Commitment Phobia and the Church

Commitment Phobia and the Church March 12, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 12.32.19 PMAn interview with Erin S. Lane, author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, who works for the Seattle-based nonprofit Center for Courage & Renewal as an assistant program director for Clergy & Congregational Leader Programs. She has a master of theological studies degree from Duke University Divinity School and is coeditor of Talking Taboo, an anthology of writing from young Christian women on the intersection of faith and gender. Erin is an experienced communication strategist for authors and organizations and writes at for those “faithful rebels” who question the culture of sexism, stereotypes and Sunday School answers without losing hope in the God who reconciles all things.

What made you want to write a book about not being a “none”?

Erin Lane: Because I’m a contrarian. Jokes aside, my generation often defines ourselves by what we are against rather than what we are about. I wanted to write a book that explored why anyone my age would be “about” belonging to the church and the gifts we could offer it if we chose to stick around.

You write that disillusionment is a good thing. Why do you think this is so, and what role can the church play in this? 

Erin: Disillusionment has gotten a bad rap. We use it as a way to describe disappointment. I want to recover its most basic meaning as the process of being “stripped” or “freed” from our illusions. Illusions are what keep us from living in reality, and if there’s one thing that’s been made clear to me in writing this book, it’s that God’s reality is better than any fiction I know. It follows then that the church should be a place where we regularly go to get our ‘reality check”, a place where we can act out who we really are and to whom we really belong.

Why do you think belonging is so important for the millennial generation? What do you hope they’ll take away from reading about your journey? 

Erin: I think belonging is so important to my generation because we feel overwhelmed by the world and the need to find our place in it. We have more options for connecting with one another than ever and more pressure to make the most of them. Further, the institutions that previously brokered these connections are losing influence in places like North America. The path to belonging is more confusing than ever. My hope is that readers will feel less alone after reading about my own foibles in belonging and take some small steps—the lessons of belonging, if you will—toward realizing their identity in a community of faith.

How does your spiritual story, from being raised as a Catholic to being a Methodist pastor’s wife, play a role in how you personally found a place where you feel at home? 

Erin: I don’t have a lot of hope that I’d be committed to the church today if my faith identity weren’t so tied to the lives of those I love most. Granted, I’m not someone who really likes the “church as family” metaphor since I think encountering strangers is one of the best parts about going to church. But having a familial connection to the church helps a commitment phobe like me narrow her options and focus on choosing one place at a time to call home. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home in any one tradition. I’m a wanderer, and instead of seeing that as a character flaw (or symptomatic of my generation), I see that now as the gift of going where the Spirit leads.

What’s the most important thing you’d say to someone who is spiritual but can’t find the motivation to be at church each Sunday? 

Erin: I’d say, “Me, too.” I can’t find the motivation to be at church each Sunday either but I still try to do it. Going to church has to depend on something more than motivation. It has to be a habit that you practice—or want to practice—because at some point you had a revelation that this is where real life is found. A mentor of mine has a quote on her desk that reads, “Discipline is remembering what you want.” Do you want to go church each Sunday? If not, I can’t convince you. But if so, I’ll be right there with you.

What’s the number one thing you’d say to folks already in the pews trying to bring in this ‘none” generation? 

Erin: I’d say, “Be yourselves.” There’s nothing more important for the “none” generation than finding a community that’s authentic, transparent and honest. Don’t try to be something else than you are, but also know that you might have to stretch your comfort zone to welcome the unprecedented diversity of my generation.

How do you think readers can find belonging through activism and outreach programs beyond the church doors? 

Erin: Each of us belongs to a variety of communities in which we find identity and purpose. Although I consider the local church to be “ground zero” for shaping my beliefs on belonging, the nonprofit I work for—the Center for Courage & Renewal—has been more influential in my understanding of how we practice belonging. I think the church has a lot to learn from life outside its doors and can only benefit from those of us with enough wherewithal to journey between the two.

Distributed by IVP media.

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