catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 16 :: 2006.09.08 — 2006.09.22


A good kind of stuck

A wise friend once said, “You know you are in a community when everyone feels stuck with each other.” I laughed because I grew up in Farmland, Indiana (no, I am not making that up) and I’ve been “stuck” there and a few other places. I am stuck now, too.

I lived ten years in Christian communities, beginning with a drama troupe in my seventeenth summer. My parents hold no religious traditions, so I found living with faithful people to be fascinating and mostly sweet. If I were to choose a community, it would look like the staff training events of my college ministry years, or like Practicing Resurrection or Jubilee. I would choose smart people who love Jesus, who sing loud (with a horn section, thank you) and who love to read and think and talk about movies. Hearts & Minds Books would host the resource table. I would choose people who play well—really well. Imagine! But that’s the new heaven and the new earth, not yet.

After three Christian colleges, four years with the CCO, and three Christian leadership houses, I finished my stretch at Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, when Scott and I entered the so-called Real World, no longer employed as professional Christians and no longer a part of a discernable community. No Staff Weekend training events, and no horn section.

A decade and a half later, my calling is richer and more complex than I would choose. I live in a difficult neighborhood. At times I am “the” difficult member of this community, myself. I spent a lot of years in leadership, and okay, I am almost always right. Like prophets of old, God teaches me via unconventional sources. Community happens when we have to make the best of things, despite taste or distaste, ease or discomfort. This is an important place, not only for the occasional good I can be to my community, but because of the uncomfortable “good” my neighbors call out in me.

Yesterday and today, thirty inches of snow fell from the sky—the quantity is record-breaking. Our neighborhood, aka The Difficult Community, is short on parking on a clear day, so Scott arranges the shovel brigade while I rustle up some grub. We are making an Occasion. We are building Community. We’re really just pitching in, but we have more fun at it than most, because we are college-ministry-trained at such things.

These neighbors are hard-working, good-hearted people, if just as difficult as us. On snow days like this, hospitality is my best gift to offer. I lengthen my mother’s oak table with another four leaves, and I invite relentlessly. Though they will never know it as such, I’m providing a little college ministry training for my neighbors. Minus the horn section.

The bay window fills our tiny condo with sunlight reflecting off of Gloucester Harbor—and it also offers a view of The Crow’s Nest bar, a tattoo parlor, and the working end of the seaport. Today, we have a bird’s eye view of snowplows. Our condo is one of thirty crowded into this neighborhood. For awhile, Scott was one of two dads, though there are eleven children. We are still the only “first marriage” couple. Who lives here? Single people, single moms, a single grandfather, recovering heroin addicts, gay and lesbian singles, weekend children and step-children and foster children. Our neighbors hail from Brazil, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone, Ireland—it’s the most diverse neighborhood in town. It’s work. It’s good work. And it works on me, sometimes like sandpaper, sometimes like a jackhammer.

Once, Scott and I met two “urban missionaries.” When they described being a part of city life in an underprivileged neighborhood, Scott and I glanced at each other: “affordable housing” is our only option for housing at all! We are more accidental evangelists, and as a result, our neighbors do not see us as professional Christians. They do not clean up their language or behavior for us, as students did in the past. In some ways the change is a relief, but sometimes I’d like to be the Residence Director again and wield my benevolent authority—alas, I have no authority. Scott’s theology degree is best hidden beneath his identity as a middle school teacher. Any hint of arrogance, particularly religious arrogance, works against all we have invested.

This community has shaped me into a better listener and gentler contributor of my faith—I learned good seeds of those gifts in college ministry circles, but a finer and wiser craft is necessary here, as our story will take time to tell, and trust-building takes a long, long time.

It is a strange honor when one neighbor insults me by calling me “so straight” and then asks about my Sunday school curriculum. “Whatever that church is paying you ought to be doubled,” he insists—I’ve not yet admitted to him that Sunday school is a volunteer activity. I am delighted that he cares. If I had set out to tell him about my faith… When I moved here, I was a harried, underslept mom, paying no attention to my calling as a minister of the gospel, or I feel sure I would have been too pointed, too impatient. He never became an evangelism project: he is a neighbor and a friend. The conversation will continue.

Another neighbor is a peace activist, and this year she read her first book by a Christian author, at my suggestion. “She’s not like I thought Christians were, at all,” she said of Anne Lamott. “She’s a lot like you.” Again, I struggle not to fall over from the grace of this small, good moment.

I throw open the window and shout that soup is ready. For all my years in Christian communities, I never thought this day would come, when I would see fruits of God’s work in a community with no faith focus. We’re not great evangelists and we don’t hold a clear mission: we just live here. We speak openly about our faith when the time is right, and we also stumble frequently and ask forgiveness. And we serve food. After seven years enduring community strife, we are in a good place, now.

In the end, we host two afternoons of potlucks for hungry shovelers, featuring pots of chili and potato soup, rhubarb crumble, cornbread, hot cocoa, fresh Snow Ice Cream. We light candles and our children sing a table grace. During our meals, neighbors share outrageous gossip and make me the brunt of "domestic goddess" jokes, which tells you how often they eat around a big table—I am decidedly not domestic. But I know the last chapter of The Revelation involves a Feast, and we need practice.

After a lengthy mid-day meal, Scott devises creative sled runs from dangerous precipices and kids glide the half-block down toward Main Street. Scott puts on his best campus minister face and cajoles adults until they try, too. “Hey have you noticed,” he grins, “that there’s no school today?”

People join communities (or get stuck in them) for all kinds of reasons. In some ways, the college ministry community never leaves us. Whatever playfulness and freshness the Holy Spirit blew through us, then, returns at a moment’s notice. Scott suggests that perhaps we are the horn section of this blessed place where we find ourselves stuck. In any case, we shovel, romp, cook and eat, and start all over again.

The forecast calls for another eight inches.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus