts are full of her. You spend so much of your life praising her, trying to get her attention, seeking her accolades.

    She’s a very flawed human being. She feeds on attention wherever she can get it, but the minute she feels you disapprove of her in any way, she will withdraw her own attention and take to slander. Meanwhile, she solicits her devotees by claiming victimhood, draws them close by pronouncing their specialness, and invites them to the same slander. You must have watched this pattern repeatedly, over her many past scandals.

    To keep her at the center of your world, you must remain enthralled with her. You must idolize her. And you do. You speak of her like a deity, the source of love and light in the world. You are in touch with many other devotees. You meet them in person at such parties and on the web. They are equally under the spell of her. Like you, they talk of her as an idol. When actually she depends on you and the others like you to maintain this illusion. She uses your devotion for her livelihood.

    You have wonderful ideas, but you don’t need this woman to inspire them. Don’t let her take your energy, light and love from you.

  2. Amanda is human. I’m well aware of that. Like all of us, she’s made mistakes and had triumphs. I’ve not seen what you describe at all. In fact I remember clearly a discussion in which she talked about wanting to take her detractors out to lunch. She is also very aware that she is flawed. You can hear it in her music and certainly in any conversation with her. She works her ass off, not only in her art but in her life. I can think of a lot worse people to admire.

    Because she is bold and shares more of her life and self than many artists and celebs, she seems to trigger a lot of emotion. Some of it is anger and distrust. Comes with the territory as any of us who are prone to being screens for people’s projections can tell you.

    Amanda’s way of being and her music are catalysts for my own growth in some important areas in my life, both personally and professionally. I am excited about new ideas for ministry and I’m growing braver and having more fun. Some people are going to dislike that. Ok.

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Thank you for this blog. Come to Australia Comrade, we’ll be waiting for you xo

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. it sounds like a great event. I like your description of the process of moving between the state of being a fan to being a comrade. Catalyst is a really good word for Amanda. She inspires people to open up, to be braver, more generous and to Sing.

  5. I’ve been thinking about your reply a lot and I want to say even more clearly that part of what inspires me is that Amanda IS a flawed human being. And she doesn’t hide it. She remains authentic, and she doesn’t back down. I see that as a strength. It’s not her job to cower in the face of criticism, or apologize for people being offended when she breaks the rules of politeness.

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