Tag Archives: community

What’s the Point of Church? [Dear Addie Column #8]

What's the Point of Church?

I’m over at Off the Page today with my 8th “Dear Addie” column. Today’s question is one that I have wrestled with throughout the years, a question that formed the undercurrent of some of those lonely, restless years that I spent searching:

Maybe it’s the skeptic in me, but why does community have to be found in churches as we know them? Can’t they, or shouldn’t they, be found in any group of believers? What makes Sunday morning church attendance different? I also wonder if focusing on getting people into churches as we know them really does the message of the Bible justice. Where in the Bible does it say to go to church on Sunday mornings? I know we’re supposed to be disciples of Jesus, we’re supposed to walk humbly, seek justice, and love mercy, but what are the actual directives placed on gatherings of Christians?

Here’s my take on it now.

In Which I Become an Unlikely Advice Columnist

Dear-Addie-Intro

This fall, at a weird little “resort” in the Wisconsin Dells that had two goats and a wasp-infested outdoor pool, I cracked open Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, and I learned the phrase radical empathy, and my world tilted off its axis a little.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of advice columns Strayed wrote during her time as “Sugar” at the literary website The RumpusWhile at The Rumpus, she vaulted the standard “advice column” into uncharted territory: instead of giving barebones advice, Strayed gave her stories. She gave empathy. She gave herself.

I sat next to a patch of sugarcane my kids were feeding to the penned-up goats, and I read and read and read. I read people’s most fragile, terrifying questions. I read Sugar’s answers, which were so often rooted in her own moments of pain, grief, and confusion.

To the one whose friends don’t like his girlfriend, Sugar wrote, “The complicated thing about friends is that sometimes they are totally wrong about us and sometimes they are totally right and it’s almost always only in retrospect that we know which is which.”

To the woman who’s worried about whether she’s attractive: “There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.”

To the envious writer (who could be me most days of the week), Sugar said, “There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you.”

People wrote their barest questions to Sugar, and she answered with the most wonderful cocktail of compassion and candidness. More often than not, she responded to the letter writer’s story with a story of her own—a memory, a confession, a distinctive vulnerability—and it was in that place where Sugar’s experience met her readers’ that radical empathy was born.

The advice she offered was not from above and beyond the problem, but from the complex middle of it. And because of that, it was searingly beautiful.

As I read the book, the thought that kept scrolling along the marquee of my mind was,

The church NEEDS this.

[Continue reading at Off the Page]

The Simplest Way to Experience Community

lunch

I’m over at Off the Page today writing about one simple step we can take in our churches and our lives to foster community.

Here’s how it starts:

The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.
—Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine

I can sum up most of my faith angst in two sentences: Church was a place where I was seen. And then it became a place where I wasn’t.

The church I grew up in was the church where my parents met, where they fell in love, where they eventually settled in. I went there pretty much every Sunday (and most Wednesday nights) from the time I was born until I graduated high school and left home at eighteen. I knew nearly everyone there, and everyone knew me. When I walked down the halls, I was home.

And then I went off to college. I met The Guy, and we got married, and we tried to find a church of our own. A home base. A community. And we utterly failed.

 Every week, we’d get up and go to church. We’d commit to a single place for months—sometimes years—idling in the pews, shaking hands during Welcome time in the service, joining Sunday school classes, volunteering for ministries. And yet still, it felt like we were a little bit invisible, that our very existence was drowned out by the white noise of small talk around us.

What did me in, finally, were all those church foyers. All those empty smiles. It was the same people introducing themselves over and over again because they couldn’t be bothered to remember us. It was the Sundays when we idled near the coffee urns, shifting from one foot to another, hoping someone would stop and talk. It was watching the people turn like the beads of a kaleidoscope into a hundred different circles and configurations, none of which expanded out to include us.

When I eventually went off the deep end of my life, there was no one to catch me. Because no one even realized I was gone. [Continue reading here]

Why I’m Coming Back to Blogging

Why I'm Blogging

Last Monday morning, I dropped my youngest off at a friend’s house, went over to my favorite coffee shop, and finished the second major revision of my book.

I have been working on my second book obsessively since I got home from Armenia in March —  every day, working through paragraphs, restructuring sections on card stock using Post-Its, crossing out and underlining and inking big green questions on my draft: What are you really trying to say here?

Writing. Deleting. Writing. Deleting. Getting a refill of coffee. Deleting, deleting, deleting. Yes, Pandora, I AM still listening.

Writing in this way doesn’t allow much space for the very different work of writing blog posts — at least for me. At least now — with small kids still around most of the time, still needing so much from me, still climbing on my shoulders while I sit at the kitchen table, writing.

So I let myself off the hook for the last several months. For most of the year actually. I wrote a post here and there, but mostly, I let myself be pulled under into the depths of this new work.

But on Monday morning, I finished that second major draft. Hopefully the next batch of edits will be smaller, simpler. Hopefully the deep underwater work of this story has been completed.

I closed my computer and brought my empty coffee cup to the counter. I wanted to tell someone, but the baristas were all in the back, and the counter was empty. The two old farmers who have coffee next to me every morning weren’t there, and neither was my pastor friend, Rick. So I just grabbed my stuff, slung my purse over my shoulder, and quietly made my way back into the world.

*

I gave myself a week away from my computer. I cleaned and went to IKEA. I learned to use a drill, re-did my kids’ new shared room, and made Liam’s old bedroom into (gasp) my office. (We’ll see how long this lasts, but I’m beyond excited. I’ve never had an office.)

I had a last-day-of-school water fight with my family, spent a few days at the beach, washed the windows, and read novels on the deck. I closed my eyes and paid attention to the summer breeze and watched the baby ducks trek up, single-file, to eat seed from our bird feeder. I went to sleep early and slept in as late as the boys would let me and didn’t worry about wasting writing time.

I sat in a sand chair at the edge of the Lake George, and I let myself brainstorm essays I might want to write, new writing projects I might want to pursue, new blog posts I might want to share.

It was a good week.

*

The first post I read when I logged back into the Internets yesterday morning was an insightful article by Amy Julia Becker at Christianity Today about “Why Bloggers are Calling it Quits.”

Becker’s points were solid and familiar. I too, struggle with what she calls “tyranny of the present” and the pressure to “to remain beholden to the constant information cycle of blogging and tweeting and posting photos online.”

I get that. There is nothing that stresses me out quite like a Major Cultural Event and the sudden, intense response of the blogosphere — a thousand megaphones shouting at me from my Facebook newsfeed, demanding my outrage. It makes me feel like a failure when Facebook reminds me that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve never figured out, really, how to be “awesome” on social media, and that stresses me out.

And yet, at the same time, the blog world is still where I get my favorite book recommendations, my favorite recipes, my best IKEA hack ideas.

The Faith and Life blogs that I read regularly have a way of helping me to orient my heart around what matters. Where else but the blogosphere can you read something called “Go Forth and Be a  Little Jacked Up” by Glennon at Momastery? Where else can I read along as  Micha gently processes spirituality and motherhood and as Leigh works through life transitions for herself…and for all of us who find ourselves in transit?

Where else can I get glimpses of insight into things that I don’t understand…but want to?

I click over to Humans of New York and read the small, enormous stories of regular people. I read Emily Freeman and find permission to be unremarkable. I read Brené Brown and find permission to be vulnerable.

Where else is there such a powerful reader/writer connection — a conversation, a call to interaction, a buffet of topics and ideas and thoughts and insights? It’s an invitation into the living, breathing, fighting, wild, loud, raucous international family of humanity. It’s the coolest thing.

Listen — I believe in the long works. The memoirs and novels and essays and collections. I am passionate about them…and I’m a mom in her Tired Thirties, so I barely use the word “passionate” to describe anything in my life.

I just finished that second draft of that second book, and I am grateful for the time I spent away from the Internet, letting my mind orbit around the  questions I was asking, letting the words and sentences stretch long into places that I didn’t think I was going. I love writing books. I hope that I will continue to write them (although I’m about ready to take a break from memoirs, because holy smokes.)

But also, I love the experience of blogging. I never thought I would, but I do.

(Granted, I’ve never been one for writing about stuff that is newsworthy or relevant. I’ve had very few posts go “viral.” I don’t touch “hot-button issues” with a six foot pole. But still.)

It turns out that I actually like being a Blogger. Who would have thought.

*

There is a verse in the Bible about how God is working, all the time, in us. About how, in light of that, we should continue working out our salvation. (Philippians 2:12).

I don’t really know what that means, but I think this is where I do that.

This is where I take hold of the edges of my ever-changing faith and hang on tight.

This is where I write it out, where I find people who get it, where I feel less alone, where — sometimes — I even feel God in that way that we always hope we will. Where, when I don’t feel God, I can still find a way to engage, to move forward, to write toward the wholeness I so desperately want.

And I hope, somehow, that this blog does some of that for you too.

Anyway — all this to say, I’m back. It seems a little like I’m walking back into a room that everyone else is leaving. But I’m back anyway.

Talk to me.

^
Back To Top