“You might not need the church Krisi, but the church needs you.”
Kevin looked me in the eyes and repeated his sentence with eerie authenticity. I’ve been hearing a rendition of this statement a lot recently. Mostly from the same person, my good friend Brianne keeps telling me how much I have to offer to a gathering of Christians.
“Your questions are vital and challenging,” she says.
I’ve started to say I am a really bad dinner guest, you can always count on Krisi to bring up Native American suffering on Thanksgiving, or to oversee about her dad’s disease, or to point out why cruise ships are resource guzzling overworking resort hells. Yeah, if you enjoy awkward gulps and shifty eyes, then please invite me to your dinner party.
I love to give my opinion, but self-awareness has taught me to shut up more than I might want to. Going to church feels a lot like Thanksgiving with strangers.
You walk into a room full of faces of various ages and clothing brands, pull at your own semi-formal attire and take your place at the seat with your name on it. Even though churches don’t always print out place settings, it’s usually obvious who goes where.
There’s a sort of pattern, awkward single person, couple, couple with kids, elderly couple, cool group of single girls, repeat. There’s a greeting period at the beginning when everyone asks non-confrontational questions and then a settling in to feast on heavy cheap calories.
Five reasons not to Worry, Seven Steps to understanding the Resurrection, Everything is Permissible, so on and so forth.
Eventually, it ends and some people linger to clean up or catch up, the rest leave the building, climb into their cars and loosen their belts, promising never to eat so much again, never to worry, so on and so forth.
This is the scene I was explaining to my friend Kevin over mini-sliders as we met up with his family for a quick hello. He was in Minneapolis for a wedding and we had about one hour between my work and the kids’ bedtime to say hello and catch up speedily.
Kevin was my boss when I was a camp counselor and one of the few people who has seemed to fully calm my faith freak outs. I have always been caught off guard by his calm understanding of God, and his ability to look me in the eye remind me that answers are not always readily available.
I thought Kevin would laugh at my bit about being a bad dinner guest and understand I could not go to church and why. It was here, at a wrought iron table, over the tired whimpering of his son, that Keven said to me, “the church needs you, even if you might not need the church.”
I always thought I needed the church, I thought it was what made me feel safe and gave me security. I thought church was where people were honest and helpful. I wasn’t completely off base, but it sure isn’t the only place to find community, help and honesty.
Slowly, subtly, I reached the point in my church narrative like many characters do in their own story where they say, “I don’t need this, I don’t need any of this!” I reached that conclusion without really understanding the significance of saying such a thing about a place from which I had gathered identity for so long.
If I don’t need the church to feel alive, challenged, befriended and supported, then I cannot see a reason to invest time into sitting in the “awkward single” section once a week.
Kevin’s words have stuck with me, the church needs me. To be needed is an innate desire of mine, perhaps it is for most people. We want our thoughts and musings to have a place to land outside of ourselves.
I keep coming back to this idea that people need to feel awkward at dinner, maybe not consistently, but being uncomfortable is a reminder of a world outside of our own. Maybe I don’t need the church, I don’t feel like I do, but I am interested in wanting to be in a place where I can spit out my ideas and have them challenged.
I don’t always believe in God, I don’t always like the tradition and culture of the church, but this is as much true in other social groups too.
What I do know, is a part of my identity is spiritual, maybe even my whole identity as a human is wrapped up in this spiritual storyline. I cannot separate it from the artistic Krisi, the creative Krisi, the skeptical, the cyclist, the coffee enthusiast.
That’s perhaps why the idea of sitting down to dinner, or going to church, no matter how awkward I might be, is worth it. Because it’s a place which celebrates the spiritual, the Divine we interwoven into our daily lives.