AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
- To be notified via email whenever new content like this is added to The Parish blog, click here.
A 3-Minute Read
by Ren Turner
Here, the young children rule like a preschool version of Lord of the Flies. The adults are outnumbered, outmatched. I’m driving in, three kids in car seats behind me, their anticipation and energy building along with my anxiety. I remember Josh telling me at softball about the adults-only house church. Is it possible, I think, to drop off my crew at the Ramseys’ and make it to Alpharetta and back with my marriage still intact?
Not likely, I decide. Audible exhale.
Then, in the midst of my doubt, negativity, and overall internal crotchetiness, I’m reminded of this line by Julie Canlis in her article, “Love in the Desert of Lent”: “Although we often think of Lent as a time of strict discipline and self-denial, it requires something much more: a deep understanding of our belovedness.”
And as we pull up, I’m reminded in small but very real ways of how this community helps me see, hear and believe, “You are Beloved.”
Escape plans now fully thwarted, we unload with children and Britt’s bangin’ homemade granola in tow and descend upon the idyllic setup for such a gathering that is the Ramseys’ house and backyard. And now I want an AstroTurf yard.
The kids take off in the freedom of play, a scene packed with beauty and wonder and grace and of course a few incidents needing parental intervention.
I look around and see faces I know well and people I’ll talk with for the first time today. I see Jake who always looks and speaks to you with focused attention and care. I see John who is a gracious and generous host and who could definitely hit a softball all the way to that adult house church I’ve now forgotten about. The Reigels, Swiss expats now back in the States, have become fast friends. I see the Michels, who just last night hosted us for a spectacular, soul-feeding dinner. I see the Loyds, dear friends. And Jeff, fellow Ole Miss alum and his wife Savannah. Matt is here, whose beard I envy and who will grace us with music during Communion. And so is Lisa, baby strapped to her front, leading the charge with our community care. This is my (our) ordinary life. And this ordinary life, as Julie Canlis puts it, “is the Spirit’s Playground.”
In the midst of all this, there it is again, “You are Beloved.”
In A Theology of The Ordinary, Canlis writes, “The Spirit’s work is not to lift us out of the ordinary but to put us in Christ, who Himself is quite comfortable in our ordinary flesh and existence. The Spirit carries forward Christ’s mission, but in ways that feel perhaps ordinary, physical, and dauntingly communal.”
On the note of physical, communal, and NOT ordinary, let’s talk about that potluck! We feasted. A platter of bacon, fresh fruit, oatmeal bake, a granola and yogurt bar, blueberry muffins, banana bread. Perhaps most importantly, PB & J Uncrustables and assorted bags of chips—Doritos Nacho Cheese, thank you kindly! Oh, and a fridge full of juice boxes! Guaranteed the adult house church was lacking in the juice box department. Also, is this the right forum to advocate for mimosas at the next meeting? Kidding, kind of.
At this point, I’m relishing it. “You are Beloved,” am I right?
The basement doors open to a covered patio where we sit around loaded paper plates and the kids continue playing with the remnants of those Uncrustables smeared on their faces. Weather’s perfect. Crisp, slight breeze. Think Garden of Eden meets city of Roswell. Then I remember the name of this neighborhood: Edenwilde! OMG, you can’t make this stuff up folks.
“If you don’t realize YOU ARE BELOVED!” I think I hear, “There’s no hope for you.”
My wife, Britt, and I, are sitting across from Megan, our host. James with his lovely English accent is here. A few of the younger kids sit in laps, still grazing. My daughter is on her second bag of chips—Cheetos Puffs this time. Fingers coated in neon orange. There’s comfortable banter, jokes and laughs, even dreams for the community. Then this line from James: “I think a good litmus test for this group is that in the future if I’m having a bad day, there are other men from this community that I can call to share and talk with about what’s going on.”
In the moment, I don’t think I audibly responded. But that struck me as simple, certainly ordinary, and another way this community has spoken Belovedness over me. Or, as Canlis beautifully puts it, “In the dry, arid season before Easter, we encounter the satiety of God’s care for us.”
Wow, what a line, what a truth. I felt that at House Church this week. The satiety of God’s care for us. I hope, I pray that you did too.