by: Gillian Ford
Contributor: Lisi Owens
Last time I spoke to you all I talked about what brought me to Trinity nearly a year ago - crisis and desperation. Those circumstances have dissipated. Yet I keep coming back even though there’s a voice inside me that pipes up every once in a while to say, “What are you doing? This isn’t who you are.”
Reconciling that I really like coming here every Sunday and a nagging feeling that I am not being true to myself by doing so has made me think a lot about why I keep coming back. And in thinking about why I keep coming back, I have to think about why I didn’t come before. That makes me think about why a lot of people I know don’t come and, you know, it’s a very “if you give a mouse a cookie” situation.
I have to tell you a story, but before I tell it to you, I have to tell you that I really don’t want to tell you this story. See I’m standing up here talking to you about some of the things I think are keeping people like me away from church when I spent thirty-two years of my life feeling very resolved that I was not a person who would get anything out of going to church. So when I tell you this story, it’s going to reveal to you that I was wrong about something, and I really, really, really do not like being wrong about things. I was what we in my generation like to call a “hot mess” for my first couple years of college. About halfway through my sophomore year, I cooled off to what you might call a “warm mess,” and I made a new friend, Sierra. Then, I thought she was a nerd and now I realize she just had her act together. Nevertheless, we became good friends.
One evening, I was at dinner with Sierra and a friend of hers I did not know very well. I was sitting by myself on one side of the table and they were both sitting on the other side facing me. Sierra looked at me and said, “Oh by the way, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Jesus. I have some books I think you should read.” I don’t remember what I said in response to that, but I can tell you what I felt in that moment and every time I’ve thought about it since was “How. Dare. You.” How dare you think I’m not smart enough to already know everything you would tell me; how dare you think that I’m not strong enough to be able to save myself; and how dare you think that I’m not independent enough be able to forge my own path. How dare you look at me with that face like I need your help.
I certainly can’t claim to be the voice of my generation, but in the immortal words of Lena Dunham, I’m a voice of my generation. And I think these three things: being smart, being strong, and being independent are defining visions people of this generation have for themselves. I also think that for reasons that have little to do with the people in this church, this is a generation that views being a Christian as being in conflict with those values. But as much as we define ourselves as smart, strong, independent, ingenious contrarians and rebellious dissenters, I think we are also a generation aching for a value system defined by who we are, not who we are not. And, just like every generation before us and every generation after us, we are made up of individuals who all view and experience the world in different ways.
I don’t want the takeaway of what I just said to be that everyone who is between the ages of 25 and 40 has the same feelings about church that I do. Instead, I want to communicate that everyone has a unique story to tell and I think it is through sharing our stories with one another we achieve the type of meaningful and lasting connection that brings people to a place of peace like the one I have found by coming to church.
So, what should you do with all this information? I’ll give you one easy starting place: this week, ask one person who you think of as different from you—at your office, during a school event, at the park—to tell you their story. And when they’re done telling their story don’t tell them they need to read a book about Jesus, or even THE book about Jesus. Just communicate to them that you are grateful that they shared with you and that you care about them. When I needed someone to listen, there have been people in this congregation who listened to me. Being a recipient of that kind of care, I can tell you that just by listening, you’ll bring a joy to that person’s day they didn’t even know they were looking for.