Monday, June 30, 2014

Thoughts from Anne Lamott

Recently I've been re-reading some of Anne Lamott's book Traveling Mercies.  Her writing is fresh and earthy, if you know what I mean.  When I stumbled on her chapter entitled "Why I Make Sam Go to Church," I wanted to pass it on as encouragement, food for thought, and an opportunity for reflection.  As I read Anne's words, I thought: Isn't this what we all want for the kids in our lives that we cherish?

We all know that there are a million things vying for our time and attention at any moment.  Making time for faith practices as a family can feel like just one more thing to do.  Yet I firmly believe, with Anne, that our kids need us to model faith for them if we want them to have a life-giving relationship with Jesus.  I also believe that taking the time to worship, pray, and be involved in a faith community is essential in the midst of these crazy-busy lives we live.

Of course, although the title of Anne's chapter is "Why I Make Sam Go to Church," I don't want anyone to think I am endorsing forcing your children go to church and do things like devotions just to go through the motions.  I think there has to be some authenticity to what you do, and I think our kids need to see us walking the walk in addition to talking the talk. 

These thoughts likely stem from knowing too many people who "grew up in the church" but who did so without faith ever becoming something personal, relational, or more than a duty.  As a result, they aren't engaged with the church at all today.  My hope is that our kids grow up to have a life with God and a community of faith that might include a bit of duty but that also includes a whole lot of delight.

"Why I Make Sam Go to Church" (an excerpt)
Sam is the only kid he knows who goes to church--who is made to go to church two or three times a month.  He rarely wants to.  This is not exactly true: the truth is he never wants to go.  What young boy would rather be in church on the weekends than hanging out with a friend?  It does not help him to be reminded that once he's there he enjoys himself, that I always pack some snacks and some Legos...that he genuinely cares for the people there.  All that matters to him is that he alone among his colleagues is forced to spend Sunday morning in church.

You might think, noting the bitterness, the resignation, that he was being made to sit through a six-hour Latin mass.  Or you might wonder why I make this strapping, exuberant boy come with me most weeks, and if you were to ask, this is what I would say.

I make him because I can.  But that is only part of it.  The main reason is that I want to give him what I have found in the world, which is to say a path and a light to see by.  Most of the people I know who have what I want--which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy--are people with a deep sense of spirituality.  They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith: they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians--people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights.  They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. 

I saw something once from a Jewish Theological Seminary that said, "A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet.  It can be meaningless.  Or it can be a part of a great meaning." Our funky little church is filled with people who are working for peace and freedom, who are out there on the streets and inside praying, and they are home writing letter, and they are at the shelters with giant platters of food.

When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on.  They church became my home in the old meaning of home--that it's where, when you show up, they have to let you in.  They let me in.  They even said, "You come back now"...

Not long ago I was driving Same and his friend Josh over to Josh's house where the boys were going to spend the night.  But out of the blue, Josh changed his mind about wanting Sam to stay over...Sam was devastated.  I kept asking God for help, and after a while I realized something-- that Josh was not enjoying this either.  He was just trying to take care of himself, and I made the radical decision to let him off the hook.  I imagined gently lifting him off the hook of my judgment and setting him back on the ground.

And a moment later, he changed his mind.  Now, maybe this was a result of prayer, or forgiveness; maybe it was a coincidence.  I will never know.  But even before Josh changed his mind, I did know one thing for sure, and this was that Sam and I would be going to church the next morning.  Mary Williams would be sitting in the back near the door, in a crumbled hat.  Sam would hug her; she would close her eyes and smell the soft skin of his neck, just below his ears.

What I didn't know was that Josh would want to come with us too.  I didn't know that when I stopped by his house to pick up Sam the next morning, he would eagerly run out ahead of Sam to ask if he could come.  Another thing I didn't know was that Mary Williams was going to bring us another bag of dimes.

It had been a little while since her last dime drop, but just when I think we've all grown out of the ritual, she brings us another stash.  Mostly I give them to street people.  Some sit like tchotchkes on bookshelves around the house.  Mary doesn't know that professionally I'm doing much better now; she doesn't know that I no longer need people to slip me money.

But what's so dazzling to me, what's so painful and poignant, is that she doesn't bother with what I think she knows or doesn't know about my financial life.  She just knows we need another bag of dimes, and that is why I make Sam go to church.

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