Like all good anthropologists, I started research for my new book Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe with a list of questions, not answers. Why is it so hard to belong to a local church? How do we know when we’ve found the one, and if there is no “one,” how do we make do with one that’s good enough? Can we really share flesh in Christ and not get eaten alive by one another? And when does a church go from being an imperfect one to a toxic one? Will we ever be able to make peace with a church that’s not a place of peace for all?
I am not a natural born peacemaker.
Although Erin means peace in Gaelic, I like to tell people my name is more aspirational than prophetic. At the age of five, I fought with the Catholic Church to receive my First Holy Communion two years early. At eight, as part of my parents’ divorce proceedings, I went before a Jewish arbitrator, argued, and lost my right to choose my own religion. At fourteen, I rebelled against the court orders and attended a non-demoninational church in which the Holy Spirit – and the handsome boys – set me aflame. When I married a Methodist pastor at age twenty-two, some friends worried I’d been domesticated. Four years later – and still happily married – I legally returned to my maiden name because his “just didn’t feel right.”
Making peace with the church and its people has been lifetime work for me. Despite my generation’s reputation for being a bunch of affiliation-averse, individualistically-inclined, spiritual-DIY-ers, I think many of us have struggled to make peace with the church not because we don’t care about this community of Christ-followers but because we care it’s done well – with excellence and creativity and accountability. The late poet John O’Donohue called this type of intense lover of the church the “artist.” We often think of artists as living on the edge of culture, the innovators and free thinkers, but O’Donohue described the artist this way: “He inhabits the tradition to such depth that he can feel it beat in his heart, but his tradition also makes him feel like a total stranger who can find for his longing no echo there.”
The artist makes her home not on the edge of culture but amidst her own near-constant heartbreak.
I have never been to the Wild Goose Festival before. But I suspect that among this group of faithful rebels, hearts are raw. I want to know about these hearts, the reckless hearts, the brave hearts, the skittish hearts, the open hearts. Author Parker Palmer points out that the word heart as its most ancient comes from the Latin cor and represents that hidden wholeness within each of us that holds together the intellectual, the emotional, the bodily, the imaginative, and all our ways of knowing. This heart stuff isn’t for the faint. If we want to be true peacemakers with the church and others, we must first make peace within our selves.
I don’t have answers for how exactly each one of us is called to do that. I’m hoping that’s what we can share and explore at the festival breakout session together. But I do know that each of us has a choice in how we will respond to our heartbreak. We can either let it take us out of the action in favor of a simpler life where we belong without question or question without belonging, or we can let it lead us into a more wholehearted life in which the contradictions of our faith open us to the death of illusions, the suffering of community, and the resurrection of our real selves as members of God’s household.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9
Erin S. Lane is author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe and co-editor of Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she facilitates retreats for clergy and congregational leaders through the Center for Courage & Renewal. To find more of her writing, visit holyhellions.com.