Friday, May 15, 2009

some thoughts on red mountain {or} (we're all excluded)

a theme I keep hearing when I talk to people is that they feel excluded. they feel misunderstood. they feel unappreciated and voiceless. I think this is actually a larger theme for much of what it means to be alive and be human, but I have been thinking about it in the context of our small community here at red mountain, and I have a few observations.

first: literally, everybody feels excluded. I am married without kids. part of the exclusion we feel is an isolation from our friends who are married with kids. we feel the distinction of having more freedom with our time (and with that comes a degree of guilt), but also feel the tension and second guess the judgement and glances from our child bearing friends. just last night I had dinner with some friends who have children, and they talked (she specifically) about how alone the moms feel. how our church has not paid attention or made space in ways that maybe we should have. I mentioned that I think everyone feels excluded, and she agreed with me. and then we talked about it some. I asked her who she thought was on the "inside" at red mountain. she said "I don't know, the musicians?" and I laughed, and it dawned on me how overwhelming this sense of exclusion is. I can totally see how someone would think that the musicians are maybe a group who feels deeply connected and an integral part of red mountain. in reality, many of the musicians barely attend our church, may or may not be christians, and often feel very misunderstood and specifically excluded. it is something we talk about all the time.

I will admit that I personally have struggled tremendously with this feeling of exclusion. I have this tension with where I am, what I believe, what I feel the tide of our community is and the direction it is heading. the longer I am here, the more my sense of awkwardness grows. the more I realize the handicaps in our relationships, and the more I learn to be quiet and the more I retreat to the few people I know well. this is cowardice and I have plenty of my own issues built into this, but at the same time I am realizing, if BTM feels excluded at red mountain (a place where, if I am reflective and honest, I will admit has taken great care of me, has loved me well, has supported and encouraged me in quiet and loud ways for many years), surely, so many more of us do too.

one of the issues for us is that we are not very welcoming. I actually think that this is not a very big distinction, as most churches are far from welcoming (especially if you are a bad person). but it is definitely an issue for us, for sure. something I have known for a long time is that people who are new to red mountain have a hard time feeling connected. they have a hard time forging relationships. sure there are exceptions. but there are a lot of people who quietly come and go, some who even stay for years, without notice. this, to me, is a great sadness and a great failure, and on this issue, I have blood on my hands.

and ironically, it is some of the people who have been here the longest, since we started, who talk the most about feeling excluded. maybe this is because we have such high hopes and expectations. maybe this is because we want the church to be ideal, and it is human. maybe this is because we are young enough as a community to still fight for what we hope to be true.

I don't know much about the bible or theology or really even christianity for that matter. but I do know something about people and relationships, and I think that these feelings of exclusion are real, valid, and an important part of who we are as a community. what is it that makes us feel so alone? what is it that drives us to fill this need from our local church? how do we love others when we are so desperately searching for love and acceptance for ourselves? how do we move forward and start to be more inclusive? how do we bring young, old, sick, healthy, rich, poor, loved, unloved, alone, worn out people together and forge a community that is relevant and meaningful? are these hopes even meant to be satisfied in this life?

at the end of the day, mysteriously, I have great hope for red mountain. it has endured and it has been sustained. it has fostered deep pain and sadness, and it has also fostered shelter, encouragement, and support on levels I personally had never witnessed before. I have seen people change and grow. I have watched people grow angry and leave. and through it all, I have looked around and constantly thought "i have nowhere else to go". it is a good place.

so, we all feel excluded. I think this is important.

I don't really know where this idea leads. but I do hope that maybe we can begin to think freshly about what this community really is and can look like. maybe we can start to feel connected within our feelings of rejection and exclusion. that's where I am, anyway.


Patrick said...

For what it's worth, I don't feel excluded. In fact, I feel very at home at RMC.

I felt excluded when I was in college, because I only knew other college people. So I definitely think we are not very welcoming.

And I've heard lots of people say just what you've said. But I don't feel excluded.

Patrick said...
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Patrick said...

"maybe this is because we have such high hopes and expectations."

So, what are some of these, and what is it about your disappointment that has led you to feel excluded?

Amanda said...

Thanks for posting this, Brian. I agree that there are many, many people at RMC who feel this way, and that we are really terrible at welcoming. I'm not sure what the answers are, but if I had to guess I'd say the one obvious answer, if I can dare to sound trite and cliche, is "more of Jesus." We all
look for our needs and desires to be met in the wrong places, and so much pressure falls on the church to do this, and to do it well. While there does need to be a sense of inclusion and hospitality in the church, I think the loneliness can lead us toward Christ.

jparris1975 said...

Thanks for this post. I'm a notorious blog lurker, but I really wanted to comment about this because I was really encouraged by it. We have only been at red mountain for a 2 years, but we have struggled with feeling a part of things. It takes such a very long time to build true friendships, and it can take even longer in a church that is intentionally minimalist in order to promote involvement with our neighbors. Over the last few months we have really felt more at home as we have built friendships with people outside our community group and from other parts of town. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, and that can be very difficult for folks that tend to be more introverted. One of the things I love about rmc is that while we are messy and imperfect, we give others the space to be messy and imperfect too. That is what drew us, and that is why we stayed. I still hope that we can be a place where some who are most often excluded find a home.

Elisa M said...

I feel excluded as well. however, I feel excluded pretty much everywhere. I think there is this feeling that church is the one place that we shouldn't feel excluded. Then when we feel excluded there as well, it feels more we are even excluded from Jesus even. I am not sure that makes sense, but I think that exclusion feels more painful when it is in a place that is full of people who have sometimes only once things in common, Christ. We are told that Christ never excludes us, yet the very place where we come to worship him corporately feels exclusive and unwelcoming, that is a hard pill to swallow. It makes the brokenness feel more real and more acute and more...broken.

RMC is not very welcoming, this is true. We don't even have greeting time all the time. It has been taken out because most people used it to go to the restroom or get donuts, which speaks volumes about how we feel about welcoming.

I feel more welcome in the homes of friends than I do in church. I am not sure if that is good or bad, but I am grateful for it.
good post.

Elisa M said...

I should mention that i am one of those people who have become angry and left. Yet, I can't stay away. I am always drawn back. I have nowhere else to go. Even when I don't go to RMC for months at a time (and this happens more than I care to admit), going back always feels right. Messy and broken, but right.
that says something.

Charlotte said...
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Charlotte said...

I think there is more going on than people just feeling excluded. I have some meaningful relationships with people at RMC and I don't feel excluded. But I do feel a good amount of loneliness--even in the midst of being in an amazing community of neighbors, friends, and family.

I really want other people to "get me." And, 34 years in, it has yet to fully happen. Even though I know that no person is ever going to completely understand me, I keep wanting it. I know that we will always have some loneliness and having friends, roommates, a spouse, or children can't make it all go away. Some people feel that inherent loneliness more deeply than others, and a lot of us in that category have ended up at RMC. We want to connect with others, and some of us are able to do so. (Even if it's just feeling connected to others who want connection.) But then we find out it's not enough because no one is ever going to completely understand us or fully know us the way we want to be known. So then we still have the pain of loneliness even though we're at this church that encourages "community" & "authenticity" and "meaningful relationships." Maybe when we feel the absence of those things at RMC, we feel even more lonely and/or excluded because having those things is part of why we came to RMC. Or something. I don't know.

I do know that these people are my family. I might end up leaving at some point for various reasons that I'm working through. But we're probably going to stick it out. Because it is worth it. I think. And, like you, I really don't think I have anywhere else to go.

I could keep rambling about this and about other things somewhat related to this, but I'll stop now.

Good post.

Charlotte said...

one more thing. i think the main reason we stay at rmc even though we feel excluded or lonely or whatever is because we know it's not all about us. as much as we try to make it all about us and how we feel and how we think things should be done and how we think the children should be taught, etc., we really do know that it's about God & the truths of the Gospel. and we need to do a better job of telling each other that. not in a way that discounts some legitimate issues being discussed here on this thread, but in a way that encourages, welcomes, and loves others. we need to point each other to Him in the midst of all of our naval gazing (& you can call me the queen of naval gazing). we need to remind each other of the truth and hope in that truth together.

Robert said...

Post of the year from BTM!

Not marriage, or family, or church or kids... Loneliness cannot be bought or persuaded by man to leave a fallen world.

That being said, the pursuit of relationships and community should probably be considered a matter of personal responsibility rather than that of the church institution (community group assignment in RMCs case).

Churches suck at such things. I offer that the only churches that are welcoming are often motivated more by some strategic evangelical tactic (to grow their tithe base) rather than authentic desire.

Anonymous said...


i grew up in birmingham. during college is when i went "church hopping". every Sunday was somewhere else, trying to find Jesus. when i encountered Red Mtn, i had gone with friends and thought nothing of feeling excluded. but toward the end of the year, after friends had left, i would go alone to red mtn. and at first i wanted to be the one that came in and out and people left alone. but once the desire came for personal interaction, i was left feeling excluded. i can be an outgoing person, so i made my attempts. and none were reciprocated.

i thought i was the only one. nice to know that others felt that too.


Clint Wells said...

1. I think there is something fundamental and likely physiological about human loneliness. It is something felt cross culturally and transcends time, class, race, and denomination. I think we talk about it more in America and in our own particular community because we are fortunate enough to have most of our physical needs over-met. So now we turn inward and are startled to find that even amongst friends, family, and church...we are lonely.

2. Christianity seems to engender feelings of loneliness. It is the story of a very specific group of people being God's. It is a story of law and punishment and reward. It has been so misused by powerful people for so long that many of us feel cynical and hopeless....which only feeds our loneliness.

To pray to and worship Christ takes much courage and a hard fight against feelings of foolishness and solitude. And even on the best of those days it's just you and faith...which, again, is a very lonely place to be.

This is the state of things. But for me personally, to deal honestly with loneliness only sharpens my times of community with people. They are few, but they are sweet. And I'll take that any day over my head being in the sand.

Brian T. Murphy said...

patrick - yeah. I think for me a feeling of exclusion co-exists with a feeling of acceptance, so I definitely get what you are saying. but to each his own. I don't expect that everyone has to feel exactly the way that I do. what are my high hopes and expectations? wow, thats a big question. maybe I'll write a post about that some day. feel free to remind me about that.

amanda - this "terrible at welcoming" idea is actually, I think, a pretty big deal. I hope we become increasingly aware, trouble is, being more aware starts with me, and I'd rather be tired, grumpy, needy, etc. and I definitely resonate with your suggestion about looking for needs and desires to be met in the wrong places.

jparris - yeah, I hear you on red mountain taking a long time. in years past, we would shut down community groups every few years and then reshuffle them and start them back up. it helped to force people to meet new people, but it has its downsides too. it was easy to feel like we were shutting things down sometimes just when they were starting to gel. and some people inevitably got lost in the mix and would drift away. not sure what I'm saying, but sometimes CG can be a very disappointing experience. I know that's not necessarily what you said, you just made me think of that. you mentioned that we give people the space to be messy and imperfect. I hope thats true. and I hope that continues to be true.

elisa - I definitely think it is reasonable to have hope that church could be the one place where you could be free from exclusion. I think that is a really important idea to reconcile. the greeting time, as I understand it, will come back. but I also think that the nature of church services creates an environment that is particularly awkward socially. I know myself, I feel incredibly awkward during those greeting times, and I have the luxury of hiding behind my instrument. I don't expect I would handle it well. and I'm glad you feel free to be angry, and to leave, and to come back. I think that is so important.

charlotte - i definitely think there is more going on than feelings of exclusion. this just happens to be something that I have been considering lately. interestingly, I think one of the places I feel most understood is when I read old hymns. I read those texts and I think "I bet these old people would be friends with me". I feel the same way when I hear certain songs by mark kozelek, or david gray, or ryan adams, or patty griffin, or gillian welch. but I hear you, and loneliness is no stranger to me. and I'm glad that you and tim stay. and I'm thankful for the quiet ways you guys have carried so many of our people over the years.

robert - post of the year, eh? not sure about that. its been a really crazy, sad, year for me so far. in many ways, I am afraid of what lies ahead. I find the pursuit of church community to be pretty important, and to me, the line between individual and collective pursuit of community is a hard line to draw.

deena - so did you find jesus? (and if so, please tell me what that experience was like.) I hate what you wrote, but i'm so glad you wrote it. and I hate knowing that your story is probably one that has been told many times over. if you are still here in town, and if you have interest, you are welcome to come and be apart of my CG. not sure if that is worth much to you at this point, but it is an honest offer.

clint - 1. I definitely think that wealth paves the way for certain types of pain to come to the surface. 2. yeah, I think for me christianity is such a consistently difficult thing to believe in, that I feel really alone with people who apparently believe so well and so easily. and its not that I wish for others to believe less, its just that I really, honestly, don't believe much at all. it is a difficult issue to navigate, and I certainly don't do it well.

Jeff and Brandi Koonce said...

RMC is composed of many people. but i feel that a lot of them have semi-depressive personalities. not that they have depression. or are depressed. or are wallowing in sorrow (i think that number is less and less) but just smart people who see life in an honest way, and are skeptic(to a point.)

and that type of person has trouble feeling included. and that type of person thinks "man, i wish these people would come talk to me" all the while those people who will not talk to them are thinking "man, why don't those people come talk to me"

like when i was in college, i went through a major depression. i thought no one liked me. and one day i talked to my suitemates. i told them i felt like they were moving away from me. and you know what they said "we felt like you were moving away from us"

so, my point is: maybe our solution starts with the man in the mirror.

maybe, just maybe, if we get over our affinity for sorrow and sadness and grief, and get excited about something. get excited about Jesus, about the Bible! about prayer, and the Hold Spirit, and loving others, and get excited about welcoming people to an exciting church where we are excited about these things.... i think then people will feel less excluded.

because as much as some RMCers hate it, there is joy and peace and power and "Victory in Jesus" and it is time we live in that instead of under a raincloud.


Charlotte said...

btm-yes. for me, music makes everything better... i'm with you on feeling understood by hymns and artists who i will never meet. i also like the psalms. i can't get enough of them. gregory of nyssa said the psalter shows the whole journey of the soul. and calvin said the psalter is the "anatomy of all the parts of our souls." (see--if any of you tulip people are reading--i don't disagree with Calvin on everything.) the psalms move you toward unending praise, and that journey includes seasons of hope, disappointment, sorrow, and lamentations. reading and studying the psalms has reiterated to me that the way of Jesus is primarily rooted in suffering. that suffering should ultimately lead us to praise just as the suffering psalmists move into praise. but our ultimate praise isn't going to happen until heaven. in the meantime, our futile attempts at giving God all glory and any excitement that we rightly feel in response to His goodness and love are going to be seasoned with (and sometimes drowning in) despair, grief, and sorrow.

Charlotte said...

one of my client contacts sent me this link/movie review. it is related to this thread... thought y'all might be interested.

CK said...

Beautiful words, Brian, and so true. I really like how you put it. I've heard the same thing from many people at RMC. Personally, I have always felt excluded, to varying degrees, in every church community I've been a part of. Which makes me think that these feelings aren't particular to our community, and may be, as you and Clint point out, more basic to human experience (at least in regard to religious institutions). Maybe it's easier to see at RMC because we don't try to cover it up with shallow, easy fixes. At least, we haven't yet.

I don't know if my expectations have shifted as I've grown older, or whether it's a simply a matter of focus, but these days I find myself much less prone to blame other people for it. Blood on my hands, indeed.

Sometimes I wonder if these feelings have been exacerbated by our culture. Maybe we've been indoctrinated by the likes of Friends and St. Elmo's Fire and advertising and college dorm life to expect a certain kind of inclusive community that doesn't actually have any basis in reality. Like the White Witch's turkish delight, these "ideals" don't even ring of heavenly reality (which I think does promise true, deep relationships; and which we sometimes — not often — glimpse here on earth). Kinda like pornography promises a certain level of excitement and satisfaction but never actually delivers the goods, and simultaneously makes real sex seem dull and drab in comparison. Compared to our culture's portrayal of "fulfilling" communal life, real community, where people fail one another, seems weak and unattractive.

Seems to me that being truly welcoming, in the way that Jesus is welcoming, has less to do with expecting anything from others — less to do with needing to be included, or happy — and more to do with being open toward others, no matter who they are, what they've done, or where they come from. In spite of the fact that we fail each other every day, in spite of the fact that we are a group of self-centered, navel-gazing complainers, I'm hopeful for RMC, too. You people keep surprising me.

Courtney said...

Good, true words.

Brian T. Murphy said...

brandi, I don't really know what semi-depressive means. but I definitely agree that the solution most likely begins with dealing with ourselves. or at least trying to. and I won't speak for everybody, but for me, I have no affinity for sorrow, sadness, and grief. if you think I choose to be sad, then you are surely mistaken. and I will also add that for me, the experiences of grief, sadness and sorrow do not exclude the possibility for excitement about jesus. I do not choose to live under a raincloud, brandi.

charlotte - I like everything you said. and I have had a lot of people encourage me to read the psalms, lately. haven't watched that video yet...

CK - I like that you used the term "easy fixes". I actually really, really love that. interesting question, about whether these feelings of exclusion have been exacerbated by our culture. I tend to think our culture is more and more void of relationships, and that people are not familiar with how to approach eachother anymore (this theory is mostly because of TV and suburbs and interwebs). but its interesting to think that those exact forms of media have made people long for relationships even more.

courtney - good to hear from you. I noticed on your blog you are moving. I hope it is somewhere glorious.

okay. I'm going back to vacation. I am in california, and I need to stop this nonsense with the worstweblogintheworld.

Jeff Irwin said...

i think clints thought about xtianity engendering loneliness is spot on. (it's fixated on the loneliest man who ever lived for starters) i'm beginning to think that my long-held notions of 'inclusion' were utopian. i've been ruminating on an old CL lyric a lot lately, as i watch my young children.. 'someday, you will ache like i ache.'

Elisa M said...

I have been thinking about this much lately.
I keep coming back to the idea of carrying our crosses. Each our our crosses and struggles are different, and we often just want someone to understand. but no one can, making it feel so lonely.
The best we can hope for is to help each other carry our burdens and try to love each other, knowing that we will never, ever understand fully what it is like to be in each others shoes. We all want to be seen and heard, but none of us do this perfectly. Apparently, only Jesus does that.

to me, that is the hardest pill to swallow, that no one will EVER truly get me.
sucks. but makes me yearn for Heaven. Although I wonder, will we feel more included, or will we be ok to be excluded, with no insecurities about it, knowing that we are all included in the midst of our exclusion.
this was rambling, sorry.

ecarder said...

22Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

The Sooz said...

Though I have never felt much exclusion from my church, there is reason for that. Being, I've grown up in the church that I currently attend, I also just graduated from high school, thus, I personally haven't been on the receiving end with church failures in this area.

Ok, I know loneliness, and I know lonely people. I know people who, if they decided to visit a church, would leave and never return because no one would notice them. Or, if they were noticed, they would be noticed for the wrong reasons and then be purposefully ignored and then gossiped about.

Ah, and still, I notice people for the wrong reasons and ignore them. I see them and forget that the tie that binds people is not what I want the tie to be. We are not bound by physical appearance, personality, or the fact that we wear glasses when we read, but not when we drive. Ok? We are bound by having a longing for a hope greater than what we can provide for ourselves, and we are bound by our names being scared on the hands of Jesus.

So, though I often don't feel excluded, I know that every Sunday, when I walk into the church I've been going to for my whole life, I purposefully ignore certain faces, and the people I don't feel like talking to. And for that, I feel sick.