IF IT IS TRUE (and it is) that religion is art -- culturally specific, mythopoetic metaphor -- then it is also true that the sermon is rightly seen as a kind of spoken word. Preaching is a performance art, if sadly overlooked by critics, audiences, and oddly enough, artists. Instead we have, at best, the twin absurdities of either a belief in an actual bogeyman or a sustained effort to disprove him. And either of these make a mockery of religion.

So we get our catharsis elsewhere, but mostly we do not get it at all. Is it any surprise that, with nothing to fill this void -- Sartre's God-shaped hole in human consciousness -- the world seems a chaos that we might as well ignore?

Pay AttentionOn the second Sunday of the month, in a building that might have once been a warehouse or a factory or neither, which could be in Georgetown or Ballard or somewhere along Elliott Avenue, Pastor Kaleb and his celebrity drop-in guests deliver the news of the world. The gathering is not spontaneous; the location is not secret; but these aspects of the material plane -- time and space -- are to be learned only from one who is initiated. They are the soluble mysteries that surround the ineffable center.

Should you overcome these obstacles, you'll find yourself standing in a wasteland of concrete and debris, ground level to the building that houses Kaleb's church. On the street side is a gray door flanked by two ravaged shrubs -- that they live is yet another enigma. On the door, fluttering, a notice will be posted -- Sunday Service #305, 7 p.m. Go through this door. It won't be locked. Just inside, laundry spills from dubious machines, but you are not required to wash your clothes here, so think nothing of it. Through the next obvious door you'll find a wood-framed staircase. They go up, but they may as well go down -- catacombs are where you find them.

Climb these stairs and watch for signs -- read Kafka and you'll know how they ought to be approached. Who has not dreamed of stairs exactly like these, which promise to lead to the Bureau with answers, the existence of which can never be confirmed? Yet these stairs do lead where they promise. Soon you will emerge into a realm of light and music, where flamboyant spirits smoke and make small talk, and the pastor himself greets each attendee.

This is a congregation that encompasses ritualized pain, for many of its members are stained lavishly with inks and have metals grown into their skin like rusted bolts into the bark of a tree -- broken-hearted dreamers who wish there had been more -- more beauty, more kindness, more romance, more glamour; in lieu of these, they accept more hair dye, more makeup, more vinyl, more dope. These are Pastor Kaleb's flock, and he attends to their needs. Their lives are his life; his bible is theirs.

This scripture is revealed during the story of Kaleb's conversion -- how he came to abandon the lucrative construction trade for the humble work of a restaurant employee, which many of those gathered do not understand:

"The silver polished/the plates brushed/my hands wiped/tables and counters cleaned/and all with the same cloth/touching all of these things/bringing us all together/the napkins gently laid down/pressed/folded/waiting for you to wipe your mouth/of dirty talk and/nasty speech/All of this to serve You/All of this to Serve."

Here we are directed to our copies of The Stranger (vol. 9 no. 20), which were given freely at the door. "Page 31, paragraph six, third sentence. 'We're spared a big apology, receiving instead efficient, cut-to-the-chase service....'

"So you see," elucidates Kaleb, "now I am a man of the cloth."

The gag about The Stranger being akin to God's word nails a pretense of urban irony: Ministers supporting themselves with decontextualized bible extracts, the ersatz conformity of self-declared non-conformists, the idea that any text is "sacred" -- all of these are easy targets, all worth aiming at one more time.

Christianity, of course, is set up for special ridicule. Whatever value it once might've had was lost when it became the state religion of Rome. Accordingly, at Pastor Kaleb's first sermon, Christ himself -- floated ethereally to the pulpit, beatific, and in a resonant baritone -- reminded us that "it ain't necessarily so, the things that you're liable to read in the bible, it ain't necessarily so...." Sure, the song is lifted from Porgy and Bess, but He is Jesus after all, and epiphanies are rare -- this one outdone only by the Virgin Mother, who appeared the following month, offering her version of the mystical standard "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Absurdities are the jewels of Kaleb's sermon, but his stance is that of lament -- as sincere as Lenny Bruce, albeit as goofy as Gracie Allen. Pastor Kaleb really did quit construction work out of ethical consideration -- even if carpentry always will be with him, as it is always with Jesus.

It is sincerity that lifts the performance to the height of true art. Ultimately, irony pulls up lame, with miles yet to travel. It fails to do what little is asked of it -- to keep a heart from breaking beyond repair -- and the ironist must abandon the journey (see Kurt Cobain, or Mick Jagger), or another ride must be got. Because ultimately irony hands over victory without a fight; it quits in advance; it takes a dive.

Pastor Kaleb, once a month, be it his intention or not, offers another way to look at the actual world, and a place to gather with some of your tribe. That Kaleb is funny is good; that the crowd is hip is also good. Let's call it art, and we can attend unembarrassed.