LESSONS IN BELONGING FROM A CHURCH-GOING COMMITMENT PHOBE by Erin S. Lane
Erin S. Lane's new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, is a revelation. It will be categorized as spiritual memoir, but that distinction is limiting in light of what Frederick Buechner says: "all theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography, and … what a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there."
Lane challenges, encourages, exhorts, and entertains; she crafts her stories with care and integrity, with fierce wit, and vulnerability. She is a writer's writer—one who weaves story and scripture together seamlessly, while forging beautiful sentences. Lane loves words, but not as much as she loves the church. And not with a watered-down love, but a whole-hearted, agitating love. A love in motion. A love in tension.
Confirmed Catholic and coming of age charismatic, married to a Methodist and working with Quakers, Lane possesses a spiritual heritage that is a veritable tapestry, so it's not surprising that she wrestles with belonging. However, unlike many of her generational cohorts, she clearly does not identify as a "None of the Above." In this book, as in her life, Lane has adopted some disciplines (showing up, reading charitably, being earnest, and risking vulnerability, to name a few) to guide her questioning, which, inspiringly, remains anchored in love. Love for the church and its people. For the ritual and the steeple.
We are all driven by a desire to belong, and this book will resonate with anyone willing to name that desire. Something beautiful surely abounds when we believe we belong. Belonging provides a natural space for creativity to blossom, and we are freed to experiment. Belonging increases our capacity for commitment and forgiveness, for covenant and faithfulness—all values that seem to have fallen out of fashion in the modern congregation and, along with transparency and integrity, that millennials claim to be craving.
Statistics about the millennials and their exodus from church are plentiful, and Lane's Lessons in Belonging presents a third way in the current debate. Millennials have identified problems with the church, and the church's rejoinder is that millennials must be part of the solution. Lane chastens her generation to consider that they are part of the problem as well and that we all are responsible to belong to each other. To paraphrase Lane, belonging is something that happens with us, not to us.
This book is a clarion call to everyone who dares to show up on a Sunday morning, or a Tuesday night, or whenever their iteration of the body of Christ chooses to meet: We are agents in our own belonging. Lane is quick to reflect, both earnestly and honestly, on the difficulty inherent to belonging, but that difficulty is not a reason to stay home.
To show up in a place of worship is not a guarantee that transformation will happen, that I will live differently as a result, that I will be made well by prayers, that I will find a community that cares. Nor is it to say that because God promises to show up here with me God will not show up there with you. What I mean to say when I say that God shows up in a place is that I am able to witness the presence of God, palpably, both because the biblical witness tells me this is where my people have known God to dwell and because the present witness shows me how my people make an invisible God visible. By showing up at church, week after week, my body begs a witness greater than its own two eyes can see.
In his seminal book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis declares that "friendship is born at that moment when one [wo/]man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…" This book lives in that resonant space for my generation, and for those who desire to be in relationship with us. This book is for those who love Christ but have difficulty with Christians. For those who love the church, but don't necessarily like its members.
Lane begins with a story about a writing exercise from a class taught in a women's prison in Durham, N.C, to both inmates and divinity students. Given the prompt "The thing I am most desperate to keep you from finding out about me is…," Lane bravely shares, both in that class exercise and through the chapters of this beautiful text, "I want to belong, but I don't know how."
Me, too, Erin Lane. Me, too.
Janell Anema hates credit lines because they can't possibly begin to describe all that she is and loves. But if you must know, she is a writer, traveler, and brave explorer of the heart.