We can be real here

I’ve been reading John Pavlovitz’ book, “A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community.” It’s a breath of fresh air and reminds me of my own experience at Mt. Irenaeus twenty years ago. In late 1999 and early 2000 I was looking for an authentic community of believers. I’d recently been involved with youth ministry on our school campus. I liked the folks but it was an inauthentic experience for me. All of my life I’ve been deeply religious but profane too. I was trying hard to fit in with the church folks who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful of it. I had spent most of my life around people for whom profanity was second nature. Most of them were deeply spiritual folks but there was always this tension to remain pious in the presence of the people at church.

In February of 2000 I followed the advice of a friend and went to Mass at Mt. Irenaeus is nearby West Clarksville. My wife and I showed up dressed for church. Wingtips for me and low heels for her. When we got there we found folks dressed in blue jeans and walking barefoot in the chapel. I returned the following week and stayed for brunch and kept returning Sunday after Sunday. One day I volunteered to help one of the friars work on the property. While we were working he accidentally hit his hand with a hammer and said, “Son of bitch.” I thought to myself, “these are my people.” Indeed over the years since then the Friars were real and they showed me that holiness comes from being wholly myself.

Tonight while reading John Pavlovitz’ book I came across this passage and it resonated. I’ve thought for many years now that Jesus of Nazareth was at home with folks like me. He was shunned by the religious people who were scandalized that he dined with prostitutes and tax collectors.

“At North Raleigh Community Church, where I’ve made my home and ministered for the past three years, we cuss a lot: in small groups, in casual conversation, even from the pulpit (well, it’s actually a podium, but you get the idea). When I initially arrived, this was all a little disorienting to me, not because the words weren’t part of my daily vernacular or because they offended my tender sensibilities, but because I knew better than to admit that I ever said such words or to utter them in mixed religious company. During our first Sunday visit, the pastor dropped an expletive during his message, and I nearly soiled myself. People laughed heartily, but no one seemed particularly surprised and no one walked out. I figured it was an accidental oversight—that is, until the next week. More expletives. I remember thinking, “This is brilliant. He’s set the table for us all. He’s letting us know that we all can be real here, that we are all in this together, and so we can let our guard down and be exactly who we are without pretense. We can be completely effing honest—and it’s OK.””

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz

If you’re looking for authentic community and a prophetic voice I highly recommend this book. It’s been one of the best I’ve read recently.