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Finding Church in the Strangest Places

For 48 hours I have been filling a notebook with snippets of speech, quotes and book titles. I am in my happy place. I left my family and my job for three days to attend a writing festival and listen to authors talk about their craft, their inspiration, their struggles and their faith. Writers and readers snake out of buildings and pile into meetings rooms, auditoriums and arenas, eating words and ideas, scribbling notes, and nodding and sighing in recognition.

We writers and book lovers are an odd bunch.

We suck down words like candy. We tear up at statements and questions that pierce our souls. We develop intense crushes on brilliant Jewish authors from the east coast and decide, at least for a couple of hours, to write about dangerous things, to make painful stories beautiful, to be more than we are.

Several weeks ago my husband attended a concert at a small venue in Chicago. My husband hates Chicago. He hates the traffic and noise and the crowds. He gets anxious and irritable and shuts down—unless he’s going to a metal concert.

He and his fellow concertgoers are an odd bunch.

They pump their fists in the air and sing lyrics like Vikings. They yell out “yeah” until they’re hoarse and clap until their hands sting. They develop intense crushes on female singers from Finland who dress in heavy capes and growl as loud as any man. And, at least for a couple of hours, they dream of extending their newfound community and passion back into the world, to be more than they are.

The morning after the concert, I asked my husband if he had fun. He looked at me, beaming.

“That,” he said, “is my church.”

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts with him and I don’t feel the same way. But I know exactly what he means.

This—the writing festival, the word lovers and wordsmiths, the fellow travelers who are grasping for questions and longing for answers—is my church.

Although, as a family, we attend church in the traditional sense, we end up finding church in other places as well. At a free community supper where no one knows why you’re there or where you came from and treats you like a guest just the same. In a local forest preserve where my children climb on fallen trees and, nearly busting with glee, grab our hands to pull us to the creek they found. In the face of a homeless man with a handwritten cardboard sign saying he and his seven-year-old son don’t have enough food to eat when you ask him if he’d like to go with you to buy some dinner.

Because church—whether it’s in a pew in Geneva, at a bar with loud guitars or on a dirty streetcorner in the middle of Chicago—is wherever something holy happens. And nothing makes me happier than finding it.

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