The sort of people who set my tears free

by Kristin on May 18, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Glen Dimock

Almost four years ago, I sat down for the first time in what I now consider my church. I spent much of the time blinking back tears.

The source of the tears was internal. I guess that’s pretty much always the case. Those particular tears happened to be rooted in a variety of struggles I’d been having with God and with the church I had walked away from a few months earlier.

But while tears are produced and well up from inside, it’s often something external that triggers them. Something happens around us, acting as a magic key that’s capable of pushing aside our facades, the jail cells of our true emotions. Suddenly, those tears are able to escape—sometimes sneaking free, other times busting out.

At that moment, as I sat in that sanctuary for the first time, it wasn’t The Voices of Angels, or The Warmth of God’s Love, or anything miraculous like that triggering my tears. It was the people. The very ordinary people.

A group of hippy-looking teenagers in the front row. Families of every size, shape and color. Couples that looked like they belonged together, and couples that looked like they didn’t. A grandmother with her grandchildren, and a woman with her elderly mother. Middle-aged single people sitting all together, not alone. And lots of children, everywhere, roaming so much from lap to lap that I couldn’t tell which kids belonged to which adults.

It was a room full of humanity, which, of course, can be divine. They were people who weren’t perfect. And they knew it. That’s what set my tears loose.

The difficulty of putting a diverse group of people into words

Now, four years later, I’m writing new copy for the very outdated church website. One of the new site’s sections will focus on who the church is, as represented by the individuals who are drawn there.

It’s a tricky thing to generalize and pinpoint. It’s challenging enough to articulate what characterizes me, and I’m just one person—one I happen to know fairly well. But to take a couple hundred people, put them all together and say something meaningful about them? That’s really challenging.

Yet, certain people are attracted to a particular church (or gym or cafe or vacation destination) for a reason, right? I figured there must be some red threads, so I decided to locate them.

I interviewed the pastors and about a dozen other people in the church. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what sets this community of people apart in my mind, based on my experience, both when I was first getting to know them, and now.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, so far—some of the characteristics that tend to run through us, tying us together. I’m not sure if this list will end up on the website in any fashion, but it was an important list for me to make. I’m also really curious to know which of these characteristics are most important and appealing to you, whether you’re a Christian or not.

We are a community of people who:
…are broken and in need healing.
…honor Jesus and deeply desire to follow him, even if we don’t always get it right.
…are searching, and trying to find answers to big questions we might never grasp.
…try to balance our desire for intellectual honesty and passionate worship and living.
…are committed to mercy, justice and meaningful action in our community and world.
…don’t need everything to be black and white—we are willing to say “I’m not sure.”
…actively try to repel polarization, whether religious, political, economic or racial.
…desire genuine fellowship and community with one another, seven days a week.
…value people coming together from many backgrounds.
…put loving God and loving one another above any strict doctrine.

Many families in our community are multi-ethnic or multi-denominational, or didn’t grow up in a church at all. Many individuals have had hurtful past experiences tied to religion. It’s not our intended niche, exactly, but I suspect it says something about who we are, or at least what we’re trying our best to be—open and accepting.

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  • http://www.ihatemymessageboard.com Tracy

    Even though I’m not a believer your Church sounds like a wonderful place to me!

    I find that I’m most attracted to people that are curious, have a keen sense of humor and aren’t afraid to be a little goofy. These most resonate with me from your post:

    …are searching, and trying to find answers to big questions we might never grasp.
    …try to balance our desire for intellectual honesty and passionate worship and living.
    …are committed to mercy, justice and meaningful action in our community and world.
    …don’t need everything to be black and white—we are willing to say “I’m not sure.”
    …actively try to repel polarization, whether religious, political, economic or racial.
    …desire genuine fellowship and community with one another, seven days a week.
    …value people coming together from many backgrounds.
    …put loving God and loving one another above any strict doctrine.

    I guess that explains why I enjoy you and your blog so much!

  • Chris

    I think that’s the best description of our church I’ve ever read, Kristin. I look forward to seeing the new website!

  • http://300wordsaday.com Jon Swanson

    nice summary, Kristin.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Tracy, I love the “curious and goofy” combination, too. I was thinking more about why I feel so good with these people at my church, and a very big part of it is their willingness to not be perfect, or to even *pretend* they might be perfect. That’s one way to think about being “goofy,” don’t you think? And it makes sense that we are comfortable around such people, because they create so much open space and freedom.

    Chris, I’m glad to know someone else from our church can confirm this description of the people! I didn’t pull it all out of my head, of course, but sometimes I wonder if my own particular experience is so colored by *my* story (how and why I ended up at the church), that it doesn’t really reflect anyone else’s experience. It’s good to know it does!

    Jon, thanks so much for reading, and for letting me know that you’re out there!

  • Trina

    Greetings Kristen, I saw your comment on twiiter about your titles relationship to your posts contents… if there is anything I have observed during the process of ‘e-knowing’ you it is that you do find the right connections between your title and your posts contents. I think this title ends up fitting just right in terms of how you describe your relelctions over your past four years, and the relationship you have develped there. Through letting go of perfectionism, yet still striving to be/do ones best – it appears to be just the sort of place where you/anyone can comfortably set tears free. I am saying this from a perspective that it can be necessary to let tears free, but difficult to do so if one does not feel they are in a place of acceptance.
    It is apparent you are paying attention to describing your cumminity with care and an open perspective. With the delicate way you choose your words and convey your thoughts I believe you will serve your community well. I prefer not to highlight any one charcteristic as they all seem so appropriate, but would like to add that your final parapragh has such merit and seems to summuraizes who you all are so well.
    Best, Trina

  • http://www.orangeshirtguy.com Dave Thurston

    You know what people say about an Apple computer, “It Just Works.” Good church is like that.

    I’ve been pondering this. “Church is were I can rest, communicate, question, ponder, hug, laugh, cry, and love. Sometimes I feel it in rooms with stained-glass. Always, I can see it in children’s eyes.

    “The Bible, Jesus, God are excellent means to an end. There are other means to the same end”

    I love the way that you’ve described it – to this midwesterner it is that overwhelming feeling of “Gosh, how lucky am I that I’m in the middle of this, this, this Moment.”

  • http://cafegilliam.net/ Emma

    Hi, Kristin! I stumbled on your blog a few days ago, and it rocks! You are creative, genuine, and fun. Thanks for this.

    I have a liiiitle food for thought about your post. Given with respect and cheer, I hope it won’t offend.

    -try to balance our desire for intellectual honesty and passionate worship and living.
    -are committed to mercy, justice and meaningful action in our community and world.
    -desire genuine fellowship and community with one another, seven days a week.
    -value people coming together from many backgrounds.
    I love these, especially the first. I hold these as succinct and beautifully expressed.

    -are searching, and trying to find answers to big questions we might never grasp.
    Agreed. However, the searching seems to be matched with never grasping. Along with your assertion of humility, perhaps also essentially noted is God’s unfolding, revealing of truth as we seek Him out. “The truth will set you free.” The inner transforming power of godly truth is a huge mark of community worship to me.

    -are broken and in need healing.
    -honor Jesus and deeply desire to follow him, even if we don’t always get it right.
    Kinda the same here. We need healing, and will our entire life. But we also receive healing, which is supremely notable. Sometimes a certain healing is gradual; sometimes it’s large and complete, even here on earth. With the second, we don’t always get it right, but we aspire to allow ourselves to be molded by God, so that sometimes we DO get it right, and Jesus is honored, followed, glorified, through our earthen vessels.

    -don’t need everything to be black and white—we are willing to say “I’m not sure.”
    I really, really love your phrase “intellectual honesty” in the other statement. And I’m not sure, for sure. But we’re still perusing truth. Our minds are better useful when they’re sharp. One of the benefits I find to being a Christian is that God tells us to examine things. We don’t need everything to be black and white — but we’re questing after an understanding of the things of God.

    -actively try to repel polarization, whether religious, political, economic or racial.
    Whew. I respect it, but I’m not willing to go so far. There is good, and there is evil, and I’ll say I’m polarized to get as close to good and far from evil as possible. BUT we respect the intrinsic dignity of every person, regardless of religion, politics, economics, race.

    -put loving God and loving one another above any strict doctrine.
    It seems to me that in stating this, it *becomes* your strict doctrine. And I agree with it.

    Thanks for reading my little contribution. Hope you don’t mind, coming from a stumble upon-ner whom you don’t know! I hear what you’re saying about people being hurt by past religious experience; I kinda like to think I’m anti-religious. Again, beautiful blog!

  • http://ordinarymer.blogspot.com Meredith

    “…put loving God and loving one another above any strict doctrine.”

    I’d probably rank this as highest, if only because I have a personal aversion to formal doctrine. I think anyone – of any faith – who puts doctrine ahead of the actual person misses the point. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Gandhi: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

    I envy you having this community to belong to – it sounds like a wonderful place.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Trina, thanks for the reassurance. Sometimes I feel like I can’t think straight any more—like I’m too close to an idea or story to even know what it’s really about. (Or maybe I’m just too tired to put it all together!) And you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter when it comes to community: “letting go of perfectionism, yet still striving to be/do ones best” and the importance of finding a “place of acceptance.” Exactly.

    Dave, as a Mac user for 15+years, I like that analogy! But at the same time, even the best church communities, like the best marriages, require a lot of work. I don’t want to paint a picture of a perfect church full of perfect people—that would be ironic, in the midst of all the brokenness and imperfection that makes it what it is. Also, I’m willing to put a lot more time and maintenance into a community than into my computer! :) Anyway, I really like how you’re pondering what church is for you: “Church is were I can rest, communicate, question, ponder, hug, laugh, cry, and love.” I guess it’s the ability to accommodate complexity that makes a church community right for me.

    Emma, thanks so much for spending time at my blog, and for your really well-thought comment. I love this sort of “critique”—it makes me think harder about the words I choose and what I’m really trying to say. I’m definitely going to take all of your thoughts and questions to heart as I continue working on the website copy. Regarding the particular points you shared your thoughts about, I noticed a slight theme: I think I am compensating (perhaps over compensating, maybe mostly subconsciously) for the self-righteous Christian stereotype. I am stressing “brokenness” and “no knowing” and “not getting everything right,” while you are rightly pulling me back a bit, to a place of more balance. I still think I will find myself leaning toward my initial stance, but it’s also important for me to acknowledge all that is possible with God. Thanks for the reminder!

    Meredith, I love that Gandhi quote, too. Jesus was all about people—about focusing on love rather than on the religious laws that used to dictate every action people took (or didn’t take). We have our own versions of laws now, and we love to pull them out when we need excuses for why we’ve treated someone a certain way, or neglected someone’s needs. Anyway, I *do* obviously feel very blessed to be a part of this faith community (I even met my husband there!), but as I mentioned in my response to Dave, I want to be careful not to portray it as perfect. We have a lot to learn and figure out together as we go—therein lies the beauty, I suppose.

  • http://www.blackwasp19.wordpress.com Blackwasp19

    Kristin,

    I definitely miss you guys. And hope all is going well at church. I echo many of the comments Emma made (props Emma).

  • http://www.jenx67.com jenx67

    Fantastic, Kristin. If I lived there, I’d come. I really like the line about polarization. If you could bottle that and sell it, well, you know…

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Blackwasp19, we miss you too! Things are going well at church, but it’s interesting to note how my definition of what it means for things to “go well” has changed the past few years. :) It’s much less about perfection and more about the Pilgrim’s Progress.

    jenx67, yeah, repelling polarization is such a great idea, but a seemingly impossible reality. At least we can be very conscious and deliberate about our ideal, even if we don’t get it exactly right. (Hey, there’s that recurring theme!)