Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe
"The thing I am most desperate to keep you from finding out about me is . . . I want to belong, but I do not know how."
There was a time when being a part of a church was not a decision you made but a reality you inhabited. But today belonging to the church has become a lost art, especially for millennials whose church experience is often summed up in one word: none.
Erin Lane's church experience might be better described in two words: "It's complicated." Having grown up in a church, she has an appreciation for liturgy and covenant community. Having graduated from divinity school and taken a job in spiritual formation, she appreciates the structured, shared pursuit of theological and spiritual integrity. Having married a pastor, she sort of had church coming. Yet she wasn't always sure how to belong.
With earnest persistence, Erin practiced the hard (and often surprising) lessons of community. Her story is an invitation to reclaim God's promise of inclusion and live like we belong to one another.
"It's Erin Lane's struggle as much as her counsel that makes this book so important. She does not preach from on high in these pages. Instead, she shares her mind and heart from the trenches of what she calls 'the messy business of belonging to one another.' If you are looking for yet another sanitized treatise on the joys of Jesus and his church, do not open this book. But if you want real talk about real dilemmas in our own broken lives and in the broken life of the church, this book is for you."
"Erin Lane is a writer to watch—to read with focused attention now, certainly, but also to watch. Articulate, candid beyond all caution, and cosmopolitan in experience, she is passionate about the values, stances and experiences of the millennial generation to which she belongs. The result is one of the clearest and certainly one of the most informing pictures I have seen to date of the generation of young adults who presently are shaping the twenty-first-century church."
"Plenty of folks want Jesus but not the church. . . . In this raw, winsome book, Erin cuts through the fluff. She has seen the funk of Christianity—but she has fallen in love with a beautiful God whose grace overshadows the funk of the church. She reminds us that the church is not a meeting or a building, not something you go to—the church is something we are, a living body, a community where imperfect people can fall in love with a perfect God and hopefully help each other become a little better. Erin reminds us that the real question isn't whether or not Christians are hypocrites, but whether we can be honest enough to make room for another hypocrite among us. It's a lovely book for folks who love the church, and folks who want to but aren't there yet."
"This is the kind of book I'd like to hand to millennials and church leaders, and say, 'Read this!' As Lane shares her 'commitment phobe' story, she is charitable, vulnerable and full of conviction about how we are all to be the church and about how we are all to belong to one another. I admire her charity toward and communion with believers and congregations who hold different convictions than she does. Oh, that we too would model her charity and engagement!"
"Like Erin, I'm a bit of a commitment phobe myself, and moving more than five times in my first decade of full-fledged adulthood (like many of my generation) hasn't helped. Through her theological and personal storytelling in this eloquently crafted book, Lane offers those who are weary and cynical a glimpse at—and an invitation to—discovering the imperfect wonder of life together in Christ."
"Erin Lane holds out here an inescapable enigma: we are both singular and communal beings. In passion, humor, angst and eccentricity, she gives us windows into her particular story. But, but, but, she does so as she takes us with her on a meandering, start and stop, disappointing and yearning journey to find Christian community. Like her, we long for what is genuine and intimate but not coercive, invasive or smarmy—in other words, we long for what is very hard to find. Erin is a candid, pained and hilarious guide who illustrates what makes community so rich but so elusive. She portrays the challenges, admits and tempers the tensions, and reassures us of the grace and beauty of what is possible, even if it is inevitably partial."
"The church's thinkers have rightly turned toward community, but real community is difficult before it is life-saving. This book disillusions us from community-in-dreams to return us to the ordinary, everyday body of Christ. The church is a headache, and it is worthy of our longing for it. This book is wise, tender, patient and beautiful."
"Erin Lane skillfully weaves insights about marriage and the church, God and anthropology, physics and spirituality, into a thoroughly engaging personal narrative that is a great pleasure to read. Lessons in Belonging is funny, smart and full of wisdom from a wide array of sources—Einstein, ancient tradition, Lane's acquaintances and friends. It may convince you—in these days of increasing privatization and insulation—that going to church is a beautiful and important countercultural move. Or it may simply charm you with its lively stories and intriguing cast of characters. It's a wonderful book however you approach it."
"Erin Lane has written a compelling, candid narrative—a testimony—with lessons for all of us about belonging and longing. Read it to learn from a millennial about the perennial desire of the human heart to connect and how a life with God can meet those needs. Wonderful. Practical. Theology."
"Lane offers a mix of memoir, self-examination, cultural analysis, scriptural reflection, and an outline of church basics for the uninitiated . . . vignettes of her husband, mother, friends, acquaintances, and strangers from various stages of life provide storytelling relief."
"Erin S. Lane's new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, is a revelation. . . . 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. . . . 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."
"In further wrestling with the nature and practice of church, Erin Lane challenges us to imagine a faith in which belonging is just as important as believing. This will be another excellent resource for those who are struggling with church."
"Lane's honest approach to communicating with disenfranchised Christians can revolutionize the body of Christ inside and outside of church. . . . Lane's tone is both rebellious and gentle, inspiring and loving. This excellent read offers multigenerational change and the possibility of several follow-up books that might ultimately start a new genre."
"'I don't think I've ever looked forward to going to church for the people.' You have to love a book that makes this declaration. Erin Lane tells a good story about her curious condition as an incurable introvert who nonetheless loves the church—and is married to a pastor to boot. Part church history, part spiritual memoir, part theological treatise on Christian community, Lessons in Belonging suggests how we might shed 'illusions of how belonging should happen.' . . . "Lane wants to help millennials and those who love them to understand the real countercultural impulse of the church: the permission it gives—indeed, the command it speaks—to 'start from the ground of our true being, a humanity fragile and flawed and dusty from the wrestling.' This message ought to be a refreshing one, especially for the hard-charging generation to which Lane belongs. But it also offers relief and rest and rescue to all churchgoers who long for more, regardless of how we label ourselves."
"Lessons In Belonging was a reminder for me that it is only worth expending energy to wrestle with things that really matter—and the Church, in all her clumsy, broken beauty— matters for all of eternity. It is fashionable, and theologically accurate to say we don't go to church, we are the church. However, we still need a band of brothers and sisters to fully express this reality. If you're struggling with what it means for you to be a part of a specific local expression of the church, this book is a very worthwhile read."
"With earnest persistence, Erin practiced the hard (and often surprising) lessons of community. Her story is an invitation to reclaim God's promise of inclusion and live like we belong to one another."
"Lane has an interesting way of blending essayistic writing into her memoir. . . . Readers of Anne Lamott and other younger Christian writers may enjoy Lane's book; it will appeal strongly to the individual seeker."
Preface: The Gift of Disillusionment
Lesson 1: The Importance of Being Earnest
Lesson 2: The Art of Reading Charitably
Lesson 3: The Discipline of Showing Up
Lesson 4: The Risk of Vulnerability
Lesson 5: The Edge of Discernment
Lesson 6: Offering My Portion