Monday, August 4, 2008

prayer for community

Here is the first part of a reading Amanda Vogel shared in worship tonight:

After growing up in a small college town surrounded by both our immediate families and a church that had seen us go from youth group members to youth group leaders, Abe and I graduated college, got married, and began our life as “adults.”  Two years ago, Abe accepted a job with Clark Construction and I decided to stop teaching 9th graders to read and write and instead, pursue my own dream of reading and writing.  I was accepted that fall into American University’s MFA for Creative Writing program and we both started settling into our new life.

I’d always loved the start of a new school year—since the age of 5, my years had run from September-August rather than January to December.  I met a lot of new people and did a lot of reading and writing my first semester at graduate school.  For the most part, everyone was nice and we had many things in common, the greatest of which was our artist identities. I expected deep conversations about art and life, sitting around people’s living rooms with a glass of red wine in hand, waxing poetic.  But somehow, there was no depth in these friendships.  We talked about thinking and books occasionally, but mostly, it was parties and going out and gossiping.  In workshops, I read crazy stories where people did crazy things I’d never imagined doing or writing about.  I had to respect the content and look at the language and story.  When I tried to weave ideas about faith into my own stories, I didn’t get the same respect.  People even had the audacity to suggest getting rid of those ideas altogether. I felt like no one knew me and worse still, that if they did really know me, especially the Christian side of me, they wouldn’t actually like me.

At this point, we hadn’t started going to church in Virginia.  It was hard to replicate our church home and every church we tried seemed to be a one note demographic of thirty or forty-somethings with small children.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not us.  We had also left our Pennsylvania church feeling a little defeated and used.  We weren’t too anxious to find more “stuff” to fill up our time.  And it was nice, having leisurely Sunday mornings with our puppies and some Starbuck’s.

I was tired and longing for connection.  I decided that I’d be more honest, open, and vulnerable with my friends at school, and share who I really am, in hopes of getting the same response.  I assumed other people were feeling the same disconnect that I was feeling.

But I was wrong.  I don’t want to judge these people, many of whom I still consider friends—it’s just that they were satisfied with what was there on the surface, relationships built on gossip and drinking and classes we had in common.  They’d never experienced authentic community.  To them, this was authentic, but to me, it was not.

Long story short, by the end of last year, I had hit rock bottom as far as relationships go.  My two closest friends stopped talking to me without reason and now, only talked to each other.  When I got up the guts to ask if something was wrong, willing to admit even to faults I hadn’t known I committed, I wasn’t given an answer.  I was hurt beyond words and wanted to drop out of my program. One semester left, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to deal with any more.

I didn’t say the words aloud, a prayer for community and wholeness and renewed faith in God and people—it was clearly a situation where the Spirit interceded with groans words could not express.  Because it was around this time that we received a post card in the mail for a block party being thrown by a little place called Convergence.  (You might have heard of it.)  All it took was seeing the words creative, community, and faith in the same place.  I knew it was a specific answer from God, a flashing sign that said, “Go. Here.”

So we met awesome people at the block party and more awesome people at the Sunday service.  I signed up for an Artist’s Way group and met even more awesome people and also started really believing that my identity as a writer and a Christian could coincide.  When Convergence advertised a writing space for rent, I jumped at the opportunity, and soon had a room of my own.  The past three weeks, I participated in the discussions and dinners led by Elise and learned so much and yes, got to know even more awesome people.  I am so thankful for Convergence.  It’s a community that makes me feel right at home, while also challenging me to step out of my comfort zones and do things I would normally be terrified of…like speaking at a service.

Tonight, because we are sharing communion together, I wanted to share a little piece of writing I’ve been working on.  I’m interested in spiritual memoir and have been writing a lot lately about my experiences of church and faith and how they’ve shaped me, from childhood until now.

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