Prayer, Creativity & Faith

This is my church

“I am an atheist, but this…” He extends his arms wide and looks around him. “…is my church! Once a year I come here to get filled back up!”

Those may not be his exact words, but every year, Matthew Clemens shares a version of this statement at Midwest Writers Workshop. And every year, anyone within hearing range nods in agreement. That’s why we’re here. We instinctively know this. We’re made better, and more whole, and stronger, in this community.

At this year’s MWW, our keynote speaker was Haven Kimmel, who wrote A Girl Named Zippy, among other things. She talked about how, to write effective memoir, you must be able to view all the people in your story through the lens of compassion—even if you’re the victim. It’s about changing your point of view to consider the same events in a different way.

The morning after I returned home, I sat in the back of my church listening to Pastor Darla’s message. She declared that “we need to learn to regard each person not from a human perspective but from God’s. Through the eyes of Grace. A divine point of view. As a church, we need to not hold people’s shortcomings against them.”

I grabbed my phone to take notes. Parts of Darla’s sermon wove in and out of my internal dialogue. “We begin [the act of reconciliation]…by regarding no one from a human point of view, but rather from Christ’s point of view, who died trying to get us to see one another as beloved in God’s eyes. That means whoever we might experience as an opponent in our lives, those we might fear, even those who may have harmed us. Those who we fear will ruin our reputation or our standing or challenge us. Even seeing ourselves through Christ’s point of view is part of this call to see the world through his eyes of grace.”

One of my favorite things about MWW is that all are welcomed and embraced. Writers tend to be strong on compassion, interested observers of people and what makes them tick, so they listen. Ask questions. Truly want to know, not to change someone’s mind but to get to the heart of them. We recognize the humanity that connects us, more so than the things that might divide us.

Darla continued, “Jesus has entrusted all of this work to you and me… It means taking the towel of Jesus into our hands and washing the feet of those we’d prefer not to. For if Jesus takes a back seat in the life of the church, so does reconciliation. So does healing and peace. So does justice and understanding. Hope and love, forgiveness and grace. If Jesus’ reconciliation takes a back seat then we cease to be the Church and we cease to be Christian. It is the most challenging, the hardest, the most joyful, the most transforming work we will ever do in our lives—if we tend to it faithfully.”

Writing from one’s life is exhausting and painful. You can’t leave raw pain on the page. You have to process what happened, step back a little and see from a wider lens, a compassionate—perhaps even divine—point of view. This is where the writer’s highest work resides, too. Faithfully showing up, faithfully representing, being willing to reexamine your life—and yourself, and even (or especially) those who hurt you—through a lens of compassion. Ask any memoir writer, and I believe they’ll agree: this kind of writing isn’t just a hobby. It’s a calling, no matter what your personal beliefs are about God. There’s something holy about showing up, opening your heart, and pouring yourself out. It’s an act of healing, one of reconciliation, one of joy. It’s both difficult and rewarding, painful and joyous. It’s a gift that the writer brings to the process and offers freely to the reader at whatever cost it demands of them.

When we come together—in a community of writers, in a church of believers, in a community of people filled with compassion, no matter what denominators connect us—I believe something holy happens. It becomes a place where others are truly seen—and permits them to truly see us, to see inside, to witness the profound and nebulous, to experience the beauty and the pain.

Writing then becomes a sacred purpose, one which transcends boundaries and reveals love in beautiful and transformative ways. And this is where our highest work resides. In this church of writing, and in the Church of Christ. When we get to write from both places, when we can let our purposes build layer upon layer in our souls, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Whenever and wherever we can find a way to bridge the loneliness and isolation and come together in unity. To foster and model reconciliation. And hope. And promise. And love.

This is how lives are changed. (And it feels like I need to end this with an “Amen.”) Amen!

One Response to “This is my church”

  1. Shirley L says:

    Well put. Thank you

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