Belonging

‘I think we were made free to live like we belong to the household of God.’

[Lessons in Belonging – Erin S. Lane]

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There’s this episode of The Good Wife when Alisha is running for State’s Attorney and in an effort to damage control a previous admission that she’s an atheist, she is advised to describe herself as “struggling” in a TV interview.

“Struggling” – the word she could use.  The word we can all use.  I certainly do.

I say I struggle with faith. I say I struggle with church.

I can say those words, and people can hear them.  They thank me for my honesty.

But these words have been annoying me lately.  They feel a little like the “TV interview” version of my soul story.

I can be hyperaware of expectation, presumption and reaction when I give a version of my story in a blog post or at the pub, over coffee or to my minister.  Even though they are all kind audiences, I default to the lines that I think people can hear.

One of the things I am doing about this is to start to meet with a therapist for Spiritual Direction.  It sounds a bit weird, I know, but I feel like I need to actually explore “my struggles”, explore my wilderness and my rebellion.  I need to talk out the long version without fear.

Another thing that is helping me is the book Lessons in Belonging by Erin S. Lane.  It was one of those well-judged “saw this and thought of you” recommendations.

For a long time now I have cringed about my association with ‘the household of God’.  What does it even mean?!  So much room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation!  What if people misjudge my views, and my heart?  Every time I heard a “Christian” view that was not my own it seemed that my only choice was to distance myself further and further away.

But I have found myself, over the past year and a half, in church – welcomed, noticed, blessed – and I have experienced what, for me, is the push and pull of Christian Belonging.  I want to belong here.  I want to run for the hills.

I laugh out loud when Erin Lane describes the panic she felt with the sneaking realisation that she was on ‘a path’.  I know this feeling.  “I don’t want to be on a path”, she says, “I want to zigzag”.

This is me.  I want to zigzag – between my books and my podcasts and some small pockets of people.  I want to be in my own house or in the forest or on the other side of the world.  So I panic a little to find myself, week after week, in the same pew of a country Presbyterian church.

Lane says that by showing up at church like this my body begs a witness greater than its own two eyes can see. It says, “I cannot do this alone, even though I try.”

Doing it alone, for me, has not so much been a declaration of independence, as a protection mechanism against the messiness of belonging. Maybe I haven’t so much ‘struggled’ with church, as tried to avoid the struggle.

Avoidance often seems like wisdom to me – the wisdom of limiting who I listen to, what I read and who I spend time with; the wisdom of choosing stillness and quiet.  As an introvert this seems so important to me.  I safe guard my time, I seek out podcasts, books and articles that resonate with me, I spend time with soul chums.  I seek a rhythm that is healthy for me, and my family. I write about this kind of thing.

And yet, what I could end up with is a very narrow, crafted life, that indulges just one way of being.

Parker Palmer says: ‘As our privacy deepens and our distance from the public increases, we pay a terrible price. We lose our sense of relatedness to those strangers with whom we must share the earth; we lose our sense of comfort and at-homeness in the world.’

My privacy can run deep.  It makes me want to close my front door and retreat from the struggles of faith and church, or at least from the struggle of articulating them.  It is a sure sign that I have lost my sense of comfort and at-homeness if I don’t trust you with more than the “TV interview” version of my life, if I presuppose that we won’t connect, or that you’ll tire of the real me.

My life, in recent years, has been concerned with how to spend time wisely.  And spiritually – I have been looking for comfort and rest.  I have been looking to feel known.  So THESE are the words from Lane’s book that I have underlined, written out, read and re-read:

‘This is the paradoxical mission of the church, to comfort and disrupt, to give rest and rile up, to make us feel known and make us feel small in the wake of what we cannot know.

Sabbath freedom is not the freedom to spend our time wisely.  Instead sabbath freedom is the freedom to live large. To live large on the sabbath day means choosing to live larger than our own rhythm. When so much of modern life is spent crafting our home, filling it with belongings and guarding it from interruption, going to church is a countercultural practice. Going to church teaches us how to craft a home in the world.’

This is what I am trying to be open to these days, instead of using the “I’m struggling” line as a door that I shut, or using the “introvert” line as permission to stay home. I turn up with my thin skin and my relentless thoughts, I turn up with the fear that I might not be able to be or do what people want. I let my guard down, a little. And like Erin Lane, I am learning to linger and I am learning to approach life’s unknowns (and the person beside me) with humility and curiosity.

This is how belonging happens. Not by waiting for permission or holding out for perfect conditions. Not by cherry-picking people just like us or nitpicking people who don’t get us. Belonging happens when we choose to give ourselves away, saying, “Take. Eat. If you’ll have me, I belong to you.”

[Erin S. Lane]

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Church Stories

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As children most of us went to church.  Some of us were raised in non-demoninational churches.  Some of us were brought up in devout, fundamentalist families – baptist, or brethern.  Some of us grew up surrounded by catholic families with strong faith.  Several of us were daughters of pastors, or missionaries.  A few of us didn’t go to church and, later, we would feel like the rebels in our families when we did.

Some of us were from large families and went to church 3 times on a Sunday.  We remember scenes of highly stressed parents frantically “getting us out for church” – shoes polished, make-up vigorously rubbed of us by our mothers at the door.  One of us remembers the journey to church at breakneck speed in the cream Cortina – 5 disgruntled children being disciplined from the front seat.  One of us remembers being embarrassed that our family was too big for one row and when we had to sit in front we remember our mother’s knuckle boring into our backs during the prayer.

Some of us went to Mass throughout our childhood and do not remember it ever being a chore or a hassle.  One of us was collected every morning by our Granda, the two of us going to chapel by foot, then on to school.  It is a fond memory, still.

Some of us had no God in our family. One of us heard about Jesus for the first time when we were eight years old at GB, it was pure joy. Wow, we thought, this is great! To be loved, by God. It captured our imagination, and gave us something bigger to live in than just what we could see. We drank it in, we couldn’t get enough of it. We asked to go to Sunday school.

For many of us church was home. Church was safe.  People knew us and we knew them.  We felt cared for.

Some of us  went to Youth Fellowship on a Saturday night.  We sang choruses and ate at the tuck shop after the epilogue was over.  At church camps we would snog in the big brown bus to the sound of “I want to break free” on someone’s cool radio.  We prayed in the ‘quiet times’  and underlined verses in our Bible with red pen.

One of us still gets tearful remembering that Christmas we ran through the building after a carol service leaving our mess of glitter and candy canes, but then were struck by the sight of the old elder quietly vacuuming up behind us.

Many of us benefited from mentors who invested in young people, passing down their wisdom.  One of us was taken under the wing of the young adults group who let us sneak into their conversations and learn about faith and life.

One of us has never forgotten the prayers passed on by our granny. Every morning: holy Mary guide my footsteps home from school every day.  Every evening: as I lay me down to sleep I pray to God my soul to keep, but if I die before I wake I pray to God my soul to take.  One of us has never forgotten the hymns on the old Hammond organ at tent missions- ‘Just as I am’ and ‘Almost persuaded’.  We hated the damp smell and grass underfoot but loved seeing who got up to get ‘saved’ during the long appeal.

The church one of us went to is full of ordinary people who love God and love people, and keep showing up when they are tired and don’t feel like it. These people were there when we were eight years old. Singing songs, telling stories, making juice, wiping noses, listening,noticing, caring. They are still there now. They think they are nothing special. But they are saints and heroes, and we wish we could be like them.

Some of us queued double round the Ulster Hall on Saturday nights for Manifest.  We pitched our tents in Gosford in the summer.  We sang our hearts out in the mosh pit to DC Talk.  We took earnest notes with sparkly gel pen in our journals.  We wore tie-dye and Jesus Freak t-shirts and carried the weight of the world’s salvation on our determined little shoulders.

Some of us joined committees and clocked up summer trips trying to be useful for God.  A few of us tried to alter our personalities and didn’t know the damage we were doing to ourselves.  Sometimes we said things we hadn’t worked out yet, and it would all unravel later.

Some of us felt objectified at Church.  We felt one-dimensional.   We led worship and the boys made bets about who would get a date with us first.

Some of us started to realise that church wasn’t all good. We became hyper-aware of politics.  One of us fled from the sanctuary one day when the band started singing about unity.

Many of us stopped attending church in our twenties.  Some of us stopped feeling safe and felt hurt by politics that hurt our family.    We struggled to not let our experience of Christians affect our view of Christ.  Some of us didn’t feel we could fit into a certain mould and did not feel accepted by people our own age.  Some of us questioned the doctrine.  Some of us got fed up hiding our hangover on a Sunday morning.  Some of us needed to shed our Evangelical Hero Complex.

One of us carried guilt through our twenties about not attending Mass every Sunday and on holy days.  One of us carried our mother’s cautionary words ringing in our ears – not to grieve the Holy Spirit.  Many of us felt, or feel, terrible guilt.

Some of us healed in a church from not being in the spotlight.  Some of us healed in our families.  Some of us healed in the wilderness.  Some of us are still healing.

Some of us have reconciled our guilt.  The faith passed down to us was cemented in childhood.  It supports us during challenging times.  We find solace in going to the chapel when we need it.  We just sit for a few minutes.  We light candles and offer God our intentions through prayers.

Several of us feel loosely at home in a church.  We don’t go regularly. We have belief issues that prevent us from committing as members – women’s roles, social justice, equality, biblical literacy.  Christians in the country we live in can scare and frustrate us.  We have a ‘faith community’ of friends who are a lifeline in their friendship and acceptance.

A few of us have huge doubts about Christianity, but that isn’t why we haven’t gone back to church.  Somehow, we still don’t feel we can be honest in church.  We tried to be but the church people thought we were too intense and boring.

Some of us can’t escape the expectations of others.  We feel our genuine struggles are misunderstood as rebellion and selfishness.

Many of us still value church as a time and place and find a peace there.  We see value in gathering with people of different ages and stages in life with whom we are united in faith.  A few of us benefit from helpful teaching.

Some of us have no connection left, we think we probably want to go back, but we haven’t been able to face it yet.

For one of us it’s been seven years now. We feel like a tightly reeled coil, and we need time to unwind. We miss our childhood church, so much.  We miss it for our children. These days our church is a meal with friends who are as confused as we are. It’s stories about Jesus before bed. It’s praying thanks for our food, and pleading with Jesus when there is sickness, and fear, and death. It’s being amazed by the shy deers who tiptoe out of the forest behind our house. It’s learning from the bees who live in the hives in our garden, they work hard and they work together, and they dance when they find good food! It’s asking questions, and accepting we will never have an answer. It’s loving people , listening to them, seeing them freely without trying to push an agenda. We know it isn’t enough, and we hope that someday we will come to the other side of this desert, but it is like this for now.

One of us is going to a church that has been studying Revelation. We wonder if this is a good idea.  But the churches of revelation give us room to breathe. Talk about ‘church stories’. We hear a quote from Eugene Peterson describing the churches of revelation as messy family rooms and pointing out that St. John does not apologise. “Things are out of order, to be sure – but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms.”

As children most of us went to church.  In our twenties most of us left.  None of us are yet in a concluded place about church.  Our thoughts are not tied-up.  Some of us are going.  Some of us are not going.  But – we are asking each other our stories, and the telling of them helps.


Thank you to everyone who shared their story with me for this post. 

Story

‘What if we agreed that there is always more to us than one essay, one conversation, one moment, one admission?  People are nuanced and complex; we are not just the organizations we lead, the coalitions we identify with, the drums we beat, the churches we belong to, the friends we keep, that one thing we said or did.’ 

[Jen Hatmaker]

‘Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.’ 

[Anne of Green Gables]

I love that C.S.Lewis quote ‘We read to know we’re not alone’.  It is a powerful thing to find company in the pages of a book.  It is why I read a novel every single night in bed. It’s why I read memoirs and poetry and blog posts and the psalms.  It’s why, as a special needs English teacher, when people tell me the most important thing is ‘functional literacy’, I say no, the most important thing is story.

We read to know we’re not alone.  We read for the relief and hope of “Me too”.

Anne Lamott says “Me too” is the most  powerful sermon in the world. I know I am always listening for it, looking for it, measuring how worthwhile a book or conversation is, right up against it.

It’s a powerful, beautiful thing.  I thought I was the only one. I’m not. 

And it’s the same when I write.  I discover I’m not as alone as I thought I was.  All the filters I had about who could relate to me were wrong.  When people say “me too” it’s a powerful, beautiful thing.

But there’s another powerful thing: when we can’t say “Me too”, but we pay attention to someone’s story anyway.

Last weekend I wrote about struggling in a big church. Two nights later the minister of that big church sat in my living room and asked questions and listened and made me feel known.  Some of our conversation centred around Rachel Held Evans‘ new book ‘Searching for Sunday’ which he is reading and which he, quite rightly, recommended to me.  And here’s the thing: he is reading it even though her experience is different to his.  He says it’s not his story, but he can understand it.

I love that – honouring someone’s story even when you don’t feel the “Me too” – listening, noticing, realising it is important.  He told me to keep writing, even though I wrote something that disheartened him the first time he read it.

Brené Brown has influenced  me a lot in recent years and I love this quote of hers:

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Owning our story is hard.  The recovering people-pleaser in me wants a different one, maybe one they could use in a glossy church brochure.  Telling our story is hard.  As I have written before – we don’t want anyone to laugh at us or raise their sceptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.

But Brené Brown is right, it is worth it, and not nearly as hard as running from it.  I have been blessed with the healing “me too”, both in what I read and what I write.  But this week I have been blessed with something else too, and I wonder, do I look for like-mindedness too much?  What do I lose, or miss, in my quest for ultimate compatabilty? 

Sometimes I read something that is beautiful and healing, but then I pick it up like armour, like an argument. I use it as cement to set my part-formed feelings against some other way of thinking. What-she-said-not-what-he-said-kinda-thing.  My story’s more valid than your story.

I remind myself of the recurring rally-cry of the West Wing: “Let Bartlet be Bartlet.” I remind myself  that politicians, leaders, ministers, all of us, lead best and live best as ourselves.  So I believe in owning my own story?  Then,  I believe in others owning theirs, too.

This week Connie Hunter owned her story with courage and made public a blog she began writing 3 weeks after her husband Craig died unexpectedly.  It is worth carving out some time and reading every entry.  Her writing is a gift to anyone who can relate to her pain, they will feel less alone.  But her writing is also a gift to those of us who can only imagine.  You can read it here.

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I will always read to know I’m not alone (my go-to-writers with their fragile faith, anxious thoughts and unconventional ways). But I also read to be stretched, informed, enriched, changed and provoked. I read to be moulded. I read to add something to my character, and experience. I read to have access to other souls and other minds.  I read to access collected wisdom.  I read to know what it’s like for someone else.

What about you?  What helps you to own your story? Do you default towards stories that comfort or challenge you?  How can we honour each other?

Ask for the Ancient Paths

‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’

[Jeremiah 6:16]

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I can’t quite seem to swallow the lump in my throat when it comes to church. I can’t seem to sing, at the end of church, without feeling the burn of how weary I am. I stand there, not singing, heavy with disappointment in my tired, needy, letting-the-team-down-self.

This is not a criticism of the particular church I have been going to. It’s just, I tell my husband, I have to work really hard to feel like my faith matters.

***

I have been spending some time with Jeremiah’s words since I listened to this podcast (scroll down) a few months ago.

I listened to it again this morning in the quiet of my kitchen, all of it bringing rest to my weary soul. The kitchen is quiet because my daughters and husband are at Church. Truth is, in this season of life, that’s a gift to me. My husband and daughters are at Church. I am also at church – the kitchen, the quiet, the podcast. I hear that criticised, sometimes, those of us who claim church in the quiet, on our own. But this morning I heard Jeremiah say ‘Stand at the crossroads and look’, which is what I’m doing, and it may take some time.

***

I have written before how healing Adam S McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church was for me.  I bear it in mind a lot when I have All the Feelings about church. I remember that I over-think and am overly sensitive.  Reading the book has helped me understand my own reactions and given me tolerance for feeling out of place. It has also given me permission to practice Christian spirituality in ways that fit who am I – like this morning, like the kitchen.

Because I went through a ranty season, toward Church in general, I can struggle, now, to voice my discomfort. I don’t want to be critical! But I couldn’t quite swallow the lump in my throat so I decided to be honest about it, and I have started to feel like I might know which way to go.

***

I love the chapter in Philip Yancey’s book ‘What Good is God?’ about AA where he shares his friend George’s shrewd observation that while people feel uncomfortable to arrive late to church, that in AA if a person shows up late “the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet the latecomer, aware that their tardiness may be a sign that the addict almost didn’t make it.”

It is easy to rant about Church, I know. Church isn’t about finding our ‘perfect fit’ and it does our souls no good to pick and choose and rate like consumers.

Yet. Some of us almost don’t make it. And when we turn up, if there’s choice in the matter, shouldn’t it be somewhere we have room to breathe? And might that look different for me from how it looks for you? Might it be true that the mass of worshippers in the big church are authentic and the decisions they make as they get out of their seats for the Altar Call will change them, but at the same time, I am not called to force myself to worship there, God isn’t asking me to get into the aisle.

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Yancey writes about how some of George’s church friends tire of his ongoing struggle. ‘Aren’t you done with that issue yet?’ they ask. And this is what George says: ‘I realise that for the rest of my life, I can go to AA meetings and nobody will ask me, “Aren’t you finished with all this talk about your alcoholism?” They will just say, “Keep coming back – glad you could make it.”

The sign at the front of the little Church we have started going to says “Welcome. We’re glad you are here” and I believe it. Who knows why my soul finds more rest here than somewhere else? Maybe it’s the ways in which it (ironically) reminds me of the church I grew up in, maybe it’s the old wooden pews, maybe it’s the winding country roads, maybe it’s the trees. Maybe it’s the people who notice us and the minister who sits in our living room and tells us his own story.

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I love these words from Galations in the Message: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

I think about that a lot. I’m going to think about it more this year. Making a careful exploration of who we are is important. Doing the creative best we can with our lives is important. (These verses are like a biblical recommendation for Myers-Briggs!)

This year I’m trying to take more responsibility for being an INFJ and explore how that impacts my life at the intersections of motherhood, work and faith. I think the creative best can apply to where we worship, too… that exploring who we are also relates to church and allows for differences between us. And let’s not miss this: Don’t compare yourself with others.

***

I started this blog-post many Sunday mornings ago.

After standing at the ‘crossroads’ for some time we started heading for the country roads and sitting on the wooden pews.

Do you remember that old Jewel song we used to love? Life Uncommon? My daddy had it taped repeatedly on an old cassette and we used to belt it out together in the car. Now he has it on his iPhone and every time I’m at the old homestead I hear it floating down the stairs:

“Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom, No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from”.  

To be fair, dad drowns Jewel out and I feel, always, he’s singing it for me.

Stand at the crossroads and look.

Do not compare yourself to others.

Honour the lump in your throat.

No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.

Find your mega church or your country church or your podcast or your support group. Sink yourself into it. Find rest for your souls.

 

Speak. Share. Sat Nav.

“I didn’t share it with anyone except Yoshi. It seemed best left in metaphor… Best left unnamed. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me or raise their skeptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.”

[Kim Edwards, The Lake of Dreams]

“I think I… kind of… hate Christians“, I ventured out loud, while my brother and I were doing the dishes.

This was a long time ago, maybe 15 years, but I have been thinking about that conversation lately. It surprises me that I can remember standing there with the drying towel in my hand as I tried to name my inner disquiet …. and as I received understanding.

I think that’s why I remember. The understanding. Isn’t it always the most powerful response to receive?

He did not say “Now Sharon, you don’t hate Christians…” or “What you really mean is…“.   He did not even say “I understand, BUT…”.  He was a theologian and a preacher, even then, and he ‘got me’… gave me permission to explore my niggling unease.

 I felt relief, and hope. He became one of my small number of go-to-people over the next decade as I shared and confessed and wondered my way through my faith journey, and through All Of The Thoughts about Church.

We need our Yoshis, don’t we?

But why is it that many of us so desperately need our ‘safe-people’, when it comes to our truth about faith? It seems a sad thing that we fear laughter, scepticism or indifference from those who share it. Or those who preach it…

It is complicated, I know… some of us rant too much, some of us need space, even wilderness years… some of us over-confess and some of us don’t even try to tell the truth. We over-react, we make presumptions and assumptions and we contribute to our own lonlieness sometimes.

But often it’s just this: We don’t want anyone to laugh at us or raise their sceptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.

***

This week a colleague, of whom I am extremely fond, tried to find his voice. He had an issue with a matter that was being discussed at our staff meeting. He hates talking at staff meetings, it is not easy for him to speak up. He feels intimidated by those that seem to relish ‘fighting their corner’. I know he was nervous and as a result he had dwelt on it too much in the run-up to the meeting.

I was glad that Jim was speaking up. He had a valid point that was worth consideration. He was concerned, and that deserved respect. But what happened was he spoke too much and he spoke too hard. He overstated and repeated and went round in circles. What happened was, he was so intent on finding his reluctant voice, that he just couldn’t listen. He could not hear what was being said back to him. He was so worried, I think, about being dismissed or pammed off, that he just assumed this was happening. Yes, he said the things that he’d been thinking about, but he was unable to enter into actual conversation about them.

Sometimes,  I try to find my voice in the exact same way as Jim.

***

Are you here, like me, trying to work out what your ‘voice’ sounds like outside of the trusted conversations, the ones with a drying towel in your hands? Away from your Yoshis, your mum or soul-chums, your safe people… outside your inner circle and away from your own kitchen table? How do you tell your truth in 140-characters, or on a blog post, in home-group or a work meeting, at the front of church or to the person sitting beside you in the pew? Should you? Does it matter?

Brené Brown says vulnerability isn’t ‘letting it all hang out’,  that we should only share with people who have earned the right to hear our story. And Preston Yancey wrote in a blog-post about how a friend in AA taught him that you learn to be honest without being loud, that honesty and authenticity is quiet work, lived out carefully and tenderly.

But maybe you’ve tried gently and it seems like no-one’s heard you.  Maybe you are asking careful questions and speaking bits of your story tenderly and all you’re left with is what Brené Brown would call a vulnerability hangover. Embarrassment and regret. But then, what was that other thing you read? About vulnerability being like a cat? You create a safe place for it and wait.

***

I hear some preachers identifying my generation in the church, the ones who  used to want to change the world, but who sold out, and I feel misunderstood and dismissed. Once upon a time I would have ranted something about hating Christians in my frustration. I’m trying not to React that way, these days.  But I do hate that there is no safe place for the stories of many of my generation, in the presence of this kind of preaching.

I do not recognise my friends in the cold cynics being identified from the pulpit.  I think of thoughtful text messages and emails, of careful confessions made in my living room chair and chats with the car still running. Stories and wrestling and depth shared. Like this friend:

“i found it so hard shaz. i tried going to this church, it was a nice one, good preacher, normal looking people. but i didn’t know anyone. and i sat in the back row, and i just kept crying, week after week, a big hard lump in my throat. because i used to stand at the front and lead worship, and i used to know everybody, and it used to feel like home, and then i couldn’t even sing because i didn’t know if i believed it anymore, and i was so ashamed of the tears pouring down my face. i went there for 7 months and about 6 times someone spoke to me. “

I don’t want to be mad at church, I don’t, I don’t want to be mad at preachers, but I do want to say: there are people coming and going with tears on their cheeks and lumps in their throat and they are being told they have sold out to toasters. They are being wrapped up in Rally-calls and humour, and no-one is noticing their hearts breaking in the back row.

***

I opened the curtains this morning and saw the dark figure of my husband nipping round from the back to my car at the front of the house. It was raining and I knew he wanted to be in work early, I presumed he needed something from my car. But no, he was putting up the bracket for my Sat Nav.

I hadn’t asked him to do it and I was not going on some epic road trip. I was going approx 8 miles up the road on a play-date, to somewhere I have been multiple times before. And I need Sat Nav?! This makes no sense to most people. Laughter. Sceptical eyebrows.

But I just struggle with driving. I just do. I struggle in embarrassing, ridiculous ways. Ways that are not shared in any shape or form by my husband who fears not the Autobahn, who DOES NOT NEED DIRECTIONS. But he knows my ways, and what helps me. And it feels damn good, does it not, just to be helped? No pep talks or advice, just help.

It feels good to share our work-in-progress selves, to have our clumsy journeys valued and to receive help … whether it’s to navigate a run of roundabouts, or to navigate a run of feelings about Christians.

***

I finished my initial read of Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’ about a year ago, perched on a rock by the sea at the front of the Slieve Donard hotel. Since then, I have had the courage, more often, to show up and let myself be seen.

Her wisdom helps. So does Susan Cain’s.

When I first watched her TED talk about the Power of Introverts, and sent it to other people to watch, my mum and my husband both sent her closing words back at me: “But occasionally…  I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

Some things are best left in metaphor. I think so. Some things we don’t share easily, our story is sometimes earned. Honesty and authenticity is quiet work, and I’m still learning. I want to listen more than I speak. I want to be someone’s Yoshi. I want to wash dishes beside you and be a safe place for your confessions. I want to notice what helps on your journey. But sometimes, I want to speak, too. I don’t want to be driven by fear of laughter or scepticism or indifference. I want to be free of that. Here’s where I still find it hardest: Church. Christian community. I have the least courage here, I am the most affected by feeling misunderstood or out of place here.

What about you? Where do you find it hardest to show up, and let yourself be seen?

Where do you most long to feel understood?

Altar Call

This is for the ones who respond in the quiet, this is for the ones who will know what they think next week, after coffee and conversation and changing their mind, a few times.

Yes this is for the ones who will respond later, with the help of some other voices and some reading and journaling and listening again on-line.

This is for the ones who have epiphanies in the shower, or driving to work, the ones who will still be thinking about it wide-eyed in the darkness in bed.

This is for the ones who almost didn’t make it, for whom there is a miracle already, that their bum is still on the pew… the ones slowly thawing week after week, the ones learning the unforced rhythms of grace, the ones letting go of baggage piece by piece, determined and deliberate not to pick up more… which is why they are the ones who need time and space.

This is for the ones who need to stay away from Twitter, the ones learning not to make assumptions, the ones learning to recognise their own dramatic Overreact.

This is for the introverts and disillusioned extroverts, this if for the ones laying their perfectionism and people-pleasing and try-hard-tendencies on the altar, before they respond to anything else… the ones who responded too many times before.

This is for the ones who no longer kneel at the front, but who pray in the bath. This is for the ones with crumpled response cards, who can’t find a box to tick. This is for the ones who praise with their arms outstretched  folded and their hands lifted high shoved in pockets.

This  is an altar to honour your softening cynicism, your deep breaths, your showing-up. This is an altar to mark the place you are starting to find for yourself. This is an altar that sees your right foot starting to tap, your fists uncurl.

Yes this is an altar of space and time and room for you. It’s a place to rest, or escape. It’s a conversation that goes late into the night. It’s a meal around the kitchen table.

This is a call for story, a call for those in the middle, a call for minds not yet made up and wounds not yet healed. This is a call for sharp edges and fears that recur and doubts that linger.

This is a call to share and bear witness and wrestle, together.

This is a call for the ones who feel like they’re the only ones, you’re not.

This is an altar of faith and hope. This altar lets you walk away. This call goes with you.

This altar waits.

altar

Sometimes church is…

Sometimes church is before, or after, or on the way.

Sometimes it’s outside, or at the back, it’s in the corridors and the baby-change room.

Sometimes church is in and out and in, and out again.

It’s lifting and holding and tired arms swapping children.

It’s listening on the intercom, or not listening on the intercom.

Sometimes church is nursing in the common room.

It’s the trees you see outside bathed in autumn light.

It’s the purple and orange fabric someone has pinned over the tiny windows.

Sometimes church gets your attention,

and sometimes your toddler who won’t keep her boots on does,

or your baby trying to eat dirt off the floor.

Sometimes church is taking it in turns,

or shifts at crèche.

Sometimes church is too much of a stretch.

Sometimes getting showered is.

Sometimes, getting wriggling children into clothes and car-seats is.

Sometimes church is not where you’re at.

Sometimes where you’re at is Sabbath rest.

The couch or the park or just breakfast.

Sometimes church is why did we bother?

Sometimes it’s let’s not.

Sometimes church is where you go, anyway.

Sometimes it’s presence, and sometimes it’s absence,

it’s struggle and it’s blessing Sunday after Sunday,

and, somehow, it’s all adding up to… Church.