An editor friend of mine gave me a copy of this book. We had been sharing stories and recommending all kinds of favorite books to each other, like the graphic novel Blankets and Blue Like Jazz. He told me about Taylor Field's A Church Called Graffiti and I was so taken by the book's concept that I asked my friend if he would get me a copy. It's a memoir-in-progress of a midwestern Pastor and his family who moved to Manhattan's Lower East Side to serve at a mission for the poor and homeless in Alphabet City. (Yes, "Alphabet City" is completely Old School. I still like that name though the area likes to call itself "The East Village" now. LOL)
Gosh, I've read this book three times already. It still makes me cry.
You have to understand why it does; I was born and raised in NYC. It brings up memories. I was one of the VERY few kids in the neighborhood that went to church after we had celebrated our Confirmation. I was one of even fewer that went to church during Junior High and High School. Going to church was just the thing we did as a family. This book and these people are just so vivid to me.
Back in NYC, whenever I had the chance to talk about God and church with co-workers or freelancers -- which I always enjoyed doing and we generally always kept light -- I met many who used to go to church when they were younger, but who had stopped attending. Usually they stopped because they had experienced some incredibly stupid incident at their church (or in their own family because of church) that turned them off to the whole concept of going. This always made me sad to find out, because then attending church was not about their personal relationship with God and about developing their spiritual life and soul. Church instead was just a social place where some idiot could impose erroneous behavior upon the others and chase them all away. It just didn't seem fair to me mean people could do this to nice people. These were all people we'd all consider "good" people. They are all smart, hardworking, kind-hearted. Friendly. Family-oriented. They help out. They just chose not to go to church.
Because I had lived through a similar incident (ie., dealing with stupid church people making stupid impositions where they then chased the congregation away. And that church building actually closed down eventually, btw). I understood where they were all coming from.
After going through that same kind of thing myself I finally found my way to places I truly considered my home churches. Though I have to admit it took something like 10 years before that happened, and that includes a very long period of not attending any church. When I finally knew I had to go find a church, it took praying and visiting many to find "home". In my heart also KNEW church HAD to be more than "sit stand kneel/sit stand kneel" for one hour every week like it was in one denomination. Church HAD to be more than just "women can't wear pants, men can't wear beards" and etc,. like was imposed in another denomination. But even with that I stayed at those, because that's where I belonged to just then.
Church for me went beyond the mere annoying people sometimes around me. (I mean, you have to put up with annoying people at work, right? You don't quit work just because someone pissed you off one day. There are recourses for that when you're an employee. Avoiding the annoying as much as possible can work.)
Church to me, really, is the prayer groups. Church is the singing. Church is the focusing in on God and figuring out where we are going spiritually this week. Church is hearing the Word of God. Church is the meetings to encourage each other and hang out and discuss stuff. Church is feeding the homeless. Church is helping with or teaching at Sunday school. Church is getting clothes to the needy and helping them get jobs and giving them haircuts and seeing them get out of the hole they had fallen into. Church is uplifting. Church is people. And church is so much more bigger than just the annoying people. A Church Called Graffiti so exactly shows you what I think church really is like, it's hard not to cry when I read it.
When I read A Church Called Graffiti, I felt like how I did when I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller or The Body Broken by Robert Benson: Church to me IS all this like Field writes about in his book. It's about the people and the journey. How God loves the details of our lives. It's not about who wore the cutest dress or seeing whether what's-his-name could make it to service after their unfortunate Saturday night binge. It's not about being bored in the pew and hoping you can beat church traffic and get back in time for the game.
Church is about people and going forward together to make this life a little more bearable for all of us.
I love this book. This book makes me cry.